Over the past few years I have grown to admire and long for the ancient faith. Through my studies I have come to hold that Anglicanism is for me, however, I need to know if I can, in good faith, join an Anglican congregation due to my soteriological beliefs.
I am a Molinist. I hope you know what that is, for, it is hard to explain briefly. It ultimately holds that God is sovereign and can control His creation in the most particular way (via His middle knowledge), if He so chooses, but that man is also fully free (in the libertarian sense). It is not Pelagian in that it does not deny original sin and its effect on us, and it still holds that we need God’s grace. It was a belief that came about after the Protestant Reformation that combated the extremes advocated by Calvinism. In Catholic theology, it stands between Thomism and the Eternal/Open View, although it shares similar positions with both (although I’d say it is friendlier with Thomism). It simply denies determinism and so-called compatiblism, as well the assertion that God’s knowledge is evolving (open).
So, to make a long story short, does one have to believe in Predestination/Election in the Calvinistic sense? Or is there some wiggle room?
I desire to be a part of the Anglican tradition, but I do not want to do so if I cannot fully conform to something it deems as a necessary belief.
Thank you and may the Lord’s peace be with you!
There are a lot of “isms” in that question which could take us off in various directions, but essentially this is a question about free will or, to be a little bit more on the nose, a question about whether or not we have any power to choose God or if He alone must choose us. Those who would say that we have no free will towards God include several strands of classical Protestants, including various kinds of Reformed and Lutherans. They argue that sin has so completely destroyed us, from the inside out, that there is simply no way for us to even begin the search for God without His intervention and to say otherwise is to make light of sin’s effect on us and to effectively say that we are our own saviors, having only need for Jesus to give us a push in the right direction. On the other side are Roman Catholics and various kinds of Arminians who use different arguments from one another but come to largely the same conclusion that our salvation is dependent both on God’s gracious action towards us and our free choosing of God because to say otherwise is to make God into an arbitrary tyrant who uses us as little more than rag dolls. Given what is at stake, it is easy to see how this debate could become heated very quickly.
The Molinist Both/And
Molinism was sort of an attempt to have it both ways. It gained its name from the sixteenth century Spanish Jesuit Luis de Molina who taught that God predestines some to salvation but that He does so by manipulating the circumstances of their lives in such a way that they would naturally choose to accept Him. In the Molinist understanding, God has the ability to see all possibilities for human action and to therefore choose the set of circumstances that will lead those He has predestined to make the choice to come to Him. He determines who He will choose in part based on His knowledge of how well they will make use of the grace He intends to grant them. Thus, Molinism seeks to affirm both God’s ability to choose us and our ability to choose Him, both predestination and free will.
Not So Free To Be You and Me
From an Anglican perspective, the difficulty with a theory like Molinism is not so much what it says about God as what it says about us. The nineteenth century Anglo-Catholic John Mason Neale wrote that the problem with Molinism is that, “however the fact may be glossed over, it subjects, in fact, the will of God to the will of man.” Even with a more charitable read, however, Molinism assumes a kind of synergy between God’s will and ours that is necessary for our salvation. But Article X attests:
The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith; and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.
The archaic use of the word “preventing” here often throws people, but what this article is essentially saying is that when it comes to our relationship with God, we have no free will. Our nature is so thoroughly damaged by sin from birth that we are not capable of coming to God on our own. In fact, just the opposite. Our natural desire is to be our own gods and to push the true God as far away as possible. In our natural state, if God were to show up on our doorstep and want to come in for a beer, we would close the door and call the cops to get Him off our lawn. (Or perhaps we would do something even more drastic, like say, nail Him to a piece of wood and leave Him for dead…)
Before we come to faith in Christ, our will, like everything else about us, is enslaved by sin. This is often a frustrating realization, because it means that nothing about our salvation is even just a little bit ours. It means, consequently, that the great and noble conversion story that we pull out of our pockets from time to time, the one in which we talk about how we made a decision for Christ and gave our lives over to Him, is at least partially a fabrication. Though it may seem like it is the very heart of our piety, it is in fact the sneakiest of all ways that Satan keeps a grip on us, by making us think, however subtly, that Jesus needs our help to save us, that His work on the cross is insufficient without our happy consent.
Calvinism and Molinism Sitting in a Tree…
Nevertheless, it is important to reiterate that the Anglican view of predestination and election is not identical to that of Calvinism. You can read a rather lengthy set of articles that delve into those differences here. At heart, the great criticism that classical Anglicanism would level at Molinism would be similar to that which it levels at Calvinism. Both systems seek to know more of the mind of God than Scripture reveals. Both attempt to tie up the mystery of our election in a neat little bow. Consequently, both end up arriving at terrifying conclusions about the nature of God that do not come from Holy Scripture but from a rationalistic desire to get all the pieces to fit. The God of Scripture is neither the Calvinist insecure sadist who purposely creates some people just so He can burn them, nor the Molinist cosmic casino owner who only gives out grace to those He is certain will be a sure bet. The truth is far more grand and more frustrating to our intellects than either of these possibilities will allow.
A Word of Encouragement
Having said all of that, though, I would still encourage you, Matthew, to spend some time worshiping and praying in an Anglican parish. While I believe that Molinism is difficult to square with classical Anglican doctrine about free will, it is perhaps worth taking the time to wrestle with these very difficult and fine distinctions in a community setting. Whether or not you ever become an Anglican, you may find that there is something worthwhile in the wrestling itself. It is the sort of thing we would be better off discussing while sharing the Lord’s Table rather than away from it.