Doctrine of Creation (Part 13)

November 28, 2012     Time: 00:19:30

We have been talking about various doctrines of providence contrasting Calvinism, Arminianism and Molinism with respect to God’s governance of the world.


Question: Since we are talking about objections to Molinism, I noticed you didn’t bring up the grounding objection. Could you talk about that objection?

Answer: I did not bring up objections to middle knowledge because we discussed that already in the section of the course on the attributes of God. If you look back at your notes to the section on divine omniscience, we went through all of these various objections to middle knowledge. So what I wanted to consider last week was not objections to middle knowledge which have already been dealt with, but objections to a Molinist account of providence. Given middle knowledge, does Molinism give us a good account of providence? That was why I limited my discussion to the objection that I did last time.

Question: Maybe we are making this whole doctrine of election more complicated than it really needs to be. Suppose there are two groups of people in heaven. The members of the first group are there as a result of their own free choice. The members of the second group are there as a result of God’s own free choice, with perhaps the apostle Paul being an example. Similarly, there are two groups of people in hell. The members of the first group have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and have rejected it. The members of the second group have not heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ but would reject it if it were presented in an appropriate manner. What would be your comments about that?

Answer: The second group in hell that you described presupposes middle knowledge when you said there are people who would have rejected the Gospel if they heard it. That presupposes that God has middle knowledge. So once you give him middle knowledge, then I think a Molinist account of providence is going to follow. And this is not meant to be just a doctrine of election; this is a broader doctrine about how God governs the whole of the world – even things not having to do directly with salvation and election. If you are going to go with that kind of a solution, I think you are already in the Molinist camp.

Question: Yes, and I have no objection to that except I believe there are some people that God “zaps” – that is the verb you coined one time. These are people (for example, like the apostle Paul) who, left to their own devices, would have probably spent an eternity in hell but God overrides that choice.

Answer: Yeah, I hear what you are saying. I, myself, feel very uncomfortable with that. It does seem like the Lord “zapped” the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, doesn’t it? But then you wonder why doesn’t he just zap everybody who rejects him rather than allow them to go to hell forever? Why not just zap them if he really loves them? That discrimination, to me, seems as bad as Calvinism where God literally wills the damnation of certain individuals. So I would prefer to say that God knew that the apostle Paul would respond in an appropriate way freely to the vision on the Damascus road. It is very interesting – when the apostle Paul is testifying before Agrippa later in Acts, he tells his story and then he says, “Wherefore I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, O King, but I went and did this and that.”[1] So Paul himself seemed to recognize that there was room for disobedience. He wasn’t just “zapped;” he could have refused but he didn’t and God knew that he would respond in an appropriate way. Let me say one other thing about this, to pick up on a question raised last time about God being manipulative. I think that when you reflect on the doctrine of middle knowledge, it is very clear that this kind of knowledge in the hands of a tyrant would be fearsome indeed. If God were a tyrant then having this kind of knowledge would indeed be terrible. But the point I want to emphasis is that God is not like that! He wants the salvation of every person.[2] He wants people to come to know him and to be saved. It says in 1 Timothy 2:4 that God desires that all persons be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. This is his goal for every person. So in Acts 17, when Paul talks about God’s providence over human history, he says, “the Lord who made the heavens and the earth, determined the exact times and places that each person should live and he did this so that they might reach out for him and find him for he is not far from every one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.”[3] So Paul in Acts 17 seems to describe the world as providentially ordered by God with a view toward achieving an optimal ratio between saved and lost in the world – win as many saved freely as he can to himself. So we must not think of middle knowledge as something in the hands of a tyrant but rather in the hands of a person who loves people and who wants everyone to be saved and who therefore gives sufficient grace to salvation to everyone in order that they can come to know him and find eternal life.

