Calminianism

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Craig Blomberg recently announced that he's a Calminian, which turns out to be a Molinist with a creative new name. Molinism is a mediating position between open theism and Calvinism. Calvinists believe that God knows the future because God has planned it all out in a way that God's initiative leads to everything that happens in some sense. Open theists believe that God doesn't know everything that will happen, because human free choices are unpredictable. Molinism is an attempt to retain the libertarian freedom whereby we can choose things in a way that nothing (or nothing outside us) causes those choices, God included, while insisting that God can still predict what we'll do.

God knows what we will do because God has what philosophers call middle knowledge. God knows what any free being would do under any circumstance. So God knows what I would have been doing right now if I had chosen to apply to graduate school in my senior year instead of a year later, because he knows what all the free choices of every person in the world would have been in that scenario and can trace out what they all would have done in the time since. The way God remains sovereign is that God can arrange events in such a way that people will freely choose the things God intends them to choose. So the degree of control God possesses is as strong as Calvinists think, but the causal relationship between God and the choice is much weaker.

Molinism can't work, because it fails in one key aspect. It assumes certain kinds of truths that can't exist if we have libertarian freedom. Libertarianism requires a genuine possibility of doing any of multiple options. If there's a fact about what I'll do in certain situations, then I don't have libertarian freedom. Philosophers call these facts about what I'll do in a certain situation counterfactuals of freedom. According to Molinism, there'a a counterfactual of freedom for any possible scenario. That means there's a truth of what I would do in any situation. The question is what explains why these counterfactuals are true. It can't be any facts about the world as it exists now or in the past, because then I would be caused to act in a way that libertarians deny. It can't be facts about the future, because free choices aren't explained by backward causation. If there's any fact that explains the truth of these counterfactuals, then it threatens predetermination, and we're left without libertarian freedom. So to preserve libertarian freedom, we'd have to deny that there's anything that makes these counterfactuals of freedom true. Nothing at all explains why there are such counterfactual truths. But if nothing explains why they would be true, then there must not be any true such counterfactuals. So middle knowledge is impossible if libertarianism is true.

Now I don't think libertarianism is true. I don't think freedom requires this absolute power to do something contrary to what we actually do. Libertarians insist that our choices can't be explained by any events within us, but I think freedom makes no sense unless our character and internal nature lead to our choices. When I want my choices to be free, what I want is for my own desires and character to lead to what I do in the right sort of way. So freedom doesn't conflict with being caused. It requires it. This compatibilism about freedom and predetermination is exactly what Calvinists have long insisted on. A Calvinist has no problem accepting middle knowledge, also. God certainly does know what free human beings would do when faced with any particular situation, so God knows what I would do in any alternative situation from what I actually do face. Middle knowledge isn't incoherent. It's just incompatible with libertarian views of human freedom. Thus it doesn't rescue exhaustive foreknowledge and libertarian freedom in the way Molinists want it to.

So that's the view that Craig says he's adopting when he says he's a Calminian, and that's why I don't think it really does what it's supposed to do. But there are several things he goes on to say that don't make any sense to me.

His opening argument strikes me as way too quick. He says:

If either pure five-point Calvinism or its consistent repudiation in pure Arminianism were completely faithful to Scripture, it is doubtful that so many Bible-believing, godly evangelical Christians would have wound up on each side.

It's certainly possible for something to be completely faithful to scripture and there to be an alternative view that a lot of people derive from scripture anyway. If any view is scriptural on which there's a lot of disagreement, then this sort of situation will follow. So the fact that people do disagree doesn't mean that both sides are right in some aspects and wrong in others.

Craig has a carefully thought-out view on the gift of tongues and how it works out in the church today. I know this because I've read his I Corinthians commentary, where he explains his views on that matter. He also has a considered view on when divorce is appropriate for Christians, which he also explains in that same commentary. But many Bible-believing, godly evangelical Christians have wound up holding different positions on those issues too. That doesn't mean you can select any two views among the possible views and then find some view in between and decide that the in-between view is correct. It depends entirely on which two views you start with and how close they are to the correct view. The correct view might be a mediating position, but it might also be one of the original ones. Some position has got to be right, after all, and why might it not be one that a lot of people have held? The fact that some hold a different one tells you nothing, especially if you've got a good explanation of why people would prefer not to hold one of the views (as there is in this case.)

