Molinism is a Bed of ROSES

As a follow up from my last post, I want to highlight an important book defending the theology of Molinism, Salvation and Sovereignty by Kenneth Keathley. Whether you are a Calvinist, Molinist, Arminian, or whatever, I think this book is important for the following reason.I was first introduced to Molinism as a ‘solution’ to the problem of divine sovereignty and human freedom while a graduate student in philosophy. It seemed (to me at least) that all of the philosophers I respected were inclined toward Molinism, but all the theologians I respected were inclined toward Calvinism. I wondered, “Where are the Molinist theologians (or, alternatively, the Calvinist philosophers)?” I was (and still am) attracted to the Molinist view since it seems to be a handy and satisfying account of divine providence that also does justice to genuine human freedom. Still, I wondered whether the Molinist position could be squared with the clear teachings of Scripture related to the salvation of the lost? Fast-forward about 10 years. I met Dr. Keathley at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where we both teach, and was overjoyed to learn that he had written just the book I had been looking for: a theological account of Molinism.

I eagerly read the book, and found myself saying, “Yes, yes…that is what I believe” quite often. The book is a well-written, clearly articulated explanation of the Molinist approach to the doctrine of salvation.

So, what exactly is the Molinist approach to salvation? Recall that Calvinism is often summarized with the TULIP acronym:

T            Total depravity

U            Unconditional election

L            Limited atonement

I            Irresistible grace

P            Perseverance of the saints

The Molinist argues that the TULIP formulation needs some retooling. So, instead of TULIP, the Molinist offers ROSES:[1]

R      Radical Depravity (instead of total depravity): emphasizes that every aspect of our being is affected by the fall and rendered incapable of saving ourselves (instead of the impression that fallen humanity is as bad as it possibly can be).

O      Overcoming Grace (instead of irresistible grace): The new term highlights that it is God’s persistent beckoning that overcomes our wicked obstinacy (instead of the old term which seems to imply that God saves a person against his will).

S       Sovereign election (instead of unconditional election): old term is presented in such a way as to give the impression that those who die without receiving Christ did so because God never desired their salvation in the first place. The new term affirms that God desires the salvation of all, yet accentuates that our salvation is not based on us choosing God but on God choosing us.

E      Eternal life (instead of perseverance of saints): old term leads to the notion that a believer’s assurance is based on his ability to persevere rather than on the fact that he is declared righteous in Christ. The new term stresses that believers enjoy a transformed life that is preserved and we are given a faith that will remain.

S      Singular Redemption (instead of limited atonement): old term teaches that Christ died only for the elect and gives the impression that there is something lacking in the atonement. The new term emphasizes that Christ died sufficiently for every person, although efficiently only for those who believe.

If this sounds interesting to you, I’d encourage you to read Ken Keathley’s book. In the age-old debate over divine sovereignty and human freedom, perhaps it is time for us to smell the ROSES!


[1] Actually, the Calvinist often retools the TULIP formulation as well. In fact, the acronym ROSES was suggested to Ken by Timothy George, a Calvinist.

19 Responses to Molinism is a Bed of ROSES

  1. Pingback: Reformation Day celebrates the supremacy of Scripture and reason in theology « Wintery Knight

  2. Godismyjudge says:


    Great point on Keathley being a much needed theological voice on Molinism. Molinism does run the risk of being too academic, but it doesn’t need to be. I enjoyed Keathley’s book as well.

    God be with you,

  3. Sam says:

    I have only read Bill Craig’s explanations of Molinism. So far, I don’t think I’ve actually read a defense of Molinism. I’ve heard it explained, and I’ve heard how reconciles divine sovereignty and human responsibility, but that’s it. It seems like the only reason I know of to think it’s true is simply that it works–that if true, it would solve the problem of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

    But it seems to me that more should be required before we conclude that it’s true. I don’t think the mere fact that it works is enough. Some other explanation might also work–maybe one we haven’t considered yet, or maybe one we haven’t even heard of yet.

    I would be interested to know if Keathley’s book actually argues for Molinism from scripture, or if he merely reconciles it with scripture. That is, does he show that the scriptures teach Molinism, or does he just show that Molinism is consistent with the scriptures, i.e. that it doesn’t contradict anything in scripture?

    • says:

      Hello Sam,

      I think your distinction between consistent with vs. teaches breaks down a bit–for if a theory is consistent with Scripture, then we may reasonably infer that it is taught in Scripture. Still, to answer, Yes, this is why I really appreciate the book–it is an attempt to do justice to the clear teachings of Scripture related to to Divine Sovereignty, Creation, and Salvation. See especially Chapter 2: “The Biblical Case for Molinism.” The chapter ends as follows: “Scripture never states explicitly that God utilizes middle knowledge to accomplish His will. But when the disparate components of the biblical witness are brought together it becomes clear that Molinism is a reasonable proposal.” (p. 41). warmly, Paul

      • Sam says:

        I don’t think the distinction does break down because to be consistent is just to be logically compatible with. For example, the Bible is logically compatible with water boiling at 312 F. It doesn’t contradict water boiling at 312 F. But at the same time, the Bible doesn’t teach that water boils at 312 F. You can’t infer the boiling point of water from the Bible. It is silent on that subject.

