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Precis on Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views


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Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views By James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy Eds.

Student Name: Kevin M. Polito
Student Number: 1516105
Essential Christian Doctrine 1
Spring 2013 – Lewis
Word Count: 3,054

Introduction: A necessary and timely book “Throughout the history of the church, Christians have discussed the nature and content of God’s divine foreknowledge” So, rather innocuously, begins the introduction to the text under review. Recently, these “discussions” have become more frequent and heated due, in part, to a robust Calvinist resurgence seen throughout Christendom, especially within the United States. The places and individuals who are engaged in such debates are as varied as the ivory tower and the theologians who inhabit them all the way to the local, faithful Sunday school teacher presenting material to her students who attend her small, rural church. The debate is robust within evangelicalism because of the implications that one’s adopted view has on important questions such as:

1. The Nature of and mode of God’s foreknowledge 2. The Nature of Divine Sovereignty 3. The Nature of Human Freedom
Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views is a necessary and timely book. Although, church history bears witness to a diversity of opinions regarding the nature and content of God’s divine foreknowledge, the need for careful and scholarly examination remains as relevant and important as any point in church history. An encroaching, imperious secularism demands that we are able to cogently articulate our understanding of the divine as well as counter those objections proffered by those hostile to the historic, orthodox Christian faith. All four views will be examined and summarized. They include: 1. The Open Theism View 2. The Simple Foreknowledge View 3. The Middle Knowledge View 4. The Augustinian-Calvinist View After all four views are presented, one noteworthy objection by a proponent of a differing view will be considered for each of the four views. The Open Theism View Another catalyst for the increased scrutiny encircling the subject of divine foreknowledge can be traced directly to the recent theological movement known as open theism. This view is offered up and defended by Gregory A Boyd. Boyd immediately sets out to frame his argument supporting the open-theism view as one not only related to God’s omniscience, but rather on what makes up the content of reality in which God knows perfectly. In other words, Boyd places emphasis on the doctrine of creation being just as germane to the discussion regarding God’s foreknowledge as the doctrine of God. This is most notably displayed in open theism by its proponents taking the rather unorthodox step of claiming that God’s foreknowledge is not exhaustively settled as even the proponents of the other three views presented in the book explicitly claim. God’s omniscience is in no way disparaged by Boyd’s view. He simply seems to be offering a different view of creation- one where both settled and open acts coexist without undermining God’s omniscience. To elaborate this point a little further for clarity, God perfectly knows all settled events in the future as settled and perfectly knows all future open events as open to a certain extent. Boyd claims his defense of the open-theism position rests almost exclusively on an exegetical foundation. He states that many scholars, in order for them to remain beholden to the particular framework they utilize to interpret those verses which speak of God’s divine foreknowledge, will simply dismiss those verses that seem to suggest a God who can change his mind, confront the unexpected, or experience regret. These instances in Scripture, which Boyd asserts add credibility to the open-theism view, are explained away as either anthropomorphic or phenomenological language. To counter this, Boyd initially sets out to demonstrate, unequivocally, that Scripture affirms God’s foreknowledge and control of the future; a point that all four views come to a consensus upon. However, after offering up a number of verses to support this initial premise, Boyd pivots to then bring into focus the main thrust of his argument; the future, though known by a sovereign God, does not necessarily imply that all future events are exhaustively settled and immutable. Texts that contain divine, prophetic utterance that later come true within the biblical narrative (such as God’s prophetic statement to Abraham regarding a future time when Abraham’s descendents would be in captivity in Egypt), Boyd suggests do show certain future events as exhaustively settled. However, he takes umbrage with those who jump to the conclusion that just because the Bible shows some events as exhaustively settled that all events must be exhaustively settled. Even though Boyd stated earlier in his essay that his defense of the open-theism view of divine foreknowledge would be almost primarily an exegetical one, he, subsequently, devotes two paragraphs enlisting the aid of data gleaned from contemporary science-both the natural and social sciences. Boyd elaborates that physics has demonstrated that we can accurately predict the behavior of a cluster of quantum particles, but cannot predict the behavior of any one particle. He argues that this shows that the phenomenological world is settled even as it shows the world of quantum particles relatively open. Moreover, Boyd states that seemingly different disciplines as chaos theory and anthropology both show a remarkable ability to show aspects of predictability and unpredictability which, Boyd argues, makes his particular view all the more plausible.

