Tag Archives: Molinism

Addendum: More on Molinism

Robert E. Picirilli

(Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of recent blog posts dealing with the subject of Molinism. For those late in coming to this discussion, they can read part one here and part two here).

I want to explain my reasons for rejecting Molinism in two key matters. I won’t take space to review the basic elements of Molinism.[1]

(1) Apparently some think I see more that’s unappealing in Molinism than may really be there. And of course that’s possible. But I am confident that its key ingredient lies in the way God uses his so-called “middle knowledge,” and I hope the following will at least show why I believe this is where a problem lies.

I realize that Molinism intends to protect both human freedom and God’s sovereign control and government of the created order (two things I’m in favor of!). Molinism presents “middle knowledge,” as God’s knowing what every free person would do in every conceivable set of circumstances. Then Molinism says God used that knowledge, when designing and creating the world, so as to preserve both God’s sovereign control and human freedom.

Then how did God use that knowledge (of what everyone would do in every circumstance) to do these two things? The answer is: since he knew how all of us would respond to various circumstances he designed the world he would actualize in a way that it would include the circumstances in which we would respond in the way that is in accord with his will. (I am satisfied I can cite Molinists of different persuasions to confirm this.)

As I see it, nothing less than that is Molinism. I am not a Molinist and I believe that God knew how every person would respond to every conceivable circumstance when he designed and created the world; that isn’t the issue. He knew how Adam and Eve would respond to the circumstances they were in, for example—as well as how they would have responded had the circumstances been different.

So it’s how God used that knowledge that makes Molinism Molinism. And Molinism offers that God, when he created this world, took that knowledge into account and created the circumstances in the world in which each person would (yes, freely) make the decision that would carry out his will.

To say the same thing in other words: before God made us, he determined to put us in circumstances designed to fit the responses he knew we would make. Again, knowing how we would respond led him to shape the circumstances he created us in. That’s the whole point of Molinism, the very reason for defining this middle knowledge. Logically, this can’t help but mean (whether stated or not) that these are the circumstances in which we would respond in accord with his will for us and the world.

To illustrate, when we say God knew in advance how Judas would respond to any conceivable circumstances, that would mean, say, that he knew (1) just how Judas would respond to the circumstances that actually took place; and (2) how he would respond if the circumstances were different in some way (say, his friends would advise him against it, for example); and (3) how he would respond if the circumstances were different in yet another way (say, the priests only offered him 15 pieces of silver, for example), etc. I don’t see how Molinism can avoid saying that God chose, as part of this world he actualized, the very circumstances in which he knew that Judas would betray Jesus—and for that very reason. Yes, Molinism insists that Judas’ decision was still a free and unforced one, and I appreciate that. But the point of Molinism, it seems clear to me, is that God chose Judas’s circumstances, not to directly cause him to betray Jesus, but for the very purpose of providing the circumstances in which he knew Judas would do so. That, to me, is the significant (and displeasing) thing.

Take Adam and Eve as another example. I (and Arminians) will readily acknowledge that when God created them and the “circumstances” of their existence (which included the garden, the tree, the serpent’s temptation, etc.) he knew they would sin. But I can’t believe that he provided that set of circumstances as a result of knowing that they would sin if he did. That is a very different theology of God’s use of his knowledge in creation, it seems to me.

Now, someone may suggest that both Molinism and my view (that God created them and their circumstances, knowing they would sin) are the same and in both God has the same relationship to their sin. If anyone says that, I will disagree. Adam and Eve (as all of us will agree) did not have to sin and God did not desire that they sin. Obviously he wanted them to be free to sin, and for reasons best known to him they needed to be tested. The circumstances they were in contributed to nothing more than their being tempted; their failure was all their own doing and the circumstances they were in made no contribution to their failure and were not constructed as a result of God’s knowing how they would respond.

Perhaps a human illustration would be helpful. I may know someone well enough to be confident as to how he will respond if I put him in a certain situation. I may then indeed put him in that situation. The question is, why do I do that? I could do it for a good or a bad reason. I could do it in order that he would respond that way, which would be manipulative. I could do it because it was the right thing for me to do regardless how he is expected to respond. That would not be manipulative. The difference is that in the first I would be constructing the circumstances to produce the response, while in the latter I would not take into account his response in deciding to construct the circumstances because that was the right thing for me to do to him.

