Molinism is not Open Theism: A Critique of Dr. McMahon’s Assessment

In recent years Molinism has made a come-back in philosophical circles thanks to the work of Alfred J. Freddoso, Thomas Flint, and William Lane Craig.  As a result, Molina’s ideas are creeping their way back into theological discussions as well.  Slowly but surely, pastors and seminary students are becoming acquainted with, at least, the term Molinism.  Often, this minimal acquaintance leads the uninitiated to do a quick search on goggle.  Upon searching, they are confronted by the blog-post of Dr. C. Matthew McMahon on A Puritan’s Mind entitled:  The Heresy of Middle Knowledge.  Curiosity gets the best of them and they eagerly click on the post with the inflammatory title.  As they read the first paragraph of McMahon’s article, and encounter his thesis statement, any positive interest in Molinism which might have existed quickly fades away:

“In this paper, the heresy I am re-refuting surrounds Theology Proper, or the doctrine of God.  It is specifically in terms of the doctrine of the knowledge of God, or His Omniscience.  The error is called Molinism, or Middle Knowledge (Today Open Theism is its close brother.)”

After reading the final words of his thesis the troubled pastor or seminary student dutifully  stuffs Molinism in a black file-folder marked, “Heresies that must not be named,” and forego any more research on the matter.

For many, Dr. McMahons malicious and poorly researched blog-post is both their first and last introduction to Molinism.  I find this situation very sad, because Dr. McMahon’s description of Molinism is filled with inaccuracies and misrepresentations.  To rectify this unfortunate situation I will correct four of the biggest mistakes in McMahon’s post.

(1)  McMahon claims that the Doctrine of Middle Knowledge is Open Theisms “close brother.”

This claim is truly baffling considering Molina’s doctrine of Middle Knowledge is actually Open Theisms worst nightmare; for, it ascribes to God what Molina terms supercomprehension.  Without getting into too much detail, this means that God has knowledge of how a person would freely act in any and all possible worlds.  He calls this supercomprehension because it says that God has comprehensive knowledge of states of affairs that may never actually obtain (something far beyond regular comprehension.)  On top of this, Molina believed that God had this knowledge prior to his decision to create.  To put it in the crude vernacular of modern language: the doctrine of middle knowledge is like foreknowledge 2.0.

Open Theism argues that it is impossible for God to have foreknowledge—especially foreknowledge of the free actions of human beings.  So, it is entirely false and nonsensical to claim that Molina’s Doctrine of Middle Knowledge is Open Theisms “close brother.”

(2)  McMahon says, “middle knowledge states that God cannot know the future free acts of men in the same way He knows other things absolutely.  Thus, this middle knowledge is dependent upon the free acts of what men will do.  God, in His “omniscience”, waits for men to act and then will choose them to be saved based on their choice to be saved.”

It’s clear from this statement that McMahon has grossly misunderstood the thrust of Molina’s argument.  Molina holds to a libertarian view of free-will which basically means that human beings are the efficient cause or first cause of their own actions.  Naturally, if man has libertarian free-will then God’s middle knowledge is partly contingent (dependent) upon man because man is the one producing the action.  However, it does not follow from this that, “God, in His “omniscience,” waits for men to act and then will choose them to be saved based on their choice.”  This is the Arminian position.

The crucial part of Molina’s theory is not that God has middle knowledge but that he has middle knowledge prior to his free act to create.  Accordingly, God knew that Peter would deny him when placed in situation A (A being the situation described in the gospels) before the foundation of the world.  Furthermore, God knew how Peter would act in any and all possible situations that he could put Peter in.  Based on both his natural and middle knowledge God chose to create a world in which situation A would obtain.

So, it is not that God waits for men to act and then chooses them.  God chooses what creatures to make, what world to create, and what situations to place them in—knowing what free choices they will in fact make.  Thus, God predestines but this does not impinge upon mans free will.  Man is still responsible for his actions because he is the cause of his actions.

(3) McMahon says, “The Molinian logician will argue that an action must first occur before it can be true.  God, then, cannot know anything in this manner as true and absolute unless it has first occurred.”

This statement is obviously false, because Molina believed God possessed middle knowledge before his free act of creation. In other words, the Molinist does not believe an action must first occur before it can be true—that is Open Theism.  The Molinist believes that God has supercomprehension, and thus can have knowledge of actions before they occur and even if they never occur.

(4) McMahon says, “It is certainly easy to see what the doctrine of Middle knowledge is attractive here.  Men are ultimately their own little saviors.”

Well, actually, the doctrine of middle knowledge says no such thing.  In fact, the doctrine of middle knowledge has only indirect implications on matters of soteriology—it is directly concerned with matters of God’s omniscience.  There may be some crazy exception (there always is) but Molinist’s do not believe man can save himself.  They do believe salvation comes from the Lord—through the work of Jesus on the cross.