Molinism: Free will and divine sovereignty living in harmony

What if I were to tell you that I had a perfectly rational explanation to the question of free will and predestination that has been ravaging the Church of Jesus Christ for centuries? I bet you would think that I was mad, unlearned (after all, what have all the highly educated theologians been fighting about), and overly simplistic.

Well there is such an answer and many may be surprised to find out that it is fully accepted by Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, etc. In other words, it’s not the sole product of a sectarian group with a vested interest in a particular theological system.

It may also surprise you to find out that you probably already hold to the core tenets of this “magic bullet” system even though you may have never heard them clearly stated as a codified set of doctrines before.

Molinism is a theological system named after a Spanish Jesuit priest, Louis de Molina. In modern times it has also come to be known as “middle knowledge” due, in part at least, to the influence one of it’s most ardent supporters, Dr William Lane Craig.

While many books have been written on this subject (some of which I’ll list below), and many lectures (some of which I’ll link below), I’ll try to summarize Molinism in a few paragraphs.

Before God created he knew all possible worlds and all possible events and all possible interactions in all of the possible worlds (including all possible reactions and outcomes of His direct interactions in all of these possible worlds). Out of all of these possible worlds God chose to actualize or create one of them so that, while all things are effectively determined, they are neither causally determined by God nor is God constrained to the position of merely reacting to the choices of His free creatures. We are indeed free1 and God is indeed sovereign2.

One seminary professor3 put it to his students this way: “It’s up to God which world you find yourself in. It’s up to you what you find yourself doing in that world.”

I’m sure if you are new to Molinism (or if you are like most pastors4 and incredibly confused5 about what it really is6), I encourage you to explore this topic further.7

Here are a few resources that might help (if you know of any more, please let me know!):

divine providenceonly wise godThe Innocence of GodReasonable Faith

I also recommend this article by William Lane Craig as a great primer for anyone looking to delve deeper into this doctrine than my overly simplistic depiction above.
  1. In a libertarian sense. []
  2. It is also helpful to point out that we need not describe sovereignty in the classic Calvinistic terms of causally directing all that comes to pass. An analogy I like to use is that I am sovereign over my children and yet I still have to spank them from time to time. []
  3. This is a seminary professor at Southeastern in case you were wondering. []
  4. There is more to be said here, but a pastor I knew very well once told me he didn’t like Molinism. When pressed as to whether he had even studied it he told me he had “fallen asleep” when someone tried to present it to him and a group of other pastors. With a commitment like that to learning and growing is it any wonder why most Christians are perpetual infants? Situations like this give great weight behind the notion that it is foolish to rely on one man as the source of Biblical learning. []
  5. Here is an example of a recent blog post that completely misses the point of Molisnism and arrogantly assumes it is somehow anti-Biblical simply because it involves philosophy. This is another example of an inherent anti-intellectual bias that has run rampant in the Church since the premise is essentially: anything that makes me think, or runs contrary to my favorite celebrity preachers, like John Piper, is obviously not from God. []
  6. The saddest example of this is this wiki-style site that would otherwise be a very good resource if not for their blatant bias which is particularly obvious in their section on Molinism []
  7. One final example of someone who completely misses the point is James White’s extended tirade wherein he presupposes that the doctrine of middle knowledge is merely philosophical (whereas reformed theology somehow isn’t) and not based on Biblical theology (which is not only a lie, but is intellectually dishonest). []
Share

22 responses to “Molinism: Free will and divine sovereignty living in harmony

  1. To footnote 7, doesn't WL Craig admit that his position on Molinism is not exegetically grounded?

    “Since Scripture does not reflect upon this question, no amount of proof-texting can prove that God’s counterfactual knowledge is possessed logically prior to his creative decree. This is a matter for theological-philosophical reflection, not biblical exegesis. Thus, while it is clearly unbiblical to deny that God has simple foreknowledge and even counterfactual knowledge, those who deny middle knowledge cannot be accused of being unbiblical.” (Divine Foreknowledge, 4 Views, William Lane Craig, p. 125).

    Also, Craig states on page 143 that his position is not explicitly taught in any biblical text.

    Even Dr. Greg Welty states on Molinism, "On the one hand, the Scriptures *do* attribute counterfactual knowledge to God, for instance the knowledge vouchsafed to David in 1Sa 23:11-12. On the other hand, the Scriptures *never* give any intimation that God providentially plans his universe by consulting such knowledge. If middle-knowledge was such an extraordinarily important resource for displaying the wisdom of God *in providence*, don't you think that would be at least implied by various biblical texts?

    You have yet to prove your assertion that James White lied and was intellectually dishonest. He is also not against philosophy as he has even taught it in a seminary course.

    It seems you overstate your position in footnote 5 too. The person in question does not say Monlism is anti-biblical because it involved philosophy. Rather, the original post states, "Molinism fails under the weight of biblical teaching. If you care about the connection between Theology and Philosophy and care about God's sovereignty and human freedom and which matters more…" This seems to state he believe Molinism is unbiblical and that philosophy is important, but it just need to be in subjection to the Bible.

