Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

A simple explanation of middle knowledge by Dr. Craig Blomberg

This article is from Denver Seminary, where Dr. Blomberg and Dr. Groothuis both teach.

Excerpt:

Middle knowledge is a proposed solution to predestination vs. free will, to divine sovereignty and human responsibility, going all the way back to the medieval Jesuit priest Molina (so sometimes it’s also called Molinism).

Classic Calvinists, properly concerned to safeguard divine sovereignty, have typically rejected any theological system that bases God’s predestining activity on the basis merely of his foreknowledge of how humans will respond to the gospel, because they’re convinced that makes human free choice the ultimate determiner. Romans 8:29, of course, doesbase predestination on God’s foreknowledge, but the Calvinist typically argues that the Greek prōginoskō (“foreknow”) there begins already to shade over into the idea of election because in the Old Testament the Hebrew yādā‘ (“know”) often appears roughly synonymous with “choose.” That would explain why Paul doesn’t say just that those whom God foreknew he also predestined, which could be seen as tautologous, but “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”

Classic Arminians and Wesleyans, properly concerned to safeguard human freedom and accountability, have typically rejected any theological system that bases God’s predestining activity on the basis merely of his gratuitous election, because they’re convinced that makes human free choice ultimately a chimera. They often point out that prōginoskō is not the same verb as just ginoskō (which the LXX uses to translate yādā‘ and that in Greek it most commonly means simple knowledge in advance. Thus predestination is based on God’s foreknowledge.

Middle knowledge argues for both! If open theism in recent years has diminished divine omniscience more than orthodoxy has classically permitted, middle knowledge magnifies or expands God’s omniscience beyond what most people have thought about. But it makes good sense: middle knowledge claims that God’s perfect, infinite knowledge must be able to know not only what sentient creatures will freely choose in all situations in their lives but what everyone would do in every possible situation that they could confront. Even more magnificently, divine and unlimited knowledge must be able to discern what all possibly created beings would do in all possible situations (or, as philosophers like to say, all possible worlds).

So far so good, I hope. Now here’s the rub. Because there will only ever have been a finite number of humans created before God brings this world as we know it to an end, that means there remain countless uncreated beings that he could have chosen to create but didn’t. So God’s very choice to create you and me and not various other people he could have is an act of his sovereign election utterly prior to our existence. Calvinists should be happy. But it is based on knowing what we will and would do in all actual and all possible situations. Arminians should be happy. Thus, William Lane Craig in The Only Wise God defends this view from a libertarian Arminian perspective; Alvin Plantinga in a chapel talk at Denver Seminary years ago did the same from a libertarian Calvinist perspective, and Terrance Tiessen in Providence and Prayer does so from a compatibilist Calvinist perspective.

Somebody in the comments mentions that even Paul Helm has written positively about middle knowledge. Middle Knowledge shows what is going on under the hood of classical Calvinism, which affirms both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. Middle knowledge explains how God can achieve both goals simultaneously.

The apostle Paul has this to say in Acts 17:22-31:

22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.
23 “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘ N D ‘ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;
25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;

28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
29 “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.
30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,
31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

In this research paper, Craig explains in detail what middle knowledge is, and how it works to resolve problems, like “what about those who have never heard of Jesus?” and “how can we reconcile divine sovereignty and human freedom and responsibility?” Highly recommended tool for your tool chest.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 Responses

  1. Wouldn’t there be a better “saved-per-birth” ratio if God would only allow conception for true believers?

    • No, because believers need conditions in which to believe, and those conditions include the actions of those who will not believe under any circumstances. It’s like putting bad guys into movies and books. They are there to form the character of the good ones with their freely chosen plotting and scheming.

      • Well, surely there’s enough plotting and scheming amongst the offspring of true believers to satisfy that criterion. It just seems unnecessary to populate the world (and Hell) with so many folks who have such a low likelihood of being drawn into the winning faith.

        Could it be that God allows conception to occur within the happenstance and laws of nature, rather than having a direct hand in the process? That would free us from the difficulty of believing that not only does God stand by whilst a girl is raped, but then He purposely impregnates her.

        Terribly troubling, that.

        • Actually, the rapist is responsible for raping people. He or she is the one who chooses to do it.

          • Well, yes, but it is supposedly God who impregnates the victim –however that was just an added thought to our original question. I responded to your criterion of needing plotters and schemers to provide a character-building antagonist.

            Why is it necessary to create such a large number of people who have little or no likelihood of being drawn into a winning faith, when allowing only true believers to conceive would satisfy the free will criterion?

            In addition, that would also provide a nearly incontrovertible proof for the proper faith. Yet, God chooses to remain largely a mystery.

          • No, the rapist impregnates the woman. I said that before. He makes the decision and he can foresee the consequences.

            It’s important to understand the large number of unbelievers are not innocent victims. They are actively making choices that resist God and go further away from him.

            Regarding the hiddenness of God, I think there are good reasons why God might like to remain hidden:

            https://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/if-god-wanted-us-to-believe-in-him-why-doesnt-he-give-us-more-evidence-2/

            I think that what God does is that he reveals reasons for his existence in nature (big bang, fine-tuning, origin of life, Cambrian explosion, habitability), conscience (moral law, consciousness, free will, rationality) and history (resurrection). Theists are the ones who don’t mind re-prioritizing their lives based on this evidence, even it it means a bit less autonomy and happiness. Some people are will to give up some autonomy in order to fit God in, and they make a point of trying to find out more from nature, conscience and reason that will either confirm or deny him. Others don’t want anything to do with him – or evidence for him.

            I remember like yesterday one time where I was having a chat with my friend Heather’s gorgeous atheist friend. I took a few minutes at Heather’s request to explain the origin of the universe to her, using the agnostic Robert Jastrow’s account of current state cosmology from his book “God and the Astronomers”. At the end, I asked her to account for the origin of the universe on her worldview. She said, and I quote, “it was a fluke!”. I said: “you think that the entire physical universe coming into being out of no time, no space, no matter and no energy is a fluke?” And she said, “Yes!”. I later found out that she didn’t do any studying about it ever again. I think that some people don’t know, and they don’t want to know. And that’s fine. But that’s not God’s fault. And if he can get some good consequences out of their free choices, then he’s allowed to do that. I know that my own conversion was very much driven by not wanting to be like the people I saw around me who were dismissive of the moral law.

  2. micahklaz says:

    This is actually very similar to some explanations I have had regarding the relationship between free will and predestination in my Calvinist upbringing. In fact, I can’t think of anything I really disagree with here off-hand – God’s sovereignty still reigns supreme.

    However, I think one key difference in Reformed theology as I know it is that the reason humans are able to make the choice, as humans dead in sin, is through the Holy Spirit entering their hearts – so without the direct aid of God, we cannot choose him. But with the Holy Spirit turning our hearts to Him, we can freely choose Him – not because we are being forced, but because we can see His true holiness, and because we are being resurrected from our sinful states. Us being completely dead in sin is one of the big reasons for Calvinism.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents on the matter. I should also point out that I have used aspects of Molinism that I have read about on your blog to explain the relationship between predestination and free will to some Arminian friends of mine, as I do believe it is largely compatible with Reformed knowledge. Except for that key point I mentioned. :)

    Stay classy, Wintery Knight!

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