In a previous post, I gave a critique on the Calvinist and Lutheran views of determinism and also discussed the Calvinist and Lutheran views of free will. Of course, these are not the only two views on determinism and free will within Protestant Christianity. There are at least three other major views held within Protestantism, and those are Arminianism, Molinism, and Provisionism. All of these attempt to reconcile the sovereignty of God and the free will of humankind. In this post, I will be presenting a critical analysis of free will in these three systems.
Arminianism is named after a man named Jacobus Arminius, a Dutch theologian and professor at the University of Leiden. He is best known for the system he developed that offered an alternative to the growing system of Calvinism. His followers propagated his teachings after his death and presented in five articles in a document known as the Remonstrance in the early 17th century.
Regarding free will, Arminianism teaches that humans do indeed have free will to choose or reject God because humankind has been granted prevenient grace (which means grace which comes before). In this case, it comes before regeneration. Like the Calvinist system, Arminianism holds that no one can be saved by God unless God first gives the individual grace. The primary difference between the Calvinist view and the Arminian view is that in Calvinism, God’s grace irresistibly saves the individual upon whom it is endowed whereas in Arminianism, God’s grace restores to the individual the ability to choose or reject salvation.
Another very prominent view in Arminian theology is the belief that God predestines individuals unto salvation according to his foreknowledge; that is, God in his omniscience looks into the future and sees which individuals will accept salvation and which will reject it. Those whom he knew will accept it, he predestined. Another similarity between Arminianism and Calvinism, then, is that both take the stance that God predestines individuals. A major difference, however, is that in Calvinism, God predestines individuals unto salvation unconditionally; that is, God does not elect individuals according to whether those individuals chose salvation of their own volition. On the other hand, in Arminianism, the elect are chosen by God because God knew that they would choose him.
Now, there seems to be division among Arminians regarding whether divine prevenient grace is given to all or only to a few. If it is only given to some, then it is only those to whom it has been given that should be held responsible for either rejecting or accepting salvation. Without libertarian free will, an individual is not responsible for doing good or doing evil, since both would ultimately be the cause of another, whether directly or indirectly. Thus, if God did not give prevenient grace to all, then not all are responsible for wrongdoing, for there will be those who remain effectively rejected by God. In the case that all have been given prevenient grace, then all can be held responsible for good and wrong.
As for predestination, the Arminian view has a problem. If God predestines those whom he knew would choose him, then what did he predestine them unto? It could not have been unto salvation, since salvation was chosen by the individual, unless predestination is merely a confirmation of the individual’s choice. If it is unto the process of salvation or unto the promises which salvation brings and if it is that individuals simply choose to submit to this process, there is still an issue. If the individual chooses to submit to these things, it still seems to me that the individuals ultimately makes the decision to participate in these things so that the divine predestination of those individuals is a confirmation. But if the elect are predestined to persevere until the end, then suddenly human free will is overridden. Furthermore, one of the five article of the Remonstrance is that individuals can truly leave salvation after that individual has entered into it.
Moving now to Molinism, this system was named after the Spanish theologian Luis de Molina. This attempts to reconcile divine predestination and human free will by espousing a concept of divine middle knowledge. Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of what are called counterfactuals, that is, those things which could have been if circumstances had been different. Essentially, the Molinist position is that God knew, again in his omniscience, what would have happened in all possible sets of circumstances but that he chose to create a world, the circumstances of which would lead to the outcomes that we see in the actual world.
One problem that I see with this view is that it is essentially still divine determinism, since human individuals could not have done anything different. This view might be more akin to fatalism, however, than determinism. Fatalism is the philosophy that a particular outcome will occur necessarily, and this is what the Molinist view suggests. God set up things in such a way that human persons could not have chosen to do otherwise, since the circumstances which God instantiated made it so that they would make certain choices out of necessity. However, one might also argue that Molinism is more deterministic, since the events which occur and the choices made are caused by the circumstances, which are then caused ultimately by God. Either way, in the end, Molinism fails since it does not actually allow for true human free will.
Finally, we come to Provisionism, which has been popularized by the Baptist theologian Dr. Leighton Flowers, whose podcast and YouTube channel Soteriology101 has become relatively popular. Now, the Provisionist position holds that God has made it possible for all to be saved and that this provision can be either accepted or rejected. Thus, Provisionism maintains the stance that humans possess true libertarian free will and, therefore, can be held responsible for any right or wrong done by individuals.
In contrast to Arminianism, Provisionism rejects individual election in favor of corporate election. Another way in which Provisionism and Arminianism contrast is that Provisionism rejects the belief that true believers can leave salvation. In my opinion, this creates a problem. If one can freely choose to enter into salvation but cannot choose to leave it, is it that a person loses his libertarian free will upon entering or accepting salvation?
In my analysis of these three systems, I have focused primarily on their logical consistency in attempting to hold to a belief in libertarian free will, which I believe is a very critical belief. Arminianism at least has the potential to allow for libertarian free will, although in my opinion the Arminian idea of prevenient grace is unnecessary. Molinism, as I have already said, fails to present a view of true libertarian free will. Provisionism espouses such a view of free will that it can be considered true libertarian free will, although the Provisionist view that one cannot truly leave the faith seems inconsistent with this.