    You stated above, "Before God created he knew all possible worlds and all possible events and all possible interactions in all of the possible worlds (including all possible reactions and outcomes of His direct interactions in all of these possible worlds). Out of all of these possible worlds God chose to actualize or create one of them…

    Is there a biblical basis from which to build your above statements?

    • I'm not sure where your objection of "not exegetically grounded" carries any relevance to this debate since it's chief competitor, causal determinism, which apparently you and James White hold to ("God causally decrees all that comes to pass" according to James White's statement of faith), is also not exegetically grounded but rather a philosophy men have come up with to explain the propositions we've found in the text.

      I don't know many people who be so arrogant or intellectually dishonest to claim Middle Knowledge as a doctrine that others must hold to in order to be considered orthodox (as opposed to the common Calvinistic tactic of trying to force everyone into accepting a causally deterministic view of events) but rather all proponents of Middle Knowledge I've read (myself included) hold to this doctrine for it's (as WLC mentions) "fruitful" insights it offers, particularly on the question of evil.

      On a final note, I think the fundamental problem here is our approach to understanding the relationship of philosophy and theology/Biblical hermeneutics. I, personally, don't see how one can operate in a philosophical void and therefore don't see any need to draw distinctions between theology and philosophy other than to state that some propositions have more or less Biblical warrant than others. However the fact that Middle Knowledge is primarily derived from philosophical inquiry shouldn't surprise us since the Bible was apparently not written to directly address the question of divine sovereignty and mankind's libertarian freedom. It seems pretty clear to me that since Scripture assumes both coexist and doesn't attempt to resolve them (mostly, I would argue, because these are primarily questions from a Greek rather than a Jewish mindset) that the onus is on us to carefully consider these matters if we are to come up with a system that harmonizes the two.

      In that respect, since Scripture clearly affirms man's power to the contrary (that is, ability to choose contrary to what God wishes) and man's responsibility (which implies that we can choose to choose what God prefers we choose) it seems that a causally deterministic view of God's sovereignty holds even less merit or Biblical support than Middle Knowledge since it removes an entire half of the equation, calling into question God's holiness as a result.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Molinism: Free will and divine sovereignty living in harmony | Reason To Stand -- Topsy.com

  3. Wes,

    This post that you have linked me to is an example of your unloving attitude that you have expressed towards me from the moment you read my post if not since you found out I hold to reformed theology. You have made repeated ad hominem attacks against my character an intelligence and you have failed to understand my position on philosophy and theology altogether. Do you read your own words of hatred? You said:

    “This is another example of an inherent anti-intellectual bias that has run rampant in the Church since the premise is essentially: anything that makes me think, or runs contrary to my favorite celebrity preachers, like John Piper, is obviously not from God.”

    What kind of an assessment is that of a brother in Christ? You have never even met me! I would love for you to ask those who know me if I am “anti-intellectual”. What a sad little cheap shot! You make a slanderous statement that “anything that makes me think, or runs contrary to my favorite celebrity preachers, like John Piper, is obviously not from God.” Is everyone who disagrees with you anti-intellectual? There are a lot of PhD’s out there that are anti-intellectual then. I am a fan of John Piper, but guess what, I am also a fan of William Lane Craig. I recommend Reasonable Faith to be people on a regular basis because it is an excellent work. Do I agree with him all of the time? No. Do I think Molinism is wrong? Yes. But I don’t speak maliciously of Craig as you have of White and myself? NO! I am simply beside myself at how hateful your interaction with me on this subject has been.

    Furthermore you state “Here is an example of a recent blog post that completely misses the point of Molisnism and arrogantly assumes it is somehow anti-Biblical simply because it involves philosophy.”
    Please cease in your attempt at telling everyone what I believe or think because you are not fairly portraying anything I have said.

    1. I did not say that Molinism was “anti-biblical” I said I believed it was “unbiblical”. Perhaps you do not differentiate between those two things but I do. I do not think that Molinism is an attack on the Scriptures, I think it is a philosophy that attempts to supplement the Scriptures but fails to do so well, and without much biblical support. I think it is “un” or “non” biblical. I disagree with it and its conclusions and I do so strongly. That is not to say I hate all those who hold to it.

    2. I do not think that anything is “anti-biblical” (in your words) or “un-biblical” (in my own), simply “because it involves philosophy”. I love philosophy! In fact I wrote only a few post prior to the one you, maliciously, linked to a whole article about how I believe philosophy and theology do and should relate. Here it is: http://nailmm.blogspot.com/2009/10/relationship-b

    I would genuinely appreciate it if you would cease to make caricature’s of who I am and what I believe. And I would strongly suggest that you consider finding it within yourself to love your brother in Christ when he disagrees with you rather than rail him on the internet. How are people to know that we are Christ’s disciples Wes?

    Sincerely,

    Jacob Allee
    http://nailmm.blogspot.com

    • Brother, I think you are reading far more into my words than what I've written. Especially considering that I didn't say "I think Jacob Allee is an idiot" but rather "this is an example". I'm not sure why (other than the fact that you seem to be stuck in a narcissistic frame of mind) you think that I am somehow "out to get you".

