Are Arminian Theology and Middle Knowledge Compatible?

Are Arminian Theology and Middle Knowledge Compatible?

One of the most basic impulses of Arminianism is that God is not the author of sin and evil—even indirectly. On this virtually everyone knowledgeable about Arminian theology agrees. Divine determinism, the belief that God directly or indirectly determines all that happens according to a predetermined plan, was rejected by Arminius and has been rejected by all Arminians since him. I have demonstrated that in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and Against Calvinism. Arminian theology and divine determinism are like oil and water; they cannot mix. And the reason they cannot mix is because of the Arminian Grundmotif which is God’s goodness. If divine determinism is true, the fall and all its consequences, including eternal hell, are part of God’s plan and made necessary by God even if only indirectly.

In a now famous and much discussed article in Sixteenth Century Journal (XXVII:2 [1996]: 337-352) Dutch theologian Eef Dekker asked “Was Arminius a Molinist?” and answered in the affirmative. (Molinism is, of course, synonymous with belief in middle knowledge.) Several leading Arminius scholars have agreed. Reformed theologian Richard Muller agreed in God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius (Baker, 1991). (He came to the same conclusion as Dekker before him.) Dutch theologian William den Boer agrees in God’s Twofold Love: The Theology of Jacob Arminius (1559-1609) (Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 2010). Now, in two recent studies of Arminius’s theology three American theologians agree. (I will be responding to their two books at a professional conference in November, so I’m going to decline to name them or address their arguments directly for now.)

So it would seem a consensus is developing that Arminius himself was a “Protestant Molinist” and may have actually introduced Molinism, middle knowledge, into Protestant theology. (Molina was himself a Catholic contemporary of Arminius.) However, other Arminius scholars are not so sure. One of the most scholarly and exhaustive studies of Arminius’s theology is William G. Witt’s Notre Dame doctoral dissertation which I used extensively in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Witt argued that Arminius mentioned but did not use middle knowledge. Another Arminius scholar who agrees with Witt is F. Stuart Clarke, author of The Ground of Election: Jacob Arminius’ Doctrine of the Work and Person of Christ (Paternoster, 2006).

Without doubt one can find references to middle knowledge in Arminius’s writings. The question is whether he relied on middle knowledge to reconcile God’s foreknowledge with free will (and there is no doubt he believed in libertarian free will) and whether he used middle knowledge to explain God’s sovereignty in providentially governing the whole universe including creatures’ free decisions and actions.

Dekker argues that, in using middle knowledge, Arminius unwittingly fell into determinism. Den Boer admits that even if Arminius’s use of middle knowledge did not imply determinism, it raised some serious questions for Arminius’s consistency—especially in the practical realm. That is, even if middle knowledge does not imply determinism, it does convey the impression, at least to the untutored, that their lives are predetermined.

I have argued here before that believing in God’s middle knowledge, that knowledge whereby God knows not only what will happen but would happen, not only what free creatures will do but what they would do freely in any possible situation, set of circumstances, is not in and of itself inconsistent with Arminianism’s basic impulses which have to do with God’s goodness (his “twofold love”). However, I have argued, and continue to maintain, once one believes that God uses middle knowledge to render certain that every creature does what they do by creating them and placing them in circumstances where he knows they will “freely” do something, then determinism is at the door if not in the living room and that is inconsistent with Arminianism’s basic impulses. It makes God the author of sin and evil even if only inadvertently.

In order to test this we must go back to the first disobedience—Adam’s and Eve’s fall. The question is not whether God knew they would disobey but whether God rendered their act of disobedience certain.

Advocates of middle knowledge usually rely on a distinction between “certain” or “infallible” and “necessary,” with only the latter making God the author of sin and evil. The argument is that God’s use of middle knowledge to render the fall certain, even infallibly (it could not have not happened given God’s foreknowledge of what Adam and Eve would do and his creation of them and placing them in that situation) does not render the fall necessary.

I tend to think that’s a distinction without a difference.

That use of middle knowledge, providentially to render the fall certain, necessarily implies a plan in the mind of God that makes the fall not only part of God’s consequent will but also part of his antecedent will. And, as everyone knows and agrees, the distinction between God’s consequent will and God’s antecedent will is crucial to Arminianism’s argument that God is not the author of sin and evil.

Why else would God use his middle knowledge providentially? And why would he use it at all if not for the purpose of meticulous providence?

Many Calvinists have used Molinism, middle knowledge, to “explain” predestination and reprobation in order to get God “off the hook,” so to speak, as not the author of sin and evil. I think, for example, of Millard Erickson and Bruce Ware—two evangelical Calvinists who use middle knowledge as the “key” to reconciling God’s sovereignty and human free will. However, they at least admit that their view of free will is compatibilism—that free will is compatible with determinism. In other words, if my argument is correct, they “get it”—middle knowledge used by God for providential advantage requires a compatibilist view of free will.

To the best of my knowledge no Arminian claims to believe in compatibilist; all embrace libertarian free will.

But, to me, at least, libertarian free will means “ability to do otherwise than one does.”

Now, admittedly, Arminian believers in middle knowledge, including those who believe God uses middle knowledge to render creatures’ decisions and actions certain according to a plan, claim to believe that creatures who sin do so with libertarian freedom. In other words, they could do otherwise. Well, at least Adam and Eve could have done otherwise than disobey God. (The picture gets more complicated for their posterity under the effects of the fall.) But could they have?

If middle knowledge is true and God uses it for providential advantage, as Richard Muller says, offering inducements to creatures that God knows they will follow given their dispositions and inclinations, then God is not only “in control” but “actually controlling” everything including Adam’s and Eve’s disobedience. They could not have done otherwise even if they did it “freely.” That is the very essence of compatibilism!

Let’s use an illustration. Suppose I know one of my students so well that I know (beyond any possibility of being wrong) that if I suggest he read a certain book he will misunderstand the subject of our course and go on to fail it. Without the book, he would pass the course. I suggest he read the book. Why? Well, perhaps because I need someone to fail the course. I don’t grade on a curve and the dean is worried that I am not upholding academic standards. All my students pass with flying colors. My career is in jeopardy as is the academic credibility of the school. So I use my middle knowledge of the student’s dispositions and inclinations to bring it about infallibly that he fails the course. Nothing I did took away his free will. He read the book voluntarily (no external coercion was used, only inducement). (Note: None of that would happen; it’s purely hypothetical.)

Now, who is really responsible for, the “author of,” the student failing the course?

And can it fairly be said that by rendering his failure certain, using my middle knowledge, I did not make it necessary?

Now, there’s no point in appealing to God’s freedom to do whatever he wants to do. This is a debate among Arminians and Arminians, following Arminius, are not nominalists. We all agree that God is essentially good by nature and cannot simply do anything capable of being put into words. No informed Arminian would say “Whatever God does is automatically good, just because God does it, period.” So that objection to my scenario isn’t relevant to this context—a debate among Arminians.

I tend to agree with Eef Dekker, against several leading Arminius scholars, that if Arminius used middle knowledge to explain God’s sovereignty, then he unwittingly contradicted himself. He contradicted his own most basic principle which is that God is by no means the author of sin and evil. He unwittingly fell into determinism at that point and should not have relied on middle knowledge. Why he did, if he did, is a separate question. I think reasonable answers can be imagined (having to do with his desire to build bridges between himself and his critics).

So what does this mean for Arminians? I’m certainly not going to say that one cannot be an Arminian and a Molinist. What I will say is that, in my opinion, Molinism is a foreign body in Arminianism even if Arminius himself used it! If he did, it was a foreign body in his own theology in the sense that it conflicted with his own basic belief commitments about God’s goodness, God not being in any sense the author of sin and evil, and creatures’ free wills (especially in disobedience).

No one should be surprised if a theologian falls into contradiction with himself at times—especially if he (or she) writes much over a very long period of time. I’m a historical theologian and have studied the theologies of virtually every major Christian theologian from Irenaeus to Pannenberg (and beyond). In every case I find some tension, some element of conflict within the theologian’s own system.

Besides, being Arminian does not require absolute agreement with Arminius. If that were the case, he would have been the only Arminian (and maybe not even he would be!).

  • Adam Omelianchuk

    Again, as an Arminian who is a Molinist, it bears repeating that Ware and Erickson are confused about what middle knowledge entails (libertarian free will–see Luke Van Horn, “On Incorporating Middle Knowledge into Calvinism: A Theological/Metaphysical Muddle?”), and that the locution “rendered certain” is ambiguous between “x will happen” and “x will necessarily happen.” No Molinist worth her salt affirms the latter.

    • Roger Olson

      Whether he or she would affirm it isn’t my point; my point is it follows necessarily (as a good and necessary consequence) from Molinism. I don’t see how to escape it except by a sheer verbal distinction between “certain” and “necessary” which doesn’t hold up in the end, after careful examination. My point is that Ware and Erickson and other Calvinist Molinists seem more consistent to me. A Molinist ought to give up belief in libertarian free will. It’s not consistent with a God who USES (not merely has) middle knowledge to control everything and everyone.

      • Adam Omelianchuk

        Well your I think your point is worth contesting, because determinism does not follow necessarily from Molinism. Here’s why. Every event in a deterministic universe occurs necessarily, and every event in a theologically deterministic universe is brought about by God–compatibilism affirms this much. But this is not the case in Molinism, because counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are NOT determined by God or any other form of causal necessity. So when Ware and Erickson affirm compatibilism, they are affirming something incompatible with Molinism. They aren’t being consistent with the view at all.

