Friday, April 4, 2014

Who Is In Charge Anyway?

Dan 4:34  At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; Dan 4:35  all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"

I have been doing some studying on Molinism.  It is a theological system that was developed by a Jesuit priest Luis de Molina in the 1500s to combat the doctrine of the Reformers concerning the sovereignty of God in salvation.  That right there should be enough for us to dismiss it out of hand but it is in vogue among some Arminian evangelicals and evidently some so called Calvinist are said to embrace it so it would be good for us to understand it and why it is an unbiblical attack on the very person of God.  It takes some time to really get one’s mind around what it teaches and I am no expert by any means but let me try to sum it up briefly and give just a few reasons why it fails.

It states that not only does God know all that happens and all that will happen but that he knows all that could happen by men who are considered to be free moral agents.  In other words God knows all the choices free men will make and so he created a world that would lead to the best possible outcome based on the choices we make.  Molina developed this to try to keep man’s free will intact even while God is sovereign.  The problems are legion if one takes the Bible as God’s Word and the final truth. 

The first obvious problem is that it assumes that God’s foreknowledge of all things that will happen is outside of his eternal decrees.  That he is like some seer staring into a crystal ball and sees what we will do.  But the Bible teaches that God knows the future because he has declared the beginning from the end.  The future is not independent from him; it isn’t something that he knows about, it is what he has planned and only what he has planned. 

Secondly this robs God of his sovereignty and makes man’s free will ultimately what determines the course of history and human existence.  Based on what we would do God’s options are limited in what he can do with us; he only has so many options.

But there are two other things to consider that make the whole system collapse  under its own weight; instead of defending and support man’s free will, this system actually ends up denying the very thing it is trying to keep intact.  The idea is that God knows what free men will do under any and all circumstances.  So he manipulates us and our environment and circumstances to get everything to his desired end.  But if we will always choose to act a certain way under the same circumstances then we really have no option to change our minds.  We are like Pavlov’s dogs that will always salivate when they think food is coming.  In other words, our will is not free to choose if it must always act in a definite fashion under the same circumstances.  If God knows what we will do before we do it then we really aren’t free to choose one thing or another; something else has already determined it.

But even worse than this is what seems to me to be something completely missed by those who believe this.  If each one of us is completely free to do whatever we want but God knows what we will do in any situation; what makes us the people we are?  If God knows that Nathan Ruble will always lose his temper when faced with certain things then not only am I not truly free in will but my next question is who make me to be like I am; to think like I do?  Why are we like we are so that we do what we do?  Who gave us our personalities and our likes and dislikes, etc.  We can say it is in our genes but who gave us our genes?

What I am saying is that at the end of the day the Molinist must admit that God has determined all things from the beginning because he made us what we are.  We can talk all we want to about man’s free will but who gave us a will and who gave us our personalities.  There is only one answer to that and it is that Person who has necessarily determined all that will be and exactly how it will all turn out.  And yet he did so keeping our responsibility intact for any decisions we make. 

Can anyone explain how the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man work?  I don’t think so but I do know what the Bible teaches about it and our responsibility is to believe it and not try to philosophize our way out of it.  “Let God be true though every one were a liar”, Rom. 3:4


  1. Nathan,

    Loved your last paragraph on the inexplicability of the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. I guess I like it because I agree with it.

    Back in February when I taught a lesson on Romans 9-11 my summary was: 1) Both are taught 2) Both are true. And our 3 possible reactions are: 1) Perplexed -- o.k. 2) Disturbed -- Less o.k. 3) Stumble -- Not o.k.

    I ran across the term "Compatibilism" in DA Carson's commentary on Matthew. So I guess I'm a "Compatibilist", which Carson says ironically, so are the Biblical writers. Here is his killer summational paragraph:

    "Biblical writers in both the OT and NT, on the whole, have fewer problems about the tensions between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility than do many moderns. This is not because they fail to distinguish purpose and consequence, but because they do not see divine sovereignty and human responsibility as antithesis. In short, they are compatibilists and therefore juxtapose the two themes with little self-conscious awareness of any problem (Gen 50:19-20, Judg 14:4, Isa 10:5-16. Hag 1:12-14, John 11:49-52, Acts 4:27-28)

    Of course, we look for analogies which help us comprehend the incomprehensible. The best one I've run across is from Mark His analogy is that God is the master jigsaw-puzzle-master. We all get to determine our individual shapes and colors and God fits together all us little morphing shapes into what he desires.

    Of course, every analogy breaks down. But this one isn't bad.

    Kenny B

  2. Carson is great of course. I have his Matthew Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount.and on Matthew. I heard him in person a couple of years ago. Mark Lanier I am not familiar with. As you said, analogies can be good and misleading. Lanier's analogy could be taken in a molinistic way. Some would take it that we determine what kind of piece we will be and God has to make the picture from the pieces we give him rather than him being the one who determines the pieces as well as the picture. I try to be careful to never come across as if God does the best he could with what he has.

    That is not to say that is how he meant it. One good thing about preaching to the same people every week is that eventually I will get across what I mean and what I don't mean when I say things



  3. Hi Nathan,
    Thanks for this lesson on Molinism. I really value and appreciate your fruitful efforts to instruct us at church in where these heresy's come from and how to recognize them.

    This passage from Daniel regarding Nebuchadnezzar's astounding admittance about God's sovereignty always gives me great comfort and confidence in God and in His Word.

    I guess the ultimate "selfie" is any professing Christian demanding some of the credit for his or her salvation. What part of our brains get switched off when we read passages like this in the old and new testament in order for us to still see ourselves as having any say in what God in His Sovereignty has accomplished? I have come to the conclusion that at it's best it is spiritual blindness and at it's worst is is willful disregard.

    As far as your last paragraph is concerned, "Can anyone explain how the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man work? I don’t think so but I do know what the Bible teaches about it and our responsibility is to believe it and not try to philosophize our way out of it. “Let God be true though every one were a liar”, Rom. 3:4", I give a very hearty Amen!

    God bless,
    Steve S.

    1. Thanks for your faithful support Steve. I trust that learning the Bible is a joy at church; this is my goal anyway. Nice way to use "selfie" in a theological sense!