What is Molinism? To the person who hasn’t spent countless hours digging deep into theology, it can be a confusing subject. When I first heard the term, I thought it had something to do with “mole people” or something. Browsing through the Wikipedia article on it wasn’t much help either. It was loaded down with soooooooo many dense words, philosophical concepts, and ideas that seemed just plain weird! I closed my laptop in frustration. Was it even worth the effort?
I come from a Southern Baptist background. As a teenager, I spent some time reading about salvation, but not a whole lot. What I did know was mostly just the basics: Jesus died for my sins so I could go to heaven. There were some people I knew called “Calvinists” who were waaaaaay too excited about the idea of God picking who would go to heaven and hell, but that was about all the experience I had in this area. Oh yeah! I also knew there was some other extreme view out there called “Arminianism” that I wanted to stay far away from – but I had no idea what it actually was, other than that it taught you could lose your salvation.
Does this sound familiar to you?
As I got older, I started getting more indigent with my Calvinist friends. It didn’t sit well with me that God would choose who would go to heaven and hell. But they were just as indigent. Words like “sovereign”, “predestination”, “free will”, “arbitrary”, and once in a blue moon “determinism” got thrown in the mix. What in the world was all this about?
As I began searching through the scriptures for myself, I started to notice some key themes coursing through the text. For one, the words “predestined” and “elected” were used all throughout Paul’s letters. This annoyed me, to be honest. I didn’t want those Calvinists to be right. Their understanding of God seemed cold and almost… cruel. Still, if that’s what the Bible said, I knew it must be my understanding that’s wrong, not God’s. I was committed to believing whatever God said. My mind was made up: when God and I disagree, God’s right and I’m wrong.
As I continued looking through the Biblical text over the years, I found a few more themes that related to the topic of salvation. Here are some of the more relevant ones:
God knows all things (Ps 147:5), including what would happen in every hypothetical scenario (1 Sam 23:12, Jer 38:17, John 18:36, Mat 26:24, etc) and what will actually happen in the real world (Jer 1:5, Is 46:10, Ps 139:4, etc).
God predestines everything that happens (Rom 8:29) including good things (Rom 8:28), bad things (Gen 50:20), how Jesus would die (Acts 2:23), who would be saved (Eph 1:4), who would be damned (Pro 16:4), who would represent Him to the world (Rom 9:11), and to whom He would give extra mercy to for that purpose (Rom 9:15). Biblical predestination is all-encompassing.
God has made humanity in his image (Gen 1:27), which includes the ability to make genuinely free choices (Phm 1:14), do what is right (Deu 30:10-20), resist temptation (1 Cor 10:13), and exercise self-control (2 Tim 1:7).
God genuinely desires every person to be saved (1 Tim 2:4 & 2 Pet 3:9) and doesn’t desire any person to go to hell (Eze 10:32 & Eze 33:11).
When I looked at these four key themes, they almost seemed to contradict each other. How could God predestine every detail of my life and yet still give me free will? Even more confusing is how could God predestine who would go to heaven and hell and yet still desire all people to be saved. Something wasn’t adding up.
It wasn’t until years later, as my brother was reading in his study Bible that he found something interesting. It was a short article about a view called “Molinism” – and it claimed to have the answer for how these four truths could be reconciled. He showed me the article, which led me to start my research. It’s also what landed me on that Wikipedia page, confused and frustrated.
Perhaps that’s where you are now? Maybe you’re here, searching to see if there really is a way that these four truths can actually work together. If that’s you, then let me tell you – you’re definitely in the right place. I’ve come a long way from the teenager slamming his head into the wall after reading a confusing Wikipedia article. After almost four years of study on this topic, I’ve learned Molinism actually is what it’s cracked up to be. And – almost as exciting – it isn’t that hard to understand either. Today, I’ll be sharing with you what Molinism is, where it came from, how it stands up to its harshest critics, and why it’s better than its competition.
ORIGINS OF MOLINISM Let’s start at the beginning. Molinism started with a man named Luis De Molina. He was a Jesuit Catholic Priest who lived right alongside the early reformers of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Jacob Arminius. Even though he wasn’t too keen on the way the reformers viewed predestination (and for that reason, was a counter-reformer), Molina absolutely affirmed the biblical gospel. He strongly advocated the view protestants hold today that salvation is given entirely by God’s grace and obtained only by faith.
