Wednesday, August 17, 2011

C Is For Counter-Factual Knowledge

Today I had one of the famous lunch meetings with the Four Horsemen of Halifax County. Well, that's what I like to call our little minister's group that likes to congregate at the local Mexican restaurant to discuss the latest issues in theology and of course sports.

I love having a group of guys to bounce ideas off of and having a forum to discuss tough issues, many which there are sometimes more opinions than people. I guess I know how C.S. Lewis felt when he gathered with his group "The Inklings".

Today we discussed something that is way beyond my pay grade, but that's the beauty of it. I love being challenged. I love digging deep into theology and philosophy, sharpening my mind and spirit to better serve the Lord and His church. So, what did we talk about (besides who had more of an impact in basketball: Magic or Jordan)? We delved into the topic of providence. God is in control, but how does that work itself out. How does a Christian go about putting his brain around such a deep concept? Specifically, if God decreed the Fall, then did Adam's choice in Genesis 3 really matter and if not, why was he and the entire human race punished? I know you know where I am going, we had a discussion on compatabilism and molinism. OK, maybe you didn't see that coming, but God did! What is the relationship between God's providence and man's responsibility? Yes, an age old question. Are the simply compatible and we should leave the tension of apparent contradiction? Or does God exhibit what my friends Dave and Steve (real names have NOT been changed to protect the innocent) call middle knowledge?

Let me begin by saying that I am new to this particular discussion. I had never even heard of the term molinist until about two years ago and haven't spent serious time looking into it. Well, my brothers have peaked my interest and I desire to learn more on this topic. One thing that we all agreed on was the idea of counter factual knowledge. God has it. We know this because of verses like Luke 10:13, "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you would have been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes." In other words, Jesus clearly demonstrated that He had knowledge of what would have happened to the people of Tyre and Sidon if they were placed in a different circumstance.

Why is this important? Well, one reason is that one major objection that Christians often hear from skeptics is how can God hold man accountable for choices that were made in accord with God's decrees. God decreed that we would sin (i.e. Jesus was slain before the foundation of the world) so how can God hold us accountable for sin that was His idea? One framework is Molinism and it's emphasis on middle knowledge.

Molinism was named by a guy named Molina (not the guy from Spider Man 2), but a Jesuit theologian. William Lane Craig may be the most well known of this camp, but those of Reformed persuasion who hold this position include Bruce Ware and John Frame. Molinists hold that not only does God know what will happen, but what His creatures will do/choose if placed in any circumstance. To understand this line of thought, you must embark on a study of necessary truths and middle knowledge (which include counter factuals).But evidently you can hold to believing in counterfactuals, but not hold to a view of middle knowledge. I hope to hash all that out in upcoming posts. Well, at least hash some of it out.

It basically amounts to this. God's decree of the Fall was based on middle knowledge. He didn't ordain it in such a way that Adam's choice wasn't real. He knew what Adam would do in all possible worlds and then actualized one of the worlds, which we read about in Genesis 3. God didn't cause Adam to sin, He simply ordained the Fall based on his knowledge of counterfactuals. He knew exactly how Adam would respond in any given situation, including the one that actually played out in history.

What's scary is that I think I understood the paragraph I just typed. If not, I have two good friends who will very shortly be messaging me on Facebook to make sure that they set me straight. If you are a pastor, this is why you need some guys you can get together with who are serious about theology and philosophy. I not only want to discuss these issues with my ministerial brothers, I NEED to. I plan to blog more not only on this topic, but on all of our "lunch meetings". Grace and peace.