Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Molinism (Middle Knowledge)

Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell are two Arminian professors at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. In their book, "Why I am Not a Calvinist," they explore a concept known as Molinism, named after Luis De Molina, a Jesuit theologian in the 16ht Century, who taught that God possesses "Middle Knowledge," which is essentially that God knows everything that everyone would ever do in all possible circumstances. It is the knowledge of contingencies, providing non-Determinists with a viable explanation for how God could providentially govern the universe:

Walls and Dongell: "...God arranges the world as he chooses based on his middle knowledge. God exercises sovereign control in the sense that he creates the person he wishes to create and brings about the circumstances he wills, knowing just what choices all those persons will make in the circumstances he has brought about." (Why I am Not a Calvinist, p.137)

Walls and Dongell: "Unlike the Calvinist determinist, the Molinist believes God's decrees are dependent on what he knows creatures would freely do in various circumstances." (p.137)

That almost sounds like a kind of "Compatibilism," and yet it is not true Compatibilism since it rejects Hard Determinism.

Walls and Dongell: "Molinism is an attractive position in many ways. It offers an account of providence that explains how God can have a highly particular degree of control over various circumstances without resorting to determinism of human choices. For those who are attracted to Calvinism's account of providence and sovereignty but are hesitant to embrace determinism, Molinism may seem like the perfect alternative." (p.138)

In my opinion, it offers a very logical explanation for Genesis 50:20. One of the Bible's clearest examples of Middle Knowledge is found at Matthew 11:20-24. Moreover, I believe that 1st Corinthians 10:13 also lays the groundwork for Middle Knowledge. So is Middle Knowledge a middle ground that Calvinists can embrace?

Walls and Dongell: "...at the end of the day, Molinism is not a compromise position that Calvinists can embrace; rather, it is a variation on Arminianism. As Muller has recognized, if Molinism were accepted as a middle ground position, 'the Reformed would need to concede virtually all of the issues in debate and adopt an Arminian perspective.' It is clear, then, that Molinism, despite its strong account of particular providential control, does not represent enough divine control for the truly Reformed." (pp.138-139)

Perhaps the reason for this, is because for Calvinism, God's knowledge does not guide His decrees, but rather, His knowledge is the result of His decrees, insomuch that God's knowledge is the "transcript of His decrees."

Additionally, here is an interesting article that I located concerning Middle Knowledge.

17 comments:

Kevin Rhyne said...

Richard,

As to Molinism, Louis Berkhof wrote, “It is objectionable because it makes the divine knowledge dependent on the choice of man, virtually annuls the certainly of the knowledge of future events, and thus implicitly denies the omniscience of God.”

Doesn’t this theory set up Fate/Chance as more powerful than God? If God knows the unfettered neutral choice of His creatures, and still creates them knowing some will reject Christ, isn’t He damning them to Hell and there is no way for them to avoid it?

If you have the time, I still would like an answer to my questions on the last post.

Grace and peace.

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hey Kevin,

Thanks for the quote, and within Berkhof's paradigm, he is correct. However, the catch is "within Berkhof's paradigm." Allow me to explain. If God must wait for someone to make a choice, in order for Him to know what that choice will be, then God remains ignorant up until that point, which as Berkhof states, “virtually annuls the certainly of the knowledge of future events, and thus implicitly denies the omniscience of God.”

The problem with Berkhof's paradigm is that it assumes that God is a temporal being, whose knowledge progesses in a straight line from eternity past to eternity future, rather than being eternal, and without being subject to time. Thus, Arminians believe that God does not need to look forward into the future, but that God, being eternal, dwelling in all time and space, beibng completely independent of time, may therefore may look back or forward at our future, as if our future was the past to Him, in that God is an eternal eyewitness. Therefore, when an Arminian evaluates Berkhof's quote, he can reject it, simply by assuming a different paradigm.

You wrote: "Doesn’t this theory set up Fate/Chance as more powerful than God? If God knows the unfettered neutral choice of His creatures, and still creates them knowing some will reject Christ, isn’t He damning them to Hell and there is no way for them to avoid it?"

