Don’t you hate it when you think you’ve had an original thought – and it it may well be original in the sense that you came up with it yourself – and you plan to share it as your own idea, but then you discover that someone well-known has beaten you to it?
I’ve been friendly towards a Calvinist (or Augustinian) view on providence and salvation for a number of years now. In more recent years, I’ve become more sympathetic to Molinism, the view grounded in divine middle knowledge, although I don’t hold this view, and I think it is unlikely that I will. I became frustrated with a couple of things.
Firstly, although what warmed me up to Calvinism is my view of the biblical teaching on sin, grace and salvation, when somebody finds out that I’m kindly disposed to that Calvinism, one of the first things they want to grill me about is their understanding of a Calvinist take on God’s relationship to time, or fatalism, or something along those lines.
Secondly, it became clear to me that some Molinists that I know, and certainly some opponents of Molinism, seem to think that this is a significant alternative to a Calvinist view. And certainly, it is not Calvinism. But something that is an essential part of Molinism can certainly be maintained by a Calvinist, even though some people seem to talk about it as incompatible with Calvinism.
About a year ago these things came to a head for me when I sat down to start spelling out exactly why I, as a Calvinist, was bound to reject Molinism. Because the Molinists I knew, as far as I was aware, took their view to be a type of non-Calvinism (I want to say Arminianism but it is not that simple), my objection was along the following lines: Molinism presents God as looking down the tunnel of time at the potential futures of the possible worlds he could create, and choosing to create one of them, knowing what you, I, and everyone else in that world, would do as a response to His offer of saving grace. In some versions of Molinism (as far as I can tell, the one held by William Lane Craig), God then, on the basis of this knowledge, chooses to create the world in which the maximum number of people come to have faith in Him and receive eternal life. That’s where my objection arose. My objection was that given the biblical doctrine of depravity (a doctrine that I take to be thoroughly biblical), that number of people would still be exactly zero unless God, in true Calvinist style, sovereignly intervened.
As I considered this, it became clear to me that I was dealing with two distinct animals. The really “Molinist” part of this picture was primarily about the model of divine foreknowledge involved (namely middle knowledge), and crucially, this is not the part of the picture that I was objecting to. I was objecting to the second part of the equation, which involved one of two possibilities: Either it involves a flat out denial of total depravity, affirming that people are capable of attaining saving faith simply by force of natural will – which is sufficiently free of the effects of sin that it is free enough to do this all by itself, or it involves a doctrine of “prevenient grace,” where God gives everyone sufficient grace to empower the will in such a way as it may as well not be totally depraved, since it, thanks to this gift of grace, has the ability to respond faithfully to the proclamation of the Gospel.
So there was my new idea – or so I thought. I should get cracking and write a short piece on this: You can hold to a Calvinist soteriology and still be sympathetic to Molinism (even though you can’t hold to Molinism)! I checked over the idea a few times, and it looked pretty immune from obvious rebuttal. I hoped that Bill Craig wouldn’t mind – the last thing I wanted was to have a heavyweight like that critiquing me…
Well, I discovered today that I needn’t fear that. While browsing through Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, I took a look at the presentation of the Calvinist/Augustinian view by Paul Helm, and then the Middle Knowledge response from Bill Craig – and what do you think I found? Helm started out by presenting an argument concerning the efficacy of divine grace on salvation – a clearly soteriological issue. Bill Craig responded:
His first argument, based on the efficacy of God’s saving grace, is, however, irrelevant. There is just no connection (as Calvin himself, quoted by Helm, recognized) between the intrinsic efficacy of saving grace and divine foreknowledge.
He adds in a footnote:
Someone who thinks foreknowledge and libertarian freedom are clearly consistent [as Craig does – GP] could nonetheless be a Calvinist when it comes to the intrinsic efficacy of saving grace, and a theological fatalist could deny that saving grace is intrinsically efficacious.
So much for my original idea.