Tag Archives: foreknowledge

Is salvation available for all men?

I was recently asked on twitter about my view of salvation and how I viewed it in light of my recent postings on Molinism.

My simple, twitterish, response was: “I believe that the Holy Spirit moves on, prompts, and draws all men to Christ.

This prompted an email from one reader who wanted to probe deeper. Here’s my response.

Going deeper

The first place I would probably point for this verse is John 12:32 which is in reference to the golden snake from the Exodus which was fashioned for all the people of Israel, not all of whom chose to look upon the symbol for salvation.

Does all mean all?

The response from my new friend was along the lines many proponents of limited atonement use which is to claim that verses that contain unqualified references to mankind aren’t really talking about mankind but rather are talking about all ethnic groups, tribes, tongues, nations, etc.

Here’s my response to this objection.

The problem with interpreting “all” to be people groups as opposed to all people is that in Revelation 5:9 we are explicitly told that the author is referring to nations as opposed to people. This is ironic since it is the same author who chose to use the words “all”, “whosoever”, and other unqualified terms to refer to the wide availability of salvation that is offered through Christ.

I think we can both agree that not all will accept Jesus, the question rather is whether everyone has within their power (given, obviously by God) the ability to choose Christ in the first place. In that respect I think that the entire third chapter of John should suffice to show us that God does indeed will that no man should perish (2 Peter 3:9) but that the decision to accept the grace freely offered has indeed been given by a sovereign God to his creatures in the interests of love.

I think we should back up to John 3:14 where, before the famous verse in John 3:16, Jesus mentions the snake being an archetype of the salvation he is about to offer. Was the snake only offered to those who were going to look at it anyway? Hardly, since many still perished even after the snake was fashioned as a means of grace offered to a rebellious people.

Skipping ahead to the verses you mentioned1, I fail to see how they present a general view of election wherein many are called and yet few are chosen with chosen being chosen in Christ based on repentance and free acceptance of a freely given gift.

Not that God doesn’t know whom will be saved. I think the verses you pointed out clearly present God as possessing the foreknowledge of who will and won’t accept or reject him.

I simply question, however, the notion that God’s foreknowledge is logically tied to a causal decree. In other words, I don’t see how God’s foreknowledge is inextricably tied to the causally deterministic notion that God also causes those he foreknew to accept the grace he has offered.

I also don’t see how God’s foreknowledge necessitates the other reformed doctrine that the atonement is somehow limited because, based on my understanding of the reformed doctrine of limited atonement, if Jesus’s sacrifice were to have been made for the whole world, many of whom willfully reject Him, that his death and subsequent atonement would have somehow been wasted.

The above aren’t merely rhetorical questions. While I think they pose significant barriers to belief in reformed doctrine, I’d love to hear what you think. Whether you agree or not, leave a comment below!

  1. John 6:37, John 6:44, John 6:65 []
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Answering the grounding objection against Molinism

One of the strongest objections to the doctrine of Molinism is what has commonly been called “the grounding objection” which, stated simply, is; “Where is God’s knowledge in future events grounded?”

Many who ask this question object the idea that, if God’s knowledge is based in his eternal decree then Molinism is undone because it eradicates the notion of libertarian freedom. On the other hand, they think that if the Molinist says that God’s knowledge is grounded in the decisions of his free creatures then God is somehow handcuffed by his creation.

They further find it strange that the leading Molinist apologists such as William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga  are strangely silent (in their minds at least) about this objection.

I don’t think it is that Craig or Plantinga fail to take seriously the grounding objection so much as they simply find the objection to be incoherent given the presupposition that counterfactuals are true regardless of their instantiation. That is, they are true regardless of whether they obtain or not AND whether the actors in question exist or not. In short, the question of where God’s knowledge of future free decisions is incoherent at the outset because it presupposes that true statements require grounding in the first place. My question when such an objection is raised is when would we suppose that a tensed factual statement such as “I will be in the office tomorrow morning” becomes true?

