What is Molinism?

The twin foundations for middle knowledge are the beliefs that the bible teaches libertarian free will and the bible teaches God’s providence over all things. Middle knowledge reconciles the two by stating that God knows what we would choose under any circumstance and He uses this knowledge to accomplish His goals without removing man’s freedom. In middle knowledge, God primarily uses His knowledge rather than His power to achieve His ends. Middle knowledge gets the name middle, because God’s knowledge of what would happen is logically after God’s knowledge of what can happen and logically before His decision and knowledge of what will happen. So for example, God knows if you are in an ice cream shop today you could choose chocolate or vanilla, and you would choose chocolate and He decides to let you choose chocolate so He permits you to be in the ice cream shop today knowing you will choose chocolate. Man’s freedom is preserved in that God does not decide what we would freely do under any circumstance – God cannot make you freely do something. God’s providence is preserved in that God decides what circumstances we find ourselves in and therefore what will happen.

What Verses Support Molinism?

Molinism is the confluence of the scriptures teaching that God is in control of the world, God foreknows everything including man’s choices,  God knows what we would choose under various settings and man has libertarian freedom.

God created us with the ability to choose between alternatives.  Here’s a verse list on man’s libertarian freedom: Deuteronomy 23:16, Deuteronomy 30:14-19, Joshua 24:15, 2 Samuel 24:13, 1 Kings 18:23-25, Proverbs 16:16,  Job 36:21, Hebrews 11:24-25, Exodus 16:4, Judges 2:22, Psalm 81:13, Acts 15:22, Philippians 1:22, Philemon 1:8-9, Matthew 26:9,  Isaiah 5:1-4, 1 Corinthians 10:13, 1 Corinthians 7:37, 1 Corinthians 9:17, 2 Corinthians 8:3, 2 Corinthians 9:7, Philemon 1:14,   Ezekiel 12:2 (link)

God knows what we would choose under various settings.  Here’s a verse list on Middle Knowledge: Exodus 3:19, Exodus 35:29, Deuteronomy 7:3-4, Deuteronomy 28:51-57, 1 Samuel 23:6-13, 1 Kings 11:2,9, Ezekiel 3:6-7, Matthew 11:21-23, Matthew 12:7, Matthew 23:27-32, Matthew 24:43, Luke 16:30-31, Luke 22:67-68, John 8:39, John 8:42, John 14:28, John 15:19, John 18:36, 1 Corinthians 2:8, 1 John 2:19 (link)

God permits us to choose sin even though He hates sin and desires for us not to sin.  Here’s a verse list on God being disappointed with our sins and that our sins are contrary to His efforts to get us to obey: Genesis 6:5-6, 1 Samuel 2:30, 2 Chronicles 36:15-16, Nehemiah 9:30-31, Psalm 45:7, Psalm 78:40-42, Psalm 81:11, Proverbs 1:20-30, Isaiah 5:4, Isaiah 54:15, Jeremiah 2:30, Jeremiah 7:31, Jeremiah 25:3-11, Jeremiah 35:12-18, Ezekiel 24:13, Ezekiel 33:11, Zechariah 7:11-14, Matthew 23:37, Luke 7:30, Luke 19:41-42, John 3:16-17, John 12:47, Acts 7:51, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, James 1:13-14, 1 John 2:16 (link)

Even though God gave us free will and He hates our sin; He can use us and even our sins to accomplish His ends.  God directs the course of history according to His eternal plan.  God rules and sometimes overrules us in accomplishing His ends. Here’s a verse list on God’s providential control: Genesis 50:20, Exodus 4:11, Exodus 7:1-5, 1 Samuel 2:7-8,  Job 14:5-6,  Job 42:2, Psalm 33:10-15, Psalm 105:23-25, Psalm 115:3, Proverbs 16:9,  Isaiah 14:24-27,  Isaiah 46:10-11, Isaiah 55:10-11, Daniel 4:35, Amos 3:6, Ezra 1:1, Matthew 6:25-26,  Acts 4:28, Acts 17:28, Romans 8:28-39, 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, 2 Corinthians 4:7, Ephesians 1:11, Philippians 2:13, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3, James 1:16-17, James 4:13-15 (link)

God knows the future and nothing happens that He didn’t foresee.  Here’s a verse list on God’s foreknowledge: Jeremiah 1:5, Isaiah 46:10, Revelation 4:1, 1 Peter 1:20, 1 Peter 1:2, Acts 2:23, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 44:8, Psalm 139:4, Romans 8:29-30, Hebrews 4:13, Romans 11:2, Romans 4:17, Amos 3:7, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4, 2 Peter 2:1-2, Acts 1:16, Daniel 9:2,   Galatians 3:8, Acts 15:18, Matthew 26:34 (link)




Who are some famous Molinists?

William Lane Craig , Alvin Plantinga, Thomas Flint, Alfred Freddoso, and Kenneth Keathley are some of Molinism’s best advocates today. Historically Robert Bellarmine and Francisco Suárez were famous Molinists on the Roman Catholic side and James Arminius as well as Hugo Groutius taught God’s middle knowledge on the Protestant side.

Couldn’t God have just put everyone in circumstances such that they would believe and be saved?

There’s no one Molinist answer to this question in part because some Molinists are more Calvinistic whereas others lean closer to Arminianism.  The Molinist view closest to Calvinism is called Congruism, which says God unconditionally elects individuals for salvation and then puts the elect alone into circumstance in which He knows they will freely assent.  On Congruism, God would have provided the elect more grace had He needed to. So Congruist would likely be open to saying “yes” God could have saved everyone, and provide reasons that He did not similar to Calvinist reasoning.

