Lesson 32B Preview: Keith Wrightson Lectures on the “Street Wars of Religion: Puritans vs. Arminians”; Jerry Walls and Joe Dongell on Arminianism and Calvinism;  William Lane Craig on Molinism; William Lane Craig Explains Why God is All-Knowing and answers Can God Change?

Prof. Keith Wrightson’s History of the Tudor and Stuart Monarchies course at Yale University offers us an excellent lecture on The Street Wars of Religion: Puritans vs Arminians:

From Wikipedia we learn some basic theological vocabulary which will be helpful as we view Prof. Jerry Walls of Asbury Seminary, Wilmore, KY, Professor of Philosophy and Religion, , and co-author of Why I Am Not a Calvinist. Dr. Walls presents an Arminian perspective on Calvin’s  Sovereignty of God doctrine. This doctrine guides an understanding of free will and determinism. Walls, as an Arminian, is a libertarian in opposition to the Calvinistic compatibilist position that describes their approach to  freedom: “Compatibilism is the belief that free will and determinism are compatible ideas, and that it is possible to believe both without being logically inconsistent. It may, however, be more accurate to say that compatibilists define ‘free will’ in a way that allows it to co-exist with determinism (in the same way that Libertarians define ‘free will’ such that it cannot). In contrast, the incompatibilist positions are concerned with a sort of ‘metaphysically free will,’ which Compatibilists claim ‘has never been coherently defined.'” The Arminian-based Libertarians (not to be confused with political libertarians like Ron Paul) argue that “…libertarianism, which is an incompatibilist position, …is logically incompatible with a deterministic universe and that agents have free will, and that therefore determinism is false.” (from Wikipedia)

Part 1: Dr. Walls examines logical implications of compatibilism and, specifically, Calvinism’s concepts of God’s grace and election, freedom and determinism: he finds Calvin’s theology inadequate and  inconsistent with scripture.

Part 2 is a presentation by Prof. Joe Dongell. Dr. Dongell is also on the Asbury Seminary faculty and is a Calvinist-leaning compatibilist, not a libertarian as is Walls:

The written discussion on Molinism (click on the link and you will go to Wikipedia’s entry for Molinism), is optional; however, it usefully explains why the video below on Molinism is included in this lesson devoted to Calvinism vs. Arminianism.

“William Lane Craig calls Molinism “one of the most fruitful theological ideas ever conceived. For it would serve to explain not only God’s knowledge of the future, but divine providence and predestination as well”. Father Luis Molina (1535-1600) argued God retains a measure of divine providence without hindering man’s freedom. Because God has middle knowledge, He knows what an agent will freely do in a particular situation. So, agent A, when placed in circumstance C, will freely choose option X over option Y. Thus, if God wanted to accomplish X, all God would do is, using his middle knowledge, actualize the world in which A was placed in C, and A would freely choose X. God retains an element of providence without nullifying A’s choice and God’s purpose (the actualization of X) is fulfilled.

Molinists also believe it can aid one’s understanding of salvation. Ever since Augustine and Pelagius there has been debate over the issue of salvation; more specifically, the debate has centered on how can God elect believers and believers still come to God freely? Protestants who lean more toward God’s election and sovereignty are usually Calvinists, while those who lean more towards man’s free choice follow Arminianism. However, the Molinist can embrace both God’s sovereignty and man’s free choice.”

Prof. Craig, a conservative Christian apologist on the Biola University faculty, returns with PBS Host Lawrence Kuhn to address Is God All-Knowing? and in so doing clarifies Molina’s Doctrine of Middle Knowledge:

William Lane Craig and Dr. Kuhn now consider a closely related issue: “Can God Change”?

