Molinism: Why Isn't Everyone Saved?
Molinism is a view of soteriology. It has a lot in common with Arminianism. It teaches that God wants every single human being to come to Christ in order to be saved (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4), that Jesus died for every single human being God will ever create (John 3:16-18, 1 Timothy 2:6, 1 Timothy 4:10, 1 John 2:2, Hebrews 2:9), that humans are totally depraved, that is to say, unable to come to Christ in and of themselves, because Jesus said that no one can come to the Father unless the father who sent Him draws them, (John 6:44, John 6:65), and that because of this inability to come to Christ on our own power, God sends the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin (John 16:8) and to draw every single person into a saving relationship with Himself (John 12:32). Molinists also believe, as Arminians do, that mankind has libertarian free will. Libertarian free will is different from compatiblism because it affirms that we are not causally determined to do what we do (there are no determining factors although there certainly are things that influence our decisions), and also that there exists the possibility to do otherwise. So if I choose A, I didn’t have to choose A. I could have chosen B. There was nothing that prevented me from refraining from choosing A and choosing B instead. Molinists believe that thanks to that enabling grace mentioned above, we have a choice to make. We can either receive salvation or reject it (Deuteronomy 30:15-19, Joshua 24:15).
Molinism differs from Arminianism in a small number of ways. That is a view called Middle Knowledge. What is Middle Knowledge? According to the Molinist, God has 3 types of knowledge. The first is God's knowledge of necessary truths or natural knowledge. These truths are independent of God's will and are non-contingent. This knowledge includes the full range of logical possibilities. Examples include statements like, "All bachelors are unmarried" or "X cannot be A and non-A at the same time, in the same way, at the same place" or "It is possible that X obtain" or “It is impossible for squares to be triangular”. The second is called “middle knowledge” and it contains the range of possible things that would happen given certain circumstances, for example “If Evan Minton chooses to eat fish at this particular restaurant rather than a burger, he would get food poisoning and have a miserable weekend.” or “If Evan’s dog breaks his leash and starts running after a squirrel, he would chase after it”. The third kind of knowledge is God's free knowledge. This type of knowledge consists of contingent truths that are dependent upon God's will; that is to say, truths that God brings about. Examples of this would include “God becomes incarnate in the first century A.D” or “God created the universe”. This is knowledge that God has because He has chosen to bring it about.
So, according to the Molinist, God not only knows what will happen and what could happen, but also what would happen. God literally knows everything there is to know about everything. He even knows counter-factuals (“If X happens, then Y would happen after it”). This is was beautifully illustrated in the moving Christmas film “It’s A Wonderful Life” In which God shows George Baley what the would would have been like without Him. It’s A Wonderful Life shows God’s middle knowledge in that, while God knew that George Bailey was indeed going to be born when he was, He nevertheless knew what the world would have been like without Him.
William Lane Craig calls Molinism “one of the most fruitful theological ideas ever conceived. For it would serve to explain not only God’s knowledge of the future, but divine providence and predestination as well”. Under it, God retains a measure of divine providence without hindering humanity's freedom. Because God has middle knowledge, He knows what an agent would freely do in a particular situation. So, agent A, if placed in circumstance C, would freely choose option X over option Y. Thus, if God wanted to accomplish X, all God would do is, using his middle knowledge, actualize the world in which A was placed in C, and A would freely choose X. God retains an element of providence without nullifying A's choice and God's purpose (the actualization of X) is fulfilled.
This is a pretty profound view of how God can achieve His ends without violating our free choices. God can get us to do what He wants us to do without causally determining us to do it.
I went over this discussion of what Molinism is again because there are many people who are unaware of it. A lot of Christians know about Arminianism and Calvinism, but Molinism seems to me like the forgotten middle child of the soteriology family. Maybe that’s not an accurate perception, but I think it’s one I got because the name is not mentioned very often in debates on soteriology. It usually is framed as “Arminianism VS. Calvinism” rather than “Arminianism, Molinism, or Calvinism”. Perhaps that is because Molinism is so much like Arminianism that the two are clumped together. But in any case, even though I already explained what Molinism was in a prior blog post, I wanted to go through it again for those who may new to the view and/or may not have read my previous post on it.
Anyway, given that God can get us to do something freely by merely placing us in a certain set of circumstances, this raises a question.
Couldn’t God have just put everyone in circumstances such that they would believe and be saved?
There is no one Molinist answer to this question. There are several. One answer is called Transworld Damnation, in which God saves everyone who would freely respond to His grace in any circumstance. The corollary to this is that all those lost would be lost no matter what setting God put them in or no matter what grace God provides. On Transworld Damnation, the answer is “no”, God could not have set things up such that everyone ends up saved, because some would not freely believe. I however find this view to be extraordinarily implausible. Do you expect me to believe that there is no circumstance whatsoever, no world that God would create where Christopher Hitchens became a born again Christian and was saved? Is there no circumstance God could place Caiaphas in where he pleaded for Jesus’ release instead of Barrabas’? Was Judas Iscariot Hell-Bound in any world God created? I find this view to stretch the bounds of plausibility. I mean, I guess it’s possible that this could be the case for some individuals. There are certain things that each one of us would never do under any circumstance I suppose. But to say that this is the way it is for all of the unsaved is a little too hard to swallow.
Here's my view: Although God does want all human beings saved and Jesus died for all, I don't think there's any world God can create with as many people as this one has where every single individual chooses to repent. It may well be the case that God cannot put every single individual in just the right circumstance where God knows that should they be put in those circumstances, they would freely choose to repent and be saved. It may be impossible to bring about every single one of those circumstances in a single world. So while I believe God desires none to perish, it may not be possible to bring about every circumstance that God knows would prompt a free response out of everyone. It may even be the case that some circumstances in which one person is saved is a circumstance where someone else is lost. For example, I read an article recently by someone who said that it was by reading Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” that he decided to convert to the Christian faith. Why? Well, because he said that the arguments against God and for atheism were so shotty, so bad, that he concluded that atheism was indefensible. This prompted him to read works arguing in favor of Christianity to see what they had to say about these topics, and that was enough to convince them that atheism was a farce. Now, what if this world is one where Richard Dawkins became a Christian at, say, 17. If that’s the case, then he would never have written “The God Delusion”. And if that was the case, this guy would never have read it and concluded that atheism was indefensible and that theism was a welcome alternative.
In this case, if Dawkins was saved, this other fellow might not have been. If this fellow was saved, it may be the case that this is a world where Dawkins is never saved.
So it could very well be the case that no matter which world God chooses to create, there will be circumstances in which God knows people will freely reject Him, while some repent.
However, since we have libertarian free will, and our circumstances don’t causally determine us to do what we do, no human being has an excuse for not repenting. Everyone can be saved. People can do differently in the situations they’re placed in. It’s just that God knows that we won’t do differently. It’s a would do/would-not-do differently situation rather than a can-do/cannot-do-differently situation. As such, no man can stand before God on judgment day and say “If only you had placed me in a particular situation, then I would have repented. But because you did not place me in that particular situation, I did not repent, and now I stand here before you condemned. So this is all your fault, God.” God will say “No, you had the freedom to choose me or reject me. It was possible for you to do either no matter what situation I placed you in.”
God gives prevenient and resistible grace to every single individual (As Jesus said in John 12:32). This overcomes their inability to come to them mentioned by Jesus in John 6:44 and John 6:65. So even though there may be a possible world where say, Richard Dawkins is a born again Christian, it’s entirely possible for him to be that in any world God creates. It’s up to him whether he is or is not.