The Simple-Foreknowledge View David Hunt advocates for what he calls the simple-foreknowledge view. Hunt appears to bring Occam’s razor to bear on the whole debate regarding God’s divine foreknowledge. He is out simply to defend the premise that God has complete and infallible knowledge of the future. He goes on to explain that this particular premise needs to be defended due to three primary objections raised against it. First, the objection is often raised that humans do not contain a genuine, free will if one posits divine foreknowledge. Second, that the simple foreknowledge view is incompatible with our understanding of God himself is a personal being capable of intentional action. And third, that this premise fails to enhance God’s providential position which robs God of what should be the principle theological benefit of foreknowledge. Hunt explains that these objections will convince some scholars to tinker with the simple-foreknowledge view in order to alleviate some degree of internal cognitive dissonance. However, Hunt maintains that their tinkering goes only so far as to not become stuck in some unorthodox quagmire. Hunt rejects all such instances of tinkering with this historic, Christian doctrine. He sets out to defend, simply, that God knows the future. He takes exception to those who would advance an alternative view just to satisfy and answer common objections. Hunt clearly thinks this is poor real estate on which to construct ones’ opinion about a topic as crucial for our understanding of our Creator. The “how” God knows the future is a subject in which Hunt remains agnostic. Since he has no settled opinion on this matter, he refuses to become speculative. Hunt begins his defense of this particular view by drawing attention to the biblical evidence to support divine foreknowledge; texts like Genesis 40 highlighting Joseph’s recognition that the chief butler would, inevitably, be restored by Pharaoh and Jesus’ predictions in Matthew 26 of his betrayal and abandonment by his disciples. Next, he states that our traditional understanding of God as a supreme and perfect being necessitates Him having both complete and infallible knowledge of the future. Third, for God to posses both divine sovereignty and providence, it requires Him to be both supremely powerful and knowledgeable. Hunt’s final support for his view is that there is consensus among church thinkers, both today and even in the early church, that God has both infallible and complete knowledge of the future. After presenting his positive case for the simple-foreknowledge view, Hunt turns his attention to addressing the aforementioned objections regarding God’s foreknowledge. He classifies these objections as the problem of human freedom, the problem of divine agency, and the problem of divine providence. Hunt offers the concept of accidental necessity to help answer the problem of divine freedom. When we look at the objection in the light of Adam’s sin and God’s foreknowledge (1. If God foreknows that Adam will sin, then it’s necessary that Adam will sin. 2. If it’s necessary that Adam will sin, then Adam will not sin of his own free will), then we can see that God believing that Adam will sin depends on Adam’s future sinning and not the other way. This makes accidental necessity (also referred to as contingent) as generated by divine foreknowledge reconcilable with human free will. Hunt goes on to discuss the problems of divine agency and divine providence. The problem of divine agency can be shown as such: 1. If God is an intentional agent, then it is possible for him to acquire the intention to perform an action while already believing that he will perform that action 2. It’s impossible for anyone to acquire the intention to perform an action while already believing that he will perform that action. 3. God is not an intentional agent Hunt seems to answer this objection by distinguishing between propositional (what will happen) and practical beliefs (what to do). What one comes to believe as a result of foreknowledge is a propositional belief while what one comes to believe as a result of intention-acquisition is a practical belief. The problem of divine providence, as seen by those who offer it as an objection to divine foreknowledge, touches on many crucial foundational beliefs such as prayer, prophecy, and providence. The problem seems to suggest that more knowledge (such as God’s foreknowledge of the future) does not enhance God’s competency and agential position. Critics of divine foreknowledge are convinced it is utterly useless to God. Hunt is candid about this particular view being much more daunting than the other two objections. In fact, he doesn’t even tackle one objection raised by one specific critic (Hasker). However, he does offer one single case to demonstrate that God can employ his foreknowledge without getting bogged down in an explanatory circle. The Middle Knowledge View The middle knowledge view takes into consideration that God in his omniscience possesses counterfactual knowledge. ”Counterfactuals are conditional statements in the subjunctive mood: for example, ‘If I were rich, I would buy a Mercedes’” so states William Lane Craig one of the middle knowledge view’s most ardent defenders and eloquent spokespersons. He is also the individual who argues for the middle knowledge view. Craig states that until recent German, liberal scholarship began to suggest otherwise, most theologians understood divine omniscience as the ability to not only knows what would happen but also what could happen. Craig goes on to develop the concept of middle knowledge (also called Molinism after the 16th century Jesuit priest Luis de Molina) further. Early Molinists placed God’s knowledge of counterfactuals prior to the divine decree thus allowing for creaturely freedom. Craig states that God, by using His knowledge of counterfactuals, can plan a world down to the last minute detail and yet do so without violating or ridding His human creatures of agency. The middle knowledge (what would be) view derives its name from lying between (or in the middle) of God’s natural knowledge (what could be) and His free knowledge (what will be). Craig goes on to offer three pillars to support his middle-knowledge view: biblical, theological, and philosophical. Each supportive argument will be briefly examined. First biblical arguments will be considered. One such biblical proof text that supports the idea of counterfactuals is 1 Samuel 23: 