God has both complete foreknowledge concerning how… creatures will act and great control over their actions, in the sense that any act they perform is either intended or permitted by him. Yet because the knowledge which generates this foresight and sovereignty is not itself a product of free divine activity, our actions remain genuinely free, not the robotic effects of divine causal determinism. (Thomas Flint, 44, cited below)
Middle Knowledge–God’s knowledge of counterfactuals–is under attack from all sides. On one side, theological determinists argue that God’s foreknowledge necessitates all states of affairs. On the other side, open theists and process theists argue that foreknowledge limits the free will of creatures. That said, there are some extremely powerful philosophical defenses–and defenders–of the doctrine of middle knowledge.
Logical Priority and Creaturely Freedom
Essential to a correct understanding of molinism is an investigation of creation. Here, however, the discussion is not over the temporal nature of creation or the steps God took in creating. Rather, the focus is upon the logical priority within God’s creative act. By drawing out the logical priority involved, molinism solves the objections of both determinism and open theism.
The logical order of events is different from the chronological order in which they occur. Determinists focus only upon the chronological order: 1) Future contingents are true or false, God knows those which are true. 2) The events which are true occur (Craig, 128). From this, determinists (and open theists who deny God’s foreknowledge in order to preserve freedom of the will for this reason) conclude that everything is determined. The problem is they have ignored the contribution middle knowledge can make to reconciling free will and foreknowledge.
The logical priority of events occurring is quite different from its chronological order: 1) Events occur; 2) Statements about the events are true or false; 3) God knows the true statements.
By drawing out the logical priority of events’ occurring, one can then apply this to creation. William Lane Craig points out “The Three Logical Moments of God’s Knowledge”: 1) Natural Knowledge- God’s necessary knowledge of all possible worlds; 2) Middle Knowledge- God’s knowledge of creaturely counterfactuals. Here is the pivotal point: the third “logical moment” (again, note the distinction between chronological priority and logical priority) occurs only subsequent to God’s decision to create a world. God uses His natural knowledge to peruse the possible worlds, and His middle knowledge to determine how to best bring about His divine plans. Then, He chooses which possible world to create, and this brings about the third “moment” of God’s knowledge: 3) Free Knowledge–God’s contingent knowledge of the actual world (Craig, 131).
Note that God’s free knowledge is contingent–it is based upon actualizing a world from the set of possible worlds. Combining this with the facts of logical versus chronological priority, the resolution of the alleged difficulties from both determinists and open theists is revealed. Determinists ignored the fact that God, upon creating, is selecting from the set of possible worlds–included in each possible world is the set of free creaturely choices which will occur. God, therefore, does not determine which events will occur, but selects a world full of free choices. Open theists, on the other hand fail to recognize that the choices are free. The point must be emphasized: the choices themselves are logically prior to God’s knowledge of them. In other words, there is a set of possible worlds, each of which features various states of affairs. Middle knowledge reveals the free choices made by the individuals which can populate the possible worlds. God’s knowledge does not determine the choices–God simply chooses to actualize one of the worlds full of free choices. It is only the “free knowledge” of God which is determined by God (Flint, 42).
The Theological Superiority of Molinism
Reconciling God’s foreknowledge and creaturely free will is not the only reason to accept molinism. The doctrine has a number of theological advantages over both open theism and theological determinism. First, the doctrine undermines the extremely untoward idea within theological determinism that God causes evil. John Frame, for example, says quite simply “…[I]t is important to see that God does in fact bring about the sinful behavior of human beings, whatever problems that may create in our understanding” (Frame, 68). Molinists, on the other hand, acknowledge that God accounts for evil within His plan but they can rightly argue that evil is due to the free acts of creatures.
Molinism also provides a grounds for Biblical Inerrancy. Open theists have great difficulties providing any grounds for this doctrine (and often end up abandoning it). The reason for this is because open theists don’t believe God knows what free creatures will do. Thus, free creatures–the authors of the Bible–could be fallible. Middle knoweldge, on the other hand, shows that God knows what the creatures will do in whatever circumstances they are placed in. Thus, God would have known who, what, where, when, why, and how to bring about His infallible Word.
Most notably, prophecy perhaps only makes sense on a molinist account. While determinism allows for the truth of prophecy, it undermines the creature-creator relationship inherent in prophecy (and found in accounts like that of Jonah). God simply foreordains that His prophets come forward and prophecy, then He unilaterally brings about the truth of their prophetic utterances. Open theism, on the other hand, must force prophecy either into God’s luck or argue that it is one of the “unilateral” actions of God (which undermines the core of open theism–human freedom). Molinism, however, allows for human freedom and the truth of prophecy. Thomas Flint points out that prophecy on a molinist account could be brought about in two ways–either through God acting to bring about the truth of the prophetic utterance, or through God’s foreknowledge of the free actions of creatures (Flint 197ff).
