Monday, April 24, 2017

The Flexibility of Middle Knowledge

Middle knowledge is, roughly, the thesis that God has knowledge of what his free creatures would freely do in any set of freedom-permitting circumstances in which they might find themselves, and this knowledge is pre-volitional; that is to say, it comes logically prior to God’s decree to create the world, so that God is not causing them to do it. This doctrine is most often found in the context of Molinism, but there are many Molinists who are all over the theological spectrum when it comes to various topics, including soteriology (the study of salvation). There are Arminian-Molinists and Calvinist-Molinists, interestingly. It is my brief burden to show that middle knowledge can be applied not only to more Arminian-leaning teachings (of libertarian free will, for example), but also some Calvinist teachings (though there are obviously some that are off-limits for the Molinist—for just one, divine causal determinism being compatible with free actions).

First, middle knowledge is compatible with regeneration preceding faith.

One of the classic debates in soteriology is whether regeneration comes as a result of faith, or faith comes as a result of regeneration. On the former, proponents emphasize that God saves only because the person responds; a person who has not responded is not regenerate. On the latter, advocates contend that only a regenerate person can respond, so that it is necessary for faith in the first place. Which is right? For middle knowledge proponents, it may not matter. Suppose God uses his middle knowledge, logically prior to his decree, and knows each and every person who would freely place their trust in him if given a new heart. Suppose also, for the sake of argument, that regeneration prior to faith is necessary. God could then regenerate just these persons who would then libertarianly come to him. What about irresistible grace? The Synod of Dordt does seem to make this difficult. Hey, I didn’t say you’d fit in at Presbyterian potlucks!

Second, middle knowledge is compatible with limited atonement.

This may surprise some people, again, especially since very few Molinists accept limited atonement. Limited atonement is the thesis that Christ died for all of the sins of a specific group of people, all of whom will be saved (nearly word-for-word from Dr. John Hammett’s definition). The issue again is the same: God could use his middle knowledge to know precisely which people would believe in appropriate divinely selected circumstances, and only have Christ’s death atone for these sins.

Third, middle knowledge is compatible with unconditional election.

This is, admittedly, fudging a little. That is to say, you might have to ignore a pretty major definition of unconditional election that most Calvinists use ubiquitously. Instead, you’ll have to view unconditional election more along the lines of God getting the precise set of the saved that he wants. A better way to comport with the Westminster Confession’s definition is to emphasize God’s sovereign choice and omnipotence. So, suppose God can work circumstances such that anyone can freely (in the libertarian sense) come to him (say, because regeneration infallibly works to produce a new heart, and that new heart will always libertarianly choose God); in this case, God isn’t decreeing that the set of the saved will be so because of foreseen faith; indeed, they will have faith because they were chosen to be redeemed (it just so happens redemption always accomplishes this libertarian goal non-causally). In that case, you still have an unconditional election of sorts.

What does this all mean? Does it mean I’m a Calvinist now? No. In fact, I still reject these Calvinist teachings myself. My point is two-fold: 1. Sometimes the reasons people have for rejecting middle knowledge are not as good as they think they are; middle knowledge is flexible! 2. This means the debate on these Calvinist doctrines lies along lines not identical to middle knowledge. In other words, I believe God’s giving a well-meant offer precludes limited atonement (as well as the biblical evidence); I believe if God would have a world similar to this one in which everyone would freely be saved, then that’s the world we would have, etc. Something to think about!

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