This assumes that God's knowledge is causal. Arminians instead believe that God's knowledge of the future, no more determines the future, than man's knowledge of the past, determines the past.

Kevin Rhyne said...

If God is not causal, what/who is?

a helmet said...

Most importantly, God is not the author of moral evil.

Kevin Rhyne said...

Helmet,

I’m not sure where that came from. Nobody has said that He is. Not, at least, in this conversation.

Many use the "God is not the author of evil" red herring to side-step what Scripture says about the exercise of His sovereignty over His creation.

My question is: if God is not causal in all things, who/what is?

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hey Kevin,

Once again, I apologize for my inconsistency.

You asked: "If God is not causal in all things, who is?"

Man causes certain things. Satan causes certain things. In fact, at Jeremiah 32:35, God specifically denied being the cause of Israel's sin. So that should demonstrate that God does not cause all things. Instead, God may "work all things" (Eph 1:11). Arminians point to the difference in causing all things vs. working all things, and use Gen. 50:20 as an example. There, God work the event to conform to His will, though Arminians reject that God caused or scripted the entire event.

In think that where Helmet was going with his comment, is that if you propose that God is "causal in all things," then it is inevitable that it would make God the author of sin. Calvinist, Charles Spurgeon, rejected that God is the cause of all things. Here is a quote from him, just to demonstrate that not all Calvinsts agree that God causes everything:

Charles Spugeon: "If any of you want to know what I preach every day, and any stranger should say, 'Give me a summary of his doctrine,' say this, 'He preaches salvation all of grace, and damnation all of sin. He gives God all the glory for every soul that is saved, but he won't have it that God is to blame for any man that is damned.' That teaching I cannot understand. My soul revolts at the idea of a doctrine that lays the blood of man's soul at God's door. I cannot conceive how any human mind, at least any Christian mind, can hold any such blasphemy as that." (Jacob and Esau)

http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0239.htm

I'm not saything that I'm agreeing with the quote, but merely pointing out not all Calvinists believe that God causes whatsoever comes to pass.

Thoughts?

Kevin Rhyne said...

Richard,

Don’t worry about the sporadic blogging, brother. We all have lives.

I would point out that there is a difference in saying that a creature is blameworthy for acting according to his nature and saying that God has ordained whatsoever comes to pass. They are qualitatively different statements. Arminians do not seem to appreciate this distinction.

As for Spurgeon, I think you will find this quote a little more on topic.

“O! that thought, it staggers thought! O! it is an idea that overwhelms me—that God is working all! The sins of man, the wickedness of our race, the crimes of nations, the iniquities of kings, the cruelties of wars, the terrific scourge of pestilence—all these things in some mysterious way are working the will of God! We must not look at it; we cannot look at it. I cannot explain it. I cannot tell you where human will and free agency unite with God's sovereignty and with his unfailing decrees. This has been the place where intellectual gladiators have fought with each other ever since the time of Adam. Some have said, Man does as he likes; and others have said, God does as he pleases. In one sense, they are both true; but there is no man that has brains or understanding enough to show where they meet. We cannot tell how it is that I do just as I please as to which street I shall go home by; and yet I cannot go home but through a certain road. John Newton used to say, there were two streets to go to St. Mary Woolnoth; but Providence directed him as to which he should use. Last Sabbathday I came down a certain street I do not know why—and there was a young man who wished to speak to me; he wished to see me many times before. I say that was God's Providence—that I might meet that young man. Here was Providence, and yet there was my choice; how, I cannot tell. I cannot comprehend it. I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes—that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit as well as the sun in the heavens—that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphis over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence—the fall of sere leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche. He that believes in a God must believe this truth. There is no standing-point between this and atheism. There is no half way between a mighty God that worketh all things by the sovereign counsel of his will and no God at all. A God that cannot do as he pleases—a God whose will is frustrated, is not a God, and cannot be a God. I could not believe in such a God as that.