6-10. These verses speak of David using a divining device to inquire of the Lord whether certain events would take place. David received an affirmative response regarding each inquiry; that they would, in fact, take place. David took steps to leave the area where he was and what God said would happen did not come about. Craig offers these particular verses as evidence regarding counterfactuals in the Biblical account. Craig then turns his attention to theological arguments, which he considers the more potent of those arguments one can utilize to support the middle-knowledge view. In fact, Craig refers to Molinism as “the single most fruitful theological concept I have ever encountered” He goes on to say how he found it useful in dealing with a number of theological issues. Finally, philosophical arguments are considered. Craig employs a syllogism to argue that God knows true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom logically prior to the divine creative decree. Craig concludes his report on the middle-knowledge view by presenting a summary of the compelling evidence he believes should give one warrant in adopting this particular view. Although, Craig admits that this view is not taught explicitly in the biblical text, he believes that its compatibility with those doctrines that are is easily proved. Theologically, Craig asserts that Molinism nicely answers and ties together such disparate problems as divine foreknowledge’s compatibility with future contingents and how God’s providence can be synthesized with a world where creatures enjoy freedom. The Augustinian-Calvinist View Paul Helm is the individual who argues for the Augustinian-Calvinist view of God’s divine foreknowledge. He begins his discourse by speaking to a mutually agreeable point among most evangelical, protestant Christians- that faith in Christ is the instrumental cause of a person’s salvation. After this point of consensus, agreement between otherwise people of good will splinters into two camps. Helm introduces the term compatibilism which denotes the idea that human actions are free in a sense that is consistent with determinism. Helm reduces the difference between the two camps (and here we are talking ostensibly about whether God’s grace is resistible or irresistible as spelled out in the common TULIP acrostic) to, fundamentally, a difference in the level of appreciation for the plight of humankind and the power of God. The incompatibilist view believes that God’s grace is causally necessary (but not causally sufficient) for one to come to faith in Christ. Compatibilists believe that God’s grace alone is causally sufficient for salvation. Helm seems to advocate that those who hold to the incompatibilist view can only undermine and frustrate God’s efficacious grace. Human beings are in such a state of rebellion from their Creator that it is impossible that our free will is capable of cooperating with God’s grace. In other words, incompatibilism minimizes the extent and effects of original sin. Helm advances two more key arguments to support this view. In the first one, he discusses divine perfection and providence. This particular argument is a strictly more philosophical one than the opening remarks in this essay which were gleaned from an exegetical interpretation of divine Scripture. Helm states that divine permission helps us understand how the Augustinian-Calvinist view can be consistently squared with a righteous God and the existence of evil in the world. God may know and permit everything. However, it does not follow that he is, necessarily, the causal agent behind evil. In the final argument, Helm states that the concepts of divine foreknowledge and human freedom are incompatible. If I am tracking well with his thoughts, then he seems to suggest that any human act is not free since God’s foreknowledge is known in the past. Therefore, our acts must necessarily occur and therefore cannot be free. Objections by one proponent of an alternate view As stated earlier, we will now succinctly address one particular objection from a proponent of an alternative view. The book develops these objections in a much fuller sense. It appears that ample opportunity was given for individuals to offer objections to views in which they disagreed. In addition, even those objections were permitted to be countered by the individual who backed the view which was being critiqued. 1. The Open-Theism View: This view argued for by Gregory Boyd was responded to by William Lane Craig the proponent of the middle-knowledge view. Craig is certain that the open-theism view undermines our traditional understanding of God’s omniscience. He backs up his assessment of the view by stating that it is inconsistent for Boyd to posit a God who is omniscience, but then state that God cannot know future contingent propositions or counterfactuals of creaturely human freedom. 2. Simple-Foreknowledge View: This view argued for by David Hunt was responded to by Gregory A. Boyd. Boyd takes exception to Hunt’s usage of the Frankfurt analogy to support his premise. Boyd states the simple problem with the analogy is that it defines a free decision in terms of behavior rather in terms of mental processes. 3. Middle Knowledge View: This view argued for by William Lane Craig was responded to by David Hunt. Hunt suggests that Craig’s view makes the problem of evil even more formidable due to his middle knowledge category. It is difficult enough to respond to the problem of evil positing only two categories of knowledge (natural and free) for the creator. 4. The Augustinian-Calvinist View: This view argued for by Paul Helm was responded to by William Lane Craig. Craig state that in Helm helping himself to God’s divine permissive will to answer the problem of evil, he has still made God responsible for evil acts since his creatures’ free acts are still caused, not directly, but indirectly by God in the compatibilism view Conclusion Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views has achieved its’ stated purpose articulated in the introduction section. The exchanges were both thoughtful and respectful in tone. In our post-Christian culture, it will become even more necessary for believers to be able to comprehend and articulately defend these views that used to be the domain of only the scholarly. These essays will only enrich the collective understanding of the body of Christ allowing us to more ably “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints”