This difference, I fully believe, is the difference between Molinism and Arminianism.  Molinism teaches that God took into account his knowledge of how people would respond when he decided on the circumstances to create for them. And the reason for this is that in Molinism God was constructing the circumstances not just as a way to maintain human freedom but also as a way to maintain his control and purpose for things. For me, and Arminianism I think, God conceived and created this world to be the arena in which he acts and interacts with human beings in an interpersonal way, providing circumstances that are both friendly to their freedom and designed to test them and give them opportunity, but not in a way that considers, in advance, how they will respond to his overtures.

Believe me, I have diligently tried to see how Molinism’s view (that God created things in accord with his knowledge of how people would respond) is “innocent” of manipulation.  But every time I think, “Well, maybe if we look at it this way it will be OK,” I start realizing the full implications of having God create circumstances in the world to fit how he knows people will respond. One reason is that it becomes very hard to apply this to the negative cases like Judas and Adam and Eve and those who reject Christ and go to Hell. But even if it weren’t for that, I still wouldn’t find appealing the idea that God knew before creation how each person would respond to all sets of circumstances (which he did) and then selected the sets that they would respond to in a way that accords with his exercise of sovereign control. If, knowing how all would respond, he chose circumstances that upheld everyone’s freedom, circumstances that served to enable them all to exercise that freedom, or things like that, I wouldn’t have a problem. But then I wouldn’t need Molinism, since Arminianism already justifies that sort of thing.

Let me give one more telling example. I’m aware that William Lane Craig is greatly respected—including by me. But Craig has given up one of the key elements of libertarian freedom: namely, the ability to make an alternative choice.  Lest you think I am misinterpreting him, I provide here a quotation from him, which can be found here.  I’m including the lengthy quote so that you can see both the context and his understanding of how God uses his “middle knowledge” to control what people “freely” do:

I’m a libertarian who thinks that causal determinism is incompatible with freedom. That doesn’t imply that I hold to the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP), which states that a free agent has in a set of circumstances the ability to choose A or not-A. I’m persuaded that so long as an agent’s choice is not causally determined, it doesn’t matter if he can actually make a choice contrary to how he does choose. Suppose that God has decided to create you in a set of circumstances because He knew that in those circumstances you would make an undetermined choice to do A. Suppose further that had God instead known that if you were in those circumstances you would have made an undetermined choice to do not-A, then God would not have created you in those circumstances (maybe it would have loused up His providential plan!). In that case you do not have the ability in those circumstances to make the choice of not-A, but nevertheless your choice of A is, I think, clearly free, for it is causally unconstrained—it [is] you who determines that A will be done. So the ability to do otherwise is not a necessary condition of free choice.

For him, then, “libertarian freedom” does not include the power of alternative choice, and so I wouldn’t call it libertarian freedom. And you can see from his illustration just how God uses middle knowledge. I trust you can also see why I reject Molinism, even in the hands of someone who is not a Calvinist.

(2) Now I move to my second part, to clarify what I said about there being no logical need for “middle” knowledge, taking it in logical steps.

First, consider that Molinists themselves believe that the first “moment” of God’s knowledge (necessary or natural knowledge) includes his knowing “all possible worlds.”

Second, understand exactly what is meant by a (possible) “world,” in this sense. It includes not just the physical cosmos (galaxies, stars/suns, planet earth with its natural elements and inhabitants, etc.) but all the “circumstances” in the existence and history of that “world,” which includes all the choices of agents and all the things that follow from those choices.

Third, then those possible worlds (possible only in God’s conceiving them) included this one we inhabit. Up until the point at which Adam and Eve disobeyed God, perhaps there were no other “possibilities.” (I tend to think that to whatever degree the concept of “possible worlds” is useful, it refers to the possibilities that result from the choices of free agents.)  At the time of their choice, there were (at least) four possible “worlds,” in which: (1) Adam and Eve would sin; (2) Adam and Eve would not sin; (3) Eve would sin but not Adam; (4) Eve would not sin but Adam would.  (If we think of billions of people making billions of free choices, there was an infinite number of “possible worlds” just for the one described in Genesis 1!)

