Sunday, June 12, 2011

Book Review: Salvation and Sovereignty by Kenneth Keathley: A MolinistApproach

The battle has been raging for hundreds of years over whether or not humans have a form of free will or if every single event in human history has and is rolling out exactly as God predetermined it. The two sides of this battle have been typically characterized by those who call themselves Calvinists and those who call themselves Arminians. But in his book SALVATION AND SOVEREIGNTY Kenneth Keathley proposes a middle-ground solution to the debate in the form of Molinism, a theological system concerning the nature of God's foreknowledge developed by sixteenth century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina.

I first heard about Molinism from the writings of Dr. William Lane Craig as I was looking for a better solution to the Divine Sovereignty/Human Responsibility dilemma, and have since read Luis de Molina's original work on the subject - PART 4 of the CONCORDIA.

Molina sought to devise a system that affirmed both man's libertarian freedom and God's meticulous sovereign control. He did this by proposing that God's knowledge was of three different types and that God's knowledge came in three logical (not chronological) moments.

Natural Knowledge is the first moment, and it comes logically before God's creative decree. This knowledge consists of all possibilities. For example, in God's natural knowledge, he knew that it was possible for Adam to not sin in the garden. He also knew that it was possible that he would. These were both possibilities of what Adam "could" do.

Skipping ahead, the third moment is known as God's Free Knowledge. This is God's perfect knowledge of every single thing that will happen in the universe that God created, and this knowledge comes logically after his creative decree. For example, God knows that Adam "will" sin in the garden.

Between these two knowledge moments Molina proposed a moment called Middle Knowledge. This knowledge consists of free choices that a creature would make under any given circumstances. For example, God knows that if he placed Adam in the garden, Adam "would" sin, but if placed under a different set of circumstances, Adam "would" not sin. Either way, Adam's choice would be freely made. This knowledge comes logically before God's creative decree. So God surveys all the free choices that free creatures would make and decides to create the world in which all the circumstances that would bring about the free choices of free creatures that also lined up with his perfect will. Once he creates, the script is set and human history will flow exactly as he wanted it to, and human freedom remains intact. In this model God exercises his meticulous sovereignty using his exhaustive omniscience.

Dr. Keathley presents the Molinist model as an attempt at explaining the Divine Sovereignty/Human Freedom dilemma better than five point Calvinism. He believes, like me, that Calvinism's problems lie in the fact that when followed to its logical conclusion, Calvinism sets God up as the author of evil, though most Calvinists reject the idea. Dr. Keathley appreciates Calvinism's attempt to do justice to God's sovereignty, but believes that Calvinism's TULIP acronym needs to give way to a new acronym - ROSES.

Radical Depravity in place of Total Depravity
Overcoming Grace in place of Irresistible Grace
Sovereign Election in place of Unconditional Election
Eternal Life in place of Perseverance of the Saints
Singular Redemption in place of Limited Atonement

ROSES isn't original to the system of Molinism. Molinism was more of an explanation of how humans could be free and God be in absolute control than a system of the application of salvation. Dr. Keathley, however, takes the ROSES scheme and combines it with the Molinist system to describe why, if God is sovereign and desires the salvation of all mankind, not all are saved.

Though I don't personally buy into Molinism, Dr. Keathley makes an excellent case of it in SALVATION AND SOVEREIGNTY. I can't get past how God choosing which free choices we make doesn't equally lead to God being the author of sin as Calvinism does. One of the strengths of Molinism, however, is the concept of Counterfactuals of Creaturely Freedom. God knows exactly what free choices any person would make under any given circumstances. If a person was under a certain set of circumstances, then that person would make a certain free choice. It's easy to see how God could and would use this knowledge to orchestrate the world to his desired end. However, Molinism places this knowledge in a place where it is essentially useless to God in the course of history because he already decided what each person would do before creating anything. Hence, it doesn't seem that Molinism really retains much human freedom at all.

The reason I do love the book, though, is because Dr: Keathley does an excellent job at presenting a very biblical critique of Calvinism. Each chapter of the ROSES scheme tackles the problems of Calvinism's five points and often presents a better, more biblical solution that leaves God's character intact.

The Radical Depravity chapter presents a view of human freedom called soft libertarianism and shows why Calvinism's freedom to do what one most desires is no real freedom at all.

The Overcoming Grace chapter clearly shows that, biblically, God's grace is resistible and offered to all. Dr. Keathley presents an "ambulatory model" of grace where human beings are responsible not to resist God's grace that is carrying them to salvation. Salvation is all of God and damnation all of man, as Charles Spurgeon put it.

The Sovereign Election chapter was difficult to comprehend. This was the chapter that had the most to do with Molinism. Essentially, it said pretty much the same as Calvinism in that God chooses who will be saved apart from anything the people might do. Given the previous Overcoming Grace chapter, this chapter seemed in contradiction. God offers grace to all, and those who don't resist are saved, but God sovereignly chooses who will be saved before the foundation of the world apart from anything they might do. Dr. Keathley states that in this system God actively uses his foreknowledge in election, but rejects the common Arminian perspective of God's use of foreknowledge in election. He doesn't make real clear how exactly God uses his foreknowledge in election.

Eternal Life essentially affirms the Calvinist position that all genuine believers will persevere.

The Singular Redemption chapter refutes Limited Atonement and shows how Christ died for the sins of all people, but only believers enjoy the benefits of Christ's atonement.

Before these chapters Dr. Keathley includes an excellent chapter on the biblical idea that God desires the salvation of all, and strives to answer why not all are saved even though God wills their salvation. He describes God's will as an antecedent/consequent will. God antecedently wills the salvation of all humanity, but consequently wills that those who resist faith not receive salvation.

As far as Molinism goes, I'm not convinced. But as a thorough examination and correction to much of the problems of Calvinism, Dr. Keathley's book is one I go to again and again. His writing style is warm and without a hint of arrogance. It's clear that Dr. Keathley cares deeply about people and loves God profoundly. Though there was much I disagree with, there was still much in the book that got me thinking in the right direction.

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