Then Craig proceeds to characterize the dispute as follows:

wants to preserve the Scriptural emphasis on divine sovereignty; the latter, on human freedom and responsibility. Both are right in what they want and correct to observe in Scripture the theme that they stress. Both also regularly create caricatures of what the other side believes. Straw men are always the easiest to knock down.
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I agree, but this itself seems to me to be a straw man of Calvinism, actually. Calvinists do want to preserve the scriptural emphasis on divine sovereignty. They also want to preserve the scriptural emphasis on human freedom and responsibility. Consider the book by D.A. Carson, one of Craig's mentors, called Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension. Carson is an unabashed Calvinists, holding a compatibilist view of freedom and insisting that the libertarian view required for Arminianism threatens God's sovereignty too much. But he doesn't reject human freedom the way hyper-Calvinists do. He's a compatibilist, as Calvinists historically have been.

This is also a caricature of Arminianism, which is not open theism. Arminians hold that God does foreknow what will happen and does have a plan about what will happen. God can predict human free choices. I think Molinism is the one of the only philosophical accounts that try to explain the method of God's doing this. The only other one I can think of offhand is the view that God detects what happens in the future by perceiving it directly, since God is outside time and has a causal connection with every moment in time "at once" so to speak. Most Arminians today would hold neither view, but they would insist that God has a plan for what will happen and that God's sovereignty covers every event even if God doesn't take action to initiate every event that occurs. Open theists think God is surprised by certain free choices of human beings, but Arminians do not. God's sovereignty and human responsibility are both present in Arminian models of divine-human interaction. I happen to think the view won't work out when you examine its metaphysical foundations, but I'm not going to deny that Arminians accept God's sovereignty over every event in some sense, if only because God could easily have prevented any foreseen event if God had wanted to.

Perhaps it would be more fair to say that Calvinists take Arminians to have too weak a view of God's sovereignty, and Arminians take Calvinists to have too weak a view of human freedom. But I don't think it's fair to describe Calvinists as not wanting to preserve the biblical emphasis on human freedom responsibility or the Arminian as not wanting to preserve the biblical emphasis on divine sovereignty.

Also, I don't think it's remotely accurate to call Alvin Plantinga a Calvinist. He's been influenced significantly in his thought by the Reformed tradition, a tradition steeped in Calvinism. But he's not a Calvinist. He explicitly endorses libertarian freedom and thus is not a Calvinist, since Calvinism requires a compatibilist view of freedom. When it comes to his view on freedom, he's not on the Calvinist side.

Craig responds to some of the comments:

the people at each end of the spectrum are convinced there is no middle ground. But I would point out that one can endorse middle knowledge from both a compatibilist and a libertarian free will position. See Terry Theissen in his excellent work, Providence and Prayer. This would be the form of middle knowledge I would affirm.

He's right that compatibilists and libertarians can both accept middle knowledge, as I've explained above. I don't think libertarians who do so have any way to explain what makes this knowledge true, while compatibilists do. But it's not inconsistent with either libertarianism or compatibilism to hold that middle knowledge occurs. It's just that on one of those views there are truths with absolutely no explanation. But what doesn't make any sense to me is what "form of middle knowledge" he's thus affirming. Just because middle knowledge is compatible with these two views doesn't mean it's possible to hold both of those two views at the same time even with middle knowledge. Either our freedom is compatible with being causally predetermined, or it's not. Libertarians say it's not. Compatibilists say it is. The fact that middle knowledge is compatible with both doesn't tell you which of those two views that it's compatible with is true. One of them has got to be true, though, and there is no in between. Either our freedom is compatible with being causally predetermined, or it isn't. There are certainly views in between full-blown Calvinism of the five-point variety and whatever standard Arminianism is supposed to be. There are even views in between the usual versions of libertarianism and the usual versions of compatibilism. But middle knowledge isn't one of them. Middle knowledge accepts the libertarian account of freedom.

9 Comments

You can help me out - I have glanced at the Calvinist vs Arminianists lists (and went and read the TULIP link) and I have no real clue where I stand. So . . .

