|Molinism and its connection to Arminianism by Jack Kettler
“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)
In this study, we will look at the biblical teaching regarding Molinism. Is Molinism fundamentally different from Arminianism?
As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. May God be glorified always!
A philosophical system named after Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina, a system which sought to maintain both the autonomy of human beings and the sovereignty of God by claiming that God’s knowledge of the free decisions of any human beings in any given circumstance was logically prior to his decree of what would happen in the world he would create. *
Molinism in so many words states God has three kinds of knowledge: natural, middle, and free.
Natural knowledge is God’s knowledge of all possible worlds, (all that concerns the necessary and possible in God’s understanding)
Free knowledge is God’s knowledge of this actual world. By a “free act,” he is able to know what he knows absolutely. (So far we are OK, but Molina said this knowledge (free) is not something that is essential in God.)
Middle knowledge states that God cannot know the future free acts of men in the same way he knows other things absolutely. **
Free will and prevenient grace characterize Molinism. Molinism is elements of Arminianism dressed up using fancy philosophical terminology. However, Molinism is much more of an intellectual and sophisticated error than Arminianism.
It will be helpful to look at an excellent overview of Molinism by Alfred J. Freddoso:
Molinism, named after Luis de Molina, is a theological system for reconciling human freedom with God’s grace and providence. Presupposing a strongly libertarian account of freedom, Molinists assert against their rivals that the grace whereby God cooperates with supernaturally salvific acts is not intrinsically efficacious. To preserve divine providence and foreknowledge, they then posit “middle knowledge”, through which God knows, prior to his own free decrees, how any possible rational agent would freely act in any possible situation. Beyond this, they differ among themselves regarding the ground for middle knowledge and the doctrines of efficacious grace and predestination.
Molinism is an influential system within Catholic theology for reconciling human free choice with God’s grace, providence, foreknowledge and predestination. Originating within the Society of Jesus in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, it encountered stiff opposition from Bañezian Thomists and from the self-styled Augustinian disciples of Michael Baius and Cornelius Jansen.
Molinism’s three distinguishing marks are a strongly libertarian account of human freedom; the consequent conviction that the grace whereby God cooperates with supernaturally salvific free acts is not intrinsically efficacious; and the postulation of divine middle knowledge (scientia media), by which God knows, before any of his free decrees regarding creatures, how any possible rational being would freely act in any possible situation (see MOLINA, LUIS DE §§ 2-3).
Beyond this, Molinists disagree about three important issues. The first is the question of how God knows the “conditional future contingents” or “futuribilia” that constitute the objects of middle knowledge. Molinists cannot accept the Bañezian claim that God knows futuribilia by virtue of his freely decreeing their truth, since according to Molinism futuribilia have their truth prior to any free divine decree. Nor can Molinists claim that God knows futuribilia simply by virtue of comprehending all possible creatures, if “comprehending” a creature means just understanding all the metaphysical possibilities involving it. For such comprehension is insufficient for knowing how a possible creature would freely act – as opposed to how it could act – in any possible situation.
Molina himself claims that because God’s cognitive power infinitely surpasses the natures of creatures, God is able to know those natures “in a more eminent way than that in which they are knowable in themselves.” So God not only comprehends possible creatures but also “super-comprehends” them, as later Molinists put it, and in this way knows futuribilia involving them. One corollary, explicitly defended by Molina, is that God does not know futuribilia concerning his own free decrees, since his cognitive power does not infinitely surpass his own nature.
Other Molinists retort that no amount of insight into the natures of possible creatures can yield infallible knowledge of futuribilia, since such natures are exhausted by their metaphysical possibilities and do not include futuribilia. Instead, God has direct knowledge of futuribilia, unmediated by his knowledge of natures – and this simply because the futuribilia are true and hence intelligible to an infinite intellect. On this view there is no reason why God should not know futuribilia concerning his own free decrees – a result Molina takes to be incompatible with God’s freedom.
The second dispute concerns the reason for the efficaciousness of the grace whereby God cooperates with supernaturally salvific acts of free choice. Suppose that in circumstances C, influenced by grace G, Peter freely elicits salvific act A. All Molinists agree that God places Peter in C with G knowing full well that Peter will freely elicit A; and they also agree that G is not intrinsically efficacious and hence does not causally predetermine A. However, there is strong disagreement about whether or not it is Peter’s free consent alone that “extrinsically” renders G efficacious in C with respect to A.