Fourth, for God to fully know this possible world (the one in which Adam and Eve sinned, and in which JFK was shot in Dallas in 1963, and in which I enrolled at FWBBC in the fall of 1949, etc., etc., etc.) in his necessary knowledge (see “First,” above), means that he already knew what every being in it would do if he decided to actualize this world. And the moment he decided to actualize this one, at that moment his knowledge of it (omniscience, necessary knowledge) provided exhaustive/perfect foreknowledge of all that will be in this world.

Fifth, thus middle knowledge is both unneeded and in some ways illogical. God, by knowing perfectly this world (even if only as one of the possibilities) in moment 1, already knew what all its inhabitants would do and already knew all its circumstances. Consequently, he could not then, at another logical (“middle”) moment, design circumstances in this world by taking into account his knowledge of how people would respond. By already knowing this world, he already knew all the circumstances and all the responses.

Sixth, only two “moments” are needed, then: the moment of his necessary knowledge of all possible worlds and the moment of actualizing this world (out of all possibilities). To say that his knowledge (of this world) from the creation moment can be called “foreknowledge” is nothing more than a way of viewing God’s exhaustive knowledge in the temporal context of this world with its past, present, and future. (It is “fore”knowledge in that he knew yesterday what I will do today, and that is “before” from our perspective. The unchanging God himself is eternal.)

I hope all our readers can see better, now, why I say that middle knowledge is entirely unnecessary. Arminians don’t need that middle. We can go directly from God’s eternal knowledge to his decision to create a world that has free agents in his image, agents whom he loves and labors with equally to persuade them all to be saved. We don’t believe his sovereignty is in conflict with that. The only thing required for sovereignty to be fully intact is for the world to operate the way God designed it to operate.

Furthermore, we don’t believe foreknowledge itself “determines” things, or that the number of the saved has already been established by God’s decree or act of creation. We believe, for example, that if missionaries go to a given country and preach the gospel, some will be saved who will not be saved if someone doesn’t go; and this is a contingency, and God has constructed this universe to permit our obedience or disobedience. We don’t believe that God’s creation of this world, “made certain” the events of this world that come about by free, human choices.  A person’s choice to obey or disobey, in time and space, is what makes certain his act of obedience or disobedience (this is part of what is meant by “self-determinism”), even though God eternally knows it as certain. This involves the distinction I rely on, between certainty, necessity, and contingency.[2]

We Arminians believe God created this very world knowing what it would be, sin included.  We don’t believe his creating it as it is makes him the author of the sin. Determinists, including Calvinists, misunderstand sovereignty and all-inclusive providence. They misunderstand the implications of foreknowledge. Our calling in this world, I think, is to challenge them on the very points they are so strong about. We have a good case to make, I am firmly convinced. Our Arminianism, following the lead of Arminius himself, already explains Biblically how God is sovereign and achieves his purposes with full respect for the free agency of human beings.

I can speak only for myself, of course, but I don’t find any problem within our Arminianism that needs the help of Molinism to solve.


[1] I apologize for the technical, logical terminology in all of this. I don’t like the language of “possible worlds” and don’t use it myself. But the issues involved in Molinism are logical constructs that the Bible does not deal with, and when I do discuss such matters I try to make them as clear as I can to readers who aren’t used to such discussions. I hope I’ve been able to do that here.

[2] See my Free Will Revisited: A Respectful Reply to Luther, Calvin, and Edwards (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2017), 79-81. Certainty is anything that was, is, or will be, considered simply as a fact. Necessity is anything we have to do because of influences from outside ourselves. Contingency is anything we do when we could do otherwise.

Can Arminians Be Molinists? (Part 2)

Robert E. Picirilli

(This is the second part of a two-part article)

In Part I, I have defined Molinism and evaluated its view more basically. I have other criticisms of Keathley’s position, some of which might not be shared by all Molinists but all of which seem likely to result from Molinism’s effort to achieve a stance between Calvinism and Arminianism.  I will treat three matters.

Other Problems with Keathley’s Molinism

1. Keathley confronts the objection often posed by Calvinists who say that requiring a person to exercise faith for salvation makes faith something the saved “do” that is in some way virtuous and distinguishes them from unbelievers. He states the objection as follows:

If I freely believe, but my neighbor freely does not, does not this imply that somehow I was nobler than my neighbor? Did I not use my freedom to a higher end? Yes, salvation is a free gift, and receiving redemption incurs no merit, but is not the one who accepts it in some way wiser, more humble, more virtuous, more appreciative, more aware of his need, or more sensitive to sin than the one who rejects it?[1]

In essence Keathley accepts this as a “problem” and proceeds to resolve it by viewing faith as a gift and not something the elect “do.” He represents the elect as “doing” absolutely nothing; they don’t even choose to accept Christ. By contrast, the non-elect actively “do” something; they consciously resist God and thereby become solely responsible for their damnation. So, for Keathley, the salvation of the elect is totally the work of God, while the damnation of the non-elect is totally their own work.