Question: These things exist in tension. 2 Timothy 2:25 says “those who oppose must be gently instructed that God will grant them repentance.” So there is granted and the grantees and non-grantees. I share with my men’s group that this issue – Calvinism versus Arminianism versus Molinism – these things exist in tension and you have got to say the Bible teaches them both. I take Ecclesiastes to heart – God is in heaven and you are on earth. We are bound by time and space, God isn’t. And for us to understand this is futile, I think, in terms of trying to have a synthesis of it because we are creatures bound by time and space. A number of things God identifies in Scripture as mysteries, like the mystery of godliness, the mystery of sin . . .

Answer: This isn’t one of them, right?

Followup: This isn’t specifically defined but I think it falls in this category.

Answer: Alright, well, that is where I would disagree. I think that you are certainly right that there is this tension between divine sovereignty and human freedom in Scripture. That is where we began – with Scriptures teaching both of these things. But then we saw that there are different attempts to make sense of this by the Calvinist, Arminian and the Molinist. And I don’t see anything about Molinism that doesn’t make sense. That doesn’t mean it is true but it at least means that it shows that these are reconcilable and that we are not just left with the tension. Unless you can show some sort of problem with this model, it does show – this is especially important to the unbeliever – we are not just left with some sort of a mystery here but you can provide a model that will make sense of it.

Question: Just picking up on what earlier was said about the description of the dwellers of hell and how they got there – could this be explained in a way that would say God knows who would choose him given the opportunity and circumstances and who would not so those that would have chosen him he sets in place those circumstances to allow them to do what they would do anyway?

Answer: Yeah, if you go back to the section of this class on Doctrine of Christ you will remember the last part of that section was on this problem. I similarly suggested that it is possible that those who never hear the Gospel and are lost are people who God knew would not have responded to it even if they had heard it. So nobody could stand before God on Judgment Day and say, “OK, God, so I didn’t respond to general revelation in nature and conscience, but if I had heard the Gospel, then I would have believed in it!” And God will say, “No, I knew that even if you had heard you still would have rejected it and so my judgment of you on the basis of nature and conscience is neither unjust nor unloving.” Indeed, it is possible that those who reject general revelation and are lost would not have been saved in any feasible world that God could have created them in. They might suffer what one might call transworld damnation – that is to say, in any circumstances in which God would have created them they would have freely rejected him.

Followup: I think it also helps to explain the passage in Scripture where God wants all to respond to him[4] but they don’t. So, in essence, he knows with our own free will whether we would or whether we would not. If we would, he puts in place the circumstances to create that environment to which we then respond.[5]

Answer: That is what I am suggesting, too. That at least is a possibility that makes sense of this biblical data. So, yes, that is what I would say as well. I refer you back to the section on Doctrine of Christ where we talked about this before and I did propose a similar solution to what you are saying.


We’ve been talking about Doctrine of Creation. We looked at creation out of nothing and then we looked at God’s conservation and concurrence in the world as he sustains it in being. Finally, we looked at God’s providence over the world – the way he governs the world. And now we want to move on to a new topic, which is the topic of miracles.

Ordinary Providence and Extraordinary Providence

The classical Protestant theologians distinguished two types of divine providence: providentia ordinaria (ordinary providence) and providentia extraordinaria. Providentia ordinaria would be God’s ordinary governance of the world through natural causes and natural laws – the way things naturally happen in the world. His extraordinary providence would be special miraculous acts of God whereby God intervenes in the nexus of finite secondary causes and causes something to happen that would not take place apart from that divine intervention. So his ordinary providence is his non-miraculous governance of the world but his extraordinary providence is his miraculous interventions in the world to bring about his will.

