Jul 29, 2014

Why this Calvinist doesn't make much of divine "Sovereignty"

In the literature, the classic phrase that is used to describe the cause championed by Calvinists is 'the sovereignty of God'. Yet in my writings, I seldom use the word, and instead usually speak of 'providence' or 'divine control'. One may ask why I avoid the phrase, and in response, I will say that there is nothing wrong with the sovereignty of God, God is sovereign. But here are three reasons why I don't have much use for the word 'sovereignty' in my writings on the topic.

1-Providence is sovereignty exercised

First, the word sovereignty may be too modest in its claims, and it may not impress Arminians much. To say that God is sovereign could modestly mean only that He has ultimate power and authority over human affairs. But His having such sovereignty over humans tells us little about how much God in fact exercises sovereignty. All stripes of Arminians are perfectly comfortable affirming that God is 'sovereign', but they deny that God uses His sovereignty over human affairs by determining the outcome of human free choices. This is why by speaking instead of providence, we remove the ambiguity, and it now precisely speaks not about what God could do if He wanted, but rather about what God in fact does in this world to providentially bring about His purposes. If you will, providence is 'sovereignty exercised,' and the arguments Calvinists should press are based on the extent of God's providence, as we want to challenge Arminians on what the real question is: 'what does God do?' not 'what could He?'

2-Arminian sovereignty – My God is stronger than your God

Secondly, the malleability of the word sovereignty leads to large amounts of problematic speculations about what the best kind of sovereignty should look like in one's personal opinion. And with human feelings as a measuring tool for what God’s sovereignty should be like, it is no wonder that we end up ironically finding in the literature even Arminians using the concept of sovereignty against Calvinism. Arminians will at time argue that a 'really sovereign' God is one who has the 'courage' to create free creatures that may get out of His control, so that the controlling Calvinist God would then be quite the wimp after all! In that respect, Gregory Boyd finds the Calvinist God 'insecure' and 'weak;'[1] for Terry Miethe He is 'very limited in his power,'[2] and 'surely not sovereign,'[3] and even His omnipotence is compromised according to Samuel Thomson.[4]

On the other hand, the God of libertarianism who grants 'true freedom of will' is 'much greater,'[5] and it shows his 'superiority and his ultimate control over all things.'[6] And if we go as far as open theism, William Hasker rejoices that God becomes much more exciting for engaging in 'admirable risk taking and experimentalism.'[7] This God is 'so stable and secure as to be able to risk suffering and change,'[8] adds Clark Pinnock. This is allegedly sovereignty 'worth wanting'.

But I am afraid that this kind of speculation will not get us very far, because it is entirely subjective, and God’s sovereignty is not to be determined by human feelings. This is why, by debating the extent of God’s providence, we cut out all this word play. We are no longer subjectively arguing 'my God is stronger than your God', rather we are asking the objective question, 'what are the consequences of one's view of free will on the providence of God in this world?'

3-Sovereignty and the renegade molecule – An unfortunate straw man

Finally, the malleability of the word sovereignty has also led to unfortunate misunderstandings which tend to cripple the debate. The prime example of this is a famous quote by R.C. Sproul which is often criticized in debates on divine sovereignty. He asserted,

If there is any part of creation outside of God’s sovereignty, then God is simply not sovereign. If God is not sovereign, then God is not God. If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.[9]

Sproul’s intent as a Calvinist is fine because on the reformed view God does in fact exercise such providence, but his formulation is very unfortunate and has crafted a straw man that Arminians are very quick to knock down, because it seems to say that Calvinists are arguing the following:

Premise 1 – Unless God is decreeing absolutely everything that comes to pass down to a single molecule in the universe, we cannot say, 'God is sovereign'.

Premise 2 – The Bible says, 'God is sovereign'.

Conclusion 3 – Therefore God decrees absolutely everything, which is to say that Calvinism is true.

This is exactly how Arminian Jack Cottrell understands the Calvinist position. He shares:

It is my conviction that the Calvinistic view of sovereignty described above was formulated in a rather intuitive manner, with certain assumptions being made as to what must be the case if God is sovereign – i.e., omnicausality and unconditionality.[10]

And so Cottrell concludes, 'Calvinism says that if the decree is conditional in any way, God cannot be sovereign.'[11]

But nobody should argue that way and present the above argument in favor of Calvinism.[12]
Premise 1 is most definitely false. I am perfectly happy to grant that God could be called 'sovereign' by the Bible even if a renegade molecule were oscillating in an indeterminist fashion, within boundaries in a corner of the universe. The real Calvinist issue at hand however, is that libertarian free will is no mere renegade molecule, and it represents a serious impediment to God’s providence if not His sovereignty. This is the issue worth discussing.