        And the distinction between what is “certain” and what is “necessary” is not a verbal one; it is a metaphysical one. The difference between:

        It must be the case that if God knows x will happen, then x will happen (x will certainly happen).

        and,

        If God knows x will happen, then it must be the case that x will happen (x will happen of necessity).

        has significant implications. The former is such that it is possible for x to be contingent, that is, not determined by any sort of causal necessity, yet known by God. This is not possible on the latter. If we deny this distinction and the latter is true, then Calvinists and Open Theists are right: God’s foreknowledge of our actions determines them. But that, if anything, is utterly incompatible with Arminian theology.

        I can understand your reservations about Molinism, because it does give God a lot of providential control, but so what? This seems to be what Scripture teaches about God’s providence. But that does not mean God’s character, on Molinism, is as bad as it is on Calvinism. If God gives everyone optimal grace to believe and providentially orders creation to yield an optimal balance between the saved and lost, he uses his middle knowledge providentially for the good. Jerry Walls makes this sort of argument in a Faith & Philosophy article (1990), and I think avoids all the problems you are concerned about.

        Thanks for letting me push back.

      • Anci

        It seems to me that your definition of libertarian free will is that it entails always a chance to choose between two alternatives. But I don’t think this is the case philosophically speaking. Philosophers do acknowledge that our circumstances can limit our alternatives to down one and it still would be libertarian free will because we
        still retain our free agent causality.

        Of course you may define free will theologically in a way that God would always provide us at least two material alternatives. But this is not philosophical definition libertarian free will.

        • Roger Olson

          How does the philosophical definition you are offering differ from compatibilism?

          • Anci

            I think main issue between libertarianism and compatibilism is the nature of causality.

            Compatibilist sees the agent as a part of causal chain that goes through the agent in a “right kind of way”. For instance, I would have free will in compatibilist sense if my great desire for ice cream made me to eat ice cream. It free act because that it was my desires that made to do it.

            Libertarian free will would mean in this example that even though I had a great urge to eat ice cream, I just didn’t do it. There is genuine choice to make. So though libertarian recognizes that our desires may affect the probability of certain actions we take, we usually have moment of choice. We really have causal powers in our will that is not determined by anything.

            But this doesn’t mean we can do what ever we want. I can’t teleport myself to Jupiter even if will it.

            So, in the Molinist system I still have libertarian free will even though God saw my free agent causations before the creation of the world and uses that to orchestrate things to some goal. His knowledge of my free actions does not determine them. That’s why Molinist don’t have to give up belief in libertarian free will.

          • Roger Olson

            As I see it the Molinist has the same problem (if it is one) as the believer in simple foreknowledge IF he rejects compatibilism–how even God can know with absolute certainty what a truly free (in the libertarian sense) creature would do in a given set of circumstances. ONLY compatibilism explains this; otherwise it is a mystery. Then, if the Molinist embraces compatibilism, as I think he must, to gain the advantages he wants regarding God’s providence, he must admit that God is ultimate author of human disobedience.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    … God’s middle knowledge, that knowledge whereby God knows not only what will happen but would happen, not only what free creatures will do but what they would do freely in any possible situation, set of circumstances …

    A thought experiment: suppose God (using middle knowledge) had told Adam and Eve that they were going to disobey the command about the one fruit tree in Eden that they were forbidden to eat from – and that they would disobey the very next day! How could they escape the notion that this was determined for them? For while they hadn’t done the deed (and possibly not even contemplated it yet), this was told them by a reliable source that they certainly would do it. For while they might have imagined that they had libertarian freewill to choose otherwise, they simply could not avoid their fateful actions in the future. [God's disclosure here does not create the dilemma, it only puts it in a clearer light.]
    Roger, you asked whether Middle Knowledge and Arminianism could be happy together. That, I do not know. I do have my doubts, however, that Middle Knowledge and Libertarian Freewill could be friends. I think Middle Knowledge slides into either hopeless contradiction or determinism.

    • Roger Olson

      On this we agree. Thank you.

  • Dante Ting

    Indeed, I wonder what Arminius’ own eschatological views are. I can say for certain that most, if not all, of the Methodist Church in Malaysia are under the direct influence of dispensational premillennialism, the former National Youth Director even encouraging the youths to watch the Left Behind movies.

    • Roger Olson

      To the best of my knowledge Arminius was an amillennialist like most Reformed people of his time. Postmillennialism hadn’t really gained that much of a following yet. The few premillennialists around at the time were considered fanatics if not heretics. Only during the 19th century did many Arminians begin to adopt premillennialism. Wesley, however, was a postmillennialist! Not many of them around anymore. I doubt the UMC has any firm stand on eschatology (in terms of rapture, millennium, etc.).

  • Bev Mitchell

    This point seems to be the crux of the matter:
    “The question is not whether God knew they would disobey but whether God rendered their act of disobedience certain.”

    This failure in the face of evil that we suffer must have something to do with the fact that while we are in the image of God we are not God. Being free and in God’s image we cannot but ask, why are we not God? The simple fact that there is only one God answers that question but does not give us the wisdom (Spirit) we need to accept the answer and so to stop asking. Here is my informal way of thinking it through. I don’t think this is Molinist or deterministic and am more than willing to revise it should it come across as either.

    Since we are in God’s image we must be free. At the point in our evolution when it was possible for us to actually be in the image of God, a moral sense must also have been present. Possessing both a moral sense and freedom sets up the familiar situation in which all humanity finds itself. The question then becomes; as beings in the image of God, are we potentially able to make correct choices regarding good and evil on our own? The take home message of the garden story is an emphatic “no!” In fact, evil is too strong for us to resist. Just being human leaves us in this sorry state, our image of God status notwithstanding.

    God knew that this would naturally be the case for physical/spiritual creatures having a moral sense and freedom. There is something missing, some lack of capacity, in such a creature with respect to the ability to resist evil. So God knew we would fall. Not because He rendered it certain, but because all such creatures are not equipped to deal properly with evil, only God is. If it were otherwise, at least some people would always do the right thing.

    So, the real question is, why must it be true that free creatures with a moral sense and having the image of God cannot always do the right thing? Saying that because Adam sinned we inherited the condition is not a convincing answer. It is more fundamental than that. There is a difference between being in the image of God and being God. We have great trouble with this fact precisely because we really do have the image of God. We naturally wonder, why then can’t we be God? In this way we are all Adam and Eve.

    The answer boils down to the basic message of monotheism. There is only one God, even though God makes and oversees a universe in which creatures who are in many ways like him can emerge. We are like him but we are not him. Our first encounter with evil – for all of us through all human time – is specifically on this point. Are we God or is there another who alone is God? Free creatures with a moral sense are naturally confronted with this question and, since we are not God but are in the image of God we cannot handle it properly. Some might see this as a mystery, but it follows logically from the fact that God is unique. Being in his image does not make us God, but it does make us want to be God. A revelation from God is required to get us beyond this.

    • Roger Olson

      The only problem I see with that, and maybe it’s unavoidable once you give up a historical fall, is that it ontologizes sin–making it an inevitable result of finitude. I personally think Tillich fell into that trip whereas his colleague Niebuhr embraced a paradox: sin is inevitable but not necessary. It’s another distinction without a difference. But I have often found it to square with human experience–before we are glorified.

      • Bev Mitchell

        Thank you for this. If by “it ontologizes sin” sin you mean that evil has the same ontological status as God, then of course we reject it. But what if evil resulted from spiritual opposition to God in beings that were created good?This spiritualizes the fall, but somebody put the snake in the garden. It seems that a now largely eschewed NT view of evil, and evil spiritual beings, is required for this position. I agree that this interpretation certainly is difficult to hold in our current culture, though post-conservative thinking, sometimes at least, leans in this direction. Fundamentalist and some conservative thinking do too, but that’s another story, and part of the problem.

        Or does this simply move the locus of the problem? I do like your position of waiting to find out from the One who knows, but, while waiting, the various semi-fixed positions on these matters can be serious stumbling blocks. Thank you, and your guests, for the opportunity to discuss such things in a non-judgemental setting.

      • labreuer

        I don’t believe finitude means sin is inevitable; I assume you’re just guessing this, and don’t get it directly from scripture? It seems to me that the Bible can be read as God continually wanting mankind to heed his voice and thus not stumble—a few men (and women!) do heed his voice, but not many. God’s voice is ever there to keep us finite creatures from stumbling. Hence Hebrews 3:7-11, as well as innumerable other scriptures.

        The mistake can be seen by looking at Deut 30:11-14, which is meant to express that God’s “word is very near to you”. Paul in Rom 9:30-10:13 (specifically, 10:5-8) explains that some Jews had interpreted this to mean that the Pentateuch was all there would ever be; God would not speak again and it was up to legal scholars to figure out how to act in various situations. “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” Godly righteousness comes by faith, and faith that is not alive (and growing!—Paul admonishes/rebukes those who have stagnated and encourages those who are continuing to grow) is dead.

        Some of Paul’s highest praise went to the Thessalonians: “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, …”—the Thessalonians were actively listening to God’s voice!

        • Roger Olson

          I meant (!) that finitude together with freedom, without supernatural regeneration and even deification, makes sin inevitable (not necessary).

          • labreuer

            I’d love to hear more about the ‘deification’ idea—it makes me think of John 10:34 (“you are gods”) and Ps 82:6. It also begs the question of what telos and teleios actually mean, especially in the light of 2 Cor 3:18—perhaps we will move “from one degree of glory to another” forever? Note that it is “be teleios as your heavenly father is teleios” in Mt 5:48.