I would urge, however, that as long as one regards salvation as conditional, there will inevitably be a difference between what a believer “does” and what an unbeliever “does” (or “doesn’t”) and this can theoretically (but mistakenly) be regarded as making the one more “worthy” or “virtuous” than the other. The very reason for unconditional salvation is to avoid that.

Keathley says the elect “refrain” from resisting, whereas the non-elect actively resist. Well, to “refrain from resisting” is still to “do” something—which simply substitutes for “choosing Christ.” The difference between one who “does” this refraining and one who actively resists can still be (falsely) accused of amounting to a difference in “worthiness.”

The way to deal with this Calvinist objection is to deny that it is valid. Biblically speaking, believing (faith) is not a “work”; accepting a gift with the empty hand of faith is not offering any worth or merit or virtue to God. The actions of the elect and non-elect are parallel: one chooses for and the other chooses against. If libertarian freedom means anything at all, it is exercised by both the elect and the non-elect. Otherwise, only the unbeliever acts with libertarian freedom, while the believer does not lest he be guilty of offering something he has “done” to God.

Elsewhere Keathley shows clearly that he understands that faith is not a work and that the verb “do” doesn’t require doing a meritorious work or deed. If one asks, then, why he bothers to offer a different solution, the answer is that he is determined to hold to Calvinism’s view of what it means for salvation to be wholly the work of God. To this end he is sustaining unconditional election, to which I now turn.

2. Keathley’s treatment leaves cloudy the question whether salvation is by faith. I say “cloudy” because he seems to speak both ways. On the one hand, he forthrightly affirms that salvation is by faith: “The Bible does not merely present faith as the evidence of regeneration or effectual call but as the condition to receiving salvation. Salvation is by faith.”[2] Again, he says, “We are required to exercise faith in order to receive salvation.”[3]

On the other hand, he also affirms things that appear to mean that salvation is unto faith instead of by faith. He follows the quotation just given with these words, “but this disposition of trust is a divine gift.”[4] He “understands the sinner’s coming to faith as a process by which the Spirit of God carries a person to the point of saving trust.”[5] He refers to this as “ambulatory faith” and illustrates with an ambulance carrying an unconscious man to treatment who wakes up on the way having had nothing at all to do with being transported to the emergency room.  This means that God’s “overcoming grace” carries a person all the way into faith. This way, God gives him or her the faith: “All that is necessary in this scenario is that a person refrains from acting.”[6] The man in the ambulance could rebel and insist on getting out, of course; but as long as a person being drawn to Christ doesn’t resist, he will infallibly believe.

We remember that this is the case for persons for whom God, knowing how they would respond to specific circumstances of grace, designed and actualized the world to include the very circumstances that they were certain not to resist.

As I see it, this is not salvation by faith,[7] and the matter is further complicated by the fact that Keathley defends unconditional election. In traditional theology, unconditional election entails unconditional salvation, and conditional election implies conditional salvation. For Arminians, election is God’s choosing believers for salvation, and so their salvation is conditional. If election is unconditional, the elect meet no condition.

I found myself trying hard to discern how Keathley’s unconditional election is compatible with his observation that salvation is by faith. Clearly, he means that election is not grounded in the believer’s faith: “Molinists agree with Calvinists that it is crucial to maintain that God did not elect on account of foreknown merit or foreseen faith.”[8] I concluded that for him “by faith” does not mean conditional salvation, precisely because he regards faith as a gift and therefore the initial element of salvation itself. In the end, Keathley is making a diligent effort to credit the work of salvation to God alone—with which we Arminians will enthusiastically agree. By the same token, he accepts the idea that if the individual must exercise faith in order to be saved then the individual has contributed something and the work is not God’s alone—with which we will firmly disagree. We are not synergists.

For Keathley, then, God’s decree to save the elect is completely independent of their faith. God’s “overcoming grace” carries them along to a faith that God gives them and which they do not actively choose to exercise. This is not the Arminian view of conditional election or of salvation by faith.