For these reasons, I favor the word 'providence' over 'sovereignty' in these discussions. It removes the ambiguity between God’s theoretical powers and His actual actions, it cuts out any speculations about what kind of sovereign we humans prefer to have, and by preventing the erection of straw men it keeps Arminians on the actual debate topic: is libertarian free will compatible with God’s actual providence?

(I offer a few remarks on that question here)


[1] 'To simply control others so that you always get your way is the surest sign of insecurity and weakness'. Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 149.

[2] '[The Calvinist God] is very limited in his power because he cannot create truly free creatures. He is not powerful enough to create people really in his own image as the Bible says he did'. Terry L. Miethe, 'The Universal Power of the Atonement' in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), 81.

[3] 'The problem would be with a god who could not create free creatures, or a god who had to force people to do his will. Surely this "god" would not be sovereign'. Terry L. Miethe, 'The Universal Power of the Atonement' in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), 74.

[4] 'If God had to negate man’s freedom and force him to choose in the proper way, then his omnipotence truly would be compromised'. Samuel M. Thompson, A Modern Philosophy of Religion (Chicago, IL: Regnery, 1955), 503 quoted in Terry L. Miethe, 'The Universal Power of the Atonement' in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), 74.

[5] 'A God who can grant true freedom of will and still retain His sovereign control is a much greater God than a God who must limit His approach to sovereign control to determinism'. F. Leroy Forlines, J. Matthew Pinson ed., Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation (Nashville, TN: Randall House Publications, 2011), 79.

[6] 'God’s ability to make free beings is a sign of his superiority and his ultimate control over all things'. C. Stephen Evans, 'Salvation, Sin, and Human Freedom in Kierkegaard' in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), 189.

[7] 'Those who admire risk taking and experimentalism in human life may feel that the richness of God’s life is diminished if we deny these attributes to him'. William Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989), 199-200 quoted in Thomas P. Flint, Divine Providence: The Molinist Account (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006), 98.

[8] Clark Pinnock, 'Systematic Theology' in Clark Pinnock et al., The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 105.

[9] R.C. Sproul, Chosen By God (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1986), 26-27.

[10] Jack W. Cottrell, 'The Nature of the Divine Sovereignty', in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), 106-07.

[11] Jack W. Cottrell, 'The Nature of the Divine Sovereignty', in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), 107.

[12] For example, Calvinist Bruce Ware is a bit swift in his statement that, 'Because God is sovereign, God controls all that occurs'. Bruce A. Ware, 'Divine Election to Salvation: Unconditional, Individual, and Infralapsarian' in Perspectives on Election: Five Views, ed. Chad Owen Brand (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 23.

Jul 13, 2014

Inerrancy, Is It a Matter of Luck?

Here is the full text of the paper I presented at the 2013 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Baltimore, on the topic of biblical inerrancy.

Inerrancy, Is It a Matter of Luck?
An Assessment of Inspiration, Providence and Divine Luck
on Calvinism, Open Theism, Classical Arminianism, and Molinism.

Guillaume Bignon

ABSTRACT: The doctrinal basis of the Evangelical Theological Society requires from its members a strong, traditional, evangelical stand on inspiration and inerrancy. While this does not explicitly mention free will and providence, it does have consequences in terms of what one is able to believe with respect to the divine feat of inspiring the scriptures through the free agency of human authors. If God is to successfully bring about an inerrant, inspired text, what are His prospects on any theologian’s view of free will and foreknowledge? The consequences of human free will are surveyed on Calvinism, open theism, classical Arminianism, and Molinism, to assess in each case what is secured by God and what is left to chance. In this light, an assessment is offered of what is and is not ultimately reasonable to believe with respect to God, providence, and divine luck in the process of inscripturation. It is ultimately proposed that inspiration and inerrancy are so improbable on open theism and classical Arminianism as to be virtually impossible, and that even on Molinism both still require some amount of divine luck, albeit a luck of a different kind. It is concluded that only Calvinists and “Molinists who believe in a certain amount of divine luck” can reasonably hold and treasure the view of the Evangelical Theological Society that “the Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.”

