What is the theological concept of middle knowledge?
Middle knowledge claims God knows what would happen given certain circumstances, including un-coerced decisions made by humans, and He imposes His will based on those decisions without trumping each person's free will. Middle knowledge (also called molinism after theologian Luis Molina who developed it) finds ground between Calvinism that teaches the eternal destiny of each person is determined by God, and Arminianism which teaches that the eternal destiny of each person is determined by the free will of that person.
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Resting between God's "natural knowledge" or truth existing independent of God, and His "free knowledge" or all truth dependent on His acts, middle knowledge holds that all truth is known by God and yet not all choices are controlled by Him.
Scripturally, middle knowledge rests in the "if-then" statements, or counterfactuals, of the Scriptures. One example is when Jesus says people in different circumstances would have made different choices of whether to repent (Matthew 11:21–23, Luke 10:13). In the Old Testament, Exodus 9:15 and Isaiah 48:17–19 indicate that different choices lead to different results. Additionally, the following Scriptures indicate God allows us to make choices that do not line up with His wishes: Matthew 23:37, 2 Peter 3:9, Psalm 5:10, and Isaiah 30:1.
In mathematics, the Order of Operations provides an analogy to middle knowledge. This math order requires a specific sequence in complex equations: Parentheses first, followed by Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction. The sequence does not create a new chronology for the formula, but applies a logical order in which each portion plays out. It isn't talking about a passage of time, but a logical progression. With middle knowledge, this looks like so:
Natural knowledge: what is possible, or what "can" happen (apart from God's control).
Middle knowledge: what "would" happen given certain circumstances (apart from God's control).
Creative command: God's action, choice, intervention, etc. (God's control)
Free knowledge: what "will" actually happen (completely under God's control).
Though modern Christian philosophers such as William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga hold to middle knowledge, many do not. Reformed theologians and Calvinists argue against any thought that God cannot be in control of everything. Middle knowledge adherents say that Calvinists' belief in "directly controlled free choice" is contradictory. They hold that the way God decides events and allows for free choice will remain a mystery to us on Earth. These counter facts defy logic, say those who object to middle knowledge, and lead to circular reasoning. In theological circles, this is known as the "grounding objection" and is the most common critique of middle knowledge.
Middle knowledge, like Calvinism and Arminianism, can be believed within orthodox Christianity. A person's view of God's imposition or sovereignty should not bring them into conflict with other believers. All should agree on basic biblical, moral, spiritual, and cultural approaches within their theology and denominations.
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