Molinism and Divine Election

#79

October 19, 2008

Molinism and Divine Election

Reformed theologians teach that Molinism and divine election are incompatible based on Paul’s statements in Romans chapter 9. They take the passage to say that because God is the potter, He molds some to be predestined for salvation and the rest are “hated” and condemned. ¬†However, Dr. Craig shows that these verses, when placed within the broader context of Romans, actually argue for God’s election by grace through faith. The proper understanding of Romans 9 supports the doctrine of Molinism and divine election is exercised through the free choices of both of Jews and Gentiles.

Dear Dr. Craig,

I am an atheist currently reading Reasonable Faith, and I must begin by saying how engaging and challenging your book has so far been! I am looking forward to reading more of your ideas in your other books, as well, and as a member of the "loyal opposition" I applaud you for a job well done in your search for the truth.

I have two very different questions. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration in addressing them, and I look forward to your response.

First, in one of your early chapters in Reasonable Faith, you claim to lay the foundation for the resurrection of Christ from the dead by God by cumulatively building a case for the existence of a personal, moral, powerful divine Creator who is temporal with our universe, and then on the basis of your case you make the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead.

The thought occurred to me, then, whether it would be valid for an atheist in a debate with you to likewise present a cumulative case for the nonexistence of God as you defined Him, and similar to your method, conclude that at the very most Jesus raised from the dead by means of something different from God as given in your cumulative case - thereby concluding that Christianity is false even if a historical resurrection is certain.

Of course I know you very likely hold that counterarguments against your case are invalid, but I am wondering if you think that such a method on the part of the atheist is in and of itself logically conclusive against Christianity if you assume for sake of argument that all of the atheist's premises here are true.

2. In Romans 9, Paul describes Jacob and Esau as being judged as loved and hated (or "loved less") before they did any good or evil. Paul then goes on to liken all of us as clay molded by a potter, and states that it is not the will of he who runs but of He who shows mercy which saves us. Paul relates God telling Pharaoh: "for this purpose I have raised you up ..." and then discusses an idea that the vessels God made for "common use" are there only for the purpose of showing His patience to his more special pots.

Many Reformed think this passage shows double-predestination and unconditional election, and I am forced to agree with them - as is Christ Himself in John 6:65! The Reformed God is something I view as tyrannical and unworthy of worship, and indeed it is tough for someone outside the faith to respond to the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 with anything but hatred: as the prominent Reformed scholar James White describes this very chapter, "I understand that the only way one can believe this is by an act of grace."

In my view, this defeats your position of molinism, since one cannot freely choose God on his own in any potential setting without God's prior help. Furthermore, the context of the related story in John 6 has disciples abandoning Christ, prompting what He says in 6:65 and proving that Christ is not offered as a free gift to all! What is left for the freedom of man to choose Christ given these passages?

Thank you graciously for your time,

Darrin

Molinism and Romans 9

Let me say straightaway, Darrin, how much I appreciate the tone of your letter. Though you disagree with my views, your letter is a model of civility, which all the rest of us would do well to emulate. It's a pleasure to address your questions.

First, as to the feasibility of framing an atheistic perspective on the historicity of Jesus' resurrection parallel to the case I build for it, it seems to me that this is, in fact, the atheist's best hope of success. First present arguments against theism such as the problem of evil or the impossibility of non-embodied persons, so that when you turn to the evidence for the resurrection there just is no such supernatural person to appeal to by way of explanation.

Note, however, one potentially significant difference between the two cases: in the case of theism, the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is itself confirmatory of theism (see the fine article by Timothy and Lydia McGrew in the forthcoming Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, ed. Wm. L. Craig and J. P. Moreland), so that the addition of the evidence for Jesus' resurrection serves to increase the probability of theism even more. By contrast, for the atheist, the evidence for the resurrection tends to be disconfirmatory of atheism, so that it weakens his original anti-theistic case and renders atheism less probable. If one esteems the evidence for Jesus' resurrection to be quite powerful, it might just outbalance the probability of the arguments you gave for atheism, so that in the end theism might look like a pretty good alternative after all. In any event, the case for atheism will look weaker after taking account of the evidence for Jesus' resurrection than before.