“The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” Thus declares the doctrinal basis of the Evangelical Theological Society. It is the historic, traditional Christian belief, that God has communicated to His creation a special revelation of Himself and His plan of redemption, in the form of written, plain, human language. To that effect, the doctrinal belief goes, God has chosen to employ the free agency of various and diverse human writers, who though they were writing of their own volition, under the prompting of the Spirit ended up inscripturating the very words that God desired to communicate.
Considering this project, God faced the prospect of bringing about that numerous human authors, at numerous times and in numerous places, would freely choose to write just the words He would have them write. Assessing His chances of pulling it off and the degree to which He eventually succeeded at doing so, is largely a matter of understanding just what sort of free will these authors possessed, and just what sort of things God knew, foreknew, and possibly determined with respect to their free choices in writing.
Let us review the various positions, which theologians can take and indeed have taken with respect to free will, providence and inspiration.

On the one hand are Calvinists who affirm universal theological determinism. They are those in the reformed tradition who affirm with the Westminster Confession, that
God, the great creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.[1]
 They believe that God providentially determines all things—and hence all human choices—to accomplish His good purposes; so naturally, they are determinists with respect to human free will. They are also called compatibilists to describe their belief that this kind of divinely determined free will is compatible with the moral responsibility of human beings. Humans are determined in the choices they make—ultimately by their creator God—but in the relevant sense, they still make ‘their’ voluntary choices, and are indeed morally responsible for them. Of course, non-Calvinists argue forcefully that these two beliefs are incompatible, but arbitrating that debate is not the purpose of this paper.
On the Calvinist view, inspiration is rather straightforwardly secured. The nature of human free will is believed to be compatible with its being fully determined by God’s providential activity. God is in full sovereign control of the circumstances and the desires of all humans, which a fortiori includes the individuals whom He picked as authors of the scriptures, and hence He can just providentially determine that they freely write just what words He would have them write. Et voilà, the Bible comes to be and is easily affirmed to be God’s authoritative word in every way.[2]

On the other side of the theological divide however, under a large tent we could call Arminianism, theologians believe that true, morally responsible free will is incompatible with determinism. Human beings are said to have a libertarian free will, a free will that is not determined by prior factors or causes inside or outside the free agent, including God’s promptings in their hearts. It is sometimes described as a categorical ability to do otherwise: all things being just as they are at the moment of choice, and God’s prompting being just the way it is, the agent is able to freely choose otherwise than what he chooses. As Peter van Inwagen puts it, “whatever else it may involve; to be able to have acted otherwise is to have free will.”[3]
But on the face of it, this may pose a problem for the doctrine of inspiration. If free will is libertarian in this way, God cannot just go ahead and determine the outcome of human free choices. If human free choices are libertarian, they are by definition undetermined, and even an omnipotent God can no more determine an undetermined choice than He can create a square circle or a married bachelor. Accordingly, short of determining the free choices of biblical authors, what is God to do on each of the non-Calvinist views?
 It depends on which sort of things an Arminian affirms that God foreknows and uses in His providence over human free choices. On this matter, Arminians can take and indeed have taken, one of three (and only three) views: 1-Open theism, 2-classical Arminianism (or simple foreknowledge), and 3-Molinism. Space does not permit me to argue the point, but I contend that these are the only three options, as they cover all the logical possibilities open to Arminians in terms of providence over libertarian free will. Let us review each of them in turn.

Open Theists believe that God has knowledge of what we have done in the past and are doing in the present, but inasmuch as a future choice is truly free in the libertarian sense, open theists affirm that there is presently no such state of affair as what humans will freely do, and hence God doesn’t know what we will do, only what we might or might not do. About such choices, God does not have knowledge of certainties; He knows only probabilities. So as God is endeavoring to guide the writing of Holy Scripture, this knowledge of probabilities gives Him a possibly decent guess as to what sorts of promptings He needs to operate on the hearts of these authors to maximize His chances to obtain the correct words, but it gives God no guarantee that they will in fact respond in the way He intends, and write these correct words. Because of libertarianism, given just the sort of promptings God chooses to operate, in just the right circumstances, it is still possible for the authors to freely choose otherwise than God hopes, and because of open theism, God does not know whether or not they will. That is wholly outside of His control by good and necessary consequences of what open theists affirm.
As should be evident already, this has rather deleterious consequences for one’s view of inspiration and accordingly inerrancy. Given that there is no course of action that God can take of His own to carry out the successful writing of His word, we must conclude one of two things: either He failed and scripture is at least uninspired in places if not in outright error, or, He succeeded in every way and inspiration amounts to an incredible stroke of luck. How much luck exactly? It is hard to put credible figures on the question, but the sheer number of words in the entire Bible—Old and New Testaments—should be enough to convince that this kind of divine luck is implausibly believed, bordering on virtual impossibility.