      Good grief, get over yourself and grow a set.

      Just because I think you are wrong doesn't mean I don't love you and just because I choose to sum up your view of philosophy's relationship with theology as anti-intellectual doesn't mean I am unfairly characterizing you. I may or I may not be, that is up to you to point out using facts and reason rather than emotionally charged pleas to the tune of "don't pick on me".

      You are right in your final paragraph, the world will know we are Christ's when we figure out how to argue fairly and honestly without getting all worked up and emotional about the topics we discuss. Like I tried in vain to point out on James White's radio show, if we are focused on truth we will spend more time discussing the topic. Not each other.

      Blessings,
      -Wes

  4. Really, "grow a set"? Grow up.

    • No, "grow a set" as in, stop acting like a crybaby over your wounded pride. You purport to be an apologist so act like a brother who is mature enough to engage the subject rather than the presenter and don't get offended when someone strongly opposes you.

      Look, what you are doing is a classic case of victim-hood where you seek to "win" an argument by pretending to be a helpless victim rather than rising to the challenge of discussing and debating the topic at hand.

      If you don't learn how to better handle arguments and conflict with me, a fellow brother in Christ who, believe it or not, loves you and wants to see you sharpened, then how do you propose to address and challenge those outside the church with whom your differences will be much greater and the conflict much harsher?

      So yes, grow a set.

      • Odd, I recall you making Jacob the issue when you responded to his blog post. Lets see:
        You said:
        "Oh, and I suggest you rethink your title because it is incredibly arrogant and unloving towards your fellow brothers in Christ. Not to mention it is thoughtless and indicative of a woeful lack of study in either area. Theological or philosophical."

        His title: "What Happens When Philosophy Subverts Biblical Theology".

        Somehow that title:
        "What Happens When Philosophy Subverts Biblical Theology"
        Is equal to:
        "incredibly arrogance" "unloving towards your fellow brothers in Christ" "thoughtless" "indicative of a woeful lack of study in either area. Theological or philosophical."

        You then said:
        "You see, my accusation of your opinions being arrogant and unloving doesn't stem from the mere fact that you disagree with me. It stems from the fact that in disagreeing with me you are not satisfied with merely objecting to a doctrine but you feel the need to go further and heap ad-hominim attacks on a wide range of very Godly brethren simply because you find this doctrine repulsive (because, as you say, it conflicts with your precious Calvinism)."

        So again, you seem to be the "brother" who is not "mature enough to engage the subject rather than the presenter" and does "get offended when someone strongly opposes you."

        It seems once again you accuse another of what you yourself demonstrate yourself guilty of.

  5. Wes, you are a blatant hypocrite.

    You act arrogantly, yet accuse others of arrogance.
    You act with narcissism, yet you accuse others of being narcissistic.
    You act unlovingly, yet accuse others of being unloving.
    You accuse others of what you, and not they, are guilty of.

    Please proceed to remove the log from your own eye rather than continue to beat others over the head with it as you shake your head at them disapprovingly.

    • I'd rather discuss the topic and not my feelings, if that is what you want to call arrogant, be my guest but you'll be discussing it alone (or with many of the followers of James White) because I am far more interested in discussing the topic of Molinism than my righteousness (which, I hate to inform you, is not yours to judge based on pure speculation and dislike of my doctrine).

      • Oh I was not judging your righteousness.
        You have none.
        You are a depraved evil wicked person just like me.
        Your righteousness and mine are the sovereign gift of Christ through His shed blood.

        What I was doing was pointing out your hypocrisy.
        What I was judging was your own words.

        Furthermore, you say:
        "I'd rather discuss the topic and not my feelings,"

        Good. I am glad that you realized attacking people personally was a bad thing. Please apologize to Jacob now that you want to be, as you put it: "mature enough to engage the subject rather than the presenter and don't get offended when someone strongly opposes you. "

    • Dually noted. See comment below.

  6. Agreed, Jacob. And presenting molinism instead of biblical compatibilism as "Free will and divine sovereignty living in harmony" is simply nonsense.

    • Compatibilism isn't really Biblical (at least, its not necessarily prescribed by Scripture) though Dr Geisler makes a good case for it. However compatibilism is still a far cry from James White's causal determinism.

  7. Pingback: Resources for more information on Molinism/Middle Knowledge | Reason To Stand

  8. Pingback: Answering the grounding objection against Molinism | Reason To Stand

  9. Pingback: Is salvation available for all men? | Reason To Stand

  10. As 2quite often I am oing research to see if there be any who came to an understanding that I have and most often do not see it. Here it is: The sin nature is the knowledge of good and evil. This knowledge of good and evil is free will. Man has free will but according to Psalms 14 and 53, man will always reject God

  11. Pingback: Is Libertarian Free Will a Myth? | Reason To Stand

  12. Pingback: Unable or unwilling? | Reason To Stand

  13. Pingback: Molinism: Free will and divine sovereignty living in harmony by Wes Widner | Molinists Apologetics

Leave a Reply