His conversion from belief in works-based salvation came about shortly before he joined the Jesuit Order, as a result of reading 1 John 4:18. The idea of God’s perfect love driving out fear not only revolutionized Molina’s understanding of salvation but also gave him unprecedented security in God’s powerful and trustworthy hand to make it impossible for him to lose his salvation.
After his conversion, Molina joined a particular Jesuit Order called the Society of Jesus at Alcala de Henares, because of their strong emphasis on standing up to the corruption in the Roman Catholic Church – unlike some of the other Jesuits of his day. They often defied the policies and orders of the state church to better reflect Christ. Molina was attracted to this as he believed the church was becoming corrupt and was in desperate need of reform. He strongly opposed the Church’s tolerance of sexual immorality, gambling, and ignorance in its parish priests. He also voiced sharp criticism of the Church’s acceptance of the African Slave Trade, expressing strong condemnation of those who participated in it. While Molina wasn’t perfect in beliefs or practice, he was certainly orthodox on the most important issues – even despite the far-reaching heresies common in his day.
Regarding salvation, Molina strongly differed from the standard Roman Catholic view of salvation of his day, which had originally been put forth by Thomas Aquinas. This belief (called “Thomism”) insisted that the new birth produced good works which would go on to justify a man. Thus, the order of events in Thomism was: Regeneration --> Good Works --> Justification. In other words, under this view, your divinely empowered good works save you.
Molina took issue with this view, instead insisting that justification came at the moment of conversion and that good works were simply the overflowing of the work of the Holy Spirit (the standard protestant view of salvation today). This of course raises the question as to why Molina so adamantly opposed the work of Luther and Calvin in the Reformation. While Molina voiced strong support for the aspect of the reformation that stressed grace alone through faith alone, Molina just as strongly opposed the reformed view of predestination that Luther and Calvin championed. He was dynamically opposed to attributing to God with what is now known as exhaustive divine determinism (more on that later). He also opposed the predominately reformed protestant view of salvation that attributed faith itself as a gift from God to the recipient. This strong disagreement with what is now known as “reformed theology” is the reason why many protestants remember Molina as a counter-reformer whereas He should be seen as an ally who disagreed on secondary issues. This is not to say that Molina was right in all his theology – or even in opposing the reformation. He still held to some wrong theological beliefs (as did Luther & Calvin), but he was not the enemy of true Christianity that some have made him out to be.
Molina’s greatest accomplishment in the world of theology was his discovery of the doctrine of God’s Middle Knowledge – which is basically just God’s knowledge of what would happen in various circumstances. This discovery might appear simple and common sense to us, but before Molina, no one really put it together and applied it to salvation. Through this Middle Knowledge, Molina believed that God was able to predestine everything without needing to resort to exhaustive divine determinism. This would allow humans to have genuine free will and yet still keep God in control of all that would happen. Next, we’ll take a look at how it all works together.
DEFINING MOLINISM Now that we know where it came from, what’s this great solution all about? How can humans have genuine free will if God is totally sovereign? Let’s start by defining Molinism.
Molinism is the belief that God created the universe in such a way that our free choices would naturally bring about his perfect plan.
How would God be able to do this? Through his omniscience. You see, theologians have studied and thought about God’s knowledge for a long time, and have come to the conclusion that there are three “types” of knowledge that God has. They are:
Natural Knowledge: knowledge of everything that could logically happen and what couldn’t logically happen (here, God knows He can create a teddy bear but not a married bachelor).
Middle Knowledge: knowledge of everything that would happen in any scenario God decided to create (here, God knows if he created a specific red dwarf star in a specific set of circumstances, how many solar flares would result from it).
Free Knowledge: knowledge of everything that will happen in the scenario God already decided to create (here, God knows every time it will rain in the future in His creation).
The idea is, by using His middle knowledge, God knew what I would freely choose to do if put in “Circumstance A” and likewise knows what I would freely do if I were put in “Circumstance B”. So, all God has to do is choose the world where I will freely choose to behave according to His plan.
So that this sets in, let’s use an example: Jesus’s death on the cross. In order to accomplish this part of His plan, God had to create the world in such a way that a man named Pilate would be the one in charge of Judea in AD 30. God knew that if confronted with Jesus’ Jewish captors, Pilate would freely choose to sentence Jesus to death. So, in order to make sure that actually happened, God decided to create the universe in such a way that those circumstances would actually happen.
