Molinism: God’s Knowledge as Three Logical Moments
This week I am continuing with my posts on Molinism based on Kenneth Keathley’s book “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” This will be another post that has some heavy definitions and a heaping helping of philosophy. What will make this post a bit different is that I have seen some of these mental gymnastics before and it has always made me nervous. I guess that’s the bad news but the good news, if you want to call it that, is that many theologies do the same thing and you cannot dismiss Molinism for doing it without probably shooting your theology in the foot at the same time.
I was brought up being taught a version of the Divine Decrees called “infralapsarianism.” In fact, if you really want to “get your geek on” I wrote a long post on the Divine Decrees which documented the different versions last year (see “The Divine Decrees“). If you hold to “decretal” theology (Dr. Keathley’s term) you believe that God made five decrees in eternity past and how we order them logically determines whether you are a hyper-Calvinist (supralapsarianism), believe that believers can lose their salvation (Arminian lapsarianism), or that mankind can exercise free will (infrapalsarianism). It is quite a complicated jumble.
If you look in the previous paragraph you will notice that I put the word “logically” in italics because that is the word that has been bothering me. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for logic but this is a very special kind of logic. We know that God decreed everything simultaneously in eternity past and that He didn’t decree one thing and then another. Since God cannot learn anything, because He already knows it all, everything has always been decreed. If we stopped right there then a lot of theological speculation would be shut down. We can’t have that (that was sarcasm :-)) so what theologians have done is say that while God could not have decreed things in a “temporal” order we are going to go ahead and pretend like He did and call it the “logical” order. Once you have made that logical jump then it opens up a whole new world of theology. My problem is that I just don’t trust it. How can anyone say that we are going to pretend like something that could not have happened in a particular order actually happened in a particular order and base a lot of theology on it?
In the standard “decretal” theology there are five decrees that God made in eternity past and the order you place those decrees in makes a heck of a lot of difference. For example my notes show that the order that infralapsarians put the decrees in is:
a. The decree to create all mankind.
b. The decree to permit the fall.
c. The decree to provide salvation for all mankind (unlimited atonement).
d. The decree to elect some from among fallen mankind, and to leave others in their sin (those who will not believe in Christ).
e. The decree to save the elect through faith in Christ or to apply salvation to those who believe.
Change the order and all of the sudden you are no longer an infralapsarian! That seems like theologically thin ice to be on.
Why did I bring all of this up? The answer is because Molinists do it with the different kinds of knowledge that God has. I don’t think the order of these kinds of knowledge can be changed like they can in “decretal” theology which is a plus for Molinism. I still don’t like it though.
Here are three quotes from Dr. Keathley which lay out the “three moments” of Molinism (types of Divine knowledge).
Molinists argue that God perfectly accomplishes His will in the lives of genuinely free creatures through the use of His omniscience. The model they propose presents God’s infinite knowledge as a series of three logical moments: God’s natural knowledge, middle knowledge, and free knowledge.
It is important to keep in mind that these three moments are a logical sequence, not a chronological sequence. Since God is omniscient, He innately knows all things – this means He does not go through the mental processes that finite beings do of “figuring things out.” God never “learns” or has things “occur” to Him. He already knows all truths. The fact that God is omniscient does not merely mean that God is infinitely more knowledgeable than us, but that His knowledge is of a different type and quality. So the three moments of God’s knowledge proposed by Molinism refer to logical order, not on a sequence in time
The Three Moments of Molinism in terms of “Could,” “Would,” and “Will”
God’s Natural Knowledge
Everything that could happen
|God knows all possibilities.|
God’s Middle Knowledge
Everything that would happen
|God knows which possibilities are feasible|
|Between the 2nd and 3rd moment: God freely and sovereignly chooses this particular world from the infinite number of feasible possibilities.|
God’s Free Knowledge
Everything that will happen
|God exhaustively knows all things.|
Within His natural knowledge of all possibilities – everything that could happen – God possesses a perfect knowledge of all feasible worlds – all possibilities which would accomplish what He wanted to have happen. This knowledge of all viable possibilities is “located” (so to speak) between God’s natural and free knowledge – and hence the term middle knowledge. God’s middle knowledge contains all of the choices and decisions that free creatures would do if they were created in a particular world. When God chooses to actualize one of these feasible worlds, He knows certainly what will happen. Notice: could, would, and will.