On the one hand, some libertarians are fine with this conclusion. This is the view held by open theists David and Randall Basinger, who contend that it is incoherent to affirm full inspiration and at the same time to use the free will defense against the problem of evil—another way of simply saying that human free will is libertarian.[4] They maintain that full inspiration conflicts with libertarianism, and since libertarianism is a solid fact, so much the worse for inspiration, inerrancy, and the doctrinal basis of the E.T.S.
On the other hand, open theist Greg Boyd does uphold his belief in inerrancy: “the Bible is always true—and I, for one, assume that it is.”[5] The credo is pleasantly orthodox, but open theism seems to remove the resources necessary to explain how it possibly came to be. So before we go on to assess inspiration on the classical Arminian and Molinist views, let us address a handful of alternative responses that libertarians have suggested or could suggest to avoid the problem.

First, some libertarians have attempted to qualify what biblical inspiration and inerrancy require, in more modest terms that are compatible with a less than comprehensive divine oversight of the free human authors. Bruce Reichenbach suggests:
The doctrine of inspiration can be understood in terms of God’s revelation to writers whom he moved to write. As such, in many cases God’s revealing activity and controlling of the outcome is in terms of necessary and not sufficient conditions. It need not be thought to extend to the words used or style employed, but rather to the truths presented.[6]
The problem with this view is that human free will makes no distinction between the style of a written text and the truth-status of its contained meaning. As long as free will permits humans to choose their words, no distinction can coherently be made between God’s control of their style and His control of their truth-content. The same words that exhibit a writing style also carry a communicated message, and if God cannot control “the words used or style employed,” He can no more control the “truths presented” by those very words. Therefore the traditional doctrine of inspiration as affirmed by our credo, which requires the Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety to be God’s word, rules out such a response.
Another suggestion would be that God ‘normally’ equips human beings with a libertarian free will, but that in cases where He wants or needs to guarantee the outcome of a free choice, He simply removes that freedom from His human agents, to secure deterministically that they do what He would have them do. This can be seen in Roger Olson: “Occasionally God suspends free will with a dramatic intervention that virtually forces a person to decide or act in some way”[7] or Jack Cottrell who grants that God does not intervene in human free decisions “unless his special purposes require it”[8] and Jason Nicholls who writes that “Scripture also records select incidents of divine determinism whereby God guarantees the fulfillment of specific, indispensable pieces of his ultimate plan.”[9]
Inspiration could then be such a case, and God could have inspired the scriptures by way of securely determinist, compatibilist human choices, in the way that Calvinists assert He did. This might even be Greg Boyd’s position, since He has gone on record to say that the impeccable saints in Heaven, and even Jesus on earth possessed a compatibilist free will to guarantee that they cannot sin.[10]
The problem with this response is twofold. First, it makes an unjustified distinction between the free choices made by biblical authors—now said to be determinist—and any other human free choice alleged to be libertarian. But nothing in the metaphysical fabric of a biblical author’s free choice has justifiably been altered; nothing in the mechanism of his will leading to his free choice of words has presumably been changed from say the free choice to believe Christ or to get out of bed in the morning. The choice of writing the scripture is just as free as any other free choice. On the orthodox view of inspiration presently discussed, God does not dictate the words; He does not coerce the authors; He does not hypnotize them; He simply prepares writers-to-be by His providence, and prompts their hearts by His Spirit in such a way that they freely write the right words. So if free will is libertarian as open theists say it is, and if human authors wrote the scripture of their own free will the way our credo says they did, then it follows that inscripturation involved libertarian free will; not compatibilist. So this response will not do.[11]
The second reason why a determinist compatibilist inspiration of scripture is problematic on any Arminian view is that it leaves us wondering what happened to all the anti-Calvinist arguments proposed abundantly in the literature against compatibilist free will. We are normally told that it turns human beings into robots,[12] “smoothly operated puppet[s],”[13] “a marionette show,”[14] of “contracted performers,”[15] “falling dominos,”[16] “dancing mannequins,”[17] ventriloquist dummies,[18] “men are God’s toys,”[19] “pawns in God’s hands,”[20] or that they cannot be morally responsible,[21] that it turns history into a “farce,”[22] a “vain and empty spectacle,”[23] a “charade,”[24] and so on.
If libertarians maintain any of those problematic arguments, they cannot turn around and affirm just this kind of determined will for the beautifully inspired free act of writing the word of God. None of the colorful names above applies to the biblical authors, whose writing cannot be thus controlled if any brand of Arminianism is true.
A final libertarian retort finds itself refuted by the same consideration. It is the suggestion that God might be able to control and secure the outcome of the wills of His saints, just not those of unbelieving sinners. God would have a special access to determine the more malleable wills of His redeemed servants (among whom biblical authors presumably are); an access that He otherwise lacks for unbelievers who freely reject Him. Leaving aside the question of whether Solomon was apostate when He penned some of his proverbs or whether the author of Ecclesiastes was a believer, the same response as above must be given here: for all the willingness and submissiveness that a believer undoubtedly brings to the table, the metaphysics of his free will with respect to determinism have no reason to be different from that of an unbeliever. Sinners who repent become servants, but they do not become puppets or robots, nor any of the injurious labels listed above. Therefore, if true, morally significant free will is libertarian, it remains so after conversion, and a determinist compatibilist inspiration of scripture is excluded.

