My Thoughts on Keathley's Molinism - Contingency, Freewill & Responsibility, and Grace

The following is a brief reply made to a fellow blogger concerning 3 specific issues addressed in Kenneth Keathley's Salvation and Sovereignty. Keathley's book on Molinism seeks to provide a biblical foundation for this view. The book also compares and contrasts this view with Calvinism, primarily, concluding that Molinism provides more satisfying answers on many issues. Three of those issues addressed by the book are a contingent creation, the freewill and responsibility of man, and grace. And these are the 3 that I concern myself with below.

Keathley suggests that on the Calvinist compatibilism view, God’s decisions “to create and to redeem were not contigent but necessary. The god of the determinist is not free to refrain or do otherwise.
  • The contention is that, for the Calvinist, God's "range of options" are limited from the very beginning to just one option.

The problem with his characterization is that it stems from, in my view, a conflation of moral ability and natural ability.
  • Specifically, God is certainly limited by His goodness from doing evil, but He has no limitations in His natural abilities. 
  • And tellingly, Keathley only gives 2 sentences worth of discussion to fleshing these out. 

My opinion is that in order to understand contingency and God from this Calvinist’s view, it is necessary to correctly understand moral ability and natural ability.

Natural ability deals with the powers we have by virtue of being a human being. We can think, walk, talk, see, hear and even make choices. However, there are also some natural abilities that we lack. I would like to fly but I can’t fly (not because of a moral deficiency but a natural deficiency). I would like to be able to move things with my mind but I cannot do so. Now, just as I can use my legs to walk and my eyes to see, I can also use my will to make choices. Choosing is a natural ability that all men possess and use daily” – Jeff Spry.

Moral ability deals with a deficiency that lies within the heart of man. Specifically, it pertains to man’s dead and fallen spiritual nature (which I will have to talk more about later). In this condition, we do not have the moral ability “to break sins allurement” – Piper. All men posses the natural ability to act in obedience to God, but none by default has the moral ability to do so. This does not mean that man is unable to perform moral acts, most certainly, “horizontially speaking”, he is able. But “vertically speaking”, he has no ability to bridge the gap.

What is the point:
In our Natural ability we (saints and sinners) are free to decide what to wear, eat, say, or what to watch on TV or do at any given moment.
  • We consider and deliberate the options and make a choice based on our ability and desire.
  • A week later, we could very well choose to watch an entirely different TV show for whatever reason.

In our Moral ability (saints or sinners) we are free to decide not to lie, cheat, put our wife’s needs ahead of ours, not shoot the neighbor’s cat, etc.
  • Mankind, however, has a problem.
  • Because we are dead in sin, our moral ability is deficient.
  • We have a depraved heart, mind and will.
  • We cannot love God or trust Christ.
  • We rebel against Him; His word is foolishness.
  • We do not have the moral ability to choose Christ on our own (even Keathley acknowledges this...maybe).

It is important to note that fallen man can live a moral and ethical life – most still have that ability.
  • An atheist can choose to refrain from lying to his spouse or not cheat on his taxes, for example, if he desires to do so.
  • If fact, John Frame points out concerning our being made in the image of God that, “part of that image is knowledge of God, which, though repressed (Rom. 1), still exists at some level”.
  • In other words, we have a natural ability to know God and are held accountable on that basis alone.

With Respect to God and His Abilities:
God, however, has no deficiencies in His abilities (something ALL would agree on).
  • And creation out of necessity would indicate some sort of deficiency.
    o Only a God who had a deficiency in ability would have to create out of necessity.
    o And certainly God has abilities we can't even fathom that could further impact the equation.

But, the Calvinist does admit that God is "limited" in his actions without jeopardizing the contingency of creation.

