Tag Archives: Wesleyan

Stan’s concerns about the middle knowledge argument

In this post at Birds of the Air.

Excerpt:

There are multiple problems in my mind. There is what is known as the grounding objection. This argument sees a problem with what are called “counterfactuals”, that whole list of contingencies that God sees. If they never happen, on what basis can they be considered true? If they never occur, how are they real? In fact, if they’re based on the freedom of the creature, how can they be true without limiting the freedom of the creature? Yeah, yeah, whatever. The thing that disturbs me the most is that it undermines God’s Sovereignty. The Bible claims that God is the only Sovereign. In Middle Knowledge we have a contingent God. All of Middle Knowledge is based on what the creature will or won’t choose and what God can do with it. God, then, is limited to what His creatures will or won’t do. Let’s say, for instance, that God would like to save Ted. Going further, let’s say that there could be one circumstance that would cause Ted to choose Christ (all big assumptions, but just follow along). However, that one circumstance required that Bob would make a free will choice … that Bob won’t make. Poor Ted. God had it all figured out how to save him, but Bob wouldn’t make the right choice, so Ted is doomed.

Of course, I have other big problems with Middle Knowledge. There is the fundamental assumption that God cannot under any circumstances interfere in Man’s Free Will. Where this notion comes from is completely beyond me. There is the further fundamental belief that if God does certain things, some humans will choose Him. The Bible depicts humans as dead in sin (just for starters). Under what possible set of circumstances would God be able to get this dead person to properly respond to Him? If “The Natural Man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned”, what possible scenario could God scare up to make him accept the things of the Spirit of God?

The grounding objection is the only one that worries me. Stan is awesome to read because he always tells the truth about the views that he rejects. He knows both sides of issues equally well.

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Response from a Calvinist

MUST-READ: William Lane Craig discusses Calvinism and the problem of evil

This is an answer to a question of the week from his Reasonable Faith web site.

Here’s the question:

Dr. Craig,

I am troubled at the mass amount of Calvinists I see who are incredibly intelligent and trustworthy christian leaders. What I mean is that, So many seem to be capable of great analysis (far beyond myself), but seem to stick their head in the sand when it comes to the problem of evil. If they don’t, then they tend to make God a self-contradicting being. Why do you think this is so?

I’m also personally troubled at how few leaders I see subscribing to Molinism. It seems to me that it answers the most questions and creates the least problems. I understand it can be complex, but I wouldn’t think we would just rest with the problem of evil not being satisfied. I don’t base what I believe on the beliefs of others, but we can’t ignore the influence others have in our lives, or the desire to have a home with others when it comes to these thoughts.

Anyway, I would enjoy your thoughts… as I always do.

Thanks,

Gordon

And here’s the first part of the answer:

I think you’re right, Gordon, that a great many intelligent and godly Christian leaders are Reformed, or followers of John Calvin, in their theology. I’m currently participating in a four-views book on divine providence along with a pair of Reformed theologians. It is evident from their contributions that, despite the intellectual puzzles raised by the Reformed view, they both embrace it because they are convinced that it most faithfully represents the teaching of Scripture on the subject, Scripture being the only authoritative rule of faith.

Actually, I have no problem with certain classic statements of the Reformed view. For example, the Westminster Confession (Sect. III) declares that

God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

Now this is precisely what the Molinist believes! The Confession affirms God’s preordination of everything that comes to pass as well as the liberty and contingency of the creaturely will, so that God is not the author of sin. It is a tragedy that in rejecting middle knowledge Reformed divines have cut themselves off from the most perspicuous explanation of the coherence of this wonderful confession.

By rejecting a doctrine of divine providence based on God’s middle knowledge, Reformed theologians are simply self-confessedly left with a mystery. The great 17th century Reformed theologian Francis Turretin held that a careful analysis of Scripture leads to two indubitable conclusions, both of which must be held in tension without compromising either one:

that God on the one hand by his providence not only decreed, but most certainly secures, the event of all things, whether free or contingent; on the other hand, however, man is always free in acting and many effects are contingent. Although I cannot understand how these can be mutually connected together, yet (on account of ignorance of the mode) the thing itself is (which is certain from another source, i.e., from the Word) not either to be called in question or wholly denied (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1: 512).