            There’s something interesting to be asked here, about whether the Sinai covenant was not ‘enough’, in the sense we’re discussing. In Deut 5, the Israelites say they don’t want to deal with God directly; they need an intermediary. God agrees that they need the intermediary, but I think he was unhappy that they were so stubborn as to need it. It seems like King David was actually part of the new covenant in a sense, given stuff like Ps 51:6. It’s almost as like God wanted the new covenant to break into existence much sooner than it did.

            How long did God want the Sinai covenant to last? Francis Schaeffer in True Spirituality points out that the last of the Decalogue—”you shall not covet”—is what condemned Paul in Romans 7. I take that ‘word’ as intended to point out the idea that we must want God’s will. How else does one not covet? But wanting God’s will is to have the kind of faith that produces Godly righteousness (see Rom 9:30-10:13, esp. 9:30-32). The more I get to know the OT, the more I see pointers to the new covenant all over the place—not just e.g. in Jer 31.

            Finally, I’m reminded of:

            But he answered, “It is written,
            “‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
            but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

            If this is what life is like, and the “every word” is continuing [non-canon] revelation/prophecy from the Holy Spirit, it seems to be a compelling way to resist sin while we are still finite. We resist and indeed revert corruption (metaphor: increasing entropy) via the continual influx of God’s mercy, grace, and logos/Logos (metaphor: sun).

    • labreuer

      The question then becomes; as beings in the image of God, are we potentially able to make correct choices regarding good and evil on our own? The take home message of the garden story is an emphatic “no!” In fact, evil is too strong for us to resist. Just being human leaves us in this sorry state, our image of God status notwithstanding.

      I disagree with the sentence I bolded. Here’s why: the battle was not between Adam and Eve’s knowledge and the serpent’s knowledge. It was between God’s knowledge and the serpent’s knowledge. God told Adam what would happen and he evidently passed this on to Eve, although somehow the “neither shall you touch it” got added. Adam and Eve were not defenseless against the serpent—God had armed them appropriately! They only had to choose whom to trust. God had a track record with them; the serpent did not.

      Consider the Bible as a series of tests of whether we will trust God’s word. Satan tried to pull off another serpent-deception with Jesus, but he was grounded in the scriptures, plus he had just gotten anointed with the Holy Spirit. Jesus chose to trust God instead of Satan. We are presented with the same choice, perhaps day-in and day-out. Satan is, after all, the Father of Lies. We of course need the power of God to resist, but we have that power: the Holy Spirit! Just like Adam and Eve had God himself (heh).

      • Bev Mitchell

        labreuer,
        Thank you for the interaction and correction. I particularly like your second paragraph. I meant the offending sentence in this sense: “In fact, in our natural state, evil is too strong for us to resist.” As you say, first true humans, symbolized by Adam and Eve, were in some kind of trusting relationship with God, protected by God as all creation is. It is possible that their walking and talking with God means something like our condition when filled with the Holy Spirit. Or their relationship could have had a different quality more like all animals with no knowledge of good and evil. This perhaps is reflected in the difference between very young children and older children – we are all Adam and Eve and the natural results are always the same. That is, we certainly know that, in our current natural state, we cannot properly manage all good-evil issues to the standards set by God. This moral knowledge that we have, as creatures of God, is too much for us to handle without the help of the Holy Spirit (and even then it’s a dynamic process, a journey, involving all aspects of spiritual formation). Even when we have been on that road for a time, we can, turn away, Hebrews 6. (This must be consciously wilful and defiant, I think, but it is possible. We always have our freedom because it is grounded in God’s love.)

        To bring this back to the discussion on middle knowledge, God knew that human creatures, once they had his image, would be unable to handle evil properly (because they are not God, just his image bearers – they need God to deal with God’s greatest adversary.) But, to have such creatures who could walk and talk with him, once they knew about good and evil and were responsible for their moral choices, this was simply the way it must be. God made certain decisions at the beginning of creation. One seems to have been freedom (which is a derivative of his primary character love). Whether we are thinking of purely spiritual beings or material/spiritual beings, honest freedom means rebellion is possible. Unfortunately it occurs in both purely spiritual beings and in us.

        • labreuer

          I’m not sure I disagree with what you’re saying, but I see a possible snag:

          But, to have such creatures who could walk and talk with him, once they knew about good and evil and were responsible for their moral choices, this was simply the way it must be.

          It’s important to distinguish between knowing about and knowing personally. Languages like German actually have two different verbs to distinguish between this two kinds of knowing! Put on your KJV hat and note that it’s fine to know your wife, but it’s not good to know your neighbor’s wife!

          We can look at the metaphor of ingesting to gain some depth on this issue. Take a look at this interaction between Ezekiel and God:

          And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.

          See also Jeremiah 15:16. Now consider what Adam and Eve when they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve arguably added “do not touch” when she recounted the command to the serpent; touching seems more like knowing about to me, whereas ingesting seems more like knowing personally.

  • John Daniel Holloway III

    I get a little confused in debates between Arminians and Molinists. Would those that believe that God exhaustively knows the entire future not say that God also knows what else could have happened in other circumstances?

    Also, I agree with you that middle knowledge ultimately implies determinism, but so does belief in God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of the future, which Arminius definitely advocated. If freedom is the ability to do otherwise than one does, then God can’t actually know the entire future, for one would only have the ability to do what God sees one doing in the future. This includes God himself! God can only do what he sees himself doing in the future, thus removing all free will and submitting all actions to fatalistic necessity.

    • Roger Olson

      Knowing what “could have happened in other circumstances” is not middle knowledge. So far as I know all theists believe God knows what could have happened (in other possible worlds). The issue is whether God knows infallibly what each and every creature WOULD do in any possible set of circumstances. Some Arminians embrace that idea (middle knowledge) and others draw away from it–especially when it is used to support meticulous providence and predestination. I prefer to leave how God knows what creatures with libertarian freedom will do in the realm of mystery. I don’t know and don’t feel the need to know.

      • John Daniel Holloway III

        Thanks for clearing that up for me.

        While I respect your response to the foreknowledge issue, I don’t know why we feel the need to continue ascribing exhaustive foreknowledge to God, especially since it does seem to override all free will, including God’s. Is this mystery, or philosophical incoherence?

        • Roger Olson

          I don’t see any logical incoherence in affirming both God’s exhaustive and infallible simple foreknowledge and human free will to sin. HOW God has that foreknowledge eludes my ability to conceive or explain. But it seems to me the two beliefs do not fall into sheer logical inconsistency as in, for example, belief in a square circle or round rectangle.

          • John Daniel Holloway III

            If God knew yesterday that I was going to type this comment right now, when it came to be 3:11pm today I would have had no choice but to do it.

            If I could choose otherwise, if at 3:11pm today I instead chose to grab a Coke from the fridge, then God would have been wrong about what he “knew” yesterday about what I was going to do today. So in order for God to be right, I HAD to type this comment at 3:11pm today.

            We both agree that free will is the ability to do otherwise than one does. But if God knows everything I am going to do for the rest of my life, I have no ability to do otherwise than what I do, because what I do is what God knew I was going to do prior to my doing it. Thus, if God knows everything I am going to do, and his knowledge is perfect and cannot be wrong, then I simply do not possess free will.
            Furthermore, neither does God, for he himself is bound to what he seems himself doing in the future.

          • Natan Mladin

            Supposing I say I am free at time t to drink coffee or to drink cocoa. Suppose God foreknows that I
            shall drink coffee. I cannot do what God foreknows that I shall not do, for
            this falsifies God’s knowledge, which is impossible. Therefore, I can not drink
            cocoa. And therefore, if I drink the coffee, I do so without doing it freely –
            the incompatibilist view of divine foreknowledge and determination and free
            will.

            Consider a response to this. To say that God foreknows that
            I shall drink coffee is an incomplete description of what is foreknown. What
            God foreknows is that I shall freely drink coffee. What must come about now is
            not my drinking of coffee, simpliciter,
            but my freely drinking coffee. ’Necessarily, I shall drink coffee’ means: “God
            foreknows that I shall drink coffee, so it is necessarily the case I shall
            drink it.” NOT: “I shall drink coffee necessarily rather than freely.” So I am
            free to drink cocoa? Yes. So am I free to do what God knows I shall not do?
            Yes: I am free in the sense that I have the power at t. But I certainly shall not drink cocoa at t. It is not that I can
            not do what God knows I shall not do. It is rather that I never shall not do what God knows I shall not
            do. In this scenario, God knows the future as he knows the past, as a fait accompli, but by so knowing it, he
            no more robs freedom of its place than he does by virtue of his knowing the
            past.

    • Robert

      John asked:+

      “I get a little confused in debates between
      Arminians and Molinists. Would those that believe that God exhaustively knows the entire future not say that God also knows what else could have happened in other circumstances?”

      Yes, God knows what will in fact happen as well as what could have happened had people chosen to do differently than they did in fact choose to act.

      John seems unwittingly to define freewill in an incoherent way. I say unwittingly as he (and many others make this same error) seems to provide a definition of free will that involves something that is
      impossible:

      “If freedom is the ability to do otherwise than one does”

      So many, many, many people make this mistake when it comes to free will. Free will does not mean that we have the ability to DO OTHERWISE THAN WE WILL IN FACT DO.

      To do otherwise than we will in fact do mean that’s we have the ability to actualize CONTRADICTIONS. And not only can we not do that, neither can God!