3. Keathley does not seem consistent in drawing out the implications of how God deals with the non-elect as compared to the elect. I do not intend to pursue this in detail, but I think it important to mention as a matter for further consideration. To sum up, his view makes God fully responsible, in grace, for the salvation of the elect; but he intentionally does not draw a parallel conclusion with regard to the non-elect.

However, I believe that if he were consistent his view of how God uses middle knowledge would make God just as responsible for the damnation of the non-elect as for the salvation of the elect. At least there would be more that is coordinate than he appears to realize when he compares the two as “asymmetrical.”[9] In both cases, a Molinist God acts in exactly the same fundamental way. For the elect, God provides circumstances that He knows they will not resist and will lead them into faith. For the non-elect, God provides circumstances that He knows they will resist and will not lead them into faith. Both of them have, by His design at the moment He actualized the created order, been placed in circumstances which they will freely respond to in ways that accomplish God’s will for them. This is one of the problems of determinism that Keathley fails to avoid, I believe.

I call attention again to these words from the three quotations I included earlier: “God predestines all events.” “God meticulously ‘sets the table’ so that humans freely choose what He had predetermined.” “By use of middle knowledge [God] ordained … with infallible certainty that Peter would [deny Jesus].”  “[God] rendered certain … the destruction of certain ones who would reject God’s overtures of grace.” “Our free choice determines how we would respond in any given setting, but God decides the setting in which we actually find ourselves.”

The implications of these observations are as surely for the non-elect as for the elect. What Arminians call “prevenient” grace, which effectively enables even those who reject Christ to believe, is not the experience of any non-elect in Keathley’s view, so far as I can see.

The Problem of Order in Molinism’s “Middle Knowledge”

Molinism is about the logical order of elements of God’s knowledge—and, consequently, of His decisions. To begin with, I see no need for Molina’s “middle knowledge.” If God by virtue of His omniscience knows all possible worlds, then He already knows how anyone would respond to any conceivable circumstance.

Nevertheless, Molinism has a problem in its own presentation of order. Keathley and Molinism strongly distinguish between the three supposed “moments” of God’s knowledge.  First is God’s necessary knowledge of what could be, then His middle knowledge of what would be in any of the worlds that could be, and finally His free knowledge (or foreknowledge) of what will be in the world He decides to actualize.

The question is this: Where in this logical progression does election take place?  One would think that God’s decision to elect some out of the mass of fallen humanity cannot logically exist until He has first decided to permit (or cause, in supralapsarian views) the fall. And yet, in Keathley’s progression, God has already, prior to creation, identified the elect in considering what circumstances of grace to include for them in the world He actualizes.

In other words, the way God can provide “circumstances of grace” in the lives of the elect when He actualizes the world is if he has already identified them.  But that means (logically) that He must decide on the world to actualize before He (logically) decides about the fall and then about the election. That might work well if He were designing the world to provide equal opportunity for all, but instead He is designing its circumstances to the advantage and disadvantage of the elect and non-elect. And in order to do that he has to know who they are before He even knows they have fallen and need salvation.

If it should seem that I am violating my own uncertainty about Molinism’s logical “moments” in God’s knowledge, I say that I realize that some things known and/or decided must at least logically precede or follow from other such things. And it is clear to me that God must know/decide that He will create the world, before He knows/decides about the fall, before He knows/decides about election to salvation or about reprobation. But Molinism inverts the logical order.


In the end, the problem with Molinism is, precisely, a problem of order in God’s design for the world and human beings. Molinism offers that God, knowing all our tendencies, designed the world first in such a way that all those He willed to save would freely come to Him and all those He did not will to save would freely reject Him. This means that when we come into the world, God has already placed us in circumstances that will bring the elect to faith and will not bring the non-elect to faith. For such a view, Keathley is right to use words like determines and renders certain to describe the salvific acts of God.  And this is how God becomes a manipulator of human choices.

For the evangelical Arminian, however, the order is different. God designs the world, first and foremost, in a way that works in harmony with the libertarian freedom of all. In His universal salvific program, He provides for all and deals graciously with all in a way that enables each to respond positively to His wooing. Then both the elect and the non-elect, enabled by the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit, respond in libertarian freedom to accept or reject Christ.