Since none of these responses can get libertarians—or at least so far open theists—off the hook of the present problem, let us now turn to the remaining two Arminian understandings of providence, starting with classical Arminianism, or simple-foreknowledge Arminianism.
The classical Arminian view distinguishes itself from open theism by adding that God possesses simple foreknowledge of the future. He knows in advance all of the free choices that creatures will make in the future. Free will is still undetermined, it is still libertarian, but contrary to open theism, God is not left in the dark as to how those free will choices will turn out; He knows perfectly well what we will freely choose; He foreknows everything that the future holds. The question is then raised: what sort of providential advantage does it add to the picture? What sort of additional help does this provide God as He endeavors to inspire the Bible?
Like all interesting questions of metaphysics, this matter is not entirely uncontroversial, but let me argue here that at least minimally with respect to inspiration, simple foreknowledge is providentially useless, leaving the God of classical Arminianism in the same quandary as that of the God of open theism. Classical Arminian Jack Cottrell thinks that foreknowledge helps, because divine foreknowledge of free will choices “gives God the genuine option of either permitting or preventing men’s planned choices, and prevention is the ultimate control.”[25] He writes,
God permits men and women to carry out their plans . . . or else he intervenes and prevents them. . . . What enables God to monitor people’s plans and include such permission in his eternal decree? The answer is his foreknowledge. . . . This is how God maintains sovereign control over the whole of his creation, despite the freedom he has given his creatures.[26]
But this will not work. Since what God foreknows in His simple foreknowledge is actually the truth about the future—it truly is what will happen—, at the point when He knows these things, He can no longer prevent any of it from happening, or it would not be true foreknowledge of the future after all, which is absurd per hypothesis. John Sanders explains this problem with clarity,
Once God has foreknowledge, he cannot change what will happen, for that would make his foreknowledge incorrect; and foreknowledge, by definition, is always correct about what is going to occur. God cannot make future actual events “deoccur.” It is a logical contradiction to affirm that God both knows something will happen and that God knows he will bring it about that it not happen. Once God knows something as actual, he cannot make it the case that it not be actual.[27]
Classical Arminians however, do not surrender that debate just yet. David Hunt has argued that even though it is indeed impossible for God to use His foreknowledge of a free choice in order to change that same choice, it may be possible for God to use His foreknowledge of a free choice in order to act providentially over some other events.[28] For example, Hunt envisions a fictional game of rock, paper, scissors between God and Satan. Once God foreknows the free choice of Satan, He no longer can work to change Satan’s choice, but He may choose His own option providentially in order to infallibly defeat Satan. Or again, in a less fictional situation, once God foreknows that Peter will in fact freely deny Christ three times, He no longer can prevent this denial from happening, but He can announce it in biblical prophecy (which He could not infallibly do on open theism).
William Hasker has offered a strong case for why even those more modest claims probably do not work with simple foreknowledge,[29] but we do not even need to arbitrate the rather technical debate that ensued, because it is irrelevant to the present argument. Indeed, even if we granted that simple foreknowledge does confer to God this slight providential superiority over the God of open theism, it still would remain worthless with respect to securing the outcome of human free choices, which is the kind of providence that is needed for biblical inspiration. Even if a God with simple foreknowledge were able to prophetically announce the future or infallibly win a game of rock, paper, scissor, He could not do anything to secure the outcome of human free choices themselves. If He foreknows the choice then He can no longer change it, and if He foreknows anything but the choice, then it is worthless to secure a libertarian free choice which by definition could still go either direction regardless of God’s best efforts, no matter how knowledgeable God may be.
The conclusion follows that the God of classical Arminianism, empowered with simple foreknowledge, is just as helpless and dependent on luck as the God of open theism when it comes to bringing about that the Bible contain the exact words that He would like it to communicate.