After all the heavy theology, we finish with a little humor:

Calvinist Pick Up Lines,

Bible Verses for Reflection: Matthew 23: 37; Luke 15: 7

Quotes for Your Consideration:

On Arminianism:

“Arminius stated that ‘the grace sufficient for salvation is conferred on the Elect, and on the Non-elect; that, if they will, they may believe or not believe, may be saved or not be saved.’ William Witt states that ‘Arminius has a very high theology of grace. He insists emphatically that grace is gratuitous because it is obtained through God’s redemption in Christ, not through human effort.’ ” (From Wikipedia)

On Molinism:

“…God’s middle knowledge plays an important role in the actualization of the world. In fact, it seems as if God’s middle knowledge of counterfactuals plays a more immediate role in creation than God’s foreknowledge. William Lane Craig points out that “without middle knowledge, God would find himself, so to speak, with knowledge of the future but without any logical prior planning of the future.”  The placing of God’s middle knowledge between God’s knowledge of necessary truths and God’s creative decree is crucial. For if God’s middle knowledge was after His decree of creation, then God would be actively causing what various creatures would do in various circumstances and thereby destroying libertarian freedom. But by placing middle knowledge (and thereby counterfactuals) before the creation decree God allows for freedom in the libertarian sense. The placing of middle knowledge logically after necessary truths, but before the creation decree also gives God the possibility to survey possible worlds and decide which world to actualize.” (From Wikipedia)

Questions for Discussion:

1. Professor Wrightson discusses the “solution” of  “the Word and the Sword” in early 17th century England. What is meant by this “solution” and what were the root causes for its coming into existence?

2. What characteristics of the Puritans set them apart according to Dr. Wrightson? Why do you think they were very successful in some areas (e.g., East Anglia) in becoming a leading force for further reformation on a local level, but in other areas they never established a foothold?

3. Surprisingly, particularly for those who have read Prof. Olson’s discussion of the early 17th century controversy over the Remonstrants, the English Arminians were viewed suspiciously by the Calvinistic Anglicans as having distinctive beliefs that smacked of “backsliding toward Rome”. What were the distinctive beliefs and practices of English Arminians, according to Wrightson, that led to this perception of “popery”?

4. Dr. Walls cites a passage from John Piper in which he poses the question How Does a Sovereign God Love? He argues that Piper’s ensuing presentation, in which he writes of his two sons, reflects his compatibilist beliefs  and represent “as profound a misunderstanding of God as is possible”. Why is it a “profound misunderstanding” according to Prof. Walls; that is, what is Wall’s reasoning, as an Arminian, that leads to his making this judgment?

5. Prof. Dongell asks “How did Jesus get nailed to the cross?” In effect, who is accountable? What is the relevance of this issue to the Calvinist compatibilist position that he is advocating? What other examples does he cite from the OT and NT to support his interpretation of free will and God’s sovereignty? How does he employ the Doctrine of Inspiration to advance his position?

6. What do you mean when you use the word “omniscient” in describing God? What does William Lane Craig mean when he describes God as omniscient and his knowledge of Truth as perfect? You may have noted that Dr. Craig distinguishes propositional and non-propositional knowledge. Why the distinction? How does he tie this logically to the concept of omniscience and God’s “cognitive perfection”?

7. Can you explain why God’s middle knowledge is not essential to God, according to Prof. Craig?

8. A young college student in your Sunday School class reports that, “Last week after a philosophy class I was talking to this student who said he was a religious skeptic. (I knew his dad was a preacher but I guess they no longer get along.) At any rate, I decided after we talked a while to offer the Ontological Argument for God’s Existence that you shared in class. Well, when I finished he said, ‘You Christians always say that God is omniscient, which means he knows everything. If he knows everything and has perfect foreknowledge, then why in the Old Testament does God change his mind about some people or groups? How does that work? How could a perfect being who knows everything past, present, and future start seeing things differently, or acquire new information, and then change his mind? Where did these knowledge gaps come from in a perfect being? Didn’t God in fact change His mind when He turned from His claim that He would destroy the Israelites for their disobedience after Moses argued with Him? Didn’t He change His mind when He told Jonah that He would destroy Ninevah but then spared the city? I think you guys make this stuff up!’ When he said all of that I was stumped for a response. What should I have said to him?”  In light of Prof. Craig’s videos, as well as your understanding of Molinism, how might you compose an answer that would prepare him for his next encounter with this skeptic?

Don’t miss the Bonus Lesson Alister McGrath, William Lane Craig vs. Richard Dawkins, Atheist tucked behind this lesson.

Glossary of Concepts and Persons

1. Remonstrants

2. Synod of Dort

3. Franciscus Gomarus

4. Molinism and middle knowledge

5. Amyraldism (moderate Calvinism)

6. Hugo Grotius and unlimited atonement

7. Jacobean Era

8. James I

9. Authorized King James Version

10. The Stuart Monarchy (aka The House of Stuart)


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