This is the hardest part of Molinism to wrap your mind around. So it’s okay if it’s taking a while for you to get it. Let me run you through how it would work, logically:
STEP 1: God knows what’s logically possible (natural knowledge). This is what could happen. Here God knows that apes are possible but married bachelors aren’t.
STEP 2: God knows what’s logically feasible (middle knowledge). This is what would happen. Here, God knows that if He created you, how you would act in a snowstorm or if you were given a Taco Bell gift card.
STEP 3: God decides on his perfect plan.
STEP 4: God chooses to create the world that he knows would bring about that perfect plan.
STEP 5: God knows what will happen, now that he’s chosen which world to create.
STEP 6: God creates the world.
STEP 7 and on: God’s plan plays out, perfectly.
Now, before we go any further, we need to know something: these steps aren’t talking about chronology (that is, something happening before and after something). Instead, it’s something called logical priority. That might sound complicated at first, but trust me, it’s not! Think about this… when I was a teenager, I worked in home remodeling and construction. One of my jobs was to put up light fixtures. Sometimes, those light fixtures had extension rods in them. Do you remember those? When my boss wasn’t looking, I even pretended they were swords and swung them around the room before putting them in! I wasn’t always the fastest employee – let’s just say that.
But anyway, the interesting thing about those extension rods is that each one depended on the one above it to stay in the air. Right? If I screwed one into the ceiling and then one below that, what happens if I took away the first one? Both rods would come crashing down, right? Why? Because the one below is logically dependent on the one above it. This is true, even though I install the entire light fixture (with all its extension rods) at the same time.
In the same way, God knew everything for all eternity and had his perfect plan for all eternity. He never learned anything new or had to make a new decision based on new information. But, even with that, there’s still a logical order of that knowledge and those choices. And because of this logical order, God was able to create the universe in such a way that our free choices would naturally bring about His perfect plan. That is Molinism.
DEFINING FREE WILL Since we’re on the topic of God predestining all things through our free choices, we should probably talk about what free will really means. Genuine free will is “the ability to do other than what you do”. Some people call this “Libertarian Free Will” (or LFW for short). The idea is that when we make decisions, nothing is cause-and-effect determining what we will do. Each of us are responsible for our choices because we’re the only source of those choices.
Not all Christians agree that humans actually have genuine free will. Most in the reformed tradition believe that God determines everything that happens through cause and effect. This is a view called determinism. Likewise, they believe “free will” isn’t really the ability to do otherwise, but is instead “the ability to do whatever you most desire to do”. After all, what's the alternative? To do what we don't want to do? Seems rather silly to think otherwise, right?
But I think the reformed understanding is based on some false assumptions – and LFW makes the most sense of scripture.
Most in the reformed tradition, if pressed to think about it, would say that there are two different categories of behavior: random behavior (something that happens without a cause) and determined behavior (something that happened with a cause). Since random behavior isn't really possible, this means that all actions must be determined - thus determinism must be true.
But this is a false dilemma. There is a third type of behavior: free behavior (something that happens as a result of a free agent). We see an example of this in God's creation of the universe. God created the universe by his own free choice. It was not a random occurrence; nor was it determined to occur. Rather, God freely chose to create. Did He have motives to create? Yes. But did those eternally existent motives deterministically cause him to make the choice to create? No - they could not have. Otherwise, the universe would be as necessary as God, which raises major theological problems for God's aseity.
By the way, if that last sentence went over your head, just know you’re in good company. God’s aseity is a pretty advanced theological topic. But suffice it to say, God couldn’t have been determined to create us, which means at least God himself had genuine free will. That of course means that the idea that all things are determined or random doesn’t work.
Since humans are made in the image of God, it makes sense that we would have free will, as scripture indicates. So, we can make decisions that are neither determined nor random. In other words, we make decisions in that third category of free behavior.
So, "why" I made a particular decision was not determined by anything, including my desires. Rather, as a human with free will, I have many different desires at war within me, seeking to win me over. The reason one of my desires wins out is not that it's inherently stronger, but rather because I have chosen to accept its "case" for the decision I should make. This is in accordance with 1 Corinthians 10:13.
So, for example, when pressed with deciding between washing the dishes (and making my wife happy) or playing video games (and feeling instant gratification), I have two desires at war within me, both giving me reasons as to why I should go their way. By my own free will (given as a part of being made in the image of God), I select whichever one I wish to follow; by nature of that, it becomes the dominant desire, and I make the decision to follow through and wash the dishes.