  • Total Depravity: absolutely
  • Unconditional Election: Yep - it is God that acts.
  • Limited Atonement: Yep - not everyone is saved
  • Irresistable Grace: This is where my problem lies.
    There is just too much scripture indicating we can indeed choose to love Christ - and show that by following him; or not. This doesn't bother my view of God's sovereignty - it was God's will and design that we are allowed that. Obviously, our choices are limited by God's revelation within us and in nature, culture, language, nature, nurture, etc. - but real choices we have. Frankly, the idea that (tell me if this is a strawman) we can only come to God if He calls us and his call is irresistable and only those that repent are saved leads to people born irrestibly headed for Hell. This flies in the face of God's desire for all to be saved.
  • Perserverance of the Saints: I am a poster child for this. I never ran the Holy Spirit out of me in spite of 25 years of trying my hardest ot do so.
Calvin believed in natural moral law - that:
'It is a fact that the law of God which we call the moral law is nothing less than a testimony of natural law and of that conscience which God has engraved upon the minds of men.' . . . [which provide] 'enough moral knowledge to enable pagans to sustain a semblance of civility and to condemn them in their own consciences, and they are also supplementary political resources for the Christian.' . . . [these laws] 'can be discerned, and men and women do in fact discern it.' . . . [However] 'What is objectively available to them they subjectively repulse, or else misconstrue and pervert'
I think it is this conscience, available to everyone and flowing out of the character of God that essentially calls everyone - and, as Paul said, gives us no excuse.

If God calls everyone through our conscience, then Grace has to be resistable - because this conscience is God's Grace in action, and not everyone heeds it.

That last part should have been under unconditional election - it is my position that everyone is called (God evident within us and in Creation) but few answer.

We are all elected.

The word 'resistible' assumes some notion of possibility. You're able to resist. It's possible to resist. The problem that arises here is that there are different senses of possibility. Irresistible grace doesn't mean that there's no sense in which grace is resistible. Calvinists insist on a compatibilist model of freedom rather than the hard determinist view that denies freedom of choice. We consider the options we're aware of, and we choose one, often based on our preferences, desires, beliefs, character traits, and so on. Compatibilism says that our choices can be fully caused by all of those things, and those causes can trace back eventually to things not under our control, as long as our choices go through our decision-making process. That's enough for a compatibilist to call it freedom.

So what does irresistible grace mean? It means that someone whose desires are transformed to repent and seek God's will is going to end up choosing right and following God. Does it mean that there's no sense in which you can't reject God? Absolutely not. When you consider the options, in your grace-ful state, you consider the option of resisting. You might even choose it for a time. But if salvific grace is present, you will not resist forever. Calvinism insists that our own internal thought process is involved with our free choices. That process might be genuinely guided by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit while we stubbornly resist it.

But I think what you're resisting is more on the other end. No one has the ability to choose God in a genuine way without the Holy Spirit's gracious work. But that's a view lots of Arminians hold. So the one thing you're questioning is a pretty common view held by Calvinists and Arminians alike. I should say that the typical Calvinist view does not hold to equal ultimacy, which is the view that predestining to salvation and predestining to damnation are equivalent. Romans 9 has the former in the passive voice, as if God is fully responsible, but Paul puts the latter in the middle voice, as if God isn't as fully responsible morally, but we are. The grammatical difference suggests at least a different place in the logical order of God's decrees and perhaps a different metaphysical explanation of how the decree occurs. I don't think traditional Calvinism and irresistible grace accepts that view across the board, and I'd be prepared to call it hyper-Calvinism, as I've been discussing here.

I don't think that everyone is called in the sense Paul uses the term, even though that's certainly true in the sense that the gospels use it. Paul treats only the elect as called, whereas the same word seems to have the broader application you're giving it in the gospels. The gospels are talking about the moral obligation everyone falls under. Everyone is called to respond to the gospel in the sense that we all ought to respond positively to it. But not everyone is called in the sense Paul uses the term. That's an effective calling, one that produces genuine faith leading to salvation.

First, absolutely:

So what does irresistible grace mean? It means that someone whose desires are transformed to repent and seek God's will is going to end up choosing right and following God. Does it mean that there's no sense in which you can't reject God? Absolutely not. When you consider the options, in your grace-ful state, you consider the option of resisting. You might even choose it for a time. But if salvific grace is present, you will not resist forever
this is my life story. I see this as a "P" argument, not an "I" one - is that how you mean it?