Here Turretin affirms without compromise both the sovereignty of God and human freedom and contingency; he just doesn’t know how to put them together. Molinism offers a solution. By rejecting that solution, the Reformed theologian is left with a mystery.

Craig levels 5 challenges against Calvinism:

  • Universal, divine, causal determinism cannot offer a coherent interpretation of Scripture.
  • Universal causal determinism cannot be rationally affirmed.
  • Universal, divine, determinism makes God the author of sin and precludes human responsibility.
  • Universal, divine, determinism nullifies human agency.
  • Universal, divine determinism makes reality into a farce.

Read the rest here. It’s worth it. (Registration is not required, as far as I can tell)

All of my readers should try to make themselves familiar with Molinism (i.e. – middle knowledge). I have friends who are Calvinists and I think it helps to be able to explain to non-Christians how God can be sovereign over all of the universe from the beginning of time, and yet man can still be responsible for freely choosing to rebel against God.

I think every Christian feels that God was tugging them toward him to some degree or other, and that they had no free choice to resist him. And on Molinism, there was no other way it could be. God chose a universe in which he knew that you would freely respond to his drawing you toward him. He was not surprised – he knew. There was no rolling of the dice – he chose to save you before the universe was created. But not in violation of your free will to respond to his salvific initiative. He chose you, and he gave you what you needed to respond to his drawing you to him.

Seriously folks – the middle knowledge view solves the problem of divine sovereignty and human freedom a lot better than Calvinism does. You can keep your Calvinism if you like it, but it sure helps to know the Molinist view if you are talking to atheists who want an answer. Just phrase it as a possible answer to the problem, if you don’t believe it. At least survey the possible views for non-Christians so they see it as a possibility.

Related posts

Response from a Calvinist

Choosing my religion: why I am not a Calvinist

I’ve decided to spend some time writing extremely short explanations about why I am an evangelical Protestant Christian instead of anything else.

I have two aims.

First, I want show how an honest person can evaluate rival religions using the laws of logic, scientific evidence and historical evidence. Second, I want people who are not religious to understand that religions are either true or it is false. Religions should not be chosen based where you were born, what your parents believed, or what resonates with you. A religion should be embraced for the same reason as the theory of gravity is embraced: because it reflects the way the world really is.

Why I am not a Calvinist

  1. Calvinism requires the doctrines total depravity, unconditional election and irresistible grace.
  2. Humans cannot choose to love God unless God “regenerates” them first.
  3. God alone decides whether he will regenerate each person.
  4. Regeneration is not conditional on anything that a person does.
  5. People are not responsible for whether God chooses to regenerate them.
  6. If God does not regenerate a person, then they go to Hell for eternity.
  7. God arbitrarily and unilaterally regenerates some people but not others.
  8. Therefore, God creates and pre-destines some people to Hell.

For reference, check out the TULIP formulation of Calvinism.

I am not saying that Calvinism is necessarily WRONG, I am just explaining why I am not a Calvinist. Calvinists are typically incredibly smart people, and many of them are at the forefront of evangelism and apologetics. I am not saying that Calvinists are bad people, just that I have a reason for not being one. I hope that my Calvinist readers will not be too angry with me for disagreeing with them on theology. I will try not to test your patience too often like this.

What are the differences between Wesleyan Arminianism and Calvinism?

Time for a little in house debate between Protestants in preparation for my dangerous posts on “Why I am not a Catholic” and “Why I am not a Calvinist”, which will lose me 90% of my Christian readers. Sigh. I don’t want to lose any readers, but I like to be me!