Of course, the determinist could argue "why did you decide one desire over the other" ad infinitum. But, this question smuggles in the assumption that the category of free behavior is false and presupposes that my choices were determined behavior. So, it's all going to come down to the question of whether or not you can accept the category of free behavior.
SUMMARIZING MOLINISM Molinism, then, is basically the belief that God has predestined every detail of history by selectively creating the universe which He knew would naturally bring about His perfect plan. He included in his “calculations” all the times he would interact with his creation, all the free choices of his creation, and all the times non-living cause and effect would take place. Together, in this way, God is able to ensure everything happens according to his plan without needing to resort to determinism.
Next, we’ll consider the most common objections to Molinism and give some brief answers to them.
ANSWERING OBJECTIONS There are nine primary objections to Molinism. They are:
1. The “Foreknowledge Equals Determinism” Objection 2. The “Applied Middle Knowledge Equals Determinism” Objection 3. The “Desire Entails Determinism” Objection 4. The “Libertarian Free Will Incoherence” Objection 5. The “Card Dealer” Objection 6. The “Grounding” Objection 7. The “Free Choice Unknowability” Objection 8. The “Random Choice” Objection 9. The “Just Philosophy, Not Bible” Objection
The “Foreknowledge Equals Determinism” Objection DESCRIPTION: This objection states that if God knows what people will do with absolute certainty, then they lose the ability to make any choice other than the one God has foreknown. This obliterates libertarian free will.
SHORT ANSWER: Knowledge of events has no “causal power” over those events; just the opposite, knowledge of events comes logically as a result of those events. To use an analogy, a weather barometer predicts the weather. Yet that prediction does not result in specific weather conditions. On the contrary, certain weather conditions resulted in the readings of the barometer. This would not change even if the barometer was perfectly infallible in all its predictions. So, when it comes to God’s foreknowledge of what you will do, it would be accurate to say that should you have freely chosen to do anything different, then God would have different foreknowledge of your free choice.
The “Applied Middle Knowledge Equals Determinism” Objection DESCRIPTION: This objection states that if God knows what I would freely do in specific circumstances and then knowingly puts me in those circumstances, this amounts to manipulation and is essentially no different from causal determinism.
SHORT ANSWER: Few people who raise this objection would take issue with the idea that God knows what someone would freely do in some hypothetical circumstances; it’s just when God decides to actualize that truth that this objection shows up. Yet, in actualizing this truth, all God is doing is changing the statement “Trent would freely choose to eat the apple in these circumstances” to Trent will freely choose to eat the apple in these circumstances”. The only thing that’s changed is “would” (hypothetical) to “will” (actual). This doesn’t entail determination or manipulation. To use an analogy, if the FBI wanted to catch a car thief whom they know would freely choose to steal an unattended corvette, they would simply put an unattended corvette in his path so that his free choice would actualize and they could catch him. The thief may protest that they forced his hand – but in reality, he acted entirely by his own free choice and has no one to blame but himself.
The “Desire Entails Determinism” Objection DESCRIPTION: This objection states that people always do whatever they most desire to do. So, if a person falls to temptation, it’s because they had a greater desire to fall into temptation than a desire to resist it. Similarly, if a person resists temptation, it’s because they had a greater desire to resist temptation than to fall to it. There is no other option available; for this reason, libertarian free will is not consistent with human nature.
SHORT ANSWER: The idea that our desires casually determine our choices is refuted by scripture. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that with every temptation God provides a way of escape so that we are able to resist any temptation we’re faced with – this includes the temptations that we do end up falling too. Putting two and two together, we clearly see that there are at least some scenarios where we have within us the ability to choose between more than one action – regardless of what our “greatest desire” is. This is one of the things that makes us in the image of God: the ability to resist even our greatest passions.
The “Libertarian Free Will Incoherence” Objection DESCRIPTION: This objection states that libertarian free will is a logically incoherent concept; in other words, it breaks the laws of logic – like the idea of a married bachelor or God creating a second equally powerful God. And since God cannot by his nature break the laws of logic, God cannot create creatures with libertarian free will.
