Why Molinism fails

by Matt Slick
6/16/2017
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Molinism fails as a philosophical position because it is founded on two unbiblical assumptions: Libertarian Free Will and Prevenient Grace. With libertarian free will, Molinists tell us that God eternally knows what different people will do in various circumstances, including who will freely choose to receive Christ. Prevenient grace is the work of God upon the sinner that enables him to come to a place of choosing Christ. Let's take a look.

 Libertarian free will is defined by Molinists as...

  • "By definition, the ability or power to choose or to refrain from choosing is what is called libertarian freedom." (Keathley, Kenneth. Salvation and Sovereignty,  (p. 26). B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, 2010, Kindle Edition. p. 26) 
  • "Libertarianism is the view that the morally responsible agent is in some sense the origin of his choices, and that prior conditions such as circumstances are not the final determiner for that agent." (Keathley, Kenneth. Salvation and Sovereignty, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, Kindle Edition, 2010, p. 69)
  • "The teaching of Scripture seems to assert that post-Genesis 3 humans possess libertarian free will, including freedom to choose between opposites on matters pertaining to salvation or any other spiritual good." (Andrews, Max. An Introduction to Molinism: Scripture, Reason, and All that God has Ordered (The Spread of Molinism Book 1) (Kindle Locations 239-240). Kindle Edition.)
  • “Molina’s doctrine of libertarian free will states that a sentient being has the ability to do anything in the full range of alternatives that is consistent with his nature.” (Notes approved by Kirk MacGregor from Dialogue between Matt Slick and Dr. Kirk MacGregor, 4/6/2017.)1

To be clear, there are different views of libertarianism including hard and soft. Though it is not as simple as these two views, these are the basic ones.

  • "A hard libertarian argues that, in order for a person to be genuinely free, he must always have the ability to choose the contrary, or must be free from external influences." (Keathley, Kenneth. Salvation and Sovereignty, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, Kindle Edition, 2010, p. 69).
  • "...soft libertarianism holds ideas comparable to its counterpart soft determinism. Both believe that a person’s character governs his choices." (Keathley, Kenneth. Salvation and Sovereignty, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, Kindle Edition, 2010, p. 70).

Whichever view different Molinists hold, the issue of concern is the ability of the unregenerate to freely choose Christ. This cannot be the case due to the prohibition revealed by scriptures - which is list later in this article. Even Molina agreed that the fallen, unregenerate person cannot of his own free will choose Christ.

  • "While Molina would disagree with these conclusions of Luther and Calvin, he did concur with one aspect of Calvin’s reasoning. Molina agreed that the impact of original sin upon humanity was so great that it incapacitated their mental faculty to choose freely to do spiritual good, including positively responding to Christ’s offer of salvation. As a result, Molina deduced, along with Calvin, that humans left to their own devices could not freely choose salvation. But contra Calvin, Molina believed that God’s sufficient grace for salvation given to all humans by the Holy Spirit — namely, God’s prevenient grace — supernaturally restored their mental faculty to choose spiritual good." (MacGregor, Kirk R., Luis de Molina: The Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge, Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI, Kindle Edition, 2015, p. 72, referencing Molina, Commentaria, 14.13.6, 38)

Since Molina affirmed the biblical doctrine of total depravity and its resulting incapacitating effect upon the sinner, he proposed a means by which God overcomes this problem:  prevenient grace. Generically speaking, prevenient grace is the grace of God that comes before salvation that brings a person to a place where he can then choose Christ.

  • “On Molina’s understanding, prevenient grace does not enable anything in a person, and it doesn’t change a person’s nature. Instead, it is God’s work where He arranges a set of circumstances (i.e., likely including the gospel presentation) and monergistically produces responses to those circumstances in the person. So long as the person does not resist God’s movement, God will regenerate the person. What God is looking for is that the person not resist his work. If the person resists, then God will let him have his way and the person does not get saved.” (Notes approved by Kirk MacGregor from Dialogue between Matt Slick and Kirk MacGregor, 4/6/2017)
  • "prevenient grace is “the unmerited, monergistic process in which God lifts a totally depraved person out of the pit of damnation, bringing him to the point of regeneration.” (Notes approved by Kirk MacGregor from Dialogue between Matt Slick and Kirk MacGregor, 4/6/2017)

Now, to be clear, there are those who say that prevenient grace has an effect upon the character/nature of the sinner whereby he is enabled to freely choose Christ. After he chooses to believe, God regenerates him.

