Wednesday, I participated in a debate on Molinism v Calvinism. I tag teamed with Richard Bushey against TurretinFan and Josh Sommer. It seems inappropriate for me to evaluate if our side “won” or not – that should be left to the audience. Nevertheless, there are a few issues I think deserve comment. In general, most of the debate hinged on definitional issues rather than true disagreements. There seemed to be a significant amount of talking past each other. In addition, I did not make my points with the greatest clarity. I would like to elucidate more clearly so future discussions can be more profitable.
Molinism is a view of divine providence that harmonizes complete divine sovereignty with genuine human freedom. The primary concept is God’s middle knowledge. God’s omniscience is conceptually divided into three logical moments. First is His natural knowledge which consists of all logical possibilities (i.e. everything that could happen). Last is His free knowledge which consists of a comprehensive knowledge of the actual world (i.e. everything that did happen, everything that is happening, and everything that will happen in the future). The content of this category of knowledge comes from God’s creative decree; God created freely, hence the name free knowledge. In between His natural and free knowledge (and prior to the creative decree) is a category called middle knowledge. The content of middle knowledge consists of what are called counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCFs for short). These are statements about what a free creature would do if she were in a certain set of circumstances. The upshot is that with knowledge of these CCFs, God can meticulously and sovereignly order a world according to His pleasure without obliterating human freedom nor sacrificing His foreknowledge.
With such an attractive position, it may be difficult to believe that some people reject the idea of middle knowledge. It’s posited that these CCFs don’t actually have any semantic content; the only truths are what could be the case or what will be the case; there simply isn’t anything that would be the case. This is a version of what’s called the “grounding objection“.
Monothelitism is a Christological “heresy” which states that Christ has two natures (divine and human) and one will; this is in opposition to dyotheletism which states that Christ has two natures (divine and human) and two wills (divine and human). Why the scare quotes around heresy? First, monothelitism was indeed condemned in 681 at the Third Council of Constantinople making it a formal heresy. However, from a Protestant position, these Councils, while helpful, are not authoritative. This means there is the distinct possibility for the council-members to make an error and unintentionally condemn something that’s not actually contrary to Scripture (alternatively, they could affirm something that is contrary to Scripture).
Is monothelitism an actual heresy running contrary to the fundamental teaching of Scripture? I think that it depends on the relation between will and nature. The motivation for the Third Council of Constantinople was to combat monophysitism: the teaching that Christ has one nature. This certainly is an actual heresy, running contrary to the Scriptural teaching of the hypostatic union. The truths that need to be held in balance are that (1) Christ is one person and (2) he has two natures. This is where presuppositions come into play.
There are two broad camps when it comes to the topic of will: combatibilists and libertarians. Compatibilists generally describe the will as a property of one’s nature. An individual wills to do something out of what her nature is. On the other hand, libertarians generally describe the will as a property of the person. An individual wills to do something out of who she is and not out of what she is . Libertarians would say where there is a will, there is a person (inb4 “where there’s a will there’s a way”).
Now, suppose that you’re a compatibilist and you hear that Christ has two natures; it follows naturally that Christ has two wills. If He only has one will, that would mean He only has one nature which is heretical. Suppose instead you’re a libertarian and you hear that Christ is one person; it follows quite naturally that Christ has one will. If He has two wills, that would make Him two persons which is super heretical.
In other words, monothelitism is a heresy within the compatabilist framework and dyotheletism is a heresy in the libertarian framework. It seems to me that in order to maintain monothelitism as a true heresy, one would have to demonstrate that libertarianism is incoherent in its rendering of wills as properties of persons instead of natures.
 This is not to say that libertarians deny one’s nature playing into one’s decisions. Soft libertarians posit that one’s nature provides the range or spectrum of choices available to an individual in certain circumstances but does not ultimately arbitrate which decision is made. This is in contradistinction to compatibilism which typically posits that the range of decisions consists of one member. This entire paragraph is a broad generalization and I recognize the shortcomings of its brevity.
Dr. James White released another Dividing Line podcast on Thursday aimed at refuting Molinism. It was a response to a response by William Lane Craig to an argument by James Anderson (of Reformed Theological Seminary) about “the fallible God of Molinism”. There was also another response by White to Craig’s response to J.W. Wartick‘s summary of Travis Cambell’s argument against Molinism based on an objection to divine aseity. There are a lot of moving pieces so I’ll list the play by play.
December 18, 2013: Dr. Travis Campbell discussed middle knowledge in this podcast and objected to Molinism on the basis that it undermines God’s aseity.
January 8, 2014: J.W. Wartick summarizes Dr. Campbell’s arguments and makes his own comments in this blog post here. Sometime afterwards, William Lane Craig picked up this post and decided to use it to discuss Molinism on his podcast.
January 29, 2014: Dr. James Anderson of Reformed Theological Seminary formulated and published an argument against Molinism on the issue of fallibility in this blog post here.
May 4, 2014: Dr. William Lane Craig discusses J.W. Wartick’s blog post and responds to Dr. Anderson’s arguments in this podcast here.
May 8, 2014: On the Dividing Line podcast, James White plays and responds to Craig’s May 4th podcast which can be found here.
I’ve been catching up with the Dividing Line podcast. In the last 15 minutes of the March 11 episode, Dr. White picks back up with his commentary on the Unbelievable? episode with Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Paul Helm discussing Molinism. I do have a lot of respect for Dr. White, however, as I have mentioned in the past, there are a few mistakes that I think he makes when critiquing Molinism.
In a recent Dividing Line podcast, James White was responding to a recent debate on Calvinism vs Molinism between Paul Helm and William Lane Craig. It’s a rather good podcast in general and I would recommend it. White makes many good responses worthy of consideration. In the future, I may cover some of his other points, but for now, I’m concerned with his closing remarks.