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#151 Molinism and Evangelism

March 08, 2010

Dr. Craig,

My thanks go out to you and all the good people at Reasonable Faith. I am a pastor and your resources have been a blessing to me (and thus to the people to whom I minister) by developing my theology and philosophy.

My question concerns evangelism under the middle knowledge view. You said in one of your podcasts (and I apologize if I misrepresent you here) that God's middle knowledge should give us profound courage when evangelizing, knowing that God has providentially ordered it such that those people who would in fact respond to the gospel will be some of the people with whom we share the message. I agree!

However, this does not, in my thinking, go to give us any real impetus to evangelize. For if I do not go and do the difficult work of evangelism, I can rest comfortably knowing that those to whom I did not bring the gospel are providentially placed such by God because He knew that they would not respond to the gospel even if they heard it. It seems someone could not evangelize out of laziness and have a clear conscience about it outside of the fact that Bible commands us to do it (which is the same criticism levied against many calvinists on this topic "if salvation is only by God's election, then I don't need to evangelize").

So while I agree that the middle knowledge perspective gives us encouragement when we do evangelize, it seems to give a sort of practical "pass" on evangelism if we shirk this responsibility. Of course, this is not an argument against middle knowledge, just a difficulty for me.

I would appreciate any wisdom you can lend in this matter.


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Dr. craig’s response


Great to hear from you, Pastor! Thank you for your service to the Lord's flock! I'm thrilled that you've found the material at ReasonableFaith.org to be helpful in your ministry.

I've actually discussed your question in an exchange of articles with the philosopher William Hasker which are available on this site under Scholarly Articles: Christian Particularism. You may have already read "'No Other Name': A Middle Knowledge Perspective on the Exclusivity of Salvation Through Christ." If so, the next to read is "Should Peter Go to the Mission Field?", written in response to Hasker's article in Faith and Philosophy 8 (1991), pp. 380-89. If you're really interested, follow up with "Does the Balance Between Saved and Lost Depend on Our Obedience to Christ's Great Commission?". Finally, you may want to look at "Should Peter Get A New Philosophical Advisor?", a reply to another critique by the indefatigable Hasker in Philosophia Christi. Fortunately, these are all short pieces.

What I maintain is that Molinism provides a proper, positive perspective on missions in place of the negative, guilt-ridden perspective that if I don't go then people will go to hell who would otherwise have been saved. That negative perspective, when you think about it, is really horrid: that God would condemn people to hell because of the historical accident of my disobedience. Surely God would not allow their salvation or damnation to hinge upon the degree of my obedience to the call to evangelization! Moreover, such a negative motivation is, I believe, very bad for the soul, creating guilt and resentment toward God rather than joyful service. The impetus for evangelization need not and, indeed, should not be negative.

The positive motivation for evangelizing is that I can be the means of bringing salvation to people whom God has appointed me to meet. As Paul said, "We are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us." What a privilege! I agree that the Calvinist can and should have this same positive motivation. This is motivation enough. We should not try to get lazy people to evangelize out of a guilty conscience (though, of course, such a person is guilty of disobedience, which is bad enough!)

However, it does not follow, as you say, that

if I do not go and do the difficult work of evangelism, I can rest comfortably knowing that those to whom I did not bring the gospel are providentially placed such by God because He knew that they would not respond to the gospel even if they heard it.

First, notice the subtle point that you have stated an indicative conditional, not a subjunctive (counterfactual) conditional. You're talking about someone who actually does not go and so figures that the people he did not talk to about Christ are lost and would not have responded had he talked to them. But his reasoning is fallacious. Just because he did not share the Gospel with them doesn't imply that nobody else did either! God may have arranged for somebody else to have the privilege he passed by of bringing salvation to them. Moreover, it may be that had he been obedient and gone, then God would have used him to bring them to salvation or, even better, would have created other, different people who would have been even more responsive to his message, so that even more people would have been saved!

What you really want to know, I think, is

if I were to go and do the difficult work of evangelism, would there be people who would be saved but who would not have been saved had I not gone?

The answer to that question is that there might well be such people. For were you not to go, it might be that God would not have created them. So although they would not have been lost as a result of your disobedience, still they would not have been saved either because they would not have existed at all. It may well be the case that were you to go and share the Gospel, people would be saved who otherwise would not have been saved. Surely that gives additional impetus for evangelism!

- William Lane Craig