The following is a brief review of Kenneth Keathley’s Salvation and Sovereignty. Keathley’s book seeks to provide a biblical foundation for Molinism. The book also compares and contrasts Molinism with Calvinism, concluding that Molinism provides more satisfying answers on many issues.
Two of the issues addressed in the book are freewill/responsibility of man and grace. These are the two that I will interact with. And in so doing, explain why I believe in a Reformed view of salvation.
Freewill and Responsibility:
Keathley argues that freedom of the will (soft libertarianism) must exist for man to be held responsible for his sin.
- He says to be responsible one must be able to make reasonable choices from a range of options.
- Geisler puts it as follows, “moral obligation implies moral freedom”.
Calvinist Jeff Spry sums this view up as follows:
“Libertarians take very seriously the widespread judgment that we are morally responsible for our actions and that moral responsibility requires freedom [libertarian freewill]. That is, a person cannot be held morally responsible for an act unless he or she was free to perform that act and free to refrain from it.”
Moreover, if man lacks the moral ability and moral freedom to choose God, the argument goes, the offer from God is disingenuous and God is the author of man’s sin.
- Keathley puts like this, “…the Calvinistic message made God in some way or another the author of evil and thus called into question both the justice and the universal love of God.”
Keathley says that Calvinism’s compatibilism, which he describes as a causal determinism view of freewill, can also be described philosophically as “event causation”.
- This is in opposition, he says, to the “agent causation” of the libertarian which is what is needed to have “moral freedom”.
He works it out as follows:
He explains that Calvinists believe that “all things that happen are caused by sufficient prior conditions such that nothing else could have happened”.
- Under Calvinism then, “Adam’s choice to commit the original sin was the effect of a prior chain of causes.”
- And therefore the ultimate “prior condition”, the “event”, or the “determining cause”; the one who tipped over the first domino to get it all started had to be God.
He fails to consider, however, that the only way to truly philosophically escape this conclusion, even under his view, is to argue that man created himself, that man was his own first cause.
- Any view that holds God as the source of man’s will (creator) is vulnerable to this accusation.
- This is simply because God could have made a different world or a different kind of will (one impervious to temptation, for example), but God freely chose to make the world we are in.
The Calvinist’s view of responsibility:
We are not accountable to God due to a choice made in the context of libertarian freewill.
Profoundly, we are responsible for our actions before God because He, as Creator, has spoken to us and thereby obligated us!
- Genesis 2:16–17 (ESV) — 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
- Exodus 20:1–3 (ESV) — 1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me…
- Romans 1:20 (ESV) — 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
- How are God’s attributes perceived? Not by the will.
- And how were thing things made that reveal His attributes? By His speaking – “And God said…”
When God speaks and creates we perceive and are obligated!
- To say this is “unfair” is to ultimately argue that God should remain silent.
In other words, it is not, “Why am I accountable for my sin?”
- Well, because I freely chose to disobey (free from influence from my moral deficiencies) thereby validating that the Gospel invitation (God’s speaking) is genuine and I am truly guilty.
It is, “Why am I accountable for my sin?”
- Because God spoke to me and I perceived Him.
And, “Why is the Gospel offer genuine?”
- Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.
- In other words, the work of God, not the nature of man, makes it genuine.
Oshea Davis has the following take on it:
“In order to be responsible, freedom is not required, but sovereignty. Romans 8:7 shows mankind without freedom to obey God and yet God will hold these responsible for this very thing. Without a sovereign parent a child is not responsible, without a sovereign government a citizen is not responsible. It is for the very reason we are not free and God is All Sovereignty over us that we are responsible. Any more than this adds to our responsibility, but only this is needed.”
The offer of the Gospel cannot be deemed genuine because of something in man (libertarian freewill).
- This usurps God’s sovereignty, making His Gospel dependent on man.
- The Gospel is genuine because it is from God and He spoke it.
- We are responsible because He spoke and thereby obligated us.
- In the words of John Frame, “revelation [God’s word/speaking] is so clear that it obligates belief and obedience leaving us without excuse”.
By speaking, God healed the blind; multiplied food; turned water into wine; raised the dead; made the lame walk; cast out demons; created the world; turned away temptation; and obligated man – all for His glory.
- And in no case was cooperation required prior to His work.
- They/it responded after the work was done.
What’s more, using Keathley’s logic on the contingency of creation (which I agree with), it must be that God had a range of choices available to him at the time of creation from which He could choose to make man responsible that did not include and necessitate the existence of libertarian freewill.
- If libertarian freewill were necessary, then contingency, as the libertarian understands it, is in jeopardy.
- Therefore, it is possible (in the range of choices available to Him) that He made us responsible by obligating us by his Word, not by libertarian freewill.
“We must accept what the Bible teaches, which is: God is sovereign; Man acts according to his nature; Man is responsible. The only way the statements above can be considered contradictory is for one to bring a 4th statement into the situation: Man cannot be responsible or free unless he possesses libertarian free will” – Jeff Spry.
- Scripture never says we are responsible to God because of our libertarian freewill.
- Instead of wrestling with the paradox of God’s Sovereignty and man’s responsibility, a philosophical “out” is imported into Scripture – libertarian freewill (moral ability to choose God).
“Freedom is not contradictory to sovereignty. However, autonomy is! To be autonomous (auto=“self” and nomos=“law”) is to be a law unto yourself. To be autonomous is to be self-governing and answerable to no one else. To be autonomous is to be absolutely free. Only God is autonomous and absolutely free” – Jeff Spry.
