Theology: July 2009 Archives

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.

Jerome Walsh's commentary on I Kings is probably the best thing out there on narrative issues in I Kings. I've heard good reports on it from several commentary reviews, and two people who have used it in their sermon preparation for our current sermon series in Kings have found it very helpful. It's fairly rare that he says anything that evangelicals would find problematic with regard to the nature of scripture, but I did identify one thing when reading his commentary on I Kings 11, and I don't think he can consistently maintain it given other things he says.

When discussing Solomon's failures as a king, Walsh says the following about the narrator's perspective underlying the critical account (from p.136):

Yahweh is described as "the God of Israel" to contrast with the other national deities named in verses 5 and 7. The concept here is very different from our own. The narrator presumes a polytheistic worldview: other gods besides Yahweh existed, and each deity had its own national sphere. The text does not understand Solomon's apostasy as turning away from the only true God to worship false gods. Solomon's evil is that he supported in Israel, Yahweh's own nation, the worship of Yahweh's rivals.

First of all, Walsh uses the wrong term. The view that there are other gods that you shouldn't worship and only one you should worship is not polytheism, which is the worship of many gods. It's called henotheism. There's evidence within the Bible itself that some people in ancient Israel were henotheists. There's actually more evidence that many were polytheists, including Solomon himself according to this passage. But the consistent message of the biblical narrators and prophets is not of henotheism but monotheism. The book of Kings is actually a pretty clear case of this. Solomon's speeches and prayers at the temple dedication are pretty clear that there is just one God who is sovereign over all the earth.

In fact, even four pages later Walsh seems to recognize this. In his discussion of the rebellions Solomon faced from two subjugated peoples (Edom and Aram) and one internal rebellion (Jeroboam), he emphasizes the narrator's theological perspective of Yahweh's sovereignty over the doings of those in other nations (p.140):

The effect of this heaping up of parallels is to recall that both Moses' and David's careers were divinely directed, and thereby to intensify considerably the impact of the claim that "God raised up" Hadad and Rezon. The same Yahweh who raised up Moses as Israel's savior, the same God who raised up David to be Israel's ideal king, now raises up adversaries to oppose Solomon. The punishment of Solomon and the impending disintegration of his empire become part of the sacred history of Yahweh's dealings with Israel, on part in importance with the Exodus and the covenant with David.

Such a view of Yahweh's role with respect to other nations doesn't necessarily require thinking the other gods don't exist. They might just be fairly impotent beings in comparison with Yahweh's sovereign might. But it's hard to see it as consistent with the view that the only reason to worship Yahweh is because he's the god who happens to be Israel's god, whereas other nations have real gods who happen to be their gods. It's very hard to put Walsh's own view of the narrative position of Kings together with his statement that Solomon's sin is disloyalty to the god who happens to be Israel's god. The text itself commands the view that Yahweh is sovereign over other nations in a way that there's no reason to consider worshiping them even if they do exist. In fact, any acknowledgement of their existence is consistent with thinking of them as something like demonic beings whose existence and actions are all subject to divine sovereignty in the same way the human figures in these accounts are.

Now I'm well aware of the view in scholarship that takes some of these accounts to have been written from different theological perspectives. The idea is that earlier materials assume many gods, and later authors added stuff that assumes one sovereign God. Walsh indicates agreement with this elsewhere (e.g. in note 9 on p.112). But Walsh is a narrative commentator, committing to dealing with the final form of the text. Surely if the final compilers agreed with the orthodox view that there is just one sovereign God, they would not have meant the discussion of Solomon's sin to reflect henotheistic concerns but monotheistic concerns. Anyone who could endorse the understanding of Yahweh's sovereignty over foreign kings could not think of those kings as properly worshiping their own gods over Yahweh, since Yahweh is the supreme God. Such a compiler/narrator would therefore not accept the view Walsh attributes to the narrator, and this is true even if many in Israel did hold such a henotheistic view at the time these events are describing. (Since many actually held full-out polytheism, which is what the text is criticizing, it's not a major concession to think many were henotheists as well.)

So I think Walsh's contention is extremely hard to reconcile with what he himself recognizes about the narrator's theology, and that's even conceding for the sake of argument that the original narrator of some passages was a henotheist (which I don't think is true to begin with).

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