Molinism and Romans 9 –Election was understood to be part of the Jewish identity

Second, let's talk about Paul's doctrine of election in Romans 9. I want to share with you a perspective on Paul's teaching that I think you'll find very illuminating and encouraging. Typically, as a result of Reformed theology, we have a tendency to read Paul as narrowing down the scope of God's election to the very select few, and those not so chosen can't complain if God in His sovereignty overlooks them. I think this is a fundamental misreading of the chapter which makes very little sense in the context of Paul's letter.

Earlier in his letter Paul addresses the question of what advantage there is to Jewish identity if one fails to live up to the demands of the law (2. 17-3.21). He says that although being Jewish has great advantages in being the recipients of God's revelatory oracles, nevertheless being Jewish gives you no automatic claim to God's salvation. Instead, Paul asserts the radical and shocking claim that "He is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is of the heart, spiritual and not literal" (2. 28-29).

Paul held that "no human being will be justified in God's sight by works of the law" (3.20); rather "we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law" (3. 29). That includes Gentiles as well as Jews. "Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one" (3. 29-30).

Do you realize what that meant to Paul's Jewish contemporaries? Gentile "dogs" who have faith in Christ may actually be more Jewish than ethnic Jews and go into the Kingdom while God's chosen people are shut out! Unthinkable! Scandalous!

Paul goes on to support his view by appeal to the example of none less than Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. Abraham, Paul explains, was pronounced righteous by God before he received circumcision. "The purpose," says Paul, "was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised [i.e., the Gentiles] and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised [note the qualification!] but also follow the example of faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised" (4.11-12).

Molinism and Romans 9 – God’s election is broadened to include Gentiles

This is explosive teaching. Paul begins chapter 9 by expressing his profound sorrow that ethnic Jews have missed God's salvation by rejecting their Messiah [= Christ]. But he says it's not as though God's word had failed. Rather, as we have already seen, "not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants" (9. 6-7). Being ethnically Jewish is not enough; rather one must be a child of the promise—and that, as we've seen, may include Gentiles and exclude Jews.

The problematic, then, with which Paul is wrestling is how God's chosen people the Jews could fail to obtain the promise of salvation while Gentiles, who were regarded by Jews as unclean and execrable, could find salvation instead. Paul's answer is that God is sovereign: He can save whomever He wants, and no one can gainsay God. He has the freedom to have mercy upon whomever He wills, even upon execrable Gentiles, and no one can complain of injustice on God's part.

So—and this is the crucial point—who is it that God has chosen to save? The answer is: those who have faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul writes in Galatians (which is a sort of abbreviated Romans), "So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham" (Gal. 3. 7). Jew or Gentile, it doesn't matter: God has sovereignly chosen to save all those who trust in Christ Jesus for salvation.

That's why Paul can go on in Romans 10 to say, "There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. For 'everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved'" (10. 12-13). Reformed theology can make no sense at all of this wonderful, universal call to salvation. Whosoever will may come.

Paul's burden, then, in Romans 9 is not to narrow the scope of God's election but to broaden it. He wants to take in all who have faith in Christ Jesus regardless of their ethnicity. Election, then, is first and foremost a corporate notion: God has chosen for Himself a people, a corporate entity, and it is up to us by our response of faith whether or not we choose to be members of that corporate group destined to salvation.

Molinism and Romans 9 – Those who reject Christ freely choose to do so

Of course, given God's total providence over the affairs of men, this is not the whole story. But Molinism makes good sense of the rest. John 6. 65 means that apart from God's grace no one can come to God on his own. But there's no suggestion there that those who refused to believe in Christ did not do so of their own free will. God knows in exactly what circumstances people will freely respond to His grace and places people in circumstances in which each one receives sufficient grace for salvation if only that person will avail himself of it. But God knows who will respond and who won't. So again the fault does not lie with God that some persons freely resist God's grace and every effort to save them; rather they like Israel fail to attain salvation because they refuse to have faith.