Refreshing Grace: God’s Will, Our Will, in Focus. By John Correia. Phoenix, AZ: Biblical Framework Press, 2012. 192 pp. Paper, $14.99.
One of the solutions to reconciling God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation is the doctrine of middle knowledge, sometimes known as “Molinism” after Luis de Molina, who first articulated the idea. John Correia’s Refreshing Grace is a popular introduction to that subject.
In the first chapter, Correia introduces some ground rules for having a profitable debate over God’s sovereignty and man’s free-will in salvation.
In the second chapter, he summarizes the five points of Calvinism, where God determines every aspect of salvation, including which individuals will have eternal life (pp. 30-34). Correia points out some of the strengths of Calvinism. These include its emphasis on the greatness of God. He also points out some weaknesses, such as the implication that God is the author of sin. Correia also says the doctrine of unconditional election undermines assurance because “If someone can think they are saved but might fall away later and prove that they never really were saved, then any assurance of salvation is elusive at best and impossible at worst” (p. 52).
In the third chapter, Correia outlines the five points of Arminianism. He makes the important observation that the center of Arminian theology is God’s goodness, not man’s free-will, because man’s free-will is a consequence of the goodness of God (pp. 59-60). Correia suggests Arminianism has several weaknesses, such as implying that salvation is by works and undermining assurance (pp. 90-91).
In chapter five, Correia presents the middle knowledge view of election and predestination. According to this view, God elects individuals to salvation while preserving their free-will in choosing to believe. How? By knowing what free creatures would decide in any given situation.
For example, imagine that God wants you to become a farmer. And imagine that, because He has middle knowledge, God knows that if you are given a toy tractor for your fifth birthday, you will decide to become a farmer. However, He also knows if you are given a G.I. Joe you will decide to become a soldier instead of a farmer. So in order for God to fulfill His plans, He arranges for you to get that tractor, and you freely decide to become a farmer. God gets His way without violating your free-will.
The same principle is supposed to apply to salvation. According to middle knowledge, God chooses to elect some people to salvation, and then brings about the circumstances where God knows they will freely choose to believe. As Correia explains,
God has the ability to know exactly what every creature will do in any given situation and with any given set of motivation, and can therefore choose to create the world in which their meaningful decisions carry out His sovereign will without having to coerce them to choose what He wants (p. 115).
In sum, Correia finds Molinism convincing (p. 174) and a good option for Free Grace theology. On the contrary, in this reviewer’s opinion, Molinism does not overcome any of the difficulties raised against Calvinism.
Imagine that a woman named Paula does not come to faith in Jesus for eternal life in this world. Why doesn’t she?
The Molinist would say it was Paula’s own fault for not coming to faith. She was free to believe, and she freely chose not to believe. Hence, Correia writes, “If they resist, then their failure to trust Christ is because of their own resistance and they are responsible for their own damnation” (p. 124). So the reason why Paula does not come to faith is because she resisted God’s grace.
But does that make sense in the Molinist view? Why wouldn’t God have created a world where Paula is put in a set of circumstances where she does freely come to believe in Jesus? Correia is forced to say it must be because there was no such world: “none of those who are lost would have come to faith in Christ in any other possible scenario” (p. 130, emphasis added).
I find that unbelievable. How can it be possible for a creature with the freedom to either believe or not believe in Jesus to reject Him an infinite number of times? Shouldn’t a wise God know how to convince a person to believe in Jesus in at least one possible world? If so, why not create that world so Paula can believe and be saved? And if God knows that Paula will never believe, why create her? It seems that, in creating Paula, God is neither good, nor merciful, nor just, nor wise.
The Molinist might answer that it was not feasible for God to create a world where everyone came to faith in Christ. This is the best possible world God could have created. But that answer overlooks Paula’s point of view: this is certainly not the best world for her. This is the worst possible world for Paula, because she gets eternally condemned. That seems unfair, because there might have been an infinite number of worlds where Paula would have come to faith and would have been eternally saved. Presumably, that is also true for everyone who is eternally condemned in this world—they all would have come to faith if God had actualized some other world. In choosing to actualize this world, God had to have chosen who to save and who to condemn. But on what basis? Not on foreseen faith, since everyone comes to faith in some possible world. It seems God’s decision must be arbitrary.
Another objection against Molinism is that it makes the fundamental assumption that God elects individuals to eternal life. In my opinion, that is a philosophical, but not a Biblical, teaching. The Bible contains no such teaching. There are dozens of verses that describe how God chooses people, places, and things to service, but no verse teaches He elects individuals to eternal life.
Even though I find Molinism unconvincing, I recommend Refreshing Grace as a popular introduction to the doctrine of middle knowledge. Correia has written an irenic book. He goes out of his way to put a positive spin on his presentations of Calvinism and Arminianism to promote real dialogue. Even those who disagree will find there’s much to think about.
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society