When it comes to showing how God’s sovereignty and human freedom work together, then, Arminianism offers a much better understanding than Molinism.


[1] Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty, 102.

[2] Ibid., 119.

[3] Ibid., 116.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 104.

[6] Ibid., 105.

[7] I can tolerate saying that faith is a gift of God, but only if that is carefully explained to mean that God gives the opportunity and persuasion that enable faith.  But always the Scriptures attribute faith to the person exercising it.  See my Grave, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism & Arminianism (Nashville: Randall House, 2002), 167.

[8] Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty, 11.

[9] Ibid., 145.

Can Arminians Be Molinists? (Part 1)

Robert E. Picirilli

(This is the first of two guest-authored posts)

I hear that some Arminians incline toward a Molinist view of God’s sovereignty and human freedom. Perhaps the reason is, Molinists say their purpose is to uphold libertarian freedom[1] in a universe governed by a sovereign God, sure to achieve His purposes. We Arminians believe in both of those things.

What Is Molinism?

Molinism was conceived by a sixteenth-century Jesuit, Luis de Molina, with the express purpose of maintaining human freedom in a world providentially governed by a God who accomplishes His purposes in all events. Molina did this by defining God’s knowledge as occurring at three logically different (not temporally different) “moments.”

First is necessary (or natural) knowledge, which includes everything God knows simply because He is an omniscient God. What He knows at this stage includes “all possible worlds,” as philosophers like to express this—everything that could be, in other words.

Second is free knowledge, which includes knowledge of everything that will be as a result of God’s choice—out of all possible worlds—to create this world that actually exists. (Understand that a “world” in this sense includes everything that occurs in it, all the circumstances that ever arise.) Since this world didn’t have to exist (else it would have been co-eternal with God), then God’s knowledge of it likewise didn’t have to exist, and wouldn’t have if He had not created it.

Third is middle knowledge. The distinction between the first two goes back well before Molina.  He added a third “moment” or phase of God’s knowledge that stands logically between necessary and free knowledge, called middle knowledge. This includes God’s knowledge of everything that free beings would do in every conceivable set of circumstances.

Now, what does this have to do with anything? According to Molina: when God decided to create this world and all its “circumstances,” He already knew just what every person would freely choose in every possible circumstance. The key idea, then, is that God didn’t just actualize a world, He actualized all the circumstances in that world that He knew everyone would respond to and “freely” make the very choices that fit into God’s eternal plan. This way, God remains in sovereign control and His plan is entirely successful, but human beings remain free to choose between live options.

At first glance, this may seem appealing. I myself have sometimes said that God can keep me from working in my garden, by sending rain, without infringing on my freedom. He can, of course, and that’s an example of “middle knowledge” at work, say the Molinists. But read on.

Molinism and the Theology of Salvation: a Specific Example

In the following three paragraphs I will summarize the view of Kenneth Keathley, as explained in his recent book presenting a Molinist view of soteriology.[2]

When God actualized this world, using His middle knowledge of how every person would respond to every possible circumstance, He designed all the “circumstances” of every person’s existence in such a way that all of them would respond—in their libertarian freedom—in the very way necessary for His plan to be successful.

For the elect, He included in their existence what I will call “gracious circumstances” which He knew they would find appealing and not resist, and which would therefore carry them along to salvation. While this grace is resistible, God knew just how to present it so that they, although free and capable of doing so, would not resist. This way, their salvation is entirely effected by God’s grace, from beginning to end. They “do” absolutely nothing, not even so much as choosing to receive grace. In the entire process that brings them to God, they remain free to accept or reject Him but certainly accept Him—I add, given the circumstances He has placed them in.

For the non-elect, perhaps God also placed them in gracious circumstances to which they could respond favorably, even though He knew they would not. But He did not place them in any gracious circumstances that would bring them to Him, although (I assume) He must have known of such circumstances and could have actualized them but didn’t. As is true for the elect, then, the non-elect remain free to accept or reject God but certainly will reject Him—I add, again, given the circumstances He has (or has not) placed them in. Thus their damnation is entirely their own doing; God in no way desired or caused it.

Lest the reader think I have misinterpreted Keathley’s view, I include here his own words.