SHORT ANSWER: In theology, Christians hold that God has the divine attribute of “aseity” – that is, “complete independence, sufficiency, and self-existence”. If God were to need anyone or anything to be complete, He would not be God. Yet, we see that before the creation of the universe God existed alone – timelessly, spacelessly, and matterlessly; nothing other than him existed. But then for some reason, God chose to create the universe and everything in it, without any sort of material cause – a doctrine called “Creato Ex Nihlo”. Now, here is the question: why did God create the universe? Did his greatest desire to create the universe deterministically cause Him to do so? If we say it did, this means that God had no choice but to create us and that we exist necessarily. In other words, God needs us. This obviously violates God’s aseity. No – God must have the libertarian free will necessary to create something that He wasn’t required to. Therefore, it’s safe to say that libertarian free will – at least in God – is not an incoherent concept. And unless an objector can somehow demonstrate that God’s creation of subsequent beings would be logically inconsistent in the same sense that creating another God would be, this objection fails.
The “Card Dealer” Objection DESCRIPTION: This objection states that if God had Middle Knowledge of what people would freely do in different scenarios, then God is not really in control; whatever determines those “counterfactuals” is in control. If God has to “deal with the cards he has been dealt”, then He is not truly a maximally great being; the “cosmic card dealer” who gave Him the “cards” is. To be truly great, God must be the one to determine what people would do in each hypothetical scenario – and not be forced to adapt to those counterfactuals.
SHORT ANSWER: Nearly every Christian theologian believes that God’s omnipotence allows Him to do anything that is logically possible – not things that are logically impossible. No one would seriously argue that God has the ability to create another God or create a married bachelor. Subsequently, no one would seriously argue that this contradicts God’s omnipotence. God cannot contradict the laws of logic – which include (among others) the laws of non-contradiction and the law of causality. So, the only “card dealer” God would have to answer to would be the laws of logic. But, since the laws of logic find their source in God’s identity just like the laws of objective morality, it turns out God is His own “cosmic card dealer” after all. Additionally, the only reason free creatures would make certain choices would be if God decided to create them as free creatures. God simply knows the outcome of those choices that every hypothetical free creature would make. From this, we see that God is in control, and this fact isn’t contradicted by the idea that God knows the logical ends of His hypothetical creations.
The “Grounding” Objection DESCRIPTION: This objection states that it would be impossible for God to know hypothetical truths because those truths don’t actually exist – and only truths that are “grounded” in reality can be certainly known. Therefore, the idea of Middle Knowledge is logically incoherent.
SHORT ANSWER: This objection is dependent upon a highly controversial understanding of truth called “Truth Maker Theory” – which states that truth can only be known if it is grounded in what actually exists. The problem is, there is no logical warrant for accepting this understanding; it’s just a theory with no compelling basis for it. Since this theory is far from established, the grounding problem is essentially committing the logical fallacy of “Begging the Question”.
The “Free Choice Unknowability” Objection DESCRIPTION: This objection simply states that if people’s choices are truly free, it would be impossible to logically deduce what choice a person will make, even if someone were all-knowing, like God. Therefore, in order to know what people would do (counterfactuals), those people would have to be logically determined to make those choices.
SHORT ANSWER: Molinists do not believe God learns Middle Knowledge through deductive reasoning – for that would in fact be impossible for free decisions. Rather, just like his Necessary Knowledge (knowledge of what’s possible/impossible), Molinists believe God has this knowledge intrinsically. This is in keeping with God’s omniscience and immutability. This is how God can know counterfactuals of creaturely freedom.
The “Random Choice” Objection DESCRIPTION: This objection states that since Libertarian Free will is not determined by anything outside of a person’s own will, then people’s choices are randomly occurring phenomena that just “happen” to occur in different circumstances. This makes Molinism “too perfect” as God could always just alter circumstances in such imperceptible ways that an infinite number of outcomes could be selected from by God to actualize in the world – including a perfect world. But since the world is not perfect, Molinism must be false.
SHORT ANSWER: Libertarian free will is the “ability to choose between multiple alternative options, each of which is within one’s power to choose”. This doesn’t mean that the choices are random. People simply evaluate the data of what they feel, what they know, what they see, what other people say, etc, and simply decide. Imperceptible changes would not change their decision because their decision is not random – it’s based on the data under consideration. Additionally, it’s not necessarily true that God would have preferred to create a world that’s different from this one. Perhaps there is some overriding good reason for creating the world as He did – such as ensuring that people who are saved in this world would not take paradise for granted as Satan did. The fact of the matter is, God has good reasons for creating the world as He did, even if we are not perfectly aware of them.