In sum, the grounding objection begins with a flawed premise that presupposes that knowledge of future-free events must be contingent on the will of either God. The answer, however, is to expand our options to include the possibility that the knowledge of future-free events is what some philosophers call a “brute fact” that God knows in accordance with His omniscience so that the question of where God’s knowledge of future events is grounded is answered by His omniscient nature, not his eternal decree (or man’s finite and contingent decree).

For a better and more in-depth answer to the grounding objection I would point to Thomas P. Flint’s book, Divine Providence, chapter 5 which is also referenced in this article by Craig.

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Molinism: Free will and divine sovereignty living in harmony

What if I were to tell you that I had a perfectly rational explanation to the question of free will and predestination that has been ravaging the Church of Jesus Christ for centuries? I bet you would think that I was mad, unlearned (after all, what have all the highly educated theologians been fighting about), and overly simplistic.

Well there is such an answer and many may be surprised to find out that it is fully accepted by Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, etc. In other words, it’s not the sole product of a sectarian group with a vested interest in a particular theological system.

It may also surprise you to find out that you probably already hold to the core tenets of this “magic bullet” system even though you may have never heard them clearly stated as a codified set of doctrines before.

Molinism is a theological system named after a Spanish Jesuit priest, Louis de Molina. In modern times it has also come to be known as “middle knowledge” due, in part at least, to the influence one of it’s most ardent supporters, Dr William Lane Craig.

While many books have been written on this subject (some of which I’ll list below), and many lectures (some of which I’ll link below), I’ll try to summarize Molinism in a few paragraphs.

Before God created he knew all possible worlds and all possible events and all possible interactions in all of the possible worlds (including all possible reactions and outcomes of His direct interactions in all of these possible worlds). Out of all of these possible worlds God chose to actualize or create one of them so that, while all things are effectively determined, they are neither causally determined by God nor is God constrained to the position of merely reacting to the choices of His free creatures. We are indeed free1 and God is indeed sovereign2.

One seminary professor3 put it to his students this way: “It’s up to God which world you find yourself in. It’s up to you what you find yourself doing in that world.”

I’m sure if you are new to Molinism (or if you are like most pastors4 and incredibly confused5 about what it really is6), I encourage you to explore this topic further.7

Here are a few resources that might help (if you know of any more, please let me know!):

divine providenceonly wise godThe Innocence of GodReasonable Faith

I also recommend this article by William Lane Craig as a great primer for anyone looking to delve deeper into this doctrine than my overly simplistic depiction above.
  1. In a libertarian sense. []
  2. It is also helpful to point out that we need not describe sovereignty in the classic Calvinistic terms of causally directing all that comes to pass. An analogy I like to use is that I am sovereign over my children and yet I still have to spank them from time to time. []
  3. This is a seminary professor at Southeastern in case you were wondering. []
  4. There is more to be said here, but a pastor I knew very well once told me he didn’t like Molinism. When pressed as to whether he had even studied it he told me he had “fallen asleep” when someone tried to present it to him and a group of other pastors. With a commitment like that to learning and growing is it any wonder why most Christians are perpetual infants? Situations like this give great weight behind the notion that it is foolish to rely on one man as the source of Biblical learning. []
  5. Here is an example of a recent blog post that completely misses the point of Molisnism and arrogantly assumes it is somehow anti-Biblical simply because it involves philosophy. This is another example of an inherent anti-intellectual bias that has run rampant in the Church since the premise is essentially: anything that makes me think, or runs contrary to my favorite celebrity preachers, like John Piper, is obviously not from God. []
  6. The saddest example of this is this wiki-style site that would otherwise be a very good resource if not for their blatant bias which is particularly obvious in their section on Molinism []
  7. One final example of someone who completely misses the point is James White’s extended tirade wherein he presupposes that the doctrine of middle knowledge is merely philosophical (whereas reformed theology somehow isn’t) and not based on Biblical theology (which is not only a lie, but is intellectually dishonest). []
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