The problem is that Keathley seems to overstate the nature of these limitations.
  • The existence of a perfect moral and natural ability means that God cannot be the author of sin; cannot lie; and, yes, cannot be compelled to create out of necessity; etc.
  • This is because the limitations on God do not mean that he does not have a “range of options” available to Him when deciding to express His perfect desires through His perfect moral and natural abilities.
  • On a side note, I would argue that because God can do whatever He desires without violating what is right, His freedom to do what He desires is perfect – God has perfect freedom!
    o In perfect freedom, there is not creation out of necessity.

A simple illustration will clarify this.
  • Suppose I desire to give $1000 dollars to a charity and have both the moral ability (selflessness) and the natural ability (money) to do so.
  • I have a huge range of options before me through which I can fulfill this desire.
  • Firstly, I can consider and then pick one of thousands of charities after deliberating over a variety of variables.
  • Secondly, I can then choose to give $1,000.00 cash; I can donate an old car; I can give $500 cash and an old computer; I can give a scholarship to support volunteers; and on and on we go.
  • In responding to my heart’s desire, I have not limited my range of choices at all and none were “necessary” but all were contingent.

Likewise, God apparently had a desire to create man to glorify Himself.
  • He could have created whatever world He saw fit, without (in His case) ever violating what was pure, holy, good and just because none of His abilities are deficient and His freedom and desires are perfect.
  • This specific world he chose to create was contingent in that he had any number of options available to Him just as I did in my donation.
  • So God being God in this Calvinist's view does not make creation necessary.

Freewill and Responsibility:
Keathley argues that freedom of the will (soft libertarianism) must exist for man to be held responsible for his sin.
  • He says to be responsible one must be able to make reasonable choices from a range of options.
  • Geisler puts it as follows, “moral obligation implies moral freedom”.

Calvinist Jeff Spry sums this view up as follows:
  • “Libertarians take very seriously the widespread judgment that we are morally responsible for our actions and that moral responsibility requires  freedom [libertarian freewill]. That is, a person cannot be held morally responsible for an act unless he or she was free to perform that act and free to refrain from it.

Moreover, if man lacks the moral ability and moral freedom to choose God, the argument goes, the offer from God is disingenuous and God is the author of man’s sin.
  • Keathley puts like this, “…the Calvinistic message made God in some way or another the author of evil and thus called into question both the justice and the universal love of God.

Keathley says that Calvinism’s compatibilism which he describes as a causal determinism view of freewill, can also be described philosophically as “event causation”.
  • This is in opposition, he says, to the “agent causation” of the libertarian which is what is needed to have “moral freedom”.

He works it out as follows:
  • He explains that Calvinists believe that “all things that happen are caused by sufficient prior conditions such that nothing else could have happened” (not exactly true as explained above).
  • Under Calvinism then, “Adam’s choice to commit the original sin was the effect of a prior chain of causes.
  • And therefore the ultimate “prior condition”, the “event”, or the “determining cause”; the one who tipped over the first domino to get it all started had to be God.

BTW – He fails to consider, however, that the only way to truly philosophically escape this conclusion, even under his view, is to argue that man created himself, that man was his own first cause.
  • Any view that holds God as the source of man’s will (creator) is vulnerable to this accusation.
  • This is simply because God could have made a different world or a different kind of will (one impervious to temptation, for example), but God chose to make the world we are in.
Keathley, to drive home his point even further, then proceeds to hold up R.C. Sproul, Jr. as the Calvinist representative on the issue and suggests that, as appalling as R.C. Sproul Jr.’s view is, it is really the only intellectually honest view a Calvinist can have.
  • This approach is as disappointing as it is disingenuous.
  • As one so concerned with what a genuine offer of the Gospel must look like, why would he abandon a concern for genuineness at this point in dealing with the Calvinist view.

This Calvinist’s view of responsibility:
We are NOT accountable to God due to a choice made in the context of libertarian freewill.