The final Arminian view to assess with respect to inspiration is Molinism.
Molinists believe that God’s providential control of human free choices rests most importantly upon His so-called middle knowledge, that is, the knowledge of so-called counterfactuals of freedom. Those foreknown counterfactual propositions declare what any possible creature would freely do in any possible set of circumstances.
On this view, God still does not determine the outcome of free choices; they remain libertarian, but before He decides what He is going to do to influence human beings, God knows what humans would freely do in response to His promptings in any circumstances, in any envisaged scenario. He therefore has the luxury of using this knowledge to decide which circumstances in fact to bring about, and hence which free will choices will accordingly be made. This is how Molinism is said to rescue divine providence in the face of libertarian free will.
The providential advantage that this view—if coherent and true[30]—would afford God is I think substantial; it reduces the amount of luck that would be necessary for God to obtain just the scriptures He wanted or something close to it. Why is that so? It is because the limitation placed on God in virtue of human free will being libertarian is no longer such that God cannot do anything about it. Prior to creation, He is presented in His middle knowledge with all the counterfactuals of freedom, which restrict His options of which free choices He could bring about, but they do so at a point where He still has the choice of rejecting envisaged scenarios that prohibitively displease Him. Out of all the possible worlds there are, the rebellious libertarian free wills of human beings ‘filter out’ a good many worlds that are said to be not ‘feasible’ for God because the wrong counterfactuals of freedom happen to be true, and so if God were to place humans in just those circumstances, they simply wouldn’t do what He wants them to do. So not all possible worlds are feasible for God, but He still gets to pick which one among the feasible worlds He does bring about and make actual. Thus, with respect to inspiration, what it means is that God has absolutely no guarantee that the counterfactuals of freedom, which stand wholly outside of His control, will permit Him to inspire exactly the Bible that He wanted as His first choice. But once in possession of middle-knowledge, He can look at all the ‘feasible’ worlds, and pick the best world among those, a world in which the writers of holy scripture may not have produced the absolute best Bible God would have wanted, but rather maybe a pretty decent one nonetheless. It may possibly not be God’s favorite Bible, but even in that case, there is a chance that God’s second best, the best one feasible to Him would still at least be inerrant, and hopefully not too far off from the way God would ideally have worded these truths.

So contrary to what some enthusiastic Molinists may have claimed,[31] we can see that this view still requires some degree of divine luck, insofar as if God is to inspire exactly the words that He wants, the counterfactuals of freedom of biblical authors would need to fall by chance alone in such a way that they still permit access to a decent feasible world. And if free will is libertarian, this part is entirely dependent on luck, since God does not control (as He doesn’t determine) what humans would freely do in any circumstances. The truth-value of those so-called counterfactuals of freedom is wholly outside of His control; as William Lane Craig puts it, these are just cards He is given, and God must “play with the hand He has been dealt.”[32]
God does not get to pick which cards He is dealt, and hence whether this hand is playable at all rests purely on luck. But if we do suppose that the hand of counterfactuals God has been dealt by chance is not too bad; that it is still ‘playable’ if you will, then He can still play it perfectly. He can knowingly ensure that the biblical authors do what He knew they would do under just the right influences, and hence He can ensure that the best feasible Bible will come to be. This is the Molinist view of providence, and its account of inspiration.

Having reviewed the consequences of each view of free will and foreknowledge on one’s doctrine of inspiration, it is time to conclude on what is or is not reasonable to believe. Allow me to do so with a fitting parable.
There once was a good man who went out to submit a novel to three wicked editors. He had worked so hard that his manuscript was absolutely perfect in every way, and he submitted it for review by the three evil editors. All three editors looked at the manuscript, and as editors do, made all sorts of changes everywhere; changes which were all for the worse, since the manuscript was perfect, after all. The first evil editor came back to the writer and presented him dozens and dozens of revised versions, dozens of modified manuscripts, and asked him to pick his favorite among those; the author was disappointed, but picked the one that was least damaged, and it went to the press.
The second evil editor came back to the author with only one modified manuscript, and told him “you can read it before it lands on the shelves, but it is already sent to the press, this is the one we are going with.”
And the third evil editor just went ahead and picked a modified manuscript, and sent it to the press without even telling the author what version it would be.
“Now he who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
The correspondence with my previous analysis should be clear enough: the writer is God, the perfect manuscript is the perfect, best possible Bible that He would like to inspire, and the three evil editors represent the kind of hurdles that God faces on the three libertarian views. The first one is the Molinist view, wherein the best possible Bible may no longer be feasible, but God still gets to pick among a set of lesser feasible ones before it “goes to the press.” The second editor represents the classical Arminian view, wherein God has no providential control over which manuscript gets picked, but He is informed in advance of what it will be before it comes to be. And the third editor represents open theism wherein God does not even know what will come about before the ‘book is on the shelves.’
This story illustrates well the sort of luck needed on each view: in the Molinist case, our author needs to hope that one of the feasible manuscripts handed back to him will be decent enough that he can give his a-posteriori consent even though it may not be the very best possible manuscript he wanted. And in the case of classical Arminianism and open theism, we see that the decision of which text is printed stands wholly outside of his control, and additionally, we see explicitly how having simple foreknowledge provides God no providential advantage, since in both cases the manuscript is chosen for Him, whether or not He gets to read it before it lands on the shelf. Which one goes to the press rests on divine luck.

