Christianity 201

April 29, 2011

What Does God Know and When Does He Know It?

In the wake of the Zondervan release, Four Views on Divine Providence, since I didn’t get to read the book but consider the topic somewhat vital, here’s what reviewers are saying…

  • There are plenty of hardcore theological and philosophical issues which arise when speaking of God’s providence; issues such as divine sovereignty and human responsibility, the relationship between God and time, divine foreknowledge, suffering and evil, etc. Here four different theological perspectives, including open theism, Molinism, and classic Reformed thought, weigh into the debate in a thrust and counterthrust format.   Bill Muehlenberg
  • Volume contributors are Paul Helseth (God causes every creaturely event that occurs); William Lane Craig (through his “middle knowledge,” God controls the course of worldly affairs without predetermining any creatures’ free decisions); Ron Highfield (God controls creatures by liberating their decision-making); and Gregory Boyd (human decisions can be free only if God neither determines nor knows what they will be). Introductory and closing essays by Dennis Jowers give relevant background and guide readers toward their own informed beliefs about divine providence.   Publisher Blurb
  • I mentioned this “Counterpoints” series as a commendable way to study and learn about different views and that they have them on more than a dozen topics.  This is a brand new one and raises this huge question about God’s rule over the world, one of the key questions as we reflect on the heartache of theodicy.  Four evangelical authors are included and they each respond to the main chapter of the other three.  Included are views that they describe as “God Causes All Things” “God Directs All Things” “God Controls by Liberating” and “God Limits His Control”  This not only is an example of meaty theological and Bible discourse but, of course, it is immensely significant for our prayers and praise, our confidence and doubts and how we talk about grief with others.  Highly recommended, even if it may be that no one is fully right.   Hearts and Minds Bookstore

I was some astounded at how little advance material and/or reviews were available online for what I would think is a rather serious topic. (The middle “reviewer” it turned out, was just quoting the publisher.) One retail site noted that the debate gets quite heated or “intense” at times and Greg Boyd, one of the contributors noted in his own blog:

…[T]his “four views” collection is a bit idiosyncratic in that, as Craig notes in his opening essay, there are actually two versions of the Calvinist view included in this book. Not only this, but while the editor, Dennis Jowers, clearly tries to remain neutral in the Introduction and Conclusion of this book, his passionate Calvinistic convictions shine through rather unambiguously, in my opinion.

Let’s review the four options the book presents:

  • God causes every creaturely event that occurs
  • Through his “middle knowledge,” God controls the course of  worldly affairs without predetermining any creatures’ free decisions
  • God controls creatures by liberating their decision-making
  • Human decisions can be free only if God neither determines nor knows what they will be

What’s your opinion?  Does it matter?  I believe it does for several reasons of which this is one:  Our purpose, our delight and our desire should be to begin to form an understanding of how we see the ways of God.  This will eventually map on to a larger personal systematic theology which should eventually “work” inasmuch as all the doctrinal pieces of the puzzle fit to form an appropriate picture.

My personal take on this and yours may differ.  We see through a glass darkly.  (We see through glasses that are covered in Vaseline.)  And we should be open to friendly discussion with people who resolve this differently.  But our desire should be to look into the face of God and seek Him with all our hearts.   When we do that, a God-picture will slowly form that may, over time, need adjustment or modification, but as long as our go-to source is scripture and not our own reasoning, we will be moving toward, and not away from, an accurate understanding of God’s character, God’s nature and God’s dealings with His people.

For those of you for whom Molinism is a new term, here’s some highlights from Theopedia to get you thinking further:

“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, rather 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.

  • 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.
  • Middle Knowledge – This is God’s knowledge of what any free creature would do in any given circumstance, also known as counterfactual knowledge. It is also sometimes stated as God’s knowledge of the truth of subjunctive conditionals.
  • Free Knowledge – This is God’s knowledge of what He freely decided to create. God’s free knowledge is His knowledge of the actual world as it is.

And yes, I know some of you are now saying, “I’m glad we cleared that up.”

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for the tip on this book! It sounds like something that would be very worth owning and reading. I will be buying it this week!

    Comment by Not For Itching Ears - Jim — May 12, 2011 @ 10:13 pm | Reply


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