And, this may solve my whole problem:

Compatibilism says that our choices can be fully caused by all of those things, and those causes can trace back eventually to things not under our control, as long as our choices go through our decision-making process. That's enough for a compatibilist to call it freedom.
I get this.

So, for me the issue is (or may not be an issue): Every human knows within themselves (i.e universal revelation through conscience) and manifest in God's creation that God exists. To me, that in itself is God's initiation of a process to bring us to Himself - it can turn people in seekers trying to find that "truth they have suppressed". This gives evangelism soil to plant in. God is sovereign.

If that is the case, then to make a distinction between these folks who God has revealed Himself to; and an Elect that has some further revelation is problematic. I think that further revelation is simply the point at which our stubborn will collapses in the face of that "truth we suppress" - we stop fighting.

If we continue to "suppress that truth in our unrighteousness", then we have resisted God's Grace. No?

I is that everyone with a genuine work of grace will become regenerate and believe. P is that those who are regenerate will continue to have the work of grace leading to salvation. They're about different time periods.

It's not about revelation. It's about whether God is actively working to bring someone to salvation. Arminians tend to think God does that with everyone, and some just resist to the point where they never get saved. Calvinists take such people not to have had genuine salvific grace, and whatever good they have partaken of from God's grace is just the common grace God is at work in providing to everyone. Common grace isn't enough to lead someone to salvation (whereas for Arminians it's common grace that makes the potentiality available to all, and there is no special grace for the elect). Now one way this could happen is by some inner revelation by God to the person, but another way it could happen is by God leading the person's desires to want what God wants and to like what God likes. It doesn't have to involve revelation.

Well,

Common grace isn't enough to lead someone to salvation (whereas for Arminians it's common grace that makes the potentiality available to all, and there is no special grace for the elect).
I guess that makes me an Arminian :-)

I am a bit confused by the last section of what you wrote. You wrote:

"He's right that compatibilists and libertarians can both accept middle knowledge, as I've explained above. I don't think libertarians who do so have any way to explain what makes this knowledge true, while compatibilists do. But it's not inconsistent with either libertarianism or compatibilism to hold that middle knowledge occurs."

"But middle knowledge isn't one of them. Middle knowledge accepts the libertarian account of freedom."

The first quote leads me to believe that both libertarians and compatibilists can accept middle knowledge while the latter quote seems to be saying that middle knowledge involves (or implies) the libertarian view. In fact, the first quote seems to be saying that not only can compatibilists affirm middle knowledge, but such an affirmation fits better (or only fits) with compatibilism. Can you clarify what you mean here?

I am also just having trouble seeing how compatibilists can accept middle knowledge. Compatibilists can accept knowledge of counterfactuals, but middle knowledge affirms more than that. The very name of middle knowledge points to the further significance. It implies a particular relation of human choices to God's will; they preceed his decree.

I can think of one way a person could be a compatibilist who also holds to middle knowledge. One could believe that the ability to do otherwise is NOT a necessary condition of free will (compatibilism), but it just turns out that in reality we do have the ability to do otherwise (as implied by the "middle" in middle knowledge). (I might prefer to rephrase this in terms of libertarian freedom as source rather than alterative possibilities, but I am keeping with the original explanation of libertarian freedom.) But then what would be the point of being a compatibilist? Besides, one can't hold a Calvinist view of providence and hold to middle knowledge, which is more to the issue. (Although I do think one can hold to a Calvinist while holding to libertarian freedom, because one can still hold to unconditional election, but that is another topic.)

Yes, I've been using the term 'middle knowledge' ambiguously, and you're right to point out that those two statements sound contradictory if the term is being used the same way in both statements. The way it's usually used in a lot of the contemporary philosophical literature is simply knowledge of counterfactuals of freedom. Compatibilists can accept that. The way it was classically used, and the way Molinists say God's knowledge of counterfactuals of freedom actually is, is knowing what libertarianly-free beings will do by knowing the counterfactuals of freedom, each of whose truth is not dependent on God's intentions.

I think you probably are, John, but your version is closer to Calvinism than some people's. There are people whose version of Arminianism leads them to think that it makes no sense to pray for someone's salvation, and there are those whose version leads them to conclude that there can't ever be any assurance of salvation. I think you've successfully avoided those problems. So I wouldn't call you a hyper-Arminian!

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