The “Just Philosophy, Not Bible” Objection DESCRIPTION: This objection poses that since Molinism requires a good deal of philosophy and is not derived through simple exegesis of scripture, it should be rejected – especially in favor of other views which are less philosophical and more Biblical.
SHORT ANSWER: Firstly, this objection is begging the question. By saying that other views are more Biblical (i.e., more right), and then using that as a reason for rejecting Molinism, it is committing this all-too-common logical fallacy sometimes called “circular reasoning”. But it’s also important to note that philosophy is just the application of logic; in this sense, every view is philosophical – including Calvinism and Arminianism. Rejecting philosophy isn’t how we guard against error; rather we guard against error by rejecting views that contradict the scriptures and by holding to views that best fit the entire context of scripture (see the biblical passages at the beginning of this article). Molinism is simply an attempt to faithfully accomplish this task in a way that accounts for both the absolute sovereignty of God and the libertarian free will of humanity.
SUMMERY As we can see, Molinism stands strong even against its harshest critics. Next, we’ll look at objections Molinists has against the alternative beliefs.
RAISING OBJECTIONS Below, there are ten objections to the views held by Molinism’s critics:
The “First Sin” Objection
The “Genuine Ability” Objection
The “Omnibenevolence” Objection
The “Demographic Discrepancy” Objection
The “Adequate Display of Wrath” Objection
The “Confirmation Bias” Objection
The “False Providence” Objection
The “Ignorant God” Objection
The “Purposeless Evil” Objection
The “Wrong Question” Objection
The “First Sin” Objection BACKGROUND: The Calvinistic view of free will is that humans are only free to do whatever they most desire. Because of the fall, our desires have become corrupt, and are thus only free to sin, unless God chooses to irresistibly grace us with faith. God is not at fault for our sin, because our sinful nature came from the decision of Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve were our perfect representatives and did what we would have done in their place. Therefore, we are without excuse.
OBJECTION: This understanding of why we sin does a good job of showing how we can both be deterministically caused to sin while being morally responsible for our sin. The reason we sin is not that God made us sin, but because Adam and Eve (our representatives) gave us a sinful nature by choosing to commit the first sin. There is, however, one fatal problem with this view: where did Adam & Eve’s desire to sin come from? Calvinism teaches that the reason we sin is that our greatest desire is to sin, and that desire comes from our sinful nature. But Adam and Eve did not have a sinful nature prior to the first sin. Thus, if Calvinism is correct, and free will is the ability to do only what we most desire, then in order to sin, Adam and Eve had to have been created by God with the greatest desire to sin – effectively causing them to sin. This would implicate God and make him the cause of not only their sin but every sin that comes from our inherited sinful nature.
The Calvinist will usually respond to this by stating that Adam & Eve had a “moral ability” not to sin before the fall. But this raises the question: how? If Adam & Eve are only able to do the action that corresponds with their greatest desire, then how could they have a “moral ability” to do anything other than the greatest desire God created them with? This argument can be summed up in the following logical syllogisms:
PREMISE 1: Any chain of necessary occurrences can be reduced to the initial cause necessarily causing the final effect in the chain.
PREMISE 2: In Calvinism, God necessarily caused Adam & Eve’s initial condition, which necessarily caused their first desires, which necessarily caused their first sinful desires, which necessarily caused their first sin.
CONCLUSION: Therefore, in Calvinism, God necessarily caused Adam & Eve’s first sin.
PREMISE 1: Anything that necessarily causes an action is morally responsible for that action.
PREMISE 2: In Calvinism, God necessarily caused Adam & Eve’s first sin.
CONCLUSION: Therefore, in Calvinism, God is morally responsible for Adam & Eve’s first sin.
The “Genuine Ability” Objection BACKGROUND: The Calvinistic understanding of free will is that people are only able to do whatever it is they most desire to do; as a result, they are unable to do otherwise.
OBJECTION: In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul tells us that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (ESV). The idea is, every time we face temptation, we have the genuine ability to resist that temptation and choose not to sin. The problem arises when we consider the believer who falls into temptation. According to the Calvinistic understanding of free will, the reason he fell to temptation was because his greatest desire was to fall to temptation (otherwise, he wouldn’t have fallen). But, since we are only free to do whatever it is we most desire, the Christian who falls into temptation was not genuinely able to resist the temptation – thus in contradiction to this promise. Given this, we see that it is impossible to both affirm this verse and the Calvinistic understanding of free will. Since we believe in biblical inerrancy, the most reasonable conclusion is that Calvinism is false. This argument can be summarized in the following syllogism:
PREMISE 1: If a person’s action occurred necessarily because of a prior cause, they did not have the genuine ability to perform an alternative action.