Profoundly, we ARE responsible for our actions before God because He, as Creator, has spoken to us and thereby obligated us!
  • Genesis 2:16–17 (ESV) — 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
  • Exodus 20:1–3 (ESV) — 1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me…
  • John 1:14 (ESV) — 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
  • Romans 1:20 (ESV) — 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

In other words it is NOT, “Why am I accountable for my sin?”
  • Well, because I freely chose to disobey (free from influence from my moral deficiencies) thereby validating that the Gospel invitation is genuine and I am truly guilty.

It IS like this, “Why am I accountable for my sin?”
  • Because God spoke to me
And, “Why is the Gospel offer genuine?”
  • Because God spoke it and Christ’s resurrection vindicated it.

Oshea Davis has the following take on it:
"In order to be responsible freedom is not required, but sovereignty. Romans 8:7 shows mankind without freedom to obey God and yet God will hold these responsible for this very thing. Without a sovereign parent a child is not responsible, without a sovereign government a citizen is not responsible. It is for the very reason we are not free and God is All Sovereignty over us that we are responsible. Any more than this adds to our responsibility, but only this is needed."

The offer of the Gospel cannot be deemed genuine because of something in man (freewill)!
  • This is presupposition and worldly philosophy run amuck.
  • This flatly usurps God’s sovereignty.
  • The Gospel is genuine because it is from God and He spoke it.
  • We are responsible because He spoke and thereby obligated us.
  • Or in the words of John Frame, “revelation [God’s words/speaking] is so clear that it obligates belief and obedience leaving us without excuse”.

By speaking, God healed the blind; multiplied food; turned water into wine; raised the dead; made the lame walk; cast out demons; created the world; turned away temptation; and obligated man – all for His glory.
  • And in no case was cooperation required prior to His work; they/it responded after the work was done.

What’s more, using Keathley’s logic, it MUST BE that God had a range of choices available to him at the time of creation from which He could choose to make man responsible that did NOT include and necessitate the existence of libertarian freewill.
  • If libertarian freewill were necessary, then contingency, as the libertarian understands it, is in jeopardy.

On the Calvinist view, however, God desired to create a world in which man was responsible to Him and thus created the very world He desired to create.
  • Yet, like the charity example above, He had any number of choices available to Him in which He could make this world while still being true to His desire to create it.
  • Therefore, it is possible (in the range of choices available to Him) that He made us responsible by obligating us by his Word, NOT by libertarian freewill.

Another consideration:
  • “We must accept what the Bible teaches, which is: God is sovereign; Man acts according to his nature; Man is responsible. The only way the statements above can be considered contradictory is for one to bring a 4th statement into the situation: Man cannot be responsible or free unless he possesses libertarian free will” – Jeff Spry.
  • And it is my opinion that this is exactly what the Molinist/Arminian is doing.
    o They are trying to comport Scripture with a worldly philosophical presupposition.
    o And though I am sympathetic with their concern, I think it is completely unfounded.

And finally:
Freedom is not contradictory to sovereignty. However, autonomy is! To be autonomous (auto=“self” and nomos=“law”) is to be a law unto yourself. To be autonomous is to be self-governing and answerable to no one else. To be autonomous is to be absolutely free. Only God is autonomous and absolutely free” – Jeff Spry.

Keathley expresses a good deal of agreement with the Calvinist on man’s relationship to God’s grace.
  • Keathley agrees that man does not have the moral ability to choose God when he says, “In short, they [Calvinists] contend that the lost do not have the capacity in their natural state [moral ability] to turn to God. So far, so good; on this point there is universal agreement”.
  • He even concedes that, “The Holy Spirit must be the one who brings a person to saving faith”.

However, I think it is important to have a clear understanding of this depravity and consider the fact that logically Keathley’s position cannot actually remain valid and embrace what he says it does.

