I recently received the following via a Facebook message (reposed with permission):
Pardon the unsolicited message–and I see that with your 3K+ friends, your ability to reply may be limited–but I’m a long-suffering “anti-Calvinist” who’s only now beginning to study Molinism.
I noticed through Facebook’s VERY unprivate data search mechanisms that you are a fairly outspoken Molinist of sorts and some random comments I’ve read of yours lead me to believe you might be prepared to shed some light on a couple of things for me.
Previously, I’d developed a general aversion to any system of theology simply because I saw all “sides” of this or that debate simply bypassing a reconciliation effort in favor of a “these verses mean what they say, those don’t” approach. Now that I’ve dipped my toes in Molinism (via WLC’s defense of it in the book I’ve linked to), I’m at least hopeful. Now, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around some of the hermeneutic’s particulars, but there are two verses, one a proof text for the reformed crowd and one for the openness crowd, that I’m wondering how Molinism addresses.
Reformed: Eph. 1:11
Openness: Gen. 6:6
Whenever you could get back to me, that would be super. Thanks in advance for whatever time you can dedicate to it.
Since I love the doctrine of Molinism/Middle Knowledge I decided to try and give Josh as much information on the subject as I could in a single Facebook message. What follows, then, is sort-of the fire-hose method of discussing an otherwise deep and rich subject in a relatively short amount of time.
Thanks for the message, unsolicited or not
I am indeed a huge fan of Molinism. As Thomas P. Flint mentions in his excellent work “Divine Providence: The Molinist Account”, Molinism’s twin pillars are God’s sovereignty and mankind’s limited free agency.
As to the specific verses you mentioned. I would argue that Eph 1:11 is primarily referring to Christ and how our redemption is worked out ahead of time in him. Thus the “all things” are directly referring to the salvation brought about in Christ. Calvinists often point to this verse by way of saying that God causes all things. However the idea of causal determinism has some very serious flaws.
The most significant of which is that it ends up making God culpable for all sin, evil, and suffering in the world. You can study more on this vein of thought through Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will Theodicy, (my favorite) Bruce Little’s Creation Order Theodicy, and (ok, another favorite) Udo Middleman’s Innocence of God.
I must admit I haven’t encountered Genesis 6:6 used in the open theistic sense but having read a lot of Boyd I can certainly see how it could be portrayed that way.
Basically open theism is, in my estimation, the perfect opposite of the Calvinistic view. However the reason for this is that they both have a wrong understanding of what free will is. Both systems have a view that if God contains foreknowledge of future-free events then that somehow means that men are not free. WLC has an excellent book on this very subject entitled “Only Wise God” wherein he refutes this flawed understanding of free agency in connection with supreme sovereignty and by destroying the linkage of premises in the argument (that is, that 1. God’s foreknowledge inevitably means that 2. men cannot have free causal agency) he, in my estimation anyway, manages to utterly demolish both erroneous views while upholding what a plain reading of the text seems to indicate (that is, that God is sovereign and men’s choices are their own).
So yes, God can lament over the choices of men in Genesis 6:6 and Exodus 32:1-14, as well as change the course of events in 2 Kings 20 in response to prayer all without sacrificing God’s foreknowledge, omnipotence, or without damaging God’s predestined plan for the universe.
How can this be? I believe you’ve rightly discerned what many people have believed intrinsically, even without knowing the formal theological system cobbled together initially by a Jesuit priest. That is the doctrine of Molinism or Middle Knowledge (as many prefer to call it now).
Unfortunately there has not been very much work done on the doctrine on Molinism/Middle Knowledge until recently. Now, however, there has been quite a flurry of work done from a very diverse theological crowd including some staunch Calvinists (like Alvin Plantinga!). In fact, one of the reasons I hold to the system of Molinism is because it has been such a unifying force along such a diverse group of orthodox Christians. I am forced to conclude that, like the extra-Biblical doctrine of the trinity, Molinism is a solid Biblical framework for understanding the interplay of God’s sovereignty and Mankind (and Angelic kind)’s limited free agency.
At any rate, here is a link to the best resources I’ve found on the subject of Molinism/Middle Knowledge.
Also, here is a brief outline I wrote on the doctrine of Molinism a while back. And here is a post I wrote on the biggest objection to Molinism (the grounding objection).
I hope that at least helps point you in the right direction. Let me know if you have any additional questions/thoughts/concerns. Even with 3k friends on Facebook I can always find time to talk about this topic (and many more).