What is Molinism and is it biblical?
Question: “What is Molinism and is it biblical?”
Answer: Molinism is generally attributed to the 16th century Jesuit, Luis de Molina. This system of thought seeks to explain and reconcile the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. At the heart of Molinism is that God is completely sovereign and that man is free in a libertarian sense. The Molinist is trying to avoid what he calls “theological fatalism” or the view that God decrees who will be saved apart from their free choice. Today’s most ardent defender of Molinism is William Lane Craig.
The most famous distinctive in Molinism is its affirmation that God has middle knowledge (scienta media). Molinism holds that God’s knowledge consists of three logical moments. These “moments” of knowledge are not to be thought of as chronological; rather, they are to be understood as “logical.” In other words, one moment does not come before another moment in time; instead, one moment is logically prior to the other moments. The Molinist differentiates between three different moments of knowledge which are respectively called natural knowledge, middle knowledge and free knowledge.
1. Natural Knowledge – This is God’s knowledge of all necessary and all possible truths. In this “moment” God knows every possible combination of causes and effects. He also knows all the truths of logic and all moral truths.
2. Middle Knowledge – This is God’s knowledge of what a free creature would do in any given circumstance. This knowledge is knowledge of what philosophers call counterfactuals.
3. Free Knowledge – This is God’s knowledge of what He decided to create. God’s free knowledge is His knowledge of the actual world as it is.
Defenders of Molinism try to show that all of God’s knowledge is self-contained, but it is ordered so as to allow for the possibility of man’s free will. To begin, God has knowledge of all necessary and possible truths. Examples of this kind of knowledge are as follows: “2 +2 = 4,” “the whole is always greater than its parts,” “one should always seek the good,” and “there are X number of possible outcomes given this series of causes.” God then has another step in His knowledge, called middle knowledge, in which He knows what free creatures would do in any given circumstance.
According to the defenders of Molinism, God knows perfectly what you would be have been like if you would have lived in Africa, or had a car accident that paralyzed you at age 9. He knows how the world would have been changed had John F. Kennedy not been assassinated. More importantly, He knows who would choose to be saved and who would not. Accordingly, it is from this knowledge that God chooses to create. God has middle knowledge of all feasible worlds, and He chooses to create the world in which the most people would be saved.
Is Molinism biblical?
Molinists point to various texts to establish that God has “middle knowledge.” For example, they point to Matthew 11:21-24 where Jesus denounces Chorazin and Bethsaida. Jesus tells those cities that “if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” Molinists claim that this verse, and others like it, prove that God has knowledge of what would happen given a different set of circumstances. As such, they insist that the doctrine of middle knowledge is true.
However, Molinism is not, strictly speaking, a view that can be rebutted or defended wholly on biblical grounds. The middle knowledge view is a philosophical theology that attempts to uphold both the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. This attempt is done by making subtle philosophical distinctions that make sovereignty and free will compatible. Therefore, it should be evaluated on multiple levels. It should be evaluated biblically and philosophically.
Biblically speaking, Molinists are more in line with the Arminian view. God chooses who will be saved because He knows who would choose Him. However, Molinists are more philosophically sophisticated than the typical Arminian. For example, William Lane Craig avoids the criticism that God’s decisions are dependent on man’s decisions by holding that God’s middle knowledge is not derived from His knowledge of the world. Rather, God’s middle knowledge is based on His existing natural knowledge. In this way he hopes to uphold God’s perfect omniscience. So, today’s evangelical Molinists are basically philosophically sophisticated Arminians.
Molinism is not the best way to think about God’s sovereignty and human free will. The Bible teaches that God is sovereign over all things (Proverbs 16:33; Matthew 10:29; Romans 11:36; Ephesians 1:11) – even human decisions (Proverbs 20:24; 21:1). Although God does not stir men to sin (James 1:13), He is still working everything, from individuals to nations, to the end that He has willed (Isaiah 46:10-11). God’s purposes do not depend upon man (Acts 17:24-26). Nor does God discover or learn (1 John 3:20; Job 34:21-22; Psalm 50:11; Proverbs 15:3). All things are decreed by God’s infinitely wise counsel (Romans 11:33-36). The biblical descriptions of God’s sovereignty appear to be more robust than the account given by the Molinist.
With that in mind, it should be noted that the Molinist would agree with everything said in the above paragraph. It is not on this level that Calvinists and Molinists disagree. Where they disagree most is in the doctrines of total depravity and limited atonement. Their theological differences are in keeping with the standard Calvinist / Arminian disagreements. Philosophically speaking, Calvinists charge Molinists with an untenable view of God. For Calvinists usually hold to the classical doctrine of divine simplicity which maintains that God is atemporal and immutable. However, contemporary defenders of Molinism deny this classical doctrine.
Recommended Resources: Chosen But Free, revised edition: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will by Norm Geisler and The Potter’s Freedom by James White and Logos Bible Software.