One possible scenario is that God first resolves absolutely that Peter should freely elicit A in C and then, as it were, consults his middle knowledge to see just which particular graces would, if bestowed on Peter in C, obtain his free consent and thus issue in A. It follows that, given his antecedent resolution, God would have conferred some grace other than G if he had known by his middle knowledge that G would turn out to be “merely sufficient” with respect to A, i.e., that Peter would not freely consent to G in C. So G is rendered efficacious not only by Peter’s free consent but also, and indeed more principally, by God’s antecedent predetermination to confer a “congruous” grace that will guarantee Peter’s acting well in C. This model, which brings Molinism more into line with Bañezianism, is known as Congruism and was worked out in detail by Robert Bellarmine and Francisco Suárez. In 1613 Congruism was mandated for all Jesuit theologians by the Father General Claude Aquiviva.
Another possible model, which seems to be Molina’s own, is that God simply wills to put Peter into C with G, knowing that Peter will freely elicit A but not having absolutely resolved beforehand that Peter should freely elicit A. This model does not entail that if God had known that Peter would act badly in C with G, he would have conferred some grace other than G in order to guarantee A. Accordingly, it is Peter’s free consent alone that renders G efficacious.
An analogous dispute arises over predestination, where the question concerns not one or another of Peter’s acts, but his eternal salvation. Some Molinists, including Bellarmine and Suárez, agree with the Bañezians that God antecedently elects certain people to eternal glory and only then consults his middle knowledge to discover which graces will guarantee their salvation. Thus, in Peter’s case, God would have chosen different graces if those he actually chose had been foreknown to be merely sufficient and not efficacious for Peter’s salvation. Other Molinists, including Molina himself, vigorously reject any such antecedent absolute election of Peter to salvation. They insist instead that God simply chooses to create a world in which he infallibly foresees Peter’s good use of the supernatural graces afforded him, and only then does he accept Peter among the elect in light of his free consent to those graces.
References and further reading
Bellarmine, R. (1873) Opera Omnia, vol. 5, ed. J. Fèvre, Paris. (Contains the tract De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio, one of the main sources for Congruism.)
Garrigou-Lagrange, R. (1952) Grace, St Louis: Herder. (Chapters 7 and 8 contain a Bañezian assessment of the Molinist and Congruist accounts of efficacious grace.)
Molina, L. (1953) Liberi Arbitrii cum Gratiae Donis, Divina Praescientia, Providentia, Praedestinatione et Reprobatione Concordia, ed. J. Rabeneck, Oña and Madrid; trans. A.J. Freddoso (1988) On Divine Foreknowledge: Part IV of the Concordia, Ithaca: Cornell. (Translation of and introduction to Molina’s theory of middle knowledge.)
Pohle, J. (1947) Grace: Actual and Habitual, ed. A. Preuss, St Louis: Herder. (Gives a weaker characterization of Congruism than that laid out above in order to classify Molina himself as a Congruist.)
Suárez, F. (1963) Opera Omnia, vols 7-11, ed. C. Berton, Brussells: Culture et Civilisation, 1963. (Suárez’s voluminous treatise De Gratia, containing the most sophisticated explication and defense of Congruism.) See also: BAÑEZ, DOMINGO; SUAREZ, FRANCISCO
ALFRED J. FREDDOSO (1)
“Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counseller hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?? (Isaiah 40:13-14)
For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counseller? (Romans 11:34)
Does God somehow use His knowledge of future events to elect individuals to salvation? Whatever the motive is for attempting to prove that foreknowledge is the cause of election, a person doing this will not escape texts of Scripture that are to the contrary and philosophically will end up jumping through convoluted loops in a futile exercise in mental gymnastics.
Quotations from several sources will be provided that deal with the issues of disagreement with the Molinists. These issues involve God’s foreknowledge, a man’s free will, and the problem of evil.