        But from what you said, it sounds like he argues that Molinism is at least implicitly taught in the Scriptures, which is what I was wanting to know. Thank you.

  4. Greg Armstrong says:

    This has me interested in reading Keathley’s book now. Are these short explanations of the ROSES acronym using the same language as Keathley does? I don’t find them really any better than TULIP because they don’t seem to be sufficiently distinct from Calvinism, or they move away from one problem only to create another.

    Radical Depravity, as explained in the post, is just what Calvinists claim with Total Depravity. No Calvinist says that we’re as bad as we can be–they explicitly qualify it to say precisely that we aren’t. Admittedly, I do like “radical” more than “total” because it points to the ‘root’ as the problem rather than to everything indiscriminately as the problem. Unfortunately though, many people think “radical” means ‘extreme’ and could interpret Radical Depravity as meaning precisely that we are as evil as we could be.

    Overcoming Grace I think better captures what Calvinists teach as well. Not all grace is irresistible for Calvinists, but when God chooses to effectually call someone he uses grace that is irresistible. In other words, he overcomes them with his grace. So O is perfectly compatible with the Calvinist claim. I don’t think O tells us enough–it doesn’t tell us that his grace is resistible, which is (along with middle knowledge) essential to what Molina himself taught.

    Sovereign Election seems to emphasize that it is *God* who elects, but it neglects the central point of Unconditional Election: that God does not elect people based on set criteria that mark them out as deserving of salvation (e.g. merit, faith, works). The problem I have with Unconditional Election language is that it doesn’t make the distinction between necessary and sufficient conditions. I think it’s quite right to say that God would not elect anyone unless they would freely cooperate, but the counterfactual truth about their cooperation isn’t a sufficient condition for God’s choosing them. Problematically, SE and O both could be read to suggest that God could administer the appropriate grace to any individual such that he would freely cooperate.

    Eternal Life I think goes too far afield from what Calvinists get right. Perseverance is a condition for salvation explicitly articulated in Scripture. Definitely we don’t want to say that someone perseveres simply out of his own strength. Calvinists say the same: it is grace that enables us to persevere and that grace is necessary for doing so. Where I would differ from many Calvinists is over whether that grace is efficacious apart from our cooperation. Perseverance is a more controversial issue because I think many non-Calvinist evangelicals also get perseverance and assurance of salvation wrong. We do not have assurance based our knowing the sincerity of a confession of sin or profession of faith. We obtain assurance through persevering in trial and growing in virtue.

    Singular Redemption I agree sounds better than Limited Atonement because the latter does sound like something’s missing. It’s still quite ambiguous though. I agree with SR as you have explained it with the distinction between sufficiently and efficiently. I still think I like Particular Redemption (though not Limited Atonement) more than SR since it suggests that God’s redemptive work is to establish a people for himself and not simply save individuals. But ROPES wouldn’t fit with the botanical imagery!

    I have to wonder whether acronyms can ever be sufficiently precise to be helpful for doctrine.

    Also, does Keathley go further than Bill Craig in his biblical defense of middle knowledge? I never liked that Craig has been so reticent with claiming biblical grounds for middle knowledge.

    • says:

      Hello Greg,

      I appreciate all your thoughts here–I think you are right, that even Calvinist are not happy with TULIP and offer further clarification to just about ever letter! Yes, I think that Ken does go further that Bill in his biblical defense of Molinism. That is why I was so excited for the book–I have been asking, where are the theological accounts of this view? I basically gave an overview in my post of ROSES, but Ken will take a chapter per “letter” and he does a very nice job in each of these chapters setting out the issue theologically and philosophically. I hope that helps. Sounds like you have been thinking on these things a lot! By the way, I like ROPES too! Perhaps there are other clever acronyms as well! warmly, Paul

      • Phillip Holbrook says:

        I always think about Adam when that issue arises. After the Fall, Adam could still hear the voice of God and respond. Was it prevenient grace? Most likely so.

    • Phillip Holbrook says:

      Calvinists believe that not only are all men devoid of God’s righteousness, but that our wills are so depraved and dead in sin that we are incapable of responding to God, so there is a great difference between Molinism and Calvinism.

  5. Dave Moser says:

    I have to agree largely with Greg Armstrong. The restatements of the R, E and second S are very accurate representations of the corresponding TULIP items. The only change is that you don’t seem to like the TULIP label. I don’t have a problem with relabeling those things.

    Regarding the O and first S: I don’t think your characterization of the corresponding TULIP articles are very accurate. I am going to have to quote Inigo Montoya here: “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    • Greg Armstrong says:

      I can understand if you disagreed with me on my representation of those two articles. Rereading it and without further clarification I can see how those could be interpreted in ways I think wouldn’t represent the Calvinist articles well. But instead of assuming I know what problems you’re having with them, would you be willing to explain them?

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