I’ve recently started a study on molinism with hopes to try and secure a stance on soteriology and the issue of divine foreknowledge and our free will. I haven’t made a decision yet, but I think I am leaning towards molinism. There are a few things that I can’t really understand with regards to Calvinism and its soteriology.
The issue revolves around the idea that God genuinely desires to save all and the calvinistic notion of electing some while leaving others to their doom. If a calvinist affirms that God genuinely desires to save all, then I don’t think he can truly affirm the idea that God can save some but leaves the rest. Now, I’d like to be clear that I don’t intend to speak on behalf of all calvinists. I’m well aware that calvinists differ on their stance (e.g., Bruce Ware and Greg Koukl differ on their calvinistic views). So, I’m mainly targeting Calvinists who approach this issue under the assumption that God genuinely desires to save all, hence the conditional statement I offered.
Let’s think for a moment that it is my genuine desire to have everyone in my neighborhood come and live with me in my luxurious home. My home, for the sake of this little thought experiment, has an infinite amount of rooms and space so it cannot be the case that I do not have enough room to fit everyone. So, one day one of my neighbors is walking by in front of my home and I walk out and say to him, “You there! I would like for you to come into my house, and this is not an offer you cannot refuse. After all, my home is like heaven!” My neighbor happily agrees and he comes in. As I turn back around to walk into my house, many other neighbors storm out of their homes and sadly march up to my front porch. “And why can’t we come too?” They all ask. “Well,” I begin, “You see, I really want you all to come. I really do. But I just can’t do that.” With a perplexed look they retort, “Well why not?!” “Well, I just can’t. Besides, I’m not obligated to bring you into my home.” I give them a sad look and walk right back in my home as I left them out on my front porch.
The first thing that may strike you as odd is if I really and genuinely wanted them all to come into my home, then why didn’t I just invite them in? It seems a bit disingenuous to say that I want them all to come, yet I don’t extend them all the invitation. Unless it’s the case that I really don’t want them all to come. Now if I don’t want them to come, then fine. I’m not obligated to invite people into my home. But I think when it comes to God (The Christian God), this cannot be the answer.
God is not obligated to save anyone at all, and I would agree that that is true. Greg Koukl gave me a similar answer when I called him a few months back asking him about salvation and original sin. God doesn’t have to save anyone because we’re all guilty, and if He were to not offer salvation and see to it that we’re all marched off to pay for our sins in hell, then He would be justified and we’d be getting what we deserved.
I’ll concede this, because God, I suppose if He wanted to, can do that. God isn’t obligated to do so, but He chose to offer himself as a sacrifice to the world, and I think scripture tells quite a different story. 2 Peter 3:7-11 writes, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. “
The much quoted John 3:16-17 also affirms how much God cares for His creation that He was willing to give “his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
This issue is nothing new, and it’s been one that Calvinists have regrouped to answer multiple times. Some offer a sort of hidden will that God has. I am well aware that the 2 peter verse is referring to the Lord’s second coming and not to salvation per se. However, Scripture, I think, reveals to us that the character of the Christian God is one in which He cares deeply about us and wishes that we all see salvation.
What can we learn about God’s character from this verse? If we take this scripture to apply universally, i.e., God wishes none to perish in any way, then we could make a good case that God doesn’t want anyone to perish with regards to going to hell. It would be weird to say that God doesn’t wish any to perish when He returns but He’s ok with individuals perishing in hell. Prima facie, I think we are justified in applying this universally, and thus revealing something very telling, and beautiful, about God’s character.
Another scripture that seems to confirm this about God’s character is Ezekiel 33:10-11. Scripture records, “And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
So I’d like to comment on the conditional statement I raised at the beginning of this post–If a calvinist affirms that God genuinely desires to save all, then I don’t think he can truly affirm the idea that God can save some but leaves the rest. Arguing with modus ponens:
- If God genuinely desires to save all, then a calvinist cannot truly affirm the idea that God can save some but leaves the rest
- God genuinely desires to save all
- Therefore, a calvinist cannot truly affirm the idea that God can save some but leave the rest
The calvinist might deny the second premise and say that God doesn’t genuinely desire to save all, but we know this to be a problem since it seems to stand in stark contrast to scripture and God’s character. The calvinist might also say that the first premise is false because the consequent doesn’t follow from its antecedent. The calvinist may appeal to God’s hidden will in solving the issue as to why God won’t save some and not others and leave it at that. But this, too, I think is problematic and Kenneth Keathley explains why. Keathley, in his book Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach, suggests that God’s character is marred in a way that suggests that God is a hypocrite (57). In greater detail he explains,
The hidden/revealed wills approach appears to make God out to be hypocritical, which is a fifth problem. God universally offers salvation that He has no intention for all to receive. Reformed soteriology teaches that the gospel is offered to all, but efficacious grace is given to the elect. The limits of salvation are set by the sovereign and secret choice of God. Numerous times–through the prophets, the Savior, and the apostles–God publicly reveals a desire for Israel’s salvation while secretly seeing to it they will not repent. (57)
It’s purely blasphemous to say a holy God is a hypocrite, and I don’t think God is one. I think the calvinist is in a tight pickle here. Either he affirms God doesn’t genuinely wish the salvation of all, or the calvinistic soteriology is leaving something out.
Those are my thoughts so far. It focused mostly on calvinism because that’s the view that I encounter the most. Molinism looks promising, but I’m not giving it my full allegiance yet.