Divine Knowledge Providence Theology Proper

My previous case for “middle knowledge Calvinism” (WTJ, 2007)

A draft of “Why Calvinists Should Believe in Divine Middle Knowledge, Although They Reject Molinism” (eventually published in WTJ 69 [2007]: 349-66) can now be read online at my web site.

Since I now believe that God knows counterfactuals naturally or necessarily (cf. my later conversation with Paul Helm), it might seem counterproductive for me to be publishing this earlier material now. But I still affirm a great deal that I said in this article, which acknowledged frankly that my primary interest was never in defending a middle “moment” in God’s knowledge, but was in demonstrating the immense usefulness to God of his knowledge of counterfactuals. This still needs to be said because major classic objections to the Calvinist appropriation of the concept of middle knowledge were actually objections to God’s use of his knowledge of counterfactuals in deciding which possible world to actualize. It also continues to be necessary to demonstrate that God’s knowledge of counterfactuals is not part of his free knowledge, logically following his decree, as Aquinas and some  Calvinists assert (see Part III of this paper).

Some of the serious objections which Calvinists raised with regard to the concept of divine middle knowledge will continue to trouble them with reference to my present model of providence (“hypothetical knowledge Calvinism”). These include: (1) the concerns that it makes God contingent upon the creature, (2) that the concept of future conditionals entails a measure of uncertainty in God’s knowledge, (3) that God cannot know an act certainly unless its certainty derives from God’s will, and (4) that God reasons discursively in reaching the decision of his eternal purpose. I believe that what I said in this article, concerning these perceived problems, can still be beneficial.


By Terrance Tiessen

I am Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, Canada.

3 replies on “My previous case for “middle knowledge Calvinism” (WTJ, 2007)”

There is no such thing as a middle knowledge Calvinist. That’s as much an impossibility as a Calvinist who is not a Satan worshiper.

Dr. Tiessen,

Why do you put counterfactual knowledge in God’s natural knowledge rather than His free knowledge? Let’s take Matthew 11:21-23. Doesn’t God have design and create the folks of Tyre such that they would repent if Christ came to them?

God be with you,

Dan, my primary reason for thinking it best to view God’s knowledge of counterfactuals as part of is natural (rather than free) knowledge is that it fits best with a compatibilist understanding of the relationship between divine and human wills and action. Aquinas placed God’s knowledge of counterfactuals in his free knowledge, but his hard compatibilism (libertarian freedom and meticulous divine sovereignty) depended upon his belief in absolute divine timelessness, and in the simultaneity of God’s action with creaturely action. I’ve never found those hypotheses helpful in the way that Aquinas proposes they are. I think that it is much easier to accept the authenticity of human decisions and the moral responsibility of humans when God knows counterfactuals through his knowledge of the principles of agent causation, than when the possible worlds between which God is choosing are all worlds which are true in every detail only because God made them so. To suggest that God could have made a particular person believe or not believe savingly in God’s revelation, in exactly the same circumstances and without any difference in the person, is to portray a situation much more vulnerable to the charge of fatalism than soft compatibilism is.

I view counterfactuals of creaturely action as similar to the laws of logic and mathematical truths. In regard to creaturely action, God knows the principles of agent causation. He knows what a creature of a particular type (i.e., one with a particular complex of desires, habits, inheritance, temperament etc.) would do in a given set of circumstances. I grant that this places some limit on God’s choice, in the way that Plantinga speaks of trans-world depravity, but I find this more helpful in theodicy. It is likely that God could not create a world of morally responsible creatures, none of whom ever sinned, while achieving the goods that God now realizes through the way in which the evils he chose to allow are woven into a big picture that is good.

In respect to your example, I do not believe that God could have made all the inhabitants of Tyre repent in exactly the set of circumstances that prevailed in the history of our world, if they had the moral responsibility which compatibilism entails. Either the situation or the people in it would have had to be different for universal repentance to have occurred.

That is how it looks to me.

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