Anyway…

I spotted this article over on Birds of the Air blog. (H/T Neil Simpson)

Excerpt:

Classical Wesleyan Arminianism:

1. Humans are naturally unable to make any effort towards salvation
2. Salvation is possible by grace alone
3. Works of human effort cannot cause or contribute to salvation
4. God’s election is conditional on faith in Jesus
5. Jesus’ atonement was for all people
6. God allows his grace to be resisted by those unwilling to believe
7. Salvation can be lost, as continued salvation is conditional upon continued faith

Standard Calvinism:

1. Total Depravity – After the Fall, human will was given over to sin and is as if it were dead, so that without being “awakened” by the Holy Spirit (the initiator) a human is unable to choose to be saved.
2. Unconditional Election – God’s choice was not determined by anything ever done or to be done by a human; it is a free gift not earned by merit. Under this view, God is the initiator of salvation.
3. Particular Redemption (AKA Limited Atonement) – The blood of Christ was a substitution for the penalty of sin, and was effectual for the forgiveness of sins. Therefore, it not only secures but guarantees salvation.
4. The Efficacious Call of the Holy Spirit (AKA Irresistible Grace) – The outward call to salvation is made to all, but the Holy Spirit also places an inward call in the hearts of those who are elected for salvation. The outward call can (and often is) resisted, but the inward call is more powerful than human willpower. The Holy Spirit causes the sinner to respond in faith.
5. Perseverance of the Saints – The Holy Spirit will keep the believer secured in faith in Christ to the end.

I am basically in agreement with the Classical Arminian view, and I would accept the following points of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Definite Atonement. I totally disagree with Irresistible Grace. Perseverance of the Saints is fine, except for people who literally reject their former faith. I.e. – you can’t lose your salvation by committing sins X,Y and Z. I am a 3.99 point Calvinist.

For my non-Christian readers who struggle with understanding why you are assumed to be in rebellion, ask yourself how much of your busy lives you have spent trying sincerely to decide whether God is really there by watching debates, making friends with Christians, visiting church, reading the Bible, praying test prayers, etc. Before God starts to work on you, you are in full flight away from God. That’s just the way it is.

When you are at the point of inventing an infinite number of universes to explain the fine-tuning, you’ll know what I am talking about. For every 100 non-Christians who starts to make that speculative multiverse reply to the fine-tuning argument, maybe 1 of you closes his mouth and says “ENOUGH”.

The doctrine of middle knowledge

And I think Wesleyans like me can recover an extremely robust view of divine sovereignty by invoking the doctrine of middle knowledge. This is the view that God can foresee what any individual will do in any set of circumstances (counterfactuals of creaturely freedom). And he uses this middle knowledge to actualize a world in which everyone who can freely choose to be respond to God’s saving initiative will be placed in the exact time and place where they would freely respond.

Consider Paul’s defense in Athens on Mars Hill: (in Acts 17:22-31)

22Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

24“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. 30In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

I’ve actually stood on Mars Hill, so this is a special, special passage for me.

Without God’s actualization of the conditions needed to save each individual person, no one could be saved. And it’s more than just the time and place, God has to individually reveal just the right amount of himself to the person in that time, so that they have the choice to respond without being coerced. So you have unilateral salvation initiated by God, but man is still responsible for rejecting God. It’s PERFECT!

If you haven’t heard of middle knowledge, I highly recommend that you take a look at it. It solves the problem of reconciling divine foreknowledge, free will and human responsibility. It’s kind of new though, so you may not have heard about it unless you are into philosophy of religion research. I went to a Wheaton Philosophy conference which had the Calvinist Paul Helm of Oxford University as the main speaker. He plowed, but the consensus among the audience (90% in the people I surveyed and judging from audience questions) was that middle knowledge was the correct solution to these thorny problems.

Further study

I have to mention this post on Between Two Worlds linked by Muddling Towards Maturity. This has to do with the scope of the atonement.

For whom did Christ Die?

Michael Bird posts three short entries by three different scholars regarding the intent and extent of the atonement:

My guy in the race is my favorite historian, Ben Witherington, but I’m not familiar with Jensen. Witherington is highly qualified scholar who is respected and endorsed across the spectrum. He is an evangelical.

I’ll be posting something about the atonement later this week.