John Piper sums up our depravity nicely with the following when he says that, apart from the new birth:
  • We are dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1-2).
  • We are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3).
  • We love darkness and hate the light (John 3:19-20).
  • Our hearts are hard like stone (Ezek. 36:26; Eph. 4:18).
  • We are unable to submit to God or please God (Rom 8:7-8).
  • We are unable to accept the gospel (Eph. 4:18; 1 Cor. 2:14).
  • We are unable to come to Christ or embrace him as Lord (John 6:44, 65; 1 Cor. 12:3).
  • We are slaves to sin (Rom. 6:17).
  • We are slaves of Satan (Eph. 2:1-2; 2 Tim. 2:24-26).
  • No good thing dwells in us (Rom. 7:18).

An important implication of this is that the unbelievers’ problem is not simply an intellectual one rooted in his reason and will, but a profound moral inability as discussed earlier.
  • This is why John Frame says that we do not, “appeal merely to the unbelievers reason and will, for his will is bound by sin and his reason seeks to distort, not affirm, the truth…he seeks to operate his reason autonomously and thus is deep in error from the outset”.

So the million dollar question is, what is it about a "dead" man that can respond to God’s grace?
  • Is it nothing or something, it can’t be both.

But, Keathley tries to have it both ways.
  • “God must graciously invade the darkness of a person’s heart”.
  • The Holy Spirit and gospel “enable a response that a lost person does not intrinsically have the ability to give”.

And then he gets trapped by the question (philosophical presupposition) that comes up over and over in his book (which I addressed earlier) – “how can presenting the gospel to those from whom God withholds the ability to respond be in good faith?
  • In other words, man must have something in him that can respond.
  • This seems to completely contradicts his previous concessions.
  • In fact, his ambulatory description of God’s grace confirms this contradiction.

He suggests that God’s grace is an ambulance that is transporting all to salvation.
  • He concludes that, “The only thing that could stop it is if, inexplicably, a person decides to refuse”.
  • And later he says, “The mystery of exactly why one says ‘no’ to grace remains unsolved”.

The problem he seemed to forget about is that man is dead before he even is put into the ambulance.
  • He doesn’t decide to refuse – refusal is his default position; this is what depravity is; this is what moral deficiency is.
  • There is no neutral position from which to decide – man is not autonomous.

And in contradicting himself he also reduces the unbeliever’s problem to one of his reason and will.
  • Jeff Spry puts it like this, “The true nature of sin and guilt is denied. Sinners are told they are guilty of a major mistake of not accepting the wonderful benefits that God longs to give them. His unbelief is really no more than a mistake…At the point where a helpless sinner needs God’s help and power the most, the sinner is pointed away from God and told to look to himself. He is told that God has done all He can do”.

I still have to whole-heartedly agree with John Piper.
  • “The new birth is something that happens in us when the Holy Spirit takes our dead hearts and unites us to Christ by faith so that his life becomes our life” – John Piper.
Granted, the Calvinist is left with wondering why one man is chosen and not another.
  • But this mystery resides in God where it should reside.
  • Keathley turns this on its head and says, “The mystery of exactly why one says ‘no’ to grace remains unsolved”.
  • He usurps the prerogative of God to act mysteriously with His Grace and moves the mystery to man.

Unfortunately, I believe Keathley holds the same presuppositions as the Arminian and so suffers the same problems from a Calvinist's point of view.
  • He elevates man to having a neutral, autonomous position while sacrificing God’s sovereignty.
  • The validation of a sincere gospel offer rests, not in God, but in man.
  • God is implicated in evil, unless there is a certain kind of will in man.
  • The ambulance (God’s grace) will bring the sinner to salvation, but, alas, man.
  • And as just stated, he takes the mystery of God’s grace and makes it the mystery of man’s rejection.
  • Also, he says its grace alone, but…it’s not really.
  • And he says man in his depravity can’t choose God, but…he can really.

Admittedly, there is much to be learned from this book, and I will turn to it frequently.
  • In fact, some of his insights can be accommodated to a reformed view of man and salvation.
  • This notion of middle knowledge is certainly intriguing, but not necessary on a reformed view.
  • Ultimately, though, I am not a convert .