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Tonight: Tim Stratton debates Calvinist juggernaut James White

Here are the details of the debate:

Is Molinism Biblical? Christian apologists James White and Tim Stratton tackle an increasingly debated question in the Church today.

Okay, you may not know what Molinism is or why it matters. Well, the old-fashioned debates within Christianity around free will (say, Reformed vs. Arminianism) are at the heart of this debate. Do all things come to pass because God has decreed them? Or does God possess counterfactual (middle) knowledge of what would happen in a variety of possible worlds? This question gets to the heart of God’s sovereignty, how it is applied, and whether God, for example, ends up being the “author of evil.” Few would ever want to deny God’s sovereignty. But how does that square with man’s free will? Doesn’t something have to give? Molinism seems to be a creative response to this problem. But does it square with the Bible? James White is a Reformed Baptist who holds to the traditional Calvinist/Reformed position of God’s sovereignty. Tim Stratton holds to the Molinist position and recently received his Ph.D on this topic. Both men will bring their best to this important conversation.

The debate is Friday February 11th at 7 PM Central time, which is 8 PM Eastern, and 5 PM Pacific. You can join the live stream 15 minutes early, it’s here:

Dr, Stratton has a new book out on this issue, published with a prestigious academic press. But you won’t have time to read that before the debate, so I found you a brand new post by Tyson James.

He writes:

Christian thinkers who affirm both that God is sovereign over all of creation and that humans have freedom sufficient for moral responsibility draw support from various biblical passages…

However, the Bible doesn’t really spell out for us the relationship between these two affirmations. What we want to know is how these puzzle pieces can fit together. Many explanations have been proposed, but, according to some of the most acclaimed Christian thinkers today, the most promising one was formulated by a Jesuit monk named Luis de Molina in the late 1500s.[1]

Molina’s idea was rather simple: God knew prior to creation that he could create free creatures, that is, creatures who could make choices which would not simply be the necessary outcome of preceding factors. In addition to knowing he could create free creatures, God knew prior to his decision to create what those creatures would freely do in whatever circumstance he could place them. Molina called this middle knowledge because it is situated between God’s knowledge of what could be and what will be. With this knowledge, God could incorporate creatures’ free choices into his exhaustive planning of history, thus preserving complete divine sovereignty and the creaturely freedom necessary for moral responsibility.

I do think this Bible passage is related to the view he outlined above:

Acts 17:24-27

24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,

25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,

27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,

In that passage, God is using his power to create to place his creatures in the times and places where they will freely respond to his drawing them to him. If they resist his drawing, they are responsible. But he is doing all the work of drawing them.

Tyson lists out a bunch of theological problems that are fully or partially resolved if Molinism is true: the problem of evil, doctrine of inspiration, fate of the unevangelized, perseverance of the saints, etc.

If you have read articles on the Reasonable Faith web site, then you’ll have read some of these before, like this one on inspiration. Or this one on the fate of the unevangelized. I’m so old now, that I remember reading both of those when I was an undergraduate student! I’m sure some of you reading got through college by reading articles like this.

Anyway, if you like to debate, Tyson’s article is filled with useful answers, like this:

“If God already knows what I’m going to choose, doesn’t that mean I have to choose it? That doesn’t sound like free will.”

This statement confuses certainty (a psychological state) with necessity (a property of propositions, or the way something exists or occurs). God knows and is certain about what we would or will choose, but our choices themselves are contingent. That is, they are not necessitated by prior factors. We don’t have to choose what we will choose, but God is certain about what choices we will (or would) choose.

I was asked this by a co-worker named Sean in my first job. I was 23 years old. Sean had a PhD in computer science from Northwestern, and I still defeated him on this, using an answer like Tyson’s.

Here’s one that James White is SURE to ask, because he asks it in all of his videos:

“On Molinism, it seems like God’s knowledge is based on creatures, which means he’s depending on something other than himself for something he knows. Doesn’t that mean he’s not sovereign?”

This statement assumes that the way God knows our free choices is by looking at creatures and seeing what choices they would or will make. We call this a perceptual view of divine knowledge. But since God knows our choices even prior to our existing, there’s simply nothing for him to “look” at in order to discover this information. Instead, it’s better to think of God’s knowing these things as purely mental: God perfectly conceives in his mind the creatures he can create and what they would or will freely choose. We call this a conceptual view of divine knowledge.

If you think you’d like to learn how to think about this issue, then tune into the debate. I think White is a tough opponent, an exceptional debater, and excellent on church history, theology and politics. But I’ll be cheering for Stratton.

14 thoughts on “Tonight: Tim Stratton debates Calvinist juggernaut James White”

  1. “The Only Wise God” by William Lane Craig (1999) is a good read on Molinism, but there is fresher material out there too.

    Please provide your review of this debate for those who are predestined to miss it. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! Your reviews are second to none and always have been.

        Even your non-snarky reviews.

