Sunday, October 5, 2014

Right in the Middle

One of my friends used to say to me, “How does it feel to ride the fence on everything?” He was only kidding, but the idea was I seemed to be in the middle on many theological debates and positions. In my philosophy group the other day, we were discussing what it means to hold middling positions, and if this is a good thing. It does seem to be a good thing to be in the middle of two theological extremes. But why is this the case? And is it even correct? What do I even mean by this?

To see some examples, consider: Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Many Baptists prefer neither label, but instead embrace some middling position (I myself prefer Molinism). God’s sovereignty vs. man’s free will. Trichotomy vs. dichotomy. The list goes on. I could explain in interesting ways (well, interesting to me anyway) how and why I appropriate middling positions. But the question is why does there seem to be some kind of epistemic virtue in affirming a “balanced” position?

I think that this is, in general, epistemically virtuous (if there is such a thing) in light of the fact that these middling positions typically capture commonly shared intuitions from both sides of the spectrum. One of the reasons major debates in Christian theology continue, seemingly unresolved, for centuries is due to the fact that they say things that are plausible; virtually no one would want to sign on to some position for which there was no plausibility. I think there’s some truth to most of the major positions on the major issues in Christian doctrine. If that’s true, then it’s worth it to capture the truth within these positions and see what coherently fits together. But it’s this point that brings up two warnings: first, simply because something seems to be in the middle of two positions, it doesn’t always follow this position is correct. Always use standard truth-gaining methods! Second, if you lean to one extreme or the other, take extra care to ensure that this position is necessary for a correct understanding of the truth. Otherwise, you may just be a theological extremist, married more to the idea you’re defending than the truth of Christianity and doctrine! What other tips or pointers/comments do you guys have?


  1. Moderation (nicomachean) works between two equal opposites. But they must fit that qualification. I could see that in predestination and free will.
    But DICOTOMY vs tricotomy is not a logic mediation. First of all there is also monism and an infinite plurality of compositions.
    A false mediation today is man's Word vs God's Word. Because God is objective while man is not.

    1. Hi Matt; I'm not saying that two positions must exhaust the logical possibilities, but rather that the two positions must be relevantly different from one another. Gaining a middle position, then, is something that takes elements from both positions such that the new position is something like each of the other two, but is not identical to the other two. This is accomplished, I think, by capturing intuitions or beliefs shared between the two positions. With respect to a dichotomy/trichotomy view, for example, one may highlight the trichotomist's belief that the soul and spirit are not identical, while also highlighting the dichotomist's belief that the "fundamental" being of man is material and immaterial. Now, while it's true that there are either two parts or three in fundamental, the position as described is still mediating, since it could in principle acknowledge that the soul and spirit are not identical faculties (any more than, say, a thumb and a toe are identical), but sub-items on the overall menu. Anyway, the overall point is just that, if one can (biblically, theologically, and philosophically), there's certainly something to finding a middle position by taking common intuitions/beliefs and coherently forming a new position, not quite identical to either of the others. :)


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