In conclusion, what does all of this entail with respect to inspiration, inerrancy and the credo of the Evangelical Theological Society? Which views can coherently affirm inspiration in the way E.T.S. requires? It depends on which amount of sheer divine luck one is prepared to believe in. How lucky do you believe God ended up being? It is of course very hard to put any credibly precise figures on the probability judgments involved, but the above story together with the truly massive scope of scripture, should convince that a solid view of inspiration is so improbable on open theism and classical Arminianism as to be virtually impossible. That God would get the right words hundreds and hundreds of thousands of times by chance alone just stretches one’s credulity. At some point a gambler must run out of luck, and pure chance has to fail; it always does. Open theists and classical Arminians have no resources to justify such insolent divine luck.
As to Molinism, the question remains: just how many possible worlds—and accordingly how many possible Bibles—turned out by chance (or lack thereof) to be unfeasible? How inflexible did the counterfactuals of freedom of the biblical authors turn out to be? How likely is it that God’s options were not too limited for a properly inspired Bible? I cannot say. I find it hard to reconcile the God revealed in scripture with the idea that He would need any amount of blind dumb luck in His dealings with the world,[33] but without a strong argument for why that lucky draw was too improbable, I must moderate my philosophical critique and simply conclude that while open theism and classical Arminianism make it virtually impossible to believe in inspiration, Molinism only makes it “dependent on a certain amount of luck that we can only measure with great difficulty.” I thus conclude that a proponent of inspiration as defined by the E.T.S., if he is to remain coherent[34], should either be a Calvinist, or a Molinist who believes in some divine luck.[35]