Again, prayers and their answers may only make sense upon a molinist account. Determinists, in particular, have difficulty with prayer. God seems quite narcissistic–He foreordains that His creations worship Him, and then chooses to bring about their requests. Open theists, on the other hand, have left God hog-tied. I may pray for a friend to come to the faith, and God can only hope with me that that friend might change his/her mind. God doesn’t know what will happen, on open theism, so He, like me, can just try His best. Conversely, molinism allows for creaturely freedom to choose to pray, while also allowing God to bring about the states of affairs prayed for (Flint, 229ff–Flint specifically is discussing praying “for things to have happened”).
Molinism provides a wealth of theological insight. Not only that, but it also reconciles God’s foreknowledge with our free will. Molinism avoids the difficulties of both open theism and determinism, while making sense of theological and philosophical truths. The defenders of molinism have won their case.
William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999).
Thomas P. Flint, Divine Providence: The Molinist Account (Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 1998).
John Frame, No Other God: A Response to Open Theism (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001).
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I’ve encountered Open Theism a number of times in my readings and online. Many people I respect greatly fall under the category of “Open Theists.” Greg Boyd, for example, wrote one of the first apologetic books I ever read, yet he is an ardent Open Theist. Yet the doctrine of Open Theism is one with which I disagree vehemently. Therefore, I’m going to write several posts outlining a series of arguments against the doctrine.
Open Theism: The doctrine that God, through his own freedom and sovereignty, chose to create free creatures (humans) which could make truly free decisions. Because God made these free creatures, he freely chose to limit his knowledge of the future, such that he would not pre-ordain their actions. Therefore, God knows only those things which God unilaterally brings about.
From http://www.opentheism.info/, a site collecting information and advocating Open Theism (endorsed by John Sanders, a well known proponent of the view) we can examine a 5-part definition:
1) “In freedom God decided to create beings capable of experiencing his love.” (emphasis theirs)
2) “God has, in sovereign freedom, decided to make some of his actions contingent upon our requests and actions. God elicits our free collaboration in his plans. Hence, God can be influenced by what we do and God truly responds to what we do.” (emphasis theirs)
3) “God has chosen to exercise general rather than meticulous providence, allowing space for us to operate and for God to be creative and resourceful in working with us. It was solely God’s decision not to control every detail that happens in our lives.”
4) “God has granted us the type of freedom (libertarian) necessary for a truly personal relationship of love to develop. ”
5) “God knows all that can be known given the sort of world he created… in our view God decided to create beings with indeterministic freedom which implies that God chose to create a universe in which the future is not entirely knowable, even for God. For many open theists the ‘future’ is not a present reality-it does not exist-and God knows reality as it is.”
(Again, please note these are quoted verbatim from sections on http://www.opentheism.info/; I do not claim credit for these 5 steps of the definition.)
Areas of Disagreement/Agreement
There are many areas of agreement I can share with the Open Theist. For example, I agree that God created free creatures, who have libertarian free will (1 and 4). I agree that God has not predetermined all future events (3). I agree at least in some sense that God’s actions are contingent upon our own (2)–but that’s where the differences begin.
I disagree with Open Theists on an unqualified 2 and 5. It is my belief that:
A) Future Events are knowable
B) God knows the outcome of all future events before they happen.
C) God’s knowledge of the future allows him to take into account our free choices and respond to them from eternity.
One final area of disagreement would be with the implicit idea within Open Theism of divine temporality. I believe:
D) God is essentially timeless.
What’s at Stake
“Okay, all this is well and good,” you may say, “but what’s the payoff? What’s really at stake in this debate?”
Fair questions! There are some who argue that Open Theism is a heresy, period. A simple Google search turns up dozens of articles and comments calling the doctrine a heresy. Several have attempted to ban Open Theists from evangelical circles (the ETS voted to keep two prominent Open Theists within their ranks; others have lobbied to call it heretical).
I do not think that Open Theists are heretics. While I disagree with their views, I think that they have some very good arguments for their position. I do think, however, that the Scriptural evidence excludes Open Theism from possibility. While there are many passages which could be utilized to argue for the position of Open Theism, I believe those passages which exclude the position take priority, and therefore the passages appearing to advocate the position are to be interpreted as use of metaphors or anthropomorphism.
Other Posts in the Series
This post will also serve as a host for links to other posts in the series. View them below, with brief descriptions of their content:
God’s Infinite Knowledge– Argues that Scripture clearly states God’s knowledge is infinte/without number/unlimited. Yet, on Open Theism, God’s knowledge increases, and would therefore have to be finite. Concludes Open Theism is false.
Scrooge and God’s knowledge of the future– Addresses one of the main arguments for Open Theism–that God changes his mind or repents of certain actions.
Book Review: “No Other God: A Response to Open Theism” by John Frame– I review John Frame’s work on open theism. Interestingly, Frame combats open theism with the opposite extreme: theological determinism, a view which I disagree with as adamantly (or more) than I do open theism.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy