Is Middle Knowledge Middle Ground?

Dr. Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary has written on why he would consider himself a Calminian (a supposedly bran’ new hybrid between Calvinism and Arminianism). There have been several excellent responses to this post already: Josh Walker, Andrew Compton, and Turretin Fan. Josh’s point is that counting heads does not truth make (or else Athanasius is in big trouble!). Andrew’s point is that Blomberg’s statement lacks historical and theological nuance because he hasn’t taken the trouble to read the best Reformed authors on these points. Turretin Fan’s point is that Blomberg is not actually between Calvinism and Arminianism. Rather, he is more between Calvinism and Open Theism. All of these points need to be made.

First of all, let’s define middle knowledge. Turretin’s definition is as good a place to go as any:

The authors (Fonseca, Lessius, and Molina, in context, LK) explain this middle knowledge to mean the foreknowledge of God about future conditional events whose truth depends not upon the free decree of God (being anterior to this), but upon the liberty of the creature (which God certainly foresees). See IET, I, p. 213.

This is the good ol’ God-looks-down-the-corridor-of-time-and-sees-faith-and-therefore-elects kind of doctrine. Turretin Fan is right. This is pure Arminianism, not Calvinism at all. Turretin notes that “the design of the Jesuits was to defend the semi-Pelagian heresy of foreseen faith and good works in election, and to support the figment of free will in order the more easily to free themselves from the arguments of the Dominicans who rejected such a foresight” (IET, I, p. 213). Turretin has a number of excellent objections to the idea of middle knowledge (pp. 214-216): 1. Natural and free knowledge (these are the two knowledges in between which middle knowledge is supposed to exist, the former being simple intelligence, the latter being definite knowledge of things, LK) embrace all knowable things. 2. Things not true cannot be foreknown as true. 3. No uncertain knowledge should be ascribed to God. 4. Middle knowledge takes away the dominion of God over free acts. This makes God dependent on the creature.

It would have been wise of Dr. Blomberg to consult some of these readily available sources before venturing into territory which is not his specialty. He would thence have been able to avoid both historical and systematic theological error.

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17 Comments

  1. Rob de Roos said,

    July 20, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    I would like to think if folks take the time to read to read good Reformed answers to open theism, they will see that the supposed errors of Scripture, the supposed limitations of God’s knowledge and the supposed limitations of God’s power. There are several good books from evangelical Reformed authors who have written good responses to open theism. I think one good reply to open theism is Scott Oliphint’s article, Most Moved Mediator, where he lays out the principles of understanding Scripture in relation to God’s voluntary condescension and accommodation in terms of the Creator/creature distinction: it is God’s covenantal relationship with His people expresses in accommodation that explains God’s actions rather than an open theist explanation. As such, God is not contingent or caught by any surprise. He is graciously acting for His people. Middle knowledge fails miserably to understand that God as creator is the cause of all things and all created reality is therefore contingent and dependent. Created reality has no room to act or maneuver apart from the God that created it.

  2. July 20, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    I am not surprised that someone with the title ‘Turretin Fan’ responded to that. =)

  3. Charlie Johnson said,

    July 20, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Thanks, Lane. When I saw Blomberg say that “middle knowledge” was a point of common ground between Calvinists and Arminians, my brain almost turned inside out. Is it true that Plantinga affirms middle knowledge, or has Blomberg’s misrepresentation of the doctrine cast him in an improper light?

  4. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    July 20, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    “It would have been wise of Dr. Blomberg to consult some of these readily available sources before venturing into territory which is not his specialty.

    Take a look at this guest article that Blomberg wrote at the behest of John Loftus:

    Guest Post Written by Dr. Craig Blomberg on “Why I’m Still a Christian”.

    Small excerpt: “Why am I still a Christian all these years later? First, I have to stress what I don’t mean by the word “Christian”. I don’t mean someone who has to be politically conservative. On many issues, I am not; I voted for Obama. I don’t mean someone who has to be a creationist; I believe in an old earth and theistic evolution.”

    Steve Hays agrees with Green Baggins when he wrote: “Blomberg is a sophisticated proponent for the historicity and inerrancy of the NT. On a related note, he’s also been defending the historical Jesus for many years now.

    In that regard he’s rendered a great service to the church over the years. We salute him for his service to the cause.

    Given his field of specialization, Blomberg’s post and subsequent replies are strong where you’d expect them to be strong, and weak where you’d expect them to be weak. There’s some useful material, but it also suffers from some predictable limitations.”

    From here.

    IMO, I think Blomberg was weak in voting for Obama and for also believing in theistic evolution.

  5. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    July 20, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    Steve Hays: “Given his field of specialization, Blomberg’s post and subsequent replies are strong where you’d expect them to be strong, and weak where you’d expect them to be weak.”

    Blomberg: “Why am I still a Christian all these years later? First, I have to stress what I don’t mean by the word “Christian”. I don’t mean someone who has to be politically conservative. On many issues, I am not; I voted for Obama. I don’t mean someone who has to be a creationist; I believe in an old earth and theistic evolution.”

    Me: “I think Blomberg was weak in voting for Obama and for believing in theistic evolution.”

    From here.

  6. Chris E said,

    July 21, 2009 at 2:58 am

    On a tangential note; why is it that it’s only the Arminian and Open Theist positions that are of concern in the Reformed world?

    Why not the Lutheran view of things – or is it solely based on who prosletyises their belief.

  7. greenbaggins said,

    July 21, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Charlie, Plantinga does affirm middle knowledge (as well as libertarian free will!). It is rather a stretch to call him Reformed. My good friend Josh Walker just enlightened me on these points.

  8. greenbaggins said,

    July 21, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Chris, there is treatment of the Lutheran view of election in many of the post-Reformation systematics.

  9. Roger Mann said,

    July 21, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    In a nutshell, what’s the primary difference between the Lutheran and Arminian view of election? middle knowledge? and libertarian free will? To the best of my knowledge, only traditional Reformed/Calvinists believe that “God as creator is the cause of all things and all created reality is therefore contingent and dependent.” Am I mistaken?

  10. July 21, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Middle knowledge seems to be God, with a crystal ball, creating the best of all possible Arminian worlds.

  11. Chris E said,

    July 21, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Yes, but equally there are also treatments of Molinism – not a million miles from this position – by various post-Reformation scholars.

    From reading his past works it was fairly likely that he would have a non-mainstream reformed perspective on election/predestination – the news that he has is about as unexpected as Rod Rosenbladt being a Lutheran.

    So I’m not sure what the purpose of this post is – unless it is to point out that he has the theological cooties.

  12. Charlie Johnson said,

    July 22, 2009 at 6:27 am

    I have always found Middle Knowledge to be insulting to God’s abilities. If I understand it correctly, it is the idea that God, out of all possible (infinite?) hypothetical universes, created the “best” one. Now, since Middle Knowledge is often used in response to the problem of evil and does not seem to subsume the presence of evil under God’s purposes but rather parallel to them, I would assume that “best” has some reference to low amounts of suffering and high amounts of people knowing God.

    If that were so, I would think God could do better than this.

  13. gairneybridge said,

    July 29, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Can someone (who knows more than I) explain how the views of Blomberg are that much different than those of Norman Geisler a few years ago (who also sought a middle ground b/t Calvinism and Arminianism, but termed himself a “Moderate Calvinist”)?

  14. August 3, 2009 at 9:03 am

    Roger, Thomas Aquinas was surely not Reformed/Calvinist (he was semi-Pelagian in his soteriology), but he insisted that God is the cause of all things and that all creation is contingent.

    Charlie, middle knowledge isn’t the view that God created the best of all possible worlds. It’s a particular metaphysical model for how God did so, and it’s one that assumes libertarian freedom, a view of freedom that Arminians/Wesleyans affirm and Calvinists deny. Calvinists insist that God knows the counterfactuals of freedom that middle knowledge relies on, but calling it middle knowledge in the Molinist way commits one to the libertarian view of freedom. Leibniz, who also held that this is the best of all possible worlds, had a compatibilist view of freedom instead of favoring the libertarian model assumed by Molinism.

    As to the last comment, Geisler takes the simple foreknowledge view, not the Molinist view. Molinists think God knows what we will do by knowing what we would counterfactually do in alternate possibilities and then ensuring the possibility occurs in which we will do the thing that works God’s plans out properly. The simple foreknowledge view doesn’t require God to know what we would do in alternative situations, just what we will actually do. Geisler’s view is the more common one of Wesleyan/Arminians. It’s actually a pretty standard account of such a view and is not a middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism. It’s not as extreme as some Arminians have been, but that doesn’t make it a middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism, as he claims.

    I’ve responded to Blomberg as well, for those who might be interested in a philosophically-focused discussion.

  15. Roger Mann said,

    August 4, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    14. Jeremy wrote:

    Roger, Thomas Aquinas was surely not Reformed/Calvinist (he was semi-Pelagian in his soteriology), but he insisted that God is the cause of all things and that all creation is contingent.

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but doesn’t Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism insist upon a libertarian view of the freedom of the will? If so, then how could Aquinas be “semi-Pelagian” in his soteriology, and yet maintain that God is the cause of all things? If God infallibly “determines” or “causes” our will to necessarily choose one way or the other, then the libertarian view of freedom is false — an idol created in the minds of sinful, rebellious men!

    By the way, according to A.A. Hodge, Aquinas was Augustinian in his theology, not semi-Pelagian. Was he wrong?

    After the lapse of the dark ages, during which all active speculation slumbered, the great Thomas Aquinas, an Italian by birth, A. D. 1224, and a monk of the order of St. Dominic, Doctor Angelicus, advocated with consummate ability the Augustinian system of theology in that cumbrous and artificial manner which characterized the Schoolmen. John Duns Scotus, a native of Britain, A. D. 1265, a monk of the order of St. Francis, Doctor Subtilis, was in that age the ablest advocate of the system then styled Semipelagian. The controversies then revived were perpetuated for many ages, the Dominicans and the Thomists in general advocating unconditional election and efficacious grace, and the Franciscans and the Scotists in general advocating conditional election and the inalienable power of the human will to cooperate with or to resist divine grace. The same disputes under various party names continue to agitate the Romish Church since the Reformation, although the genius of her ritualistic system, and the predominance of the Jesuits in her councils, have secured within her bounds the almost universal prevalence of Semipelagianism. (A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology: Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism & Augustinianism. Question 8)

  16. August 4, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    The question of Aquinas’ views on free will is not easy, as evidenced by the many views scholars have taken on it (and I don’t think Augustine is any easier). A few things seem clear to me. He does affirm that God causes everything. Like Augustine, he explains human free choice in terms of internal considerations, and thus it’s possible to read a lot of what he says in a compatibilist way. Augustine explains choices in terms of doing what we desire, which he says pulls us toward something we want instead of pushing like Stoic determinism. Aguinas intellectualizes it a bit more by saying we only desire one thing — the good — and we simply choose what we believe to be the best choice, but our reason figures out which things seem best to us and then we choose those things. As far as I can tell, both views of freedom are consistent with a compatibilist approach.

    On the other hand, a key Augustine passage says that if you had two people exactly alike in the same situation, one might sin and the other not. A lot of scholars have taken that as an indication that he’s really a libertarian who just wants to have both libertarianism and a complete plan of God that includes every event. Some see it as a view that includes one component of libertarianism with one component of compatibilism. Some see it as compatibilist through and through. I’ve gone back and forth on this myself just about every time I’ve taught this material.

    Aquinas changes a key thing from Augustine. He intellectualizes it. Instead of placing freedom in doing what we want to, he says that’s the one thing we have no freedom in. We want what’s good, and no one can ever change that, so we’ll do whatever we deem best. But our reason can make mistakes about what’s best. So as long as our reason can consider various options and decide which is correct, we’re free. We automatically choose what we think is best, but freedom is in figuring out which thing is best in order to pursue it.

    None of that seems necessarily at odds with compatibilism or libertarianism, because you could say all that and then put it into either view, as far as I can tell. It’s when he gives his soteriology that he comes across as semi-Pelagian. His view of God’s sovereignty is highly Augustinian when he discusses it in general. He says God causes everything (even if not all those causes are efficient causes, as with Augustine, and thus it avoids Stoic determinism, whereby every event has an efficient cause).

    But his section discussing God’s grace and salvation is semi-Pelagian. He says that we couldn’t have the Holy Spirit working in our lives to produce salvation without God’s grace. There’s nothing we can do to get ourselves into a position of being saved. But it’s the view that’s still the official Catholic view that gets the semi-Pelagianism. By God’s grace, Christians are brought into a position of being saved, and then by God’s grace we are enabled to do good works (what Protestants call santification) to the point of (by God’s grace again) making it true that we deserve salvation because God has brought us to do good works. There’s an element there of earning or deserving salvation, even if the only earning that happens is an after-the-fact judgment based on works that only God could produce in us . Augustine doesn’t have anything like this. He’s very much on the side of the Reformation on this issue.

    Now none of that says anything about how God brings those works about. What’s semi-Pelagian about it (and about the contemporary Catholic view) is not the model of freedom that’s presupposed but whether we can truly say at the end of our lives that we deserve and earned salvation. Even if God fully brought about the works that earn salvation (which sounds compatibilist), we did do those works. Whether it is compatibilist depends on what he meant by some of the things he says in his free will discussion. Maybe he’s inconsistent, or maybe he had a consistent view in mind. I don’t know if I have a settled view on that. But I think what he says about free will is consistent with several different modern views on free will, depending on what he meant, and it might be a different view altogether. The semi-Pelagianism isn’t about that, though, as far as I can tell.

  17. September 4, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    [...] “So Good Men differ … so what?” Andrew Compton “Calminianism redux?!” Green Baggins “Is Middle Knowledge Middle Ground” Triablogue – “Why I’m Not a [...]


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