PREMISE 2: In Calvinism, people’s actions occur necessarily because of their strongest desires.
CONCLUSION: Therefore, in Calvinism, people do not have the genuine ability to perform alternative actions (in contrast to 1 Cor 10:13).
The “Omnibenevolence” Objection BACKGROUND: The Calvinist believes that God loves all people (Jn 3:16) but loves His elect in a special way that He does not love the non-elect. For this reason, he irresistibly calls the elect to salvation by giving them the gift of faith while passing over the non-elect to follow their own devices to damnation. This is not unjust of God, for God does not have to provide the same blessing or grace to anyone. It would be wrong for us to call God unfair for choosing to extend his love to some and not others.
OBJECTION: This view goes against the omnibenevolence of God. While it is true that God is free to dispense His grace to anyone He wishes and withhold it from anyone He wishes, what we know about God’s character is that He is omnibenevolent: that is all-good & all-loving. This does not mean that God is loving at the expense of His justice and nor does it mean that He is all-just at the expense of His love. He is completely both. Thus, for God to be anything less than completely loving to all people would be in contradiction to His loving character (even if it is in keeping with his justice). Therefore, if God is truly all-loving, He would (even though He didn’t have to) express maximum love to all people – which, if Calvinism is correct, would include the dispensing of Irresistible Grace. This would result in saving all people. But, since all people are not saved, then the best explanation is that Calvinism is false.
The “Demographic Discrepancy” Objection BACKGROUND: Part of the Calvinistic view of salvation is that faith is a gift from God, by means of Irresistible Grace. Without it, no person – young or old – will ever express genuine saving faith in Christ. God bestows this grace entirely by his own discretion and for His own glory in order to save his selected elect people. With it, no person – no matter how hardened – will ever reject his saving invitation. Irresistible Grace is always effectual.
OBJECTION: It is true that if God does use Irresistible Grace to save his people He would be free to save anyone He wishes, leaving any (or no) pattern He wishes. That being said, if humans have no part in ultimately deciding if they will put their faith in Christ for salvation, we would not expect to see any significant correlation of certain demographics being more likely to accept Christ than others. If toddlers, teenagers, college students, young parents, the middle-aged, and the elderly are all equally unable to turn to Christ apart from irresistible grace and all equally unable to resist turning to Christ in the event of irresistible grace, we would not expect one particular age group to stand out very much from the others. Yet, what we see is that by rule of thumb, high school and college students are exceedingly more likely to be open to converting to Christianity than are middle-aged and elderly. Interestingly, the years that people are typically most willing to change their views in other areas perfectly line up with the years that people are typically most willing to change their views about Christianity. While this does not decisively disprove the concept of irresistible grace, given that God wishes to receive the most glory, it seems highly unlikely that God would use irresistible grace in a way that makes it appear that He is not using irresistible grace. Therefore, the most likely conclusion is that Irresistible Grace (an essential part of Calvinism) is false.
The “Adequate Display of Wrath” Objection BACKGROUND: The Calvinistic view of election is that God chooses to pass over some individuals by not providing for them the irresistible grace necessary to obtain salvation. The reason given is that this most glorifies God, even more than it would to save all people irresistibly. Therefore, while God does desire all men to be saved, He has a greater desire for something else that will better display his glory. Given that this “something else” would only happen if certain individuals went to hell, the implication is that God gets more glory by displaying his wrath against sin on those who reject Him.
OBJECTION: Scripturally, we know God displayed his wrath against sin when he poured out the cup of wrath on Jesus on the cross. To suggest that God would receive more glory by also punishing sinners in Hell would seem to indicate that the wrath poured out on Jesus was somehow incomplete and insufficient. It would indicate that God did not pour out His full wrath but held back some of it. But, given that Jesus did suffer the perfect wrath of God on the cross – we can know that God does receive maximum glory from maximally displaying His wrath. Therefore, it would not give God any more glory for sinners to suffer in Hell for eternity when He could have simply irresistibly called them by His grace. All this to say, if Calvinism were true, God would have no reason not to irresistibly call all people – given his desire for all to be saved. Since all are not saved, it is reasonable to conclude that Calvinism is false.