Consider Gordon H. Clark On Foreknowledge:
“Some people argue that knowledge or foreknowledge does not necessitate anything. Even a man may know that an event will occur tomorrow, but this does not mean that he causes it to happen. Perhaps so. But if he does not cause it to happen, there must be some other cause which does, for unless it were certain, he could not know it. Now, then, since omniscience shows that all events are certain, it follows that if God does not cause them, there must be a cause external to and independent of God. In other words, God has ceased to be God. Toplady recognizes this in his paragraph: “God’s foreknowledge, taken abstractly, is not the sole cause of beings and events; but his will and determinate counsel and foreknowledge act in concert, the latter resulting from and being founded on the former.” Note that foreknowledge is dependent on determinate counsel. This is not true of a man. For example, I know that Christ will return. The event is determined, certain, and necessary. But I did not determine it. (2)
We can agree with Clark that the doctrine of foreknowledge and unconditional election makes the point that God’s favor is unearned by man. It is solely God’s free choice to elect or not elect, not ours. The cause of election is God’s good pleasure. Salvation is determined by God’s will, not man’s will. This excludes all human works and prevents boasting. God’s electing grace demonstrates the fact that salvation is not the result of a human action of any kind; it is all of grace.
Consider how Spurgeon explains the doctrine of God’s foreknowledge:
“But, say others, ‘God elected them on the foresight of their faith.’ Now, God gives faith, therefore he could not have elected them on account of faith, which he foresaw. There shall be twenty beggars in the street, and I determine to give one of them a shilling; but will anyone say that I determined to give that one a shilling, that I elected him to have the shilling, because I foresaw that he would have it? That would be talking nonsense. In like manner to say that God elected men because he foresaw they would have faith, which is salvation in the germ, would be too absurd for us to listen to for a moment. (3)
“Some, who know no better, harp upon the foreknowledge of our repentance and faith, and say that, Election is according to the foreknowledge of God;” a very scriptural statement, but they make a very unscriptural interpretation of it. Advancing by slow degrees, they next assert that God foreknew the faith and the good works of his people. Undoubtedly true, since he foreknew everything; but then comes their groundless inference, namely, that therefore the Lord chose his people because he foreknew them to be believers. It is undoubtedly true that foreknown excellencies are not the causes of election, since I have shown you that the Lord foreknew all our sin: and surely if there were enough virtue in our faith and goodness to constrain him to choose us, there would have been enough demerit in our bad works to have constrained him to reject us; so that if you make foreknowledge to operate in one way, you must also take it in the other, and you will soon perceive that it could not have been from anything good or bad in us that we were chosen, but according to the purpose of his own will, as it is written, I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (4)
Gordon Clark writes more on God’s foreknowledge:
“On the road below, to the observer’s left, a car is being driven west. To the observer’s right a car is coming south. He can see and know that there will be a collision at the intersection immediately beneath him. But his foreknowledge, so the argument runs, does not cause [that is make necessary] the accident. Similarly, God is supposed to know the future without causing it.
The similarity, however, is deceptive on several points. A human observer cannot really know that a collision will occur. Though it is unlikely, it is possible for both cars to have blowouts before reaching the intersection and swerve apart. It is also possible that the observer has misjudged speeds, in which case one car could slow down and other accelerate, so that they would not collide. The human observer, therefore, does not infallible foreknowledge.
No such mistakes can be assumed for God. The human observer may make a probable guess that the accident will occur, and this guess does not make the accident unavoidable; but if God knows, there is no possibility of avoiding the accident. A hundred years before the drivers were born, there was no possibility that either of them could have chosen to stay home that day, to have driven a different route, to have driven a different time, to have driven a different speed. They could not have chosen otherwise than as they did. This means either that they had no free will [understood as a liberty of indifference] or that God did not know.
Suppose it be granted, just for the moment, that divine foreknowledge, like human guesses, does not cause the foreknown event. Even so, if there is foreknowledge, in contrast with fallible guesses, free will is impossible. If man has free will, and things can be different, God cannot be omniscient. Some Arminians have admitted this and have denied omniscience [the open theists], but this puts them obviously at odds with Biblical Christianity. There is also another difficulty. If the Arminian . . . wishes to retain divine omniscience and at the same time assert that foreknowledge has no causal efficacy, he is put to explain how the collision was made certain a hundred years, an eternity, before the drivers were born. If God did not arrange the universe this way, who did?