  • "But contra Calvin, Molina believed that God’s sufficient grace for salvation given to all humans by the Holy Spirit — namely, God’s prevenient gracesupernaturally restored their mental faculty to choose spiritual good." (MacGregor, Kirk R., Luis de Molina: The Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge, Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI, Kindle Edition, 2015, p. 72).
  • "Molina opposed this version of compatibilist human freedom on the grounds that God gives all humans sufficient grace to overcome any causal restraints imposed on them by the fall." (MacGregor, Kirk R., Luis de Molina: The Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge, Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI, Kindle Edition, 2015, p. 50).

I see a problem. On the one hand, Dr. MacGregor (a staunch Molinist) states that prevenient grace is God's providential movement upon a person to bring that person to a place of decision. In other words, God arranges circumstances and if the person doesn't resist along the way, then he will find himself able to freely choose Christ and God regenerates him. On the other, hand Dr. MacGregor says that prevenient grace "supernaturally restored their mental faculty to do spiritual good." This prevenient grace is given "to overcome any causal restraint imposed on them by the fall."2

So which is it? Is prevenient grace merely an arrangement of circumstances?  Is it an effect upon the person that restores their ability to choose spiritual good? Or, is it a combination of both?  Whatever position his held by any particular Molinist, it is invalid because the Scriptures speak to the contrary.

The Bible says that the unregenerate is incapacitated

The unbeliever will never freely choose God in his sinfulness because the heart of the unbeliever is wicked and deceitful (Jer. 17:9) and from within his heart flows all sorts of evil (Mark 7:21-23).  He is a slave of sin (Rom. 6:20), is dead in his trespasses and sins Eph. 2:1), is by nature a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3), is at enmity with God (Eph. 2:15), and cannot receive spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14).  This is why he cannot come to Christ (John 6:44; 6:65).

The above Scriptures clearly speak of the restriction upon the unregenerate. He is wicked, deceitful, full of evil, a slave of sin, at enmity with God, and cannot receive spiritual things.  He cannot receive them.  It does not say he can under the right circumstances. It does not say he can with prevenient grace that enables him to choose to receive Christ.

Even with prevenient grace as an option, why does one person believe, and another does not?  Doesn't God know how to work prevenient grace around/within a person to get him to believe?  It still comes down to human ability.  This is another problem which Molinism cannot answer, but scripture does. 

But, back to the issue.

Because the unregenerate is incapacitated due to his fallen nature, it must be God who appoints people to believe (Acts 13:48), chooses who is to be holy and blameless (Eph. 1:4), predestines us to adoption (Eph. 1:5), calls according to His purpose (2 Tim. 1:9), chooses us for salvation (2 Thess. 2:13), grants the act of believing (Phil. 1:29), works faith in the believer (John 6:28-29), grants us repentance (2 Tim. 2:24-25), causes us to be born again (1 Pet. 1:3), makes us born again not by our will but by His will (John 1:12-13), draws people to Himself (John 6:44) , grants that we come to Jesus (John 6:65), predestines us to salvation (Rom. 8:29-30), and he does all of this according to His purpose (Eph. 1:11).  

If prevenient grace, combined with libertarian free will is sufficient, then it would not be necessary for God to appoint people to believe, predestine them, call them, grant that they believe, grant repentance, make them born again not of their own will, grant that they come to Jesus, etc. If all God has to do is bring someone to a place of making the decision, then he doesn't need to point them to eternal life (Acts 13:48), grant that they believe (Philippians 1:29), make them born again not by their own will (John 1:13), etc. The Molinist position doesn't make sense. But since these verses are here, they speak against prevenient grace.

Furthermore, doesn't God know "how much prevenient grace" to work upon a person in order to get the person to believe?  Or, is salvation ultimately dependent upon the free will choices of man, contra scripture?

  • John 1:12-13, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."
  • John 6:65, "And He was saying, 'For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.'"
  • Acts 13:48, "When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed."
  • Phil. 1:29, "For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake."
  • 2 Tim. 2:24-25, "The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth."
  • 1 Pet. 1:3, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."  

Conclusion

In light of the Scriptures listed in this article, it should be obvious that Molinism fails because the necessary philosophical premises on which it is built, Libertarian Free Will and Prevenient Grace, are unbiblical. Scripture contradicts them.

 

 

 

  • 1. All underlines are added by me.
  • 2. I recognize that Dr. MacGregor does not represent all Molinists. But, his work on Molina is extensive, and he represents what Luis de Molina stated. Furthermore, Dr. MacGregor and I had a discussion via Skype on April 6, 2017. I found him to be very likable, intelligent, and humble. When I focus on problems I see in his writings, I mean no disrespect to him.
 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.