From the repertoire of available options provided by His middle knowledge, God freely and sovereignly chooses which one [which option] He will bring to pass. … [By utilizing his knowledge] God predestines all events, yet not in such a way that violates genuine human freedom and choice. God meticulously “sets the table” so that humans freely choose what He had predetermined. Remember the example of Simon Peter’s denial of the Lord. The Lord predicted Peter would deny Him and by use of middle knowledge ordained the scenario with infallible certainty that Peter would do so. However, God did not make or cause Peter to do as he did.[3]

When God made the sovereign choice to bring this particular world into existence, He rendered certain but did not cause the destruction of certain ones who would reject God’s overtures of grace. According to Molinism, our free choice determines how we would respond in any given setting, but God decides the setting in which we actually find ourselves.[4]

God determines the world in which we live. Whether I exist at all, have the opportunity to respond to the gospel, or am placed in a setting where I would be graciously enabled to believe are sovereign decisions made by Him. The Molinist affirms that the elect are saved by God’s good pleasure.[5]


It’s one thing for God to use such knowledge in providentially controlling circumstances after He actualized and designed the world. No doubt He does such things to “work all things together” for our good (Rom. 8:38) or for His own purposes. But it’s an entirely different thing for Him to use His knowledge that way to design circumstances for us at creation—before we even exist!—to bring about our salvation or the development of our moral character.

I indicate my rejection of Keathley’s approach with an analogy.[6] Consider a skilled chess-master, playing against opponents whose abilities are much less that his and whose tendencies he knows well. He decides in advance which opponents will win and which will lose. He chooses his moves carefully and designs them in accord with his knowledge of their tendencies and skills. By making this move or that one, he skillfully maneuvers each opponent to freely make moves that will lead to the victory or defeat that the chess-master decided in advance.  And the opponent never suspects a thing!

That’s the way I see Keathley’s Molinist view of how God deals with the elect and non-elect. As I see it, Keathley makes God a manipulator of human beings. He knows their tendencies—more, He knows exactly how they will respond to any circumstance—and ordains circumstances in the very structure of the world that will bring them to salvation or leave them for damnation as He has willed. I appreciate Keathley’s insistence that all the persons involved are free to choose, but I confess that this claim rings hollow.

Like Keathley, I will also affirm that when God deals graciously with people, He knows how they will respond. But he is saying much more than that: namely, that God, before our existence, has set up the world with circumstances calculated to bring the elect to Him and not to bring the non-elect. What sort of creaturely “freedom” is that? Wouldn’t it be better if God brings circumstances of grace into the lives of both elect and non-elect, influences to which all of them really can respond positively? Wouldn’t it be better if He does this without tailoring their circumstances to fit their tendencies in a way that guarantees the salvation of the elect and the damnation of the non-elect? Wouldn’t it be better if everyone, in libertarian freedom and without divine manipulation behind the scenes, can choose for or against Him? This is the Arminian position, and this is not Molinism.

If anyone thinks I am misrepresenting Keathley, I call attention to some of the words in the quotations above. “Humans freely choose what God had determined.” In Peter’s case God “ordained the scenario with infallible certainty.” God “rendered certain … the destruction of certain ones who would reject God’s overtures of grace.” This may be determinism by indirect manipulation rather than by direct causation, but it is determinism nonetheless.

This is not Arminianism. We Arminians agree that God has foreknowledge of the choices we make, but we insist that God’s “overtures of grace” (to use Keathley’s apt phrase) are made to all persons, with the same salvific intent of making possible the salvation of all of them. Molinism, instead, offers that God uses His knowledge of how people will respond to various circumstances to arrange different circumstances for those He chooses to save as compared to those He does not will to save. Arminianism believes that God extends saving grace to all alike and draws them all with the desire that all be saved, thus providing real opportunity for them all; and they choose whether they will meet the condition for salvation or not.

Does Keathley Portray Molinism Accurately?

I believe Keathley’s view, so far, is true to Molinism. Other representations of Molinism seem clearly to confirm this. For one example, consider the following summary:

Before all decision to create the world, the infinite knowledge of God presents to Him all the graces … which He can prepare for each soul, along with the consent or refusal which would follow in each circumstance. …Thus, for each man in particular there are in the thought of God, limitless possible histories … and God will be free in choosing such a world, such a series of graces, and in determining the future history and final destiny of each soul.[7]

That this is, after all, a form of determinism seems assured when the writer adds that in this way God actualized, out of all possible worlds, this very one in which all the circumstances and all the “graces” He likewise actualized bring each individual to the destiny God chose.[8]

William Lane Craig affirms that Molina himself viewed God as operating in this way, that God “chose for the one [the elect] and for the other [the reprobate] the order of providence in which He foresaw that the one would be saved and the other not.”[9]

G. Sutanto capsules Molinism to say, “In so decreeing [all that comes to pass], God elects to actualize a world in which free creatures do exactly what He wants them to do, but in a way that does not sacrifice libertarian freedom.”[10]

Part II of this article will appear next week. 