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  2. I also see the fact that God has spiritual beings such as angels that he chooses to use to fulfil his purpose. Along with we as humans are given responsibility to do things for God

    It seems to please God to have freely created beings doing things for him and taking part in caring for his creation. It is the family idea where we are called sons of God reflecting we will be asked of God to rightly care for things as we are assigned

    I fail to see in the molinist Calvinist case a true sovereign issue as God could choose to do anything. He could annihilated all wicked people and spiritual beings at any point but he has a plan and chooses to do things in his time.

    I find the full Calvinist plans tend to to no recognize God delights in his creation and in having them do things for him.

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  3. I will try to catch this debate when I get time as when I did most by study you were in an Armenian to Calvinist spectrum. Molinism was not known really.

    Though I have never talked to many five point Calvinists so those debates even had room to move in what people believed

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  4. Sorry for the early comment, but Stratton delivered a brilliant and total knock out punch in his opening statement.

    White then got up there and said that Stratton had merely attacked Calvinism, but in fact, Stratton provided syllogisms with Biblical evidence to prove that Molinism is true or could be true. Stratton further pointed out that if White was correct, atheists have justification for rejecting God on the problem of evil. I think he’s correct. So while Stratton did do a mild attack on Calvinism, he provided a set of positive arguments for Molinism. White’s excuse for misrepresenting Stratton was that Stratton’s font size was too small. Yuck.

    I found White’s misrepresentation of Stratton’s opening arguments to be deceptive and off putting. But maybe that’s allowed with the Calvinist “god?” I also found White’s choice of words to be a deceptive attack on a strawman.

    So, I guess I’m firm in rejecting Calvinism tonight. Or God has predestined me to do so. This wasn’t a close debate, IMHO, but I haven’t watched it all yet.

    Stratton is a genius.

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    1. I’m interested in a review of this, especially given WGC’s comment above. I watched JW and WLC discuss (not debate!) Molinism and Calvinism on Unbelievable? back in December, and found James White really wasn’t convincing in his attacks on Molinism. It really seemed to come down to Molina was a Jesuit, and therefore Molinism must be wrong and intended to destroy the Reformation. That’s overly simplistic, but he really showed an antipathy toward it that bordered on (if not outright dove into) the genetic fallacy. It was an odd discussion, and while I generally like JW and his apologetics, he really seemed to come up flat against WLC, who I think admirably defended Molinism.

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      1. I agree with you, and I would guess that WK is very busy putting together a brilliant summary that backs us up on this, LOL!

        I’m not a big fan of people using the genetic fallacy, since it could easily apply to me too, in my conversion from atheism to Christ. Besides, the famous verse on God choosing the time and place of our earthly existence not only counters this, but is a pretty great Molinist verse too!

        Joan of Arc was Catholic, but can we not agree that this peasant girl completely outclassed and theologically embarrassed her execution sentencer, the Bishop of Cauchon? Irena Sendler was Catholic, but can we not marvel at her heroism in rescuing some 2500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto, out from under the noses of the Nazis? We don’t have to become Catholic to be inspired by these three, or Methodist because we are inspired by Wilberforce and the Wesley brothers. Can we not appreciate the Kalam Cosmological Argument even though its originator was Muslim?

        Besides, on Calvinism, God just predestined Molina to be Jesuit, and Joan and Irena to be Catholic.

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        1. Agreed, serious theological error notwithstanding, the proverbial stopped clock is still right twice a day. We may believe that Catholicism is committed to very serious and damnable heresy (idolatry of Mary and practice and worship of the Eucharist being high on the list), but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong about everything theological, nor do their theologians always err in their theological developments.

          I think the main difference is that the philosophical developments for the faithful Protestant must be in complete accord with the Scriptures and that is the fundamental authority by which we judge all doctrines and teachings (and I think WLC faithfully sticks to this principle, including with Molinism). Catholics on the other hand, have their magesterium and traditions by which they judge everything, so the development of unscriptural doctrines does have a well-established and easily verifiable history in their church. So from that perspective, I can understand JW being automatically suspicious of any theological development from a Catholic, and a Jesuit in particular, but if it accords with the Scriptures, well what’s the problem?

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          1. Yes, it might be added that Molina died in 1600, and we might make the argument that the Catholic faith was somewhat better then. Even 100 years ago, Catholics were not nearly as “different” from Protestants as they are today. They read their Bibles and participated in missionary experiences – Maria von Trapp is a good example of this. I’m NOT making an argument for Catholicism in any way, just pointing out that it has gone through a lot, especially the blasphemous Marian deification that began in the late 1800’s, when lots of cults were abounding.

            Molina got into some trouble too for his philosophical renderings that we now know as Molinism. James White should take notice of that. The irony is that Molinism does not give up anything in regard to God’s Sovereignty, as compared with Calvinism – it just makes a way for limited free will to be … free. That’s why in Stratton’s excellent syllogism, Premise 2 was one that both debaters should have agreed upon. I’m not sure if they did or not. I was pretty put off by JW.

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      2. Tim made a good case during opening. White was unable to address it properly and then the cross examination was not good for Tim because he was overly excited and not focused. Tim’s closing was good, but the audience poll showed that Jane’s win the debate.

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        1. Awful news! I guess I should have watched past the opening statements.

          Well, Stratton may have lost the debate, but Molinism still defeats Calvinism.

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