You can find that one here. I can say freely (of my own will, no less) that I completely embrace this quote.

I look at the Garden of Eden and overlay Genesis 50:20. “What you meant for evil, God meant [present tense at the time of the event] for good.”

Grace and peace.

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hey Kevin,

When Spurgeon writes: “I cannot tell you where human will and free agency unite with God's sovereignty and with his unfailing decrees.” The strange thing is that I thought that he had already explained the dividing line in the prior quote from “Jacob & Esau,” as in, ‘Grace all of God; damnation all of man.’

But the quote that I find fascinating is this one: “…a God whose will is frustrated, is not a God, and cannot be a God. I could not believe in such a God as that.”

So, then, how does He explain Matthew 23:37, where God allowed Himself to be frustrated? Was He really not frustrated after all, but only ‘appeared’ to present Himself as frustrated? Arminians believe in a form of divine condescension. If I could point to one verse that displayed the kind of sovereignty that Arminians affirm, it would be 1st Corinthians 10:13, where God is in complete control, limiting the range of choices and providing the way of escape. To an Arminian, whether a person takes the way of escape or not, in no way pulls God off the throne. However, based upon the quote by Spurgeon, it would seem that he believes that it would not only pull God off the throne, but also deny His very existence. This is something that Arminians simply do not understand at all. We feel that man’s free will is no threat to God at all, and that on Judgment Day, God will have the final word on all that man does.

Spurgeon also stated that God wills wars. So I must ask, “Did God will the Holocaust? Was Hitler executing the will of God?” However, an even better question, and more to the point, is this: Did God will the Cross? I would say No. God’s will was that Israel would embrace Him, rather than reject Him, but God permitted His Son to be rejected, and permitted Calvary, foreknowing from eternity past that what Israel meant for bad, God meant for good, not that God ‘decreed’ their bad in order to bring good out of it, but God ‘used’ their bad in order to bring good out of it. What I’m left with is the feeling that there’s a fundamental difference between the God portrayed by Calvinism and Arminianism. What I like about the God portrayed by Arminianism, is that He condescends to man, allowing Himself to be weak, the greatest of all having become the servant of all, where in weakness, He displays the awesomeness of the strength of His character. In contrast, when I was a Calvinist, what I found appealing, was a God who never took any chances, and always got His way, where weakness was a false perception, never a reality. Certainly, there are many more appealing points in both systems, but those were just two that stood out most to me.

In summary, Arminians do not believe that God causes everything. Arminians indeed believe that God does whatever He pleases, but not that everything that happens, pleases Him. It’s clear that Spurgeon struggled with these two doctrinal roads, and felt that Calvinism was the more faithful of the two. Nevertheless, despite the puzzlement created by these two theologies, God wanted us to puzzle over these things, so that through them, we might seek Him more fully. That’s why these discussions are so edifying. They lead us into seeking to know God.

I'll stop by your site today, to check out this week's post.

God bless,
Richard

Kevin Rhyne said...

Richard,

I also enjoy these discussion because they point me to what God has revealed about Himself. You make the statement that God did not will the Cross.

I find that an odd position given the Biblical evidence for just the opposite. Immediately what comes to mind is Isaiah 53:10.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he [God] has put him [Christ] to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

Another passage that comes to mind is Acts 2 and the sermon of Peter.

this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:23)

Do you think the Cross was Plan B?

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hey Kevin,

In my view, it would only be the will of God from the standpoint of being, as you say, a "Plan B." Here is an example:

Luke 19:41-44: "When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, 'If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.'"

So was this really "Plan A" all along? I don't believe that that's the case. I do not deny the foreknowledge of God. Certainly, He foreknew Israel's sin and rebellion, and God willed the crucifixion of His dear Son, but only from the standpoint of knowing all that they would say and do to Him.

Now, if you were to say that God decreed the sin and rebellion of Israel, then it follows that Jesus must also have been crucified by the same decree, rather than by God foreseeing the need, through foreseeing the sin and rebellion of Israel. The alternative appears to be a theology known as "Supralapsarianism."

