Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Craig Blomberg Sparks a Fire in the Blog World

Dr. Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary has a small post on Koinonia explaining why he is a "Calminian." What's a Calminian? Basically it's a term to describe a proposed third way between the Calvinist and Arminian systems of theology with predestination as a primary focus. For Dr. Blomberg this involves a doctrine called "middle knowledge." Blomberg explains, "Simply put, middle knowledge affirms, with classic Arminianism, that God’s predestining activity is based on his foreknowledge of what all humans would do in all possible situations that they could find themselves in." The post is much too short in order for Blomberg to fully explain much less defend his position. (You can actually find a little longer post on the subject by Blomberg here. There are several good questions asked which Blomberg is careful to answer. It's unfortunate they didn't provide a link to this discussion on the Koinonia blog.) But that hasn't stopped the criticisms from coming in. Just start with the comments to the post to see what I mean.

What surprised me the most was to discover that Terrance (Terry) Tiessen has changed his view to a more traditional Reformed perspective and essentially dropping the need for middle knowledge. He says in his comment: "In short, I now concur with the majority of the Reformed tradition that God has only two “kinds” of knowledge, natural/necessary and free. This does not, however, change my model of providence. In understanding how it is that God’s providence is meticulously sovereign and yet moral creatures act in responsible freedom, I continue to find the concept of God using his knowledge of what particular creatures would do in possible situations to be very helpful (though possible only if creatures are soft-deterministically free, acting according to their nature). Hopefully, the abandonment of “middle knowledge” will enable some traditional Calvinists to give my proposal serious consideration, whereas they may have summarily dismissed it previously."

What do I think of all this? In the past couple of years I've wavered a bit on middle knowledge. But granting it I've never been comfortable with using it in solving the predestination/election issue. It seems that with total depravity and compatibilistic freedom I don't see what help it really provides. It is clearly helpful if you have libertarian freedom. But then I don't know how even an omniscient being can really "know" what someone with genuine libertarian freedom would do on any given occasion, but all parties have to bow to some element of mystery at some point.

Other blogs have picked up on this and discussed it even further. Here are a few that you might want to visit. I'll start with the most favorable first:

Peter Kirk "I'm a 'Calminian' Too."
Jeff "My Definition of Calminian"
Elshaddai Edwards "Calminianism and Open Theism" (with a response from Blomberg)
Josh Walker "Counting Heads" (with a response from Blomberg)
Turretinfan "So Good Men differ ... so what?"
Andrew Compton "Calminianism redux?!"
Green Baggins "Is Middle Knowledge Middle Ground"
Triablogue - "Why I'm Not a Calminian" (post by Steve Hays with a response from Blomberg)

Unrelated to this particular discussion but helpful is the article by Paul Helm called "Shunning Middle Knowledge."

The premier defender of middle knowledge today is William Lane Craig. You can find several articles by him here.

Middle knowledge is traditionally traced back to Luis de Molina. See the helpful articles on Molinism and Luis de Molina by Alfred J. Freddoso.


Paul said...

Great post Louis with some very helpful links. VERY surprised about Tiessen.

As you know I've been intrigued with MK for some time. Having just read Helm's "Shunning Middle Knowledge" he gave me a great deal to think about (as always). I know Helm believes "God’s knowledge of unactualised possibilities, possibilities therefore that are counterfactual ... are not counterfactuals of human (libertarian) freedom" but that "divine counterfactual knowledge, knowledge of what might be and of what might have been ... is part of God’s natural knowledge."

So we're saying not all counterfactuals are created equally? We have "libertarian counterfactuals" and "non-libertarian counterfactuals?" Pray tell, how can it be so? Do any counterfactuals (pick your flavor) really have a "distinct content" to use a Helmian expression?

In particular, what exactly is the ontological status of a libertarian counterfactual? Can it even have one? As I understand, only God's choices are entirely undetermined and without any prior causal agency (read "divine libertarian free choice"). We could say every choice by God is "ontologically prior to itself." But can any human choice be ontologicaly prior to itself? If not, then it follows that no human choice is entirely isolated or disconnected from all other acts, events, or choices. They are "under the influence" (philosophers call this "supervenience" I think) of other acts, choices, or events.

Seems to me that if libertarian free will exists, and libertarian counterfactuals by entailment, then it must have some properties (necessary and sufficient) that make it what it is solely apart from all other properties. This would entail that a libertarian free choice is ontologically independent. But only God and his choices can be ontologically independent. Ergo, no libertarian free will. And, if no libertarian free will then no MK to defend and all unactualized possibilities simply fall within God's natural knowledge. Am I confused here?

Nevertheless, granting libertarian freedom an ontological status for the sake of this discussion: You say "how even an omniscient being can really "know" what someone with genuine libertarian freedom would do on any given occasion" seems mathematically possible if the number of choices are finite for anyone with libertarian freedom. Thus the options an omniscient being must know are not infinite, but finite. Being omniscient does not require one know an infinite number of choices, only the number available given other conditions, which themselves are finite.

On a considerably less philosophical but slightly more interesting note, I just finished drafting a three-part series (to be posted in a few days) on "providence and prayer" in which I draw heavily upon Tiessen and Helm (albeit I do not broach MK).

Andrew said...

Thanks for the link, Louis!


Scripture Zealot said...

If you don't mind me mentioning it, I wrote a short post on My definition of a “Calminian”. Warning, it's not favorable.

I love your blog. Esteban turned me on to it.

The BBH Church Relations Team said...


Ok, that's just a whole lot to think about. Give me a couple of days to process it. I will say that my problem with God knowing the decision of a genuinely libertarian free choice stems not from how options are available (finite or infinite) but that if it is truly possible for the decision to change at the last second for no reason then while God might have a good guess he can't really know what will happen. Craig addresses this briefly in "The Only Wise God" (p. 145) "Now, an objector might persist by demanding to know the basis of divine middle knowledge." He offers two ways out. 1) God knows us so well that he will know what we would freely choose. 2) You can always take recourse to God's innate knowledge and by that knows all truth including counterfactuals. Option one is good only in so far as, granting true libertarian freedom, could decide something different completely out of character. It has to be logically possible given libertarian freedom. The second option I'm still thinking through. On the remaining part of your comment. . .I'll get back to you.


Glad you stopped by and thanks for the compliment on the blog. I really appreciate it. You're welcome any time to offer a link on any of my posts. I'll add your link to the main post. As for Esteban. . .the mere mention of his name brings a smile to my face. I've learned a lot, (A LOT), from him and cherish his friendship.