The response closer to Arminianism is called Transworld Damnation, in which God saves everyone who would freely respond to His grace in any circumstance.  The corollary to this is that all those lost would be lost no matter what setting God put them in or no matter what grace God provides.  On Transworld Damnation, the answer is “no”, God could not have set things up such that everyone ends up saved, because some would not freely believe.

In between Congruism and Transworld Damnation is the view of Molinia himself who held that election is conditional on God knowing via middle knowledge who would believe given the circumstances God chooses to put them in.  God also knows that under other circumstances, different individuals would be saved and lost and God is free to choose whatever circumstance He wants.  This view does not take a firm position on if God could have created a world in which all freely believe or not. Molina’s view could also be augmented by Jerry Wall’s suggestion that God provides maximal grace to everyone in every possible world or William Lane Craig’s suggestion that God selects a world with the optimal balance of saved in lost rather than a world in which only a few are saved but none lost.

On all three views man is lost because they freely reject God’s grace which was sufficient to save them.    For more on Congruism, see (link)  For more on Transworld Damnation, see (link).  For more on Molinia’s view, see (link).

What about the Grounding Objection?

The grounding objection claims statements about people with libertarian free will would do cannot be true, given they do not actually make those choices in the real world.  Since such statements were true long before we existed and since they never actually happen, they cannot be grounded.

In response, it’s one thing to ask “what grounds statements about what we would choose?” and another to claim they cannot be true.  So while Molinists can respond “I don’t know” to how such statements are true, we reject the notion that they cannot be true.  Scripture teaches God knows what people would choose so we know such statements are true even if we cannot explain how they are true or how God knows them.

Various non-Molinists raise the grounding objections.  To atheists (who presuppose positivism or naturalism), we can may point out that nothing grounds the grounding objection, so it’s self contradictory.  Also statements about the future or past or possibilities or non-existence moral truths don’t require scientific verifiability to ground their truth.  So why couldn’t hypothetical statements be grounded in what would happen?  To those holding to simple foreknowledge, we can point out future events haven’t happened at the time we evaluate the true/falsity of statements about the future, so grounding isn’t a simple matter of existence.  Likewise, we can point out they themselves ground factual (rather than counterfactual) hypothetical statements like if you intermarry you will fall away (compare Deuteronomy 7:4-6, 2 Kings 11:2-9).

To Open Theists and Theological Determinists (who presuppose only causal determinism grounds hypothetical statements), we point out that scripture cites counterfactual choices (i.e. Matthew 11:21-23) and their theories do not provides the type of grounding the grounding objection seeks: the person actually making the choice in the real world. So while Molinist hold Christ’s statement corresponds to what would have happened had God sent Christ to Tyre, the non-Molinist must reinterpret Christ’s statements to be about the character of Tyre’s people.  But this will not do, because choices shape moral character.  Consider Christ’s claim that the Pharisees would have killed the prophets (Matthew 23:30-32). Yes, it’s a judgment about their character – because their character includes what they would have chosen in other circumstances.  Even though the Pharisees circumstances and choices would have been very different had they lived in past ages, it remains true that they either would or would not of killed the prophets and God knows which they would have done.  If the theological determinist presses the point further that God knows what they would have done, because He decreed what they would have done, we could point out that under such a view, God only indirectly and deductively knows what they would have done: what He directly knows is His plan.  But omniscience requires all knowledge to be immediate rather than deductive, which adds nothing to knowledge. On such a view even if God created another world alongside ours and sent Christ to Tyre in that world, God’s knowledge would still only directly be of His plan rather than the events happening outside of God.  And such a view casts aside the need for correspondence between events and statement about events the grounding objection was built on in the first place.  Put another way, if God’s knowledge is allowed to be conceptual rather than perceptual, the grounding objection has lost it’s grounding.

Also, this theory cuts across the passages of scripture and dictates of reason that tell us God gave us libertarian freedom.  For more on the ground objection, see link and link.

Why is it called Molinism?

Molinism takes its name from the 16th Century Roman Catholic Theologian Luis De Molina.  But just as Isaac Newton didn’t invent gravity, but rather studied and wrote about it, Molina didn’t invent the idea that God knows what we would choose in different settings.  Molina’s role is really more of a systematizer and defender of this idea, rather than inventor.  Of course, the idea is in the bible itself, but it’s also in some of the Church Fathers.  For example, Gregory of Nyssa uses this idea to theorize why God allows infants to die. (Gregory of Nyssa.  On the Untimely Death of Infants.  In Migne PG 46) Also Irenaeus argued Exodus 3:19 teaches Pharaoh never would have believed.  (Irenaeus  Against Heresies (Book IV, Chapter 29))  Likewise Tertullian says God foreknew man would make bad use of the freedom He gave them, but He gave man freedom anyway.  (Tertullian.  The Five Books Against Marcion, Book II, Chapter VII)  But Molinia did play an important role in explaining God’s middle knowledge in his work Concorida (link) and the Roman Catholic debates between Molinists and Domincans somewhat parallel latter Calvinist/Arminian debates in Protestant Circles.  In 1607 the Pope decided that both Dominicans and Thomism could teach their views but neither should call the others heretics.

What’s the Molinist View on  ______________  (i.e. salvation, original sin, perseverance on the saints, the age of the earth, divine simplicity….) ?

Molinism is about God’s providence, foreknowledge and man’s freedom rather than other subjects.  So you will find Molinists on either side of various other theological questions.