Kevin Rhyne said...

Richard,

Putting aside the definition of Supralapsarianism for the moment, the one verse you quoted says in part, “But now they have been hidden from your eyes.” What is “they” and who hid them from their eyes?

Examining Calvinism said...

Hey Kevin,

The "they" seems like the "things which make for peace," which seems like God's punishment upon Jerusalem for having missed the time of His Son, the Messiah's visitation. Do you agree?

Kevin Rhyne said...

Richard,

Who hid the knowledge of the things which make for peace?

Richard Coords said...

"But now they have been hidden from your eyes."

God hid it. God's punishment for Jerusalem having rejected His Son?

Richard Coords said...

My concern is this: To say that God decreed that Jerusalem would reject His Son, irrespective of anything that He knew that they would freely do of their own will, puts God in a position of condemning what He decreed. Often, Arminians will then ask, "When does God punish Himself for the sin that He decrees?"

To me, a better option would be to say that God foreknew their free choice to reject His Son, even from eternity past, and on that basis, predestined the plan of Calvary. In this way, you have the marriage of the foreknowledge of God and the predetermined plan of God, as per Acts 2:23, without anything incriminating hurled at God. In this situation, God would be completely innocent, and the blame "all of man." It's this kind of compatibilism that I can accept, and that I believe is most faithful to Acts 2:23, but that's just my opinion.

Kevin Rhyne said...

Richard,

Innocent of what? Can He not do with His own what He will?

I would be very hesitant to ask "When does God punish Himself for the sin He decreed?" Romans 9 immediately thunders in my head: "Who are you, O man, to talk back to God?"

God ordained that sin be without being culpable for it. Just because a county decrees that alcohol should be sold in its jurisdiction does not make it responsible for those who, by their own disposition, become alcoholics.

Now, I understand, that is not a perfect analogy, but you get the point. If God looked down the "corridor of time" to see that Israel would reject Christ, is He any less responsible for going ahead and creating them than if He ordained that they would reject Christ of their own wills?

It's a fallen lump, this Humanity. For anyone to choose Christ is by the sheer grace of God.

Richard Coords said...

Hey Kevin,

In my estimation, the only way in which God could ordain sin without being culpable for it is strictly by permitting it, and your analogy works in this favor. In other words, I do not believe that your analogy goes far enough for the C cause. Only if you added that the Liquor store was secretly owned and operated by a member of the county, would the analogy approach Calvinism.

In terms of Romans 9, let me answer by first giving what I feel is the overall context of Romans chapters 9-11. Paul initially reached out to the Jews, but after their persistent rejection of the Gospel, he announced that he was turning to the Gentiles. Here at Romans 9-11, I believe that Paul explains the justification for such a Gentile ministry. First, he didn't turn to the Gentiles because he stopped loving the Jews. In fact, Paul stated that he wishes all of the Jews could be saved, and was willing to go to Hell, if that's would it would take for them to be saved. (Romans 9:1-3) Then Paul validates his ministry two-fold:

1) God has the divine right to show mercy to whom He will and to harden whom He will, and it is His choice to show mercy to the Gentiles, and to harden the unbelieving Jews who've rejected his ministry (without God being culpable for their sin, since their hardening is merely God giving them over to their stubborn hearts), and

2) God is now accepting the Gentiles on the same exact basis upon which He accepted their father Abraham, and that if they would return to the roots of their religion, that is, by faith, they would recognize the rightful basis for his Gentile ministry, and that God has reached out to the Gentiles, in part, to spur the Jews to jealousy: "If somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them." (Romans 11:14)

That's why I do not feel that Romans 9:19 has anything to do with God decreeing sin, and then trying to claim innocence from it. My next Blog post will be on "Chosen By God" by R.C. Sproul where he points out the difference between the passive and negative degrees of God, and why he differs from the Hyper Calvinist, in this respect.