As nice as this rubric is, I think it can be somewhat misleading because, on a Molinist view, we can imagine God bringing about certain events that I think would be more plausibly classed as extraordinary providence even though they are non-miraculous. That is to say, given his middle knowledge, God could set things up naturally so that at the time when, say, a prayer is offered the natural causes are in place to bring about the response to that prayer. Here is an example. In Joshua 3:16, it describes how the Israelite people pass through the Jordan River into the Promised Land. It says that what happened was, even though the Jordan at that time is normally flooding, that upstream the water is all stopped and heaped up and it left the riverbed dry so that the people of Israel could cross the river just at the moment that the priests stepped into the water. Now, this could have been, as some biblical commentators have suggested, due to a purely natural occurrence upstream. An earthquake, say, could cause a landslide which would block the river upstream so that the bed would dry up just at the time that the Israelites were about the cross into the Promised Land. This would be because God, via his middle knowledge, knew when they would come there, what time they would arrive and where so that the natural causes could be set up from the beginning of the earth without any supernatural intervention on God’s part. I am not suggesting that God miraculously intervened and pushed the tectonic plates so that they grated and caused this earthquake. No, the tectonic plates have always been there for billions of years and without any intervention on God’s part he just knew that this is when the earthquake would occur that would cause the landslide that would dry up the river so that the people could cross over into the Promised Land.

I think you can see that acts like this are not just ordinary providence. They are really extraordinary because these things wouldn’t normally happen apart from God’s intending it. You normally would not have a person suddenly be cured of cancer just because someone lays hands on him and prays. But God knew the natural causes that would be in place that would bring that about, say, when someone prayed.[6] So this can encourage us to pray for people when they are sick, for example, or pray for financial straits when we go through them without thinking that we need to have a miracle occur – that God needs to somehow miraculously intervene. We may not have the faith to pray for a miracle but we could pray for a special providence, I think, in many cases.

I would want to distinguish between acts of special providence and genuine miracles. An act of special providence is an event which is extraordinary because of its timing and its place but it is still natural. By contrast, a miracle would involve God’s actual causal intervention in the nexus of finite causes to bring about some event that the natural causes at that time and place would not have cause to happen.


Question: In the case of the person that has cancer, if the planets have aligned that it is going to happen regardless without direct intervention, why do we pray for it?

Answer: It would not have happened regardless – that is the whole point! God, via his middle knowledge, knew that these prayers would be offered and so he set up the natural causes in advance to produce the result – the answer – at the time the prayers happen. But it would not have happened regardless. If the prayers were not to occur then God would have known that in his middle knowledge and not set up the natural causes. Prayer makes a difference! It is just that in order to answer the prayer, it doesn’t mean that you have to have a miraculous intervention or backward causation. Let me give one other example. When Jan and I were on staff with Campus Crusades, in 1972 we were preparing for an event called Explo72, a big conference in Dallas, Texas. About the weekend before the conference, nobody was signed up for it – it looked like it was going to be a big dud instead of an explosion! The Crusade staff at headquarters that weekend had a time of repentance and prayer and seeking the Lord and experienced a real revival on the staff. Monday morning – boom! – in came the applications! They just came flooding in. Thousands – tens of thousands – of people attended. The speaker we were listening to reflected on this. He said, “You know those applications had to have already been mailed prior to our time of repentance and revival on Saturday and Sunday. God knew that we were going to have this time, this season of prayer, so he set it up so these applications would come flowing in right afterwards.” If you have got middle knowledge, that makes perfect sense. That is a perfectly reasonable interpretation of how things go. So this, I think, can show you what I am talking about. It is not going to happen regardless. It happens because God knew that these prayers would be offered but he doesn’t need to do a last minute intervention to take care of it. Knowing this, he can set it up in advance so that it will take place.

What we will want to look at next time is how, during the 19th century, the belief in miracles collapsed. We will see how 19th century theologians came progressively to doubt, first, the miraculous nature of the events recorded in the Gospels and then, secondly, to doubt that these events even occurred at all and how this has impacted modern historical criticism of the Gospels and the historical Jesus. It is a fascinating story.[7]

[1] cf. Acts 26:19-20

[2] 4:57

[3] cf. Acts 17:24-28

[4] cf. 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9

[5] 10:09

[6] 14:55

[7] Total Running Time: 19:30 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)