The “Confirmation Bias” Objection BACKGROUND: The Calvinistic view of free will teaches that our greatest desires determine all of our choices, including what we choose to believe. In other words, we are free to believe only what we most want to believe. This is supported by confirmation bias – the idea that people are highly likely to accept evidence that supports their worldview and highly likely to reject evidence that contradicts it.
OBJECTION: The existence of confirmation bias actually indicates that we don’t come to our beliefs based solely on our desires. Why? Because confirmation bias still can be resisted, as was described by R.C. Sproul in his description of his own coming to believe in Calvinism. He made clear in his book Chosen by God that he first intellectually admitted to it, and only later came to like the belief system. If his desires determined his beliefs, then it would have made more sense for the order of events to be reversed – where he liked the belief first and came to believe it as a result. Therefore, it is more likely true that a person’s greatest desires do not always determine their choices.
The “False Providence” Objection BACKGROUND: The Arminian understanding of predestination is that God used his foreknowledge of who would be saved in the world, and then as a result of that, affirmed this foreknowledge by electing those who will be saved to salvation and those who will be damned to damnation. Thus, the order of events would go like this: (Divine Necessary Knowledge) --> (Divine Middle Knowledge) --> Divine Foreknowledge --> Predestination --> Creation
OBJECTION: This view fails to explain why events are going to happen in the first place. With this view, God has foreknowledge of things he has no control over. Things are just going to happen in this view, whether God likes it or not. God’s “predestination” and “providence” in this view is nothing more than a resignation that “whatever be, will be”. In this view, God is powerless to have any say in the way the world will be – and thus, no way to bring about any good plan. Any good that happens is by coincidence and not due to the plan of God. In this view, predestination loses all meaning and is simply an affirmation of foreknowledge. This is in direct contradiction with the meaning of the word predestination in scripture as well as the face-value interpretation of all the biblical texts in which it is mentioned. Therefore, the most reasonable conclusion is that Arminianism is false.
The “Ignorant God” Objection BACKGROUND: Open Theism teaches that God, while able to know anything He wishes, has chosen to voluntarily not know the future, in order to give his creatures free will.
OBJECTION: This view wrongfully assumes that divine foreknowledge precludes free will; as we explained in the answer to the “Foreknowledge Equals Determinism” objection, this is false. Therefore, this view is unnecessary. Additionally, this view states that God does not know the future – which is in clear contrast to dozens of explicit statements in scripture. Therefore, we can on Biblical grounds alone safely reject open theism based on its incompatibility with the biblical text.
The “Purposeless Evil” Objection BACKGROUND: Open Theism teaches that God, while able to know anything He wishes, has chosen to voluntarily not know the future, in order to give his creatures free will. Open theists believe this makes God not responsible for the many horrors of this world and thus morally good.
OBJECTION: While attempting to solve the problem of evil, Open Theism just makes the problem worse. While it is true that the God of Open Theism wouldn’t know about evils happening ahead of time, once those evils began, God would have no good reason to allow them to continue. In any other system like Molinism, Calvinism, or Arminianism, at least God has good reasons for allowing evil to continue. In Open Theism, God allows evil to continue for no good reason whatsoever, which goes against God’s omnibenevolence. Therefore, on grounds of the increased problem of evil, we can reject open theism.
The “Wrong Question” Objection BACKGROUND: The Provisionist understanding of predestination is that election is corporate and not individual. Rather than predestine who would express faith in Christ to be saved, God has chosen to predestine anyone who does express faith will be saved. To use an analogy, rather than predestining who would get on the plane, God predestines where the plane will go, regardless of who freely decides to get on it.
OBJECTION: Even if it is true that every mention of predestination in scripture refers to corporate election, the Provisionist still runs into the problem of why things are the way they are. The obvious answer is that God created the world that way. This of course raises the question of why did God create the world that way? God had to have some plan in creating the world, which would include everything that happens – including who would and would not be saved. Thus, Provisionism, even if true, does not adequately answer the question of divine providence.
CONCLUSION As you can see, Molinism makes the most sense of the Biblical data and strikes that long-awaited balance between Calvinism and Arminianism. Here, God is completely in control and we are completely free. This is the beauty of Molinism.