[Note: On January 3-8, 2016, I’m scheduled to teach a course entitled “Providence and Divine Sovereignty.” The course will be taught from a Molinist perspective, and a significant portion of the class will be devoted to understanding Molinism. For those who are interested in taking the course for credit (or auditing) but cannot attend on-campus, a online option is available. Please let me know if you are interested.]–kk
Named after its first proponent, Luis Molina (1535–1600), a sixteenth-century Jesuit priest, Molinism holds to a strong notion of God’s control and an equally firm affirmation of human freedom. In other words Molinism simultaneously holds to a Calvinistic view of a comprehensive divine sovereignty and to a version of free will (called libertarianism) generally associated with Arminianism. As Doug Geivett argues, the fact that Molinism is the one proposal that tries to hold simultaneously to both is a point in its favor, since both “are prima facie true.”
Molinism teaches that God exercises his sovereignty primarily through his omniscience, and that he infallibly knows what free creatures would do in any given situation. In this way God sovereignly controls all things while humans are also genuinely free. God is able to accomplish his will through the use of what Molinists label his middle knowledge. Middle knowledge is a technical term which refers primarily to God’s infinite knowledge of what free and morally responsible creatures would do in every possible scenario.
So Molinism formulates a radical “compatibilism,”—a “Calvinist” view of divine sovereignty and an “Arminian” view of human freedom—and for this reason is often attacked from both sides of the aisle. Calvinists such as Bruce Ware and Richard Muller consider Molinism to be a type of Arminianism, while Roger Olsen and Robert Picirilli (both card-carrying Arminians) reject Molinism for being too Calvinistic. However, Molinism is attractive to many leading Christian philosophers of our day, such as Alvin Plantinga, Thomas Flint, and William Lane Craig. One of the main reasons is that it demonstrates it is logically possible to affirm divine sovereignty and human freedom in a consistent manner. Even open theist William Hasker, who is no friend to Molinism, admits,
“If you are committed to a ‘strong’ view of providence, according to which, down to the smallest detail, ‘things are as they are because God knowingly decided to create such a world,’ and yet you also wish to maintain a libertarian conception of free will—if this is what you want, then Molinism is the only game in town.”
As a matter of fact, that is exactly what I want because I believe Molinism is faithful to the biblical witness. The Molinist model is the only game in town for anyone who wishes to affirm a high view of God’s sovereignty while holding to a genuine definition of human choice, freedom and responsibility. William Lane Craig goes so far as to describe the Molinist notion of middle knowledge as “the single most fruitful theological concept I have ever encountered.” When we apply Molinism to the vexing questions of predestination and election, the reasons for his enthusiasm become evident.
(From Salvation & Sovereignty pp. 5-6)