      Take a mundane example to show the problem with John’s
      suggested definition of free will. Tomorrow I am going to watch my daughter’s first soccer game of the season. Let’s assume that I am driving to that game (I am not getting a ride from someone else, I am not taking a helicopter, not using a jet pack, not hang gliding to the field, etc. etc.). Tomorrow I am either driving to that game or I am not. Let’s call what we actually end up doing in any given situation, an actual outcome. So tomorrow if I freely choose to drive to the field to watch the game then the actual outcome is that I will be driving to the game tomorrow. If free will actually meant the ability to DO OTHERWISE THAN ONE DOES: then I could both actually drive to the field tomorrow and at the same time and in the same circumstances not drive to the field tomorrow! But if I were to do both of those actions I would be actualizing a contradiction. The fact is, we cannot do otherwise THAN WE WILL IN FACT DO. Whatever we in fact do, is what will actually take place.

      So does that mean that free will as ordinarily understood cannot or does not exist? No. The key thing to keep in mind is to carefully consider WHEN free will exists. Does it exist AFTER we make the choice to do
      what we in fact end up doing? No. When does free will exist then? If it exists it must exist BEFORE we end up doing what end up doing. The ability to do otherwise which is an important element of free will exists before the actual outcome. Before I end up at the field for the game tomorrow I have a real choice if I am acting freely between getting into the car and turning the key and driving to the game or not getting into the car and turning the key and driving to the game. If I decide to go to the game then driving to the game will be the actual outcome, what will in fact take place. If I decide not to go to the game then not driving to the game will be the actual outcome. But I cannot do both of these things SIMULTANEOULSY which is what John’s mistaken
      definition of free will would require (I cannot if I am driving to the game do
      otherwise than that and not be driving to the game, and vice versa I cannot be not driving to the game and do otherwise and be driving to the game).

      Once we clear up this common error we also can understand how God can foreknow every future choice we make while we retain free will. This
      is true because God’s foreknowledge by its nature always involves God
      foreknowing WHAT WE WILL IN FACT DO. So if I choose to go to the game and drive to the game, since that is what I will in fact do, God foreknows that I will drive to the game. If instead I chose to not go to the game then that is what I will in fact do, God foreknows that I will not drive to the game.

      Whatever we will in fact do is what God will foreknow
      that we will do.

      And God can (and does) foreknow all of the future, all of
      those events (some involving our freely made choices) that will in fact take
      place. And our having free will does not require that we do otherwise than we will in fact do (because to do otherwise than we will in fact do is impossible, it would require our actualizing contradictions something God himself cannot even do). As John MISTAKENLY defines free will as *****the ability to do otherwise than you will in fact do*****, he then carries on with the logical consequences of this error and writes:

      “,then God can’t actually know the entire future, for one would only have the ability to do what God sees one doing in the future. This includes God himself! God can only do what he sees himself doing in the future, thus removing all free will and submitting all actions to fatalistic necessity.”

      First the future that God foreknows consists of actions
      that will in fact take place (and that includes both our choices and actions as well as God’s choices and actions).

      Second, necessity is involved if we (or God) had to make
      these choices (some factors necessitated out actions so that it was impossible for us to choose differently than we ended up choosing).

      Third, we are not going to be doing otherwise than we will in fact be doing (that is impossible and logically incoherent). Whatever we in fact choose to do, God knows that we will do that (and that includes his own freely chosen actions as well).

      In this way free will and foreknowledge pose no challenge to each other. Free will only contradicts foreknowledge if it is wrongly defined as John does as meaning *****the ability to do otherwise than you will in fact do*****. The ability to do otherwise is sometimes present, but it is present
      BEFORE we make our choice when we have a choice between differing alternative possibilities. Once you make a particular choice, you cannot do otherwise than what you in fact choose to do. And whichever way you end up choosing, God foreknew what you would in fact end up choosing to do.

      Robert

      • Roger Olson

        I often use “ability to do otherwise” as shorthand for “ability to decide between two or more alternatives outcomes.” I assume that’s what the person you’re responding to meant also. I don’t know anyone who means “ability to do otherwise than what I am in fact doing.”

  • Tom McCall

    I may or may not be one of the three American theologians. So we may or may not have this conversation at AAR this fall. I hope we that we are able to do so.

    Dekker’s argument is very interesting. For a direct response to it, you might be interested in reading my forthcoming essay “Arminius and Determinism: Another Look at His Modal Logic” in *Arminius Reconsidered*, eds. Keith D. Stanglin, Mark Mann, and Mark J. Bilby (Nashville: Abingdon Press).

    At any rate, I hope that our paths cross soon.
    Tom McCall

    • Roger Olson

      Thanks for the suggestion. I will look forward to reading that when it is published. Please let me know. We will see each other in Baltimore if God is willing and the creek don’t rise. :) I had hoped we would have met before then, but I was not invited to the Arminius symposium in San Diego–until I asked why I wasn’t invited. Then it was too late as I had other commitments.

      • http://cramercomments.blogspot.com/ DavidCramer

        Two theological heavyweights; two respected mentors (though one less formally than the other). Trying to decide who to root for at AAR. (Does Vegas have the odds set yet?)

        • Roger Olson

          Well, I don’t expect it to be a boxing match–just a friendly disagreement between brothers. I hope.

          • http://cramercomments.blogspot.com/ DavidCramer

            I saw Tom remain quite cordial in a debate with Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware at TEDS a few years ago, so I don’t think you have anything to worry about!

          • Roger Olson

            Not worried. :)

  • Anci

    First let me thank for your quality blog. The intellectual content is so satisfying. I’m also a big fan of your book The Story of Christian Theology, it’s an amazing read.

    My motivation holding to Molinism is that it gives a coherent way of thinking about a loving God who is in control (not controlling everything in deterministic fashion). He chose in love to create free agents with real free causal powers, yet fully knowing the consequence of this act.

    The problem in simple foreknowledge is that God only knows the acts of free beings after the creative act. (Correct me if I’m wrong) This would be same as if God would have decided to create while being blindfolded, not knowing really what is going to happen.

    Does this bother your or do you have some other way of thinking about this?

    • Roger Olson

      I hold the issue in suspense, waiting to find out from God himself (hopefully) how he knows future, free, contingent decisions and actions of creatures with libertarian free will. Right now I don’t have a clear answer and don’t feel the need to have one. I think both middle knowledge and open theism are too speculative. Both solve the problem but raise bigger ones.

      • labreuer

        Roger, what do you do with the idea that God is a prime mover, and we are created in his image? Does that mean we get a finite ‘slice’ of prime mover-ability, in contrast to God’s infinite ‘quantity’ of this ability? Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to mesh with John 5:30.

        “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

        Unless perhaps Jesus means there to be a middle ground between “my own” and “controlled by God like a puppet”? No pun intended.

        • Roger Olson

          The traditional doctrine of concurrence fixes this. Even Arminius affirmed that in order for a creature to act God must “concur” and “loan,” as it were, the ability to act. Creatures have no autonomy except to say “no” to God.

          • labreuer

            Does the traditional doctrine of concurrence do justice to imago dei? On the one hand, I feel like I’m arguing for human autonomy, which is expressly bad in pretty much every place it shows up in theology. On the other hand, we have:

            The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

            That statement “you are gods” has always intrigued me. In the Garden, the serpent mentioned “you will be like God” as part of his half-truth; I’m pretty sure the bit I quoted is true. Of course, the serpent convinced Eve to take a shortcut to this end. But what does “you will be like God” mean? Could it mean that God gives us image-bearers [finite] “prime mover” ability? If he doesn’t, it seems to diminish imago dei.

            Another way to state the above is to ask, “Are there any ways in which we are not [finitely] like God[ in his infinitude]?”

          • Roger Olson

            Traditional theology, including classical Arminianism, would say yes–there are ways in which we as finite beings are not like God. We are not self-existent, omnipotent, etc. The question is this: If God removed his sustaining power from our being, would we sink immediately into nothingness? Think of the implications of saying no. Then God would have beings (us) over against him who limit him.

          • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

            “Then God would have beings (us) over against him who limit him.”

            I’ve heard this before, but either I completely misunderstand it or have to disagree. To use an admittedly-imperfect analogy, we as humans create things that outlast us all the time…and they outlast us unless we actively destroy them, not (always) because we keep doing preventive maintenance. I don’t understand how God’s sovereignty or self-existence is impugned at all if he chooses to create durable beings. We’re still subordinate to our creator.

          • Roger Olson

            I agree that God creates us “durable,” but also dependent.

          • labreuer

            I’ll grant you the self-existent: we’re contingent beings, not necessary beings. I don’t see a way of being partly contingent and partly necessary. But I can’t give you ‘omnipotent’, because we are potent but not omnipotent. Just like we are loving, but not perfectly loving, just and not perfectly just, etc.

            This topic gets interesting not only with prime-moving, but also with sovereignty: when God gives us ‘dominion’ (Gen 1:26,28), is that a limited form of sovereignty, just like we have a limited form of knowledge and power?

            I would say that we get all of our attributes from God. It’s not like we create them on our own. That’d be like saying we don’t need the sun! Furthermore, it is certainly possible for God to create a world with him being the only prime mover. But is it possible for God to exist, concurrent with other, finite prime-movers? If it is possible, are there theological arguments for and against him having done this?