[ 1 ]. Beilby, James K. & Eddy, Paul R. Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2001 )
[ 2 ]. Beilby, p. 9
[ 3 ]. Ibid., p. 9
[ 4 ]. Ibid., p. 13
[ 5 ]. Ibid., p. 13
[ 6 ]. Ibid., p. 14
[ 7 ]. Ibid., p. 23
[ 8 ]. Ibid., p. 23
[ 9 ]. Ibid, p. 18
[ 10 ]. Ibid, p. 18
[ 11 ]. Ibid, p. 18
[ 12 ]. Ibid, p. 65
[ 13 ]. Ibid, p. 66
[ 14 ]. Ibid, p. 66
[ 15 ]. Ibid, p. 66
[ 16 ]. Ibid, p. 68
[ 17 ]. Ibid, p. 69
[ 18 ]. Ibid, p. 75
[ 19 ]. Ibid, p. 77
[ 20 ]. Ibid, p. 90
[ 21 ]. Ibid, p. 93
[ 22 ]. Ibid, p. 95
[ 23 ]. Ibid, p. 95
[ 24 ]. Ibid, p. 96
[ 25 ]. Ibid, p. 97
[ 26 ]. Ibid, p. 120
[ 27 ]. Ibid, p. 121
[ 28 ]. Ibid, p. 121
[ 29 ]. Ibid, p. 125
[ 30 ]. Ibid. p. 137
[ 31 ]. Ibid. p. 143
[ 32 ]. Ibid. p. 143
[ 33 ]. Ibid. p. 169
[ 34 ]. Ibid., p. 169
[ 35 ]. Ibid., p. 186
[ 36 ]. Ibid., p. 55
[ 37 ]. Ibid., p. 107
[ 38 ]. Ibid., p. 152
[ 39 ]. Ibid., p. 205
[ 40 ]. Jude 1:3 on retrieved March 13, 2013.

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