If God did not arrange it this way, then there must be an independent factor in the universe. And if there is such, one consequence and perhaps two follow. First, the doctrine of creation must be abandoned. . . . Independent forces cannot be created forces, and created forces cannot be independent. Then, second, if the universe is not God’s creation, his knowledge of it past and future cannot depend on what he intends to do, but on his observation of how it works. In such a case, how could we be sure that God’s observations are accurate? How could we be sure that these independent forces will not later show us an unsuspected twist that will falsify God’s predictions? And finally, on this view God’s knowledge would be empirical, rather than an integral part of his essence, and thus he would be a dependent knower. These objections are insurmountable. We can consistently believe in creation, omnipotence, omniscience, and the divine decree. But we cannot retain sanity and combine any of these with free will.” (5)
From Gordon H. Clark on “Free Will and the Lifeguard.” How free will does not solve the problem of evil?
“Suppose there was a lifeguard on a dangerous beach. A boy plays by the water when the currents are strong and he is sucked out to sea by an undercurrent. He cannot swim and starts to drown. The lifeguard sits in his high chair and does nothing to rescue the boy. Maybe he would shout a few words to encourage the boy to save himself, but that is all. The boy drowns. It was his own free will that the boy went out to sea, and the lifeguard did not ask him to do so. The guard merely permitted that boy to go out to sea and permitted him to drown. Would the Free Will Advocate still say that the Lifeguard is not guilty of the drowning? Permission of evil therefore, does not remove responsibility of the lifeguard. Why then should God permitting sinful actions of man be any less guiltless just because the sinner sins in his free will? It has to be remembered that the guard is not God. An omniscient and omnipotent God would certainly have been able to made the boy a better swimmer, make the ocean less rough, or at least save the boy from drowning.
Not only is free will and permission irrelevant to the problem of evil, but, further, the idea of permission has no intelligible meaning… This permission, however, depends on the fact that the ocean’s undertow is beyond the guard’s control. If the guard had some giant suction device which he operated so as to engulf the boy, one would call it murder, not permission. The idea of permission is possible only where there is an independent force, either the boy’s force or the ocean’s force. But this is not the situation in the case of God and the universe. Nothing in the universe can be independent of the omnipotent creator, for in him we live and move and have our being. Therefore, the idea of permission makes no sense when applied to God.” (6)
More from Gordon H. Clark on the free will doctrine and its consequences:
“If God did not arrange [the world] this way, then there must be an independent factor in the universe. And if there is such, one consequence and perhaps two follow. First, the doctrine of creation must be abandoned. A creation ex nihilo would be completely in God’s control. Independent forces cannot be created forces, and created forces cannot be independent.
Then, second, if the universe is not God’s creation, his knowledge of it–past and future–cannot depend on what he intends to do, but on his observation of how it works. In such a case, how could we be sure that God’s observations are accurate? How could we be sure that these independent forces will not later show an unsuspected twist that will falsify God’s predictions?
And, finally, on this view God’s knowledge would be empirical, rather than an integral part of his essence, and thus he would be a dependent knower. These objections are insurmountable. We can consistently believe in creation, omnipotence, omniscience, and the divine decree. But we cannot retain sanity and combine any one of these with free will.” (7)
“Sin has corrupted salvifically, a man’s nature and he makes all decisions based upon his corrupted or fallen nature. In the view of some, man has a total and complete free will. Unfortunately, many never define what they mean by the term free will, and this problem is further complicated by certain advocates not proving this belief in their particular notion of free will from Scripture. This belief in a totally free will may be popular and emotionally pleasing, but is it biblical? Many assume that there is something called free will and that it is taught in the Bible, or they misinterpret passages to fit the conclusion they want to draw. Contrary to the belief that God is all powerful, in the free will view, God cannot even save a man unless man first says “yes.”
It is clear from the Scriptures that fallen man is spiritually dead, and consequently cannot be really free not to sin. The problem arises for many people because they know that they make choices or decisions. A man most certainly does make choices. The question needs to be asked, why does man choose one thing over another? The solution is found in man’s nature. Fallen man makes decisions that are the result of the desires of his nature. Why does man reject the biblical God? A man does this because it is in his rebelliously independent sinful nature to do so. A Man will choose in harmony with his nature.”
Romans tells us the following:
Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? (Romans 6:16)
CHAPTER IX – Of Free Will – Westminster Confession of Faith
I. God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to good, or evil. 
1. James 1:13-14; 4:7; Deut. 30:19; Isa. 7:11-12; Matt. 17:12; John 5:40
II. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.
2. Eccl. 7:29; Gen. 1:26, 31; Col. 3:10
3. Gen. 2:16-17; 3:6, 17
III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.