          • Roger Olson

            I think our disagreement lies with the meaning of “prime mover.” Only God could be the prime mover as I mean that–the creator of all and everything outside himself. Your analogy of the sun is interesting. We can do lots of things, but if the sun stopped shining we (our physical existences) would cease. So with God. Without his sustaining power creation and every part of it would simply cease to exist.

          • labreuer

            You might like the philosophy of religion paper, Infinite Power and Finite Powers, by Kenny Pearce. I’ve posted that paper either here or on Enns’ blog. In it, Kenny argues that we ought to understand power from limitations on omnipotence, and not omnipotence as “having all of the powers”.

            My question is whether there exists a kind of limited version of prime moving, just like we have power but not limitless power (omnipotence). What this would mean is that we’re actually the cause behind some events—the buck would stop with us, and not God. I know this sounds like arguing for human autonomy, but it isn’t—I know my power and knowledge are finite approximations of God’s “real versions”. I know I need God, day in and day out. The day I reject that, I re-become Adam.

            I’m not saying that we somehow bring into being things that would ‘defy’ God in a non-biblical sense. It does, however, seem like God would value us being creative just like he is creative, and that his will is big enough to ‘contain’ such creativity. Of course we can stray outside his will with this creativity, but I think there is lots of room inside his will. The path is narrow, but it is not a one-dimensional line!

      • Natan Mladin

        Don’t you think some version of divine timelesness, which, by the way, needn’t be the only formulation of God’s relation to time, can go some way in explaining how God knows future, free contingent decisions and actions?

        • Roger Olson

          Yes, but only at the expense (IMHO) of our being able to affect God. A “timeless” God (for whom all times are simultaneously before his eyes) cannot be swayed by our prayers.

          • Natan Mladin

            I think a nuanced affirmation of timelessness is essential for preserving God’s transcendence. A god trapped in temporality is not the God Most High of the Scriptures. When I say ‘a nuanced affirmation’ I mean that timelessness is not THE description of God’s relation to time. I doubt there is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ doctrinal formula for capturing God’s multifarious relation to time. I am following Henri Blocher here. See his ‘Time, Times, Eternity in Biblical Perspective’ (Tyndale Bulletin, 52:2, 2001).
            Timelesness does not logically preclude relationality (e.g. prayers) only in a most narrow, rationalistic conceptualisation. And as post-conservatives, and I’m happy to use the label, I think this is precisely the kind of conceptualisations that we must resist.

          • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

            Your phrasing “trapped in temporality” presupposes that a time-experiencing God is *in time,* as though time itself must be an external, self-existent reality. But that’s not the only possibility. If God in God’s own nature experiences sequentiality…and time is nothing more than an attempt to quantify sequence…we might just as well say that time is *in God* rather than the other way around. In so doing, IMHO, we are more faithful to the scriptural account of God’s interactions with creation.

          • Roger Olson

            I agree completely. Thank you.

          • Natan Mladin

            You’ve got two ‘If’s’ there: (1) IF God in God’s own nature experiences sequentiality and (2) (if) time is nothing more than an attempt to quantify sequence
            I have no qualms about (2), but (1) is unsubstantiated. I suspect that for (1) to hold you would need to hold to a social conception of the Trinity. But I resist the kind of strong emphasis on the threeness of God that is needed for sequentiality. Does the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal ‘spiration’ of the Spirit entail temporal, not only logical sequentiality? I don’t think so. I agree logical sequentiality is entailed in the threeness of God, but I don’t feel talk of temporal sequentiality, which is what you need for your argument to work, is warranted.

          • Roger Olson

            May I once again, for the umpteenth time, recommend “God Everlasting” by Nicholas Wolterstorff (a chapter in the book God and the Good edited by Clifton Orlebeke and Lewis Smedes)? I’m sure it’s available through ILL if not elsewhere. I don’t think it’s in print, but that chapter is the best relatively brief and not-too-difficult exposition of why God must experience what you and others are calling “sequentiality” in order to be the response God of the Bible.

          • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

            Sure I’ve got two “ifs.” I was merely pointing out to you that your presupposition that a temporal God must be “trapped in temporality” is unnecessary. One cannot be “trapped” in oneself.

            I would further dispute that “a social conception of the Trinity” has anything at all to do with God’s experiencing time. The two are completely unrelated, and for you to link them is a non-sequitur. A temporal element to God’s nature is a statement of ontology, yes, but it doesn’t bear on Trinitarian constructs at all, for good or ill.

          • Natan Mladin

            Before we go on we need to clarify a foundational thing in this conversation: In saying that “God in his being experiences sequentiality” I took you to be referring to God as he is apart from creation and the economy (i.e. immanent Trinity). Was I wrong in assuming this? Were you strictly saying that God experiences time ONLY in relation to creation? I’ll let you clarify that before I go on. I’m sorry If I read into your suggestion, but If I haven’t, and you indeed want to say that God experiences sequentiality in his being, independent of and apart from creation and the economy, then I believe you have a serious problem on your hands and prima facie my argument stands. But I am ready to stand corrected If my ‘exegesis’ of your comment has been faulty.

          • Roger Olson

            I don’t know anything about God apart from creation except that God is eternally good, powerful and triune. What kind of time, if any, God experiences in himself apart from creation I have no way of knowing. I regard the economic Trinity as “God’s being” also. Here, in relation to us, which is all revelation really talks about, God experiences temporal sequence. Otherwise he could not respond to us; there would be no interaction between us. The biblical narrative depicts God as interacting with us. Barth said “Where the actuality exists there must be the corresponding possibility” which indicates to me that there is something in God himself, before and apart from any creation, that makes it possible for God to experience temporal sequence. Beyond that I can’t say anything.

          • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

            Roger, part of what I *really* appreciate about this answer is the humility with which you point out that you (and I would say *we* … *all* of us) do not have a complete revelation of everything God is. It is, I think, one of the tragedies of dogmatic history that councils and churches have felt the need to clarify or extend dogma beyond what God has actually seen fit to reveal. Thank you for your tone on this.

          • Natan Mladin

            You have an ‘if’ there that I find problematic. You say “If God in God’s nature experiences sequentiality and time is nothing more than an attempt of quantify sequence”. This seems to me problematic for God’ being. If God experiences temporal sequentiality in his Triune then logically there are moments in which he is not fully God (you are implicitly denying the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal ‘spiration’ of the Spirit). I agree that there is a logical sequentiality in God given his threeness, but for your argument to work you need a temporal sequentiality, which as i said, if pressed logically, impinges on God’s ontology.

          • Roger Olson

            Why would it? And what does that even mean (viz., “impinges on God’s ontology”)? Which attribute of God would be damaged if God experienced temporal sequentiality? And can God experience logical sequentiality without experiencing temporal seqauentiality? Again, I recommend Nicholas Wolterstoff’s “God Everlasting” chapter in God and the Good.

          • Natan Mladin

            Just to recap, Dan Martin’s claim, and he is by no means original, is that God experiences temporal sequentiality in his own being. I take it that he is referring to the immanent Trinity and the Trinitarian processions. This is why I said that to argue that God experiences temporal sequentiality and has experienced it even before creation means, logically, that there were and continue to be ‘moments’ when God is not fully God (btw – this is what I mean by ‘impinges on God’s ontology’). These are those ‘moments’ when the Son is ‘on his way’ (temporally) to being generated by the Father, and the Spirit is ‘on his way’ (temporally) to being ‘spirated’ by the Father (and Son, whichever side of the filioque controversy you take). So in those ‘times’ when the Spirit is not generated and the Spirit is not ‘spirated’ one cannot say that God is really, fully God. God is effectively eternally becoming God. I submit that this is highly problematic. The only way around this, as far as I can see, is to say that God ‘experiences time only relatively, extrinsically, in relation to creation’, however that is parsed out conceptually to secure genuine relations between God and human creatures. Let me emphasize again that divine timelessness should not be the only account of God’s relation to time, but I strongly believe it is a position one must hold to remain within the bounds of orthodoxy. And if we’re recommending resources, may I mention Brian Leftow’s magisterial Time and Eternity (Cornell UP, 1991) and, more recently, God and Necessity (OUP, 2012).

          • Roger Olson

            Now you’ve shifted the conversation to the immanent Trinity–God in himself before and apart from the world. But what do we even know about that? How can we even know about that? I do believe God is trinitarian immanently, but I don’t think we can know anything about the “inner workings” of God apart from what is clearly revealed in Jesus and in Scripture. The economic Trinity is clearly involved in temporality. Why not stay there? Why do we need to speculate about God’s relation to time outside of what is revealed?

  • Brian Abasciano

    Hi Roger,

    I agree with you about Molinism’s relation to Arminianism. I tend to think that Arminius did use Molinism, but that Molinism is incoherent in holding libertarian free will with its other premises, or to put it another way that I often have, I find Molinism to be thinly veiled determinism. But my concerns about Molinism may be differently focused than yours. I don’t know that I think that God getting someone to do something by using his middle knowledge is necessarily deterministic. My concern comes more in the idea of God creating people and not creating others based on what he knows they would do in situations, basically creating those he chooses to create as people who will act in a precise way (it practically sounds like a practical definition of determinism). Moreover, putting people in specific, determined in substantial detail circumstances that involve other people in action also seems to require determinism. After all is said and done, in my opinion it ends up as a deterministic world.

    But of course, Arminian Molinists disagree with most of this and are happy that Arminius seems to have been a Molinist. And I agree that we should not say that Arminians cannot be Molinists. It is a difference of opinion among Arminians, though perhaps more pointed than many other disagreements we might have among us because it touches on something essential to Arminian theology, the glory and goodness of God, practically played out in determinism vs. free will.