[1] Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 5, “On Divine Providence” quoted in Bruce A. Ware, God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004), 97-98.
[2] Considering that on Calvinism, all writings of all humans are thus determined, one could wonder “are then not all writings inspired by God?” But this question confuses necessity and sufficiency. The full providential control of the author’s writing is necessary for a text to be the word of God, but certainly it is not sufficient. Something else beyond divine control is needed, namely God’s willing endorsement of the text as His own word, a criterion that is clearly absent from any non-inspired text, and all the more from any errant one, be they determined by God for the role they have to play in His providence.
[3] Peter van Inwagen, An Essay on Free Will (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), 162.
[4] “One cannot consistently affirm the total inerrancy of Scripture and yet also utilize the Free Will Defence as a response to the problem of evil.” David Basinger and Randall Basinger, “Inerrancy and Free Will: Some Further Thoughts,” Evangelical Quarterly 58 (1986), 351 quoted in Stephen J. Wellum, “The Inerrancy of Scripture” in Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity, ed. John Piper, Justin Taylor & Paul Kjoss Helseth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003), 259.
[5] Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 11.
[6] Bruce Reichenbach, “Bruce Reichenbach’s response (to John Feinberg)” in Predestination & Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 54.
[7] Roger E. Olson, “The Classical Free Will Theist Model of God” in Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: 4 Views (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2008), 151.
[8] Jack W. Cottrell, “The Nature of the Divine Sovereignty,” in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), 108.
[9] Jason A. Nicholls, “Openness and Inerrancy: Can They be Compatible?” JETS 45/4 (December 2002), 631.
[10] “the purpose of libertarian freedom is provisional, intended eventually to lead us to a much greater, eternally solidified form of compatibilistic freedom.” Gregory A. Boyd, “God Limits His Control” in Four Views on Divine Providence, ed. Stanley N. Gundry, Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 194.
[11] Let me of course note that this is not at all a claim that compatibilist free will cannot in fact be the medium of inspiration. For Calvinists, it is perfectly fine to affirm just that, because they also maintain that a determinist compatibilist will is precisely what free will happens to be. So on Calvinism, a determinist compatibilist writing of the scriptures is a free writing of the scriptures, and this is just what our doctrine of inspiration demands.
[12] John Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 227.
[13] F. Leroy Forlines, J. Matthew Pinson ed., Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation (Nashville, TN: Randall House Publications, 2011), 48.
[14] Clark H. Pinnock, “There is Room For Us: A Reply to Bruce Ware” JETS 45/2 (June 2002), 215.
[15] Sanders, God Who Risks, 223.
[16] J.P. Moreland & William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 273.
[17] Sanders, God Who Risks, 223.
[18] Ibid., 227.
[19] William G. MacDonald, “. . . The Spirit of Grace” in Grace Unlimited, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999), 81.
[20] Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 65.
[21] Alvin Plantinga asks: “How can I be responsible for my actions, if it was never within my power to perform any actions I didn’t in fact perform, and never within my power to refrain from performing any I did perform?” Alvin Plantinga, “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” Faith and Philosophy: Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers vol.1:3, (253-271).
David Widerker: “An agent is morally blameworthy for performing a given act A only if he could have avoided performing it.” David Widerker, ‘Blameworthiness and Frankfurt’s Argument Against the Principle of Alternative Possibilities’ in Moral Responsibility, ed. Widerker & McKenna, 54.
Roger Olson: “If people’s decisions and actions are determined by anything such that they could not do otherwise than they do, wherein lies their moral accountability or guilt?” Roger E. Olson, “Responses to Bruce A. Ware” in Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: 4 Views (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2008), 134.
Robert Picirilli: “If, in fact, those who crucified Jesus had to do so, if God’s foreordination by its own efficacy made their actions unavoidable, then they were not free to do otherwise—could not do otherwise—and were therefore not responsible.” Robert E. Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism (Nashville, TN: Randall House Publications, 2002), 80.
[22] William Lane Craig, “Response to Paul Kjoss Helseth” in Four Views on Divine Providence, ed. Stanley N. Gundry, Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 62.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Jack W. Cottrell, “The Classical Arminian View of Election” in Perspectives on Election: Five Views, ed. Chad Owen Brand (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 103.
[26] Jack W. Cottrell, “The Nature of the Divine Sovereignty,” in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1995), 110-11.
[27] John Sanders, “Responses to Roger E. Olson” in Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: 4 Views (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2008), 186-87.
[28] David P. Hunt, “The Providential Advantage of Divine Foreknowledge,” in Kevin Timpe, ed., Arguing About Religion (London and New York; Routledge, 2009), 374-85.
[29] William Hasker, “Why Simple Foreknowledge is Still Useless (In Spite of David Hunt and Alex Pruss)” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 2009.
[30] Some have argued that if free will is libertarian, then there logically cannot be such a thing as what a person would freely do in a given situation in abstraction. As William Hasker puts it, “insofar as an agent is genuinely free, there are no true counterfactuals stating what the agent would definitely do under various possible circumstances.”[30] This may or may not be true, but this controversial contention is not the purpose of the present paper, so let us instead suppose that Molinism is in fact coherent, and only consider what follows for inspiration assuming that this view holds together.
[31] Cf. Steven B. Cowan, “Molinism, Meticulous Providence, and Luck” in Philosophia Christi, vol.11, Number 1, 2009, 156.
[32] William Lane Craig, “Molinism and the soteriological Problem of Evil Once More,” http://www.reasonablefaith.org/molinism-and-the-soteriological-problem-of-evil-once-more
[33] The God of scripture “works all things according to his will” (Eph. 1:11), and makes every decision for how the lot is cast into the lap (Prv. 16:33) or where sparrows fall to the ground (Mat. 10:29-30). He can do all things and no purpose of His can be thwarted (Job 42:2).
“Putting everything in subjection to Him, He left nothing outside His control” (Heb.2:8).
[34] This qualification is important, as this paper is not intended to dictate to the E.T.S. who should or should not be banned from membership. This is surely not for me to say. On some level, furthermore, we all want to make room for inconsistent beliefs, or else no one would be allowed in. Rather, my more modest aim was simply to show that classical Arminians and open theists would be inconsistent in holding the E.T.S. doctrinal basis. That is the only conclusion my present arguments have here established.
[35] This conclusion is interesting in the light of the debate once sparked over whether open theists belong in the E.T.S. Bruce Ware had forcefully argued that they did not, and presented their diminished view of providence as a strong reason why. To this, John Sanders responded that if Ware’s critique were true, then it would exclude all non-Calvinists from the E.T.S, not just open theists. The present paper establishes that this is not so. The doctrinal basis of the E.T.S. may possibly reasonably be affirmed by a non-Calvinist, but to do so, it seems to me that he must be a Molinist.