Keathley expresses a good deal of agreement with the Calvinist on man’s relationship to God’s grace.
- Keathley agrees that man does not have the moral ability to choose God when he says, “In short, they [Calvinists] contend that the lost do not have the capacity in their natural state to turn to God. So far, so good; on this point there is universal agreement”.
- He even concedes that, “The Holy Spirit must be the one who brings a person to saving faith”.
To move forward, we must have have a clear understanding of our depravity.
- And consider the fact that logically Keathley’s position on grace cannot actually remain valid and encompass what he says it does.
- We will see this shortly with his ambulance metaphor.
John Piper sums up our depravity nicely with the following when he says that, apart from the new birth:
- We are dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1-2).
- We are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3).
- We love darkness and hate the light (John 3:19-20).
- Our hearts are hard like stone (Ezek. 36:26; Eph. 4:18).
- We are unable to submit to God or please God (Rom 8:7-8).
- We are unable to accept the gospel (Eph. 4:18; 1 Cor. 2:14).
- We are unable to come to Christ or embrace him as Lord (John 6:44, 65; 1 Cor. 12:3).
- We are slaves to sin (Rom. 6:17).
- We are slaves of Satan (Eph. 2:1-2; 2 Tim. 2:24-26).
- No good thing dwells in us (Rom. 7:18).
An important implication of this is that the unbelievers’ problem is not simply an intellectual one rooted in his reason and will, but a profound moral inability.
This is why John Frame says that we do not, “appeal merely to the unbelievers reason and will, for his will is bound by sin and his reason seeks to distort, not affirm, the truth…he seeks to operate his reason autonomously and thus is deep in error from the outset”.
So the million dollar question is, “what is it about a ‘dead’ man that can respond to God’s grace?”
- Is it nothing or something, it can’t be both.
- Keathley’s answer is that we are not quite dead.
First he says…
- “God must graciously invade the darkness of a person’s heart”.
- The Holy Spirit and gospel “enable a response that a lost person does not intrinsically have the ability to give”.
For the Calvinist, the above is simply this.
- A description of the Holy Spirit regenerating a dead heart (Ezek. 36:26) so that the recipient of this new heart freely chooses to submit to Jesus Christ as Lord and King.
But Keathley rejects a monergistic work of the Spirit.
- It can’t be just God – that wouldn’t be fair.
- “How can presenting the gospel to those from whom God withholds the ability to respond be in good faith?”
So Keathley goes on to say that “God must” and man must.
- He tries to sort this out with an ambulance metaphor.
Grace is an ambulance:
He suggests that God’s grace is an ambulance that is transporting all to salvation.
- He concludes that, “The only thing that could stop it is if, inexplicably, a person decides to refuse”.
- And later he says, “The mystery of exactly why one says ‘no’ to grace remains unsolved”.
- Remember this “mystery” for a later point.
The problem he seemed to forget about is that this view of man doesn’t comport with Scriptures view of our depravity.
- Man is dead before he even is put into the ambulance.
- He doesn’t decide to refuse – refusal is his default position; this is what depravity is; this is what moral deficiency is.
- And there is no neutral position from which to decide – man is not autonomous.
- Outside of Christ man is not put into an ambulance but straight into the morgue.
- “dead in our trespasses and sins”
Keathley makes the following mistake.
- He reduces the unbeliever’s problem to one of his reason and will – the mystery (from earlier).
Jeff Spry describes the mistake like this, “The true nature of sin and guilt is denied. Sinners are told they are guilty of a major mistake of not accepting the wonderful benefits that God longs to give them. His unbelief is really no more than a mistake…At the point where a helpless sinner needs God’s help and power the most, the sinner is pointed away from God and told to look to himself. He is told that God has done all He can do”.
- God put you in the ambulance…now it is up to you.
So new birth is dependent upon the man and his “mysterious” or “inexplicable” decision.
I still have to whole-heartedly agree with John Piper.
- “The new birth is something that happens in us when the Holy Spirit takes our dead hearts and unites us to Christ by faith so that his life becomes our life” – John Piper.
New birth doesn’t follow from saying, “yes” in the ambulance.
- Dead men can’t talk!
- New birth doesn’t revive us from a “mysterious” stupor.
- It resurrects us from the morgue!
Granted, the Calvinist is left with wondering why one man is chosen and not another.
- But this mystery resides in God where it should reside.
- Keathley turns this on its head and says, “The mystery of exactly why one says ‘no’ to grace remains unsolved”.
- He usurps the prerogative of God to act mysteriously with His Grace and moves the mystery to man!
- God doesn’t need us to help his reputation in this way.
Keathley elevates man to having a neutral, autonomous will at the expense of God’s sovereignty.
- He does this because for him the mystery (power to refuse) resides in man.
- God is an onlooker in the ambulance.
- At the moment God’s sovereignty is needed the most, it is merely “on deck”.
- The validation of a sincere gospel offer rests, not in God, but in the will of man.
- God is implicated in evil, unless there is a certain kind of will in man.
- The ambulance (God’s grace) will bring the sinner to salvation, but, alas, the mysterious man.
- The mystery of God’s grace becomes the mystery of man’s rejection.
- He says its grace alone, but – it is grace and man.
- God’s grace only exists as potential grace dependent upon man’s choosing.
- He says God has to save man from his depravity, but…wait for it, God is dependent on man to do so.
There is no mystery in man –
- John 2:24-25 (ESV) – 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.