    • Roger Olson

      On this we are in full agreement. What I am finding, however, is that SOME Molinist Arminians are becoming aggressive about it and insisting that Molinism is the only alternative to Calvinism and open theism and that, since Arminius was a Molinist (they believe), authentic Arminians must be Molinists with him.To that I object.

  • labreuer

    I was just thinking about this topic the other day and the following came to mind:

    No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

    How does this square with middle knowledge? It kind of seems to require it! Do we think this guarantee was in place for Adam and Eve, pre-Fall? I’m inclined to say that God could abuse middle knowledge in a way similar to your causing a student to fail by suggesting he read that book, but that he doesn’t. The following might indicate that we humans could have access to middle knowledge, and that we must act responsibly:

    “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

    (see also Rom 14, 1 Cor 8)

    A fun science fact is that there does exist such a thing as counterfactual definiteness, but that we can’t know it with certainty, only with arbitrary levels of confidence. If you really want your mind blown, check out quantum bomb testing. It’s a thought experiment that is actually valid in this way: we can ask what would happen if a photon were to interact with an atom, with arbitrarily small chance that in answering this question, the photon actually does interact. Anyhow, the key here is that counterfactual definiteness is only approximate, which may shed some light on this whole middle knowledge thing.

    • Roger Olson

      But the problem with Molinism is precisely its insistence that God knows with definiteness, certainty, not any degree of probability, what a free creature would do in any given set of circumstances. And, again, I have no theological problem with that (philosophically I don’t believe in absolute counterfactuals of freedom) UNTIL someone says God uses that middle knowledge to put persons’ feet in slippery places rendering their sins certain according to his plan.

      • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

        Roger, this reply only multiplies my original question from your article, so I’ll ask it in this chain: are you suggesting that God *has* middle knowledge but chooses not to use it? That seems, at the least, rather counterintuitive to me …

        • Roger Olson

          Right. I don’t believe in middle knowledge. But I don’t object to people believing in middle knowledge and believing in libertarian free will unless and until they use God’s middle knowledge (that they believe he has) to explain how God meticulously governs all events including human agents’ free decisions. Then I see God as the author of sin and evil lurking at the door.

          • humblethinker

            Roger, Glad to hear you don’t believe in middle knowledge. I haven’t gotten a good answer from a Molinist yet for this question and would like to know what you think:
            If God has middle knowledge then what does that say about God pleading for man to change when his MK informs him that man will definitely NOT change regardless of his pleading? This seems to make God’s pleadings/demands disingenuous in some ways. What do you think?

          • Roger Olson

            It seems to me the Molinist must there fall back on what the Calvinist says–that God’s pleadings are “foreordained means to a foreordained end”–causing creatures to act on their innate desires (compatibilism) in order to bring about his (God’s) foreordained plan.

          • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

            Ok thanks, that makes a whole lot more sense. I was trying to figure out how you’d square the idea that God has such knowledge but somehow chooses to compartmentalize or ignore it.

      • labreuer

        I should correct myself: we don’t know that there exists counterfactual definiteness with certainty, only with arbitrarily high probability. People tend to want to say that God has the certainty; how else can he avoid tempting us with too much?

        This middle knowledge thing actually seems really useful for talking to Calvinists. I think they must hold that 1 Cor 10:13 holds for the elect, but that God is welcome to violate it for the reprobate. This poses a bit of a conundrum: contrast who tempted David to take the census, in 2 Sam 24:1 vs. 1 Chr 21:1. Either God knew he would fall (sounds kinda evil), or God merely knew that this would move David to a tipping point, where it was David’s will which would provide that final ‘push’.

  • http://www.teologicafet.tk Andreas Engström

    Is not God when “only” foreknowing the fall of man but yet deciding to create in a sense making the fall certain?

    • Roger Olson

      Good question, but I don’t think so. I’ve explained my view of God’s foreknowledge many times here before and admit it is paradoxical; there is no exact analogy to it in human experience that I can think of. And yet, if God is God, then surely he has powers we can’t comprehend.

  • http://classicalarminian.blogspot.com/ William Watson Birch

    Such an excellent post! Dr. Ken Keathley, professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, a self-avowed Molinist, told me to my face that he didn’t believe Arminius was a Molinist — stating, “It takes more than a tip of the hat to middle knowledge to make one a Molinist.” I just thought I’d offer Dr. Keathley’s Molnist perspective regarding Arminius’ beliefs on the matter. God bless!

    • Roger Olson

      I tend to agree with Dr. Keathley, but some Arminius scholars are strongly promoting the view that Arminius more than tipped his hat to Molinism; they are arguing middle knowledge was central, crucial to Arminius’ theology.

  • Rob

    Well I cannot agree that Molinism in anyway leads to determinism because it quite explicitly denies causal determinism! Counterfactuals of freedom are defined as what a free agent (in the libertarian and indeterminist sense) would do. It is fine to deny that there are counterfactuals of freedom.

    It is always open to someone to deny that there is a fact of the matter about what a free being would do. But notice that if we do accept that there is a fact of the matter about what a free being would do, we have counterfactuals of freedom on the table and there is no danger of determinism whatsoever. Maybe you mean to deny that there are counterfactuals of freedom. But Molinism in no way can lead to determinism–it may lead to incoherency, contradictions, and all sorts of other problems, but it rules out determinism from the outset.

    Maybe you are actually worried about some variety of theological fatalism which can be a problem even in indeterministic worlds. Your concerns seem to point in that direction. I think that if Dekker somehow sees molinism and determinism connected, then Dekker flat out does not know what molinism is.

    I will point to an issue that arises regarding your example of the failing student. First, I don’t think it is analogous because “failing the course” is not the right sort of thing to know that he will do. I assume your student would not choose to fail your course and you say yourself that it is confusion in his mind that leads to it and so it is really a deterministic causal chain resulting in his confusion that you have set into motion. Your knowledge of what will occur is not an example of a counterfactual of freedom.

    • Roger Olson

      No, but my knowledge that he would read the confusing book is a counterfactual of freedom. No problem there (theologically). But once I use that knowledge (if it possible to have) to render his failing the course certain I have predetermined his failure. He would not have willingly chosen to fail; I would have rendered it certain that he fail–determinism. The analogy is to hell. IF Molinism is true, people end up in hell because God rendered it certain via his use of his middle knowledge to create them and put their feet in slippery places knowing what they will do. The issue really comes back to that of a blueprint in God’s mind according to which he meticulously controls all events. That is what I call divine determinism.

      • Rob

        I still think there are problems with the analogy. The fact that he did not willingly choose to fail is a red herring because it was an unforeseen (by the student) consequence of his free choice to read the book. Every single theory of freewill has to admit that there are negative unforeseen (by the agent) consequences to free actions! Whether there are or are not counterfactuals of freedom does not change anything.

        In your example, the unforeseen consequences of the free action are deterministic. No one denies that the world contains a deterministic element and no one denies that God knows the deterministic consequences of actions. So even on an Open Theist view, God would have always known that these consequences deterministically result from the specified action.

        Presumably on the Open theist view God has probabilistic knowledge of what people will freely do (humans have such knowledge!) and so the responsibility you assign to God on the Molinist view becomes assigned to God on the Open Theist view in every case in which the choice with the negative-unforeseen-by-the-agent-consequences had a probability reaching a certain minimal threshold. (Just pick the same threshold we use for holding humans accountable for the consequences of their actions when the consequences are only probable and not certain.)

        So on the Open View, God would be not quite as guilty for allowing the circumstances to arise in which a free agent would likely make a free choice with negative-unforeseen-by-the-agent-consequences, but guilty nonetheless. (And there is no moral difference between making/allowing once all other factors are held constant.)

        The fact is that we hold agents responsible for the probable outcomes of their action/inaction all the time. So if you think that given Molinism, God would be guilty for the NUBTHAC of the agent’s free decision by actualizing a world in which the scenario arises such that the agent would make that decision, then on an Open View, God would be almost as guilty for allowing the same scenario to arise given God’s probabilistic knowledge of the agent’s likely decision.

        • Roger Olson

          I disagree. As a teacher for 31 years I have often known with a high degree of probability that a certain student enrolling in my class will fail. I allow him to enroll. His failure is not my fault UNLESS I manipulated circumstances to make his failure more likely than otherwise.

  • Jacob

    This all sounds about right to me. The underlying issue that gives rise to the contradiction though (the contradiction between libertarian freedom and meticulous providence), I believe, pervades Molinism even prior to the providential use of middle knowledge. It is a doctrine called Ockhamism assumed in the Molinist assumption that there is a singular fact of the matter of what we freely (in a libertarian sense) *will* and *would* do before we’ve solidified our characters to create such a singular fact of the matter.

    • Roger Olson

      Thank you, but I don’t permit links here unless I have time to examine where they lead thoroughly. I’m sure it would be okay, but I can’t make assumptions and my time is limited.

      • Jacob

        Ok. Maybe I can boil it down for you here:

        Take a future space/time event which we take to be as of yet indeterminate – let’s say… Olson sitting in his computer chair at 7pm on the 8th. An Ockhamist says if I could fast forward to that time and look at the chair, I could see whether or not Olson is sitting in it. A Peircean says I can’t… not because I have problems with eyesight (i.e. a lack in my ability to know), but because, to mix images, that page of the book is as of yet left blank. There only comes to be a fact of the matter of whether or not you are sitting in the chair at 7pm on the 8th when you write that part into the story with your free decision regarding sitting in the chair.
        All this, of course, applies just as much to Molinism’s middle knowledge as it does to Molinism’s this-worldly-foreknowledge because Middle knowledge assumes Ockhamism as well.