4. Rom. 5:5; 8:7-8; John 6:44, 65; 15:5
5. Rom. 3:9-10, 12, 23
6. Eph. 2:1, 5; Col 2:13
7. John 3:3, 5-6; 6:44, 65; I Cor. 2:14; Titus 3:3-5
IV. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin;  and, by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good;  yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil. 
8. Col. 1:13; John 8:34, 36; Rom. 6:6-7
9. Phil. 2:13; Rom. 6:14, 17-19, 22
10. Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7:14-25; I John 1:8, 10
V. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to good alone, in the state of glory only. 
11. Heb. 12:23; I John 3:2; Jude 1:24; Rev. 21:27
From The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III- of God’s Eternal Decree:
I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.
Why is it that a majority of modern-day Molinists are Arminians? This refusal of Molinists to be identified with Arminianism certainly muddies the waters since Molinists by in large do not want this classification. The debate between Calvinists and Molinists reminds one of George Bryson from Calvary Chapel who wrote a book against Calvinism titled The Dark Side of Calvinism. Mr. Bryson’s arguments were traditional Arminian arguments, all the while he was claiming he was not an Arminian. One response to Mr. Bryson was titled A Spectacle of Arminian Befuddlement. It seems that the Molinists are a bit befuddled themselves. Why ostensibly trying to preserve God’s free choices and protecting God from the charge of evil, they have done neither. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.
“Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:12)
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
1. Alfred J. Freddoso, Molinism, www3. nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/molinism.htm
2. Gordon H. Clark. The Atonement, (Jefferson, Maryland, Trinity Foundation), p. 135.
3. Spurgeon, On Doctrines of Grace 41.42.317
4. Spurgeon, Doctrines of Grace, 779.621
5. Gordon Clark, Religion, Reason and Revelation (Jefferson, Maryland, Trinity Foundation), pp. 217-219.
6. Gordon H. Clark, God and evil: the problem solved, (Hobbs, New Mexico, Trinity Foundation), p.17-18.
7. Gordon H. Clark, Religion, Reason & Revelation (Jefferson, Maryland, Trinity Foundation), p. 218-219.
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
For more study:
* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes: http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/
** Reformed answers http://reformedanswers.org/
**** CARM theological dictionary https://carm.org/dictionary-hermeneutics
Molinism 101 by Paul Helm https://www.ligonier.org/blog/molinism-101/
How Biblical Is Molinism? By James Anderson
Molinism is a theory that purports to reconcile a robust doctrine of divine providence and foreknowledge with a libertarian view of free will by appealing to the notion of divine middle knowledge: God’s eternal knowledge of the so-called counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, that is, contingent truths about what possible creatures would freely choose if they were created by God and placed in particular circumstances. In this series of posts I propose to explore these questions with reference to some key biblical texts. I will focus in particular on how Molinism compares to Augustinianism, which is arguably its leading competitor among orthodox Christian theologians. (Note: I’m using the term Augustinianism simply as shorthand for causal divine determinism. Nothing is assumed about whether St. Augustine himself actually held to Augustinianism in that sense! But Augustinianism so defined would include most confessional Calvinists and, I think, many conservative Thomists.)
How well is Molinism supported by the Bible? Part I
How well is Molinism supported by the Bible? Part II
How well is Molinism supported by the Bible? Part III
How well is Molinism supported by the Bible? Part IV
Dr. James Anderson is an ordained minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Dr. Anderson came to RTS from Edinburgh, Scotland, and specializes in philosophical theology, religious epistemology, and Christian apologetics. His doctoral thesis at the University of Edinburgh explored the paradoxical nature of certain Christian doctrines and the implications for the rationality of Christian faith. His research and writing has also focused on the presuppositionalism of Cornelius Van Til, particularly his advocacy of the transcendental argument. Dr. Anderson has a longstanding concern to bring the Reformed theological tradition into greater dialogue with contemporary analytic philosophy. Before studying philosophy, Dr. Anderson also earned a Ph.D. in Computer Simulation from the University of Edinburgh. He is a member of the Society of Christian Philosophers, the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion, and the Evangelical Philosophical Society. Prior to joining RTS Charlotte, Dr. Anderson served as an assistant pastor at the historic Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh where he engaged in regular preaching, teaching, and pastoral ministry. He is active now in service at Ballantyne Presbyterian Church in Charlotte. He is married to Catriona and they have three children.