[1] The freedom to choose between alternatives, sometimes called the power of alternate choice, is called libertarian freedom.

[2] Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2019).  Keathley is Southern Baptist, teaches at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina.  Thanks to Matt Pinson for introducing me to this work.

[3] Ibid., 152.

[4] Ibid., 154.

[5] Ibid., 155.

[6] I know that analogies do not prove anything, but they enable us to express our view more clearly or forcefully.

[7] Portalié, Eugène. “Teaching of St. Augustine of Hippo,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 2 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907), as transcribed in New Advent, ed. Kevin Knight, at  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02091a.htm.  I thank Richard Clarke for pointing me to this article;

[8] My purpose here is not to vouch for Portalié’s interpretation of Augustine but to show how he understands Molinism.

[9] William L. Craig, “Middle Knowledge, A Calvinist-Arminian Rapprochement?” in Clark Pinnock, ed. The Grace of God, the Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1989),156–57, quoting the Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, s.v., “Molinisme,” by E. Vansteenberghe, 10.2., col. 2112.  (Thanks to Matt Pinson for this reference.)

[10] Nathaniel Gray Sutanto, review of Sze Sze Chiew, Middle Knowledge and Biblical Interpretation: Luis de Molina, Herman Bavinck, and William Lane Craig (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2016), in The Journal of Theological Studies 69:1 (April 2018), 389.

Was Arminius a Molinist? Richard Watson’s Answer

Matthew Pinson

The other day I came across a wonderful quote that I had forgotten about from Richard Watson’s Theological Institutes. I thought the readers of this blog would enjoy it. It concerns Molinism, or middle knowledge, the theory of divine foreknowledge articulated by the sixteenth-century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina.

As I’ve said elsewhere [1], Arminius’s views on divine foreknowledge militate against a Molinist account of predestination, as presented, for example by recent scholars such as William Lane Craig and Kenneth Keathley. While Arminius showed awareness of Luis de Molina’s concept of middle knowledge, he did not utilize it in his doctrine of predestination. Arminius nowhere intimates that, in eternity past, God, knowing what everyone would do given certain circumstances, selected the possible world, from among all possible worlds, in which exactly what he desires to occur will occur, while at the same time human beings retain freedom. Instead, Arminius argued that God knew the future infallibly and certainly. Thus, he knew what everyone was freely going to do in the actual (not possible) world. This includes their union with Christ through faith or their rejection of him through impenitence and unbelief.

I agree with Robert Picirilli, Roger Olson, F. Stuart Clarke, William Witt, and more recently Hendrik Frandsen, who I think properly interpret Arminius on this point, while scholars such as Eef Dekker, Richard Muller, Keith Stanglin, and (to a lesser degree) William den Boer read too much Molinism into Arminius. The most that can be said is that Arminius toyed with the concept of middle knowledge but was ambiguous on it and did not actually articulate a Molinist doctrine of predestination.

I had forgotten about the following statement by the eminent British Wesleyan-Methodist theologian Richard Watson that agrees with these sentiments, and I thought I’d share it here:

“There is another theory which was formerly much debated, under the name of Scientia Media; but to which, in the present day, reference is seldom made. . . . This distinction, which was taken from the Jesuits, who drew it from the Schoolmen, was at least favoured by some of the Remonstrant divines, as the extract from Episcopius [quoted earlier in Latin] shows: and they seem to have been led to it by the circumstance, that almost all the high Calvinist theologians of that day entirely denied the possibility of contingent future actions being foreknown, in order to support on this ground their doctrine of absolute predestination. In this, however, those Remonstrants, who adopted that notion, did not follow their great leader Arminius, who felt no need of this subterfuge, but stood on the plain declarations of Scripture, unembarrassed with metaphysical distinctions” (Theological Institutes, 1:418, emphasis added).


[1] This and the paragraph after it are adapted from my book Arminian and Baptist.