        So again… the contradiction in Molinism comes from the fact that they are Ockhamists, thus assuming both that libertarianism (and thus, indeterminism) is true, and that the entire future story has been written from eternity past (i.e. determinism). So I hope you can see why I think Molinist’s determinism falls into place even before they say God “uses” his middle knowledge.
        How does this strike you?

        • Roger Olson

          So far, so good.

  • David Hess

    thanks so much Roger for exploring this topic. I’ve listened on numerous occasions to William Lane Craig articulating his Molinist position and I ALWAYS felt at the end of his explanation that it sounded no different than the compatibilist voices of the Augustinians. The fact that I heard him articulate his views to an Augustinian who appeared “satisfied” with Craig’s views was disturbing. Thanks again Roger for bringing to light and helping me identify what I was feeling uncomfortable with.

    • Roger Olson

      You are more than welcome. And thank you. I have always had the uncomfortable feeling that Craig is a closet Calvinist. I know he doesn’t think he is and would object to that characterization strenuously. But he has written an essay on Molinism as a means of achieving a rapproachement between Calvinism and Arminianism. I shudder at the very thought.

  • Dr. Olson

    Oh oh. My view of human free will amidst the myriad of contingencies apparently wasn’t very well thought out. Until your blog, I’ve assumed that God used some “Maximize Glory” function to determine which one of all the possible contingencies would be our reality. With only a bit of reflection on what you wrote it does seem that God’s “Maximize Glory” function nevertheless determines who is saved and who is lost and all this in spite of free will.

    Yet, God’s knowledge of contingencies is biblical. God knew that Sodom and Gomorrah would have repented under different circumstances (Matt 11). Yet, God’s foreknowledge is biblical as well (Acts 2:23 and 1 Pet 1:2). So contingencies and foreknowledge are as certain and trustworthy as is God and His Word.

    I read your response to J.D.Holloway III where you “prefer to leave how God knows what creatures with libertarian freedom will do in the realm of mystery.” Somehow, I am not satisfied with this. It appears I need to awaken to the difficulties associated with your penetrating blog. Do you have any suggestions for further reading on this topic?

    • Roger Olson

      I doubt that you need to “awaken” to anything except that I embrace my inability to penetrate all the mysteries of God’s metaphysical attributes. My main concern is with God’s character which seems to me clearly revealed in Jesus.

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Did Adam have free will? No. Adam was created inferior to angelic spiritual powers (Ps 8:4-5). Neither Adam nor Eve could successfully resist the seduction of the serpent (Satan) in Eden. God had declared Adam and Eve to be “good” at their creation, but there is a big difference between “good” and “perfect.” Had they been perfect, they would have had perfect insight into the serpent’s devious suggestions and, thus, avoided the end results. Eve, when confronted by God, admitted her vulnerability, saying, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Gen 3:13).
    By way of contrast, a perfect being would not lack in any area of impression or expression. A perfect being would never be externally induced to imperfection. A perfect person could not be surprised or seduced, let alone die for his/her own sins. But that is exactly what happened to Adam and Eve.
    The biblical record makes clear that Adam was not God’s best, but just a phase preceding a new and better man. The good news is that while a perfect person cannot be deceived into imperfection; yet, an imperfect person can be conceived into perfection. This is precisely why the second Adam (Christ) came into the world — to give birth to a new and improved spiritual offspring, such as would ultimately be seated with him in the highest heavenly realms. Perfection at last!
    (Excerpted from the book, Dropping Hell and Embracing Grace, by Ivan A. Rogers. Available from Amazon.com)

  • Alan Rhoda

    Very nice essay, Roger. You’ve put your finger on a key internal tension within Molinism.

    While Molinism is *officially* committed to a libertarian view of creaturely freedom (and thus soft determinists like Ware are *not* Molinists, even if they co-opt the label), such a view of freedom requires that middle knowledge counterfactuals of actual creatures be explanatorily *posterior* to actual creaturely free choices. Thus, if Adam and Eve are free (in the libertarian sense) to eat or not eat the forbidden fruit, then it must not be fixed *independently* of their actual choices that IF they were to be placed in such-and-such circumstances that they would eat the forbidden fruit. For it the truth of that conditional were independently fixed, then they would have no say about whether it is true, and so couldn’t act so as to bring about its falsity. This means that they couldn’t do otherwise than eat the fruit in those circumstances, which in turn means that they weren’t free in a libertarian sense, contrary to hypothesis. Hence, the truth values of middle knowledge counterfactuals must be explanatorily *posterior* to actual creaturely free choices. But this is a huge problem for Molinism because the providential usefulness of middle knowledge is predicated on its being explanatorily *prior* to actual creaturely choices. That’s the only way it can inform God’s creative decree. So Molinism is internally inconsistent. Its alleged reconciliation of creaturely libertarian freedom and meticulous divine providence depends on both affirming and denying that the truth values of middle knowledge counterfactuals are explanatorily *posterior* to actual creaturely free choices.

    • Roger Olson

      I hope you won’t mind if I post your comment to my blog as a guest post. You express succinctly why I cannot affirm Molinism! I wish I’d said it. :)

    • Jacob

      Nice, Alan.

  • http://www.christianityboard.com/ Denver

    This perhaps only tangentially relates to your handling of Molinism here, but I’ve always found the argument about God’s choice to be the most convincing. Calvinism/Reformed (and even Molinistic) thought doesn’t really ever seem to fully address the notion that God indeed possessed the (fore)knowledge, yet perhaps made the choice not to orchestrate every single minute detail deterministically. (To me, the going assumption from that camp is that if God has the knowledge, he fully uses it in a logical anthropocentric manner.)

    I base this on the verses about God (the trinity) not changing. It’s difficult for a human to imagine one to have the exact same knowledge before, during and after the event because we have no conceptual basis for this. To play with your analogy, it would be as if you created the structure of the class, including the infamous book, with the knowledge that the class (universe) would result in that particular (bad pun intended, ha) student receiving a 59.734 final grade.

    Obviously, your creation of this class is predicated on more than just that one student. God would have similar concerns, but to the tune of ~6 billion souls, give or take a few just with the current iteration.

  • Roger Olson

    Thank you. I thought I posted your comment yesterday? I look forward to reading your response to Dekker.

  • http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/ Russ Slater

    If I understand Open Theism aright, it flatly states that the future of an indeterminate cosmos, and free will humanity, is always open, changeable and independent, or irrespective, of God’s foreknowledge. That God and His creation react to one another based upon relationship to one another rather than upon His foreknowledge of events. That this arrangement is based upon God’s divine decree when He created. That openness and freedom are the inherent structures upon which God created. Thus, if Arminius were alive today he would be an Open Theist.

    • Roger Olson

      I have often wondered about that. Obviously, the open theists (beginning with some Methodists in the 19th century) thought they were following out the logic of his belief in libertarian free will.

      • Bev Mitchell

        For a thumbnail sketch of the open theists (and likely open theists ) from 321 to 2000, search “open theism timeline” and download the list compiled by Thomas Lukashow dated April 2013. The pdf version is most convenient.

        • Roger Olson

          If it’s the one I looked at about a year ago I strongly suggested adding I. A. Dorner to it. I wonder if that has been done?

    • labreuer

      Something I’ve wondered is whether this merely means that God is happy with any of some subset of the possible futures, and that he’s happy for human creativity to choose from among them. One of the things you learn in modern physics is that there are conserved quantities—things that stay true, no matter what happens in particular. I see God’s promises along the same lines: those promises will be fulfilled no matter what happens in particular. This allows me to play with [what I think is] a flavor of Open Theism, but not in a way that damages my ability to trust God in the slightest.

      It strikes me that one reason for God to overemphasize his control of everything in the universe would be to assure people that he really is in ultimate control, and nothing can challenge him unless he permits it. I think we forget how important a lesson this was to the Jews and to the Greeks! I’ve been listening to Bertrand Russel’s A History of Western Philosophy and it’s intriguing how the Greeks and cultures around them struggled between determinism and luck (chance). Yahweh, I would say, actually allows for an alternative to determinism v. chance. Were this to be his purpose, it would explain all the talk about predestination and complete control that we find in the Bible.

  • Robert

    John asked:

    “I get a little confused in debates between Arminians and Molinists. Would those that believe that God exhaustively knows the entire future not say that God also knows what else could have happened in other circumstances?”

    Yes, God knows what will in fact happen as well as what could have happened had people chosen to do differently than they did in fact choose to act.

    John seems unwittingly to define freewill in an incoherent way. I say unwittingly as he (and many others make this same error) seems to provide a definition of free will that involves something that is impossible:

    “If freedom is the ability to do otherwise than one does”

    So many, many, many people make this mistake when it comes to free will. Free will does not mean that we have the ability to DO OTHERWISE THAN WE WILL IN FACT DO.

    To do otherwise than we will in fact do mean that’s we have the ability to actualize CONTRADICTIONS. And not only can we not do that, neither can God!

    Take a mundane example to show the problem with John’s suggested definition of free will. Tomorrow I am going to watch my daughter’s first soccer game of the season. Let’s assume that I am driving to that game (I am not getting a ride from someone else, I am not taking a helicopter, not using a jet pack, not hang gliding to the field, etc. etc.). Tomorrow I am either driving to that game or I am not. Let’s call what we actually end up doing in any given situation, an actual outcome. So tomorrow if I freely choose to drive to the field to watch the game then the actual outcome is that I will be driving to the game tomorrow. If free will actually meant the ability to DO OTHERWISE THAN ONE DOES: then I could both actually drive to the field tomorrow and at the same time and in the same circumstances not drive to the field tomorrow! But if I were to do both of those actions I would be actualizing a contradiction. The fact is, we cannot do otherwise THAN WE WILL IN FACT DO. Whatever we in fact do, is what will actually take place.

    So does that mean that free will as ordinarily understood cannot or does not exist? No. The key thing to keep in mind is to carefully consider WHEN free will exists. Does it exist AFTER we make the choice to do what we in fact end up doing? No. When does free will exist then? If it exists it must exist BEFORE we end up doing what end up doing. The ability to do otherwise which is an important element of free will exists before the actual outcome. Before I end up at the field for the game tomorrow I have a real choice if I am acting freely between getting into the car and turning the key and driving to the game or not getting into the car and turning the key and driving to the game. If I decide to go to the game then driving to the game will be the actual outcome, what will in fact take place. If I decide not to go to the game then not driving to the game will be the actual outcome. But I cannot do both of these things SIMULTANEOULSY which is what John’s mistaken definition of free will would require (I cannot if I am driving to the game do otherwise than that and not be driving to the game, and vice versa I cannot be not driving to the game and do otherwise and be driving to the game).

    Once we clear up this common error we also can understand how God can foreknow every future choice we make while we retain free will. This is true because God’s foreknowledge by its nature always involves God foreknowing WHAT WE WILL IN FACT DO. So if I choose to go to the game and drive
    to the game, since that is what I will in fact do, God foreknows that I will
    drive to the game. If instead I chose to not go to the game then that is what I
    will in fact do, God foreknows that I will not drive to the game.

    Whatever we will in fact do is what God will foreknow
    that we will do.

    And God can (and does) foreknow all of the future, all of those events (some involving our freely made choices) that will in fact take place. And our having free will does not require that we do otherwise than we will in fact do (because to do otherwise than we will in fact do is impossible, it would require our actualizing contradictions something God himself cannot even do). As John MISTAKENLY defines free will as *****the ability to do otherwise than you will in fact do*****, he then carries on with the logical consequences of this error and writes:

    ‘then God can’t actually know the entire future, for one would only have the
    ability to do what God sees one doing in the future. This includes God himself!
    God can only do what he sees himself doing in the future, thus removing all
    free will and submitting all actions to fatalistic necessity.”

    First the future that God foreknows consists of actions that will in fact take place (and that includes both our choices and actions as well as God’s choices and actions).

    Second, necessity is involved if we (or God) had to make these choices (some factors necessitated out actions so that it was impossible for us to choose differently than we ended up choosing).

    Third, we are not going to be doing otherwise than we will in fact be doing (that is impossible and logically incoherent). Whatever we in fact choose to do, God knows that we will do that (and that includes his own freely chosen actions as well).

    In this way free will and foreknowledge pose no challenge to each other. Free will only contradicts foreknowledge if it is wrongly defined as John does as meaning *****the ability to do otherwise than you will in fact do*****. The ability to do otherwise is sometimes present, but it is present BEFORE we make our choice when we have a choice between differing alternative possibilities. Once you make a particular choice, you cannot do otherwise than what you in fact choose to do. And whichever way you end up choosing, God foreknew what you would in fact end up choosing to do.

    Robert

  • James M. Henderson

    I thank you for your courageous defense of saying “I
    don’t know” regarding the mystery of divine foreknowledge. Western
    thinkers seem to think that such a response is a refusal to think, where I see
    the Western rage to create a perfect system to be hubris. I cannot add to the
    discussion as it is, but I would like to ask a couple of questions. While I
    understand the development of the Western tendency to equate knowledge with
    causation, where “knowing” something causes it to spring into being, I wonder
    why non-Calvinists feel the need to continue to affirm this. If I watch two cars
    sliding across the ice on particular vectors, I have not then caused the crash.
    The issue seems to be how Eriugena conceived divine knowledge as an act.

    I also wonder why a belief that God delegated some of his sovereignty
    to us (in granting “dominion” and “rule” to Adam as male and female) is so
    roundly opposed when it seems a legitimate understanding of the text of
    Genesis. I am queasy with the idea of God’s self-limitation, but Micheal Sarot’s
    idea of divine “self-restraint” seems biblical and orthodox. Is there something
    in Arminian thought that would preclude either restructuring our thought about “knowledge” or accepting delegation or “self-restraint” as an orthodox view?

    • Roger Olson

      Not in MY Arminian thought! Whenever I talk about God’s self-limitation I mean “self-restraint.” He does not exercise all the power he has. And I agree that knowing does not mean causing. I actually once did watch a head on collision and knew it was going to happen before it happened. I was standing at a window of an upper story of a building watching two cars–one coming up and around a curving driveway into the parking lot and the other exiting the parking lot going the opposite direction. A large evergreen tree stood between them beside the curve of the driveway so that they could not see each other. At the speed both were going their head on collision was inevitable, even necessary. My knowing it was about to happen had nothing to do with it happening.

      • James M. Henderson

        So, we seem to be going in circles because 1) the Enlightenment presupposes Ockham’s view of free will, and 2) the Calvinists have set the parameters of the debate (?). Do you discuss divine self-restraint in one of your works? If so, I have missed it and would like to read your view. BTW, my students find your *Story* and *Mosaic* very helpful in understanding how these categories came to be and how to evaluate them theologically.

        • Roger Olson

          I haven’t discussed it in any of my books–except in the chapter on I. A. Dorner in the forthcoming The Journey of Modern Theology. So far I find myself most in agreement with his view although he preferred “self-actualization of God” to “self-limitation” of God and opposed kenotic Christology. I disagree with his Christology, but his overall view of God and the world I agree with. God relates to the world he has created in such a way that it makes a difference to him. I have discussed this some in the essay “The Relational Sovereignty of God” that I posted here a few months ago.

          • James M. Henderson

            Thanks. I look forward to reading them. I do feel a need to avoid any kind of pantheism as we try to shake off the more pagan idea that God does not interact with his creation. I was very impressed with Sarot, but I have not found much by way of dialog with his view (“self-restraint”). It also fits what I think is the original “covenant” granting dominion and rule to humanity. This could also support a “warfare” theodicy such as Boyd’s.

    • Robert

      Hello James,

      “I thank you for your courageous defense of saying “I don’t know” regarding the mystery of divine foreknowledge. Western thinkers seem to think that such a response is a refusal to think, where I see the Western rage to create a perfect system to be hubris.”

      I was sitting one day on a couch talking to probably the most intelligent person that I have ever met (the fellow has PH.D in both theology
      and science) in a casual discussion. The topic of HOW God acts in the world came up and my friend remarked that we know THAT God acts in the world but we are completely clueless as to HOW this action takes place. That is when it hit me regarding fully understanding God. From that day on I have made a distinction between THAT and HOW. With many issues regarding God we know THAT but not HOW.

      We know THAT God knows all things including the future as this is clearly
      revealed in the Bible which is His revelation (and yet we do not know HOW God knows the future, nor do we even know HOW God knows the past or present, he does not have a brain or sense organs as we do, HOW does a pure spirit know? We do not know). We know THAT God acts in the world and yet we do not know HOW this occurs. At this point it seems to be common sense to me that we have to be content with knowing THAT rather than HOW when it comes to God. And where is
      the problem in acknowledging this reality??

      James you also wrote:

      “I also wonder why a belief that God delegated some of his sovereignty
      to us (in granting “dominion” and “rule” to Adam as male and female) is so
      roundly opposed when it seems a legitimate understanding of the text of
      Genesis. I am queasy with the idea of God’s self-limitation, but Micheal
      Sarot’s idea of divine “self-restraint” seems biblical and orthodox. Is there
      something in Arminian thought that would preclude either restructuring our
      thought about “knowledge” or accepting delegation or “self-restraint” as an
      orthodox view?”

      I don’t care whether one calls it “self-restraint” or “self-limitation”
      or whatever one prefers. The concept is that God is not acting with full power at all times especially in his interactions with us.

      This came home to me clearly one day when I was wrestling
      with my daughter. At the time she was 4 yrs. Old and much smaller physically than me (I am 6 ft. 4 inches tall weigh about 230 have played sports for years, worked out with weights for years and at black belt level in the martial arts). Put simply I had to restrain myself when interacting with her: if I had gone all out and exercised full power I would have killed her or seriously injured her. It occurred to me that that is just a power difference between two human persons.

      Imagine how much more the disparity is with God compared
      to an individual human person??

      The same one who created the universe out of nothing and maintains everything in existence has to be holding back his power when interacting with us or we would not survive! Anyone who denies that God is in
      some way “holding back” in the exercise of his power has not thought things through carefully enough. It came to me clearly when I made the comparison between my own self-restraint and my daughter versus the self- restraint that God must be engaging in in his dealings with us.

      Robert

      • James M. Henderson

        Robert, the difference between That and How seems like a very useful distinction. Thanks. I do think that some will deny that God acts with full power. I imagine that they will object that God’s sovereignty is always manifested in full, but in ways appropriate to the situation. I do not see this as very different from what you assert, but it will preserve (for them, perhaps) the (pagan) idea that God exists in a crystalline perfection of non-movement.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X