I often listen to Dr. William Lane Craig’s podcasts, both his general podcast and his Defenders class. They are very informative and I highly recommend them. In his most recent Defenders class, as of the date of this response (8/9/2-18), he compares the providential views of Calvinism, Arminianism, and Molinism.1 Now I have no disagreement with his descriptions of Calvinism and Molinism but his description of Arminianism struck me as utterly foreign. I think he simply is confused on this matter.
So, first, let me make some general points, and then I’ll get to his comment.
Some General Points
First of all, I think that it is improper to speak of a strictly Arminian doctrine of providence. Arminianism is a soteriological position, not a providential one. This point will become very relevant as we get into the meat and potatoes.
Now it is true that Arminianism has providential implications. And there are doctrines of providence associated with the Remonstrant and Wesleyan traditions. However, Arminianism isn’t a tradition in that sense, but a theological position. And that position is soteriological.
This brings me to my second point. It is a point of debate within the Arminian camp whether or not Molinism is compatible with Arminianism. Unlike Arminianism, Molinism is a providential position. Therefore, the question isn’t which one is correct, but are they compatible. There are some who believe that Molinism is too deterministic to be compatible, and others who believe that any position which holds to Libertarian Free Will is, in fact, compatible. I am the latter, though I am not a Molinist.
Indeed, let us consider the words of one of the leading modern teachers of Wesleyan and Arminian thought, the late Thomas Oden:
A fine point must be sharpened in this connection: God not only grasps and understands what actually will happen, but also what could happen under varied possible contingencies. If God’s knowing is infinite, God knows even the potential effects of hypothetical but unactualized possibilities, just as well as God knows what has or will become actualized…
This has been called “God’s knowledge of the hypothetical” or Scientia media2
I think it is hard to consider Thomas Oden as not being Arminian in theology, yet the above quote, and others, clearly shows that he held to a Molinist view of providence. Or perhaps consider another prominent Arminian:
He knows all things possible, which may be referred to three general classes (i.) Let the first be of those things to which the capability of God can immediately extend itself, or which may exist by his mere and sole act. (ii.) Let the second consist of those things which, by God’s preservation, motion, aid, concurrence and permission, may have an existence from the creatures, whether these creatures will themselves exist or not, and whether they might be placed in this or in that order, or in infinite orders of things; let it even consist of those things which might have an existence from the creatures, if this or that hypothesis were admitted… (iii) Let the third class be of those things which God can do from the acts of the creatures, in accordance either with himself or with his acts. 3
For those who don’t check the reference, that is Jacob Arminius. While he clearly taught middle knowledge, I’m not sure whether or not he taught Molinism per se. It is disputable. But he did clearly hold to middle knowledge, and middle knowledge played a large role in his view on providence. Thus, it is hard for me to think that Molinism is outside the tent of Arminianism itself.
So, let us instead refer to the position Craig is describing as SFV (that is the “Simple Foreknowledge View”).
What Craig Says
Now, as of the writing of this, Reasonable Faith does not have the transcript up, so I am transcribing this myself from the audio. So I apologize if I transcribe anything inaccurately.
So how does the Arminian then explain divine sovereignty? Well, the Arminian appeals to God’s simple foreknowledge of the future in order to explain God’s foreordination of everything that happens. That is to say that on the basis of His knowledge of what people will do, God then foreordains that it will happen. And His foreknowing it in no way determines it. He just knows that’s what people will do; He knows what their free choices will be and therefore declares and ordains that that is what is going to happen.
And that no more determines their choices as an infallible barometer determines the weather… The weather will determine the barometer. And similarly, God’s foreknowledge will give you absolute certainty what is going to happen, but it is not as though the foreknowledge determines what will happen. -timestamp 16:33, analogy details cut for space by me.
Now this view definitely does not belong to Jacob Arminius, as we saw. But I am uncertain whether it belongs to any Arminian at all. In accordance to the Joe Schmuck principle, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on whether one exists. However, here it suffices to say that I am unaware of any Arminian who would say that, or more specifically any SFV advocate who says that.
First of all, I think it confuses sovereignty and providence with foreordination. Sovereignty is the state of being king. God is sovereign because He is in charge. This comes with certain rights and privileges, as well as obligations on us as His subjects. But it communicates a kind of relationship with His creation. It doesn’t necessarily say something about causation.
Likewise, providence is simply the working out of God’s governance. While we can talk about God’s providence of the future, and we can talk about God’s relationship to His providence in the present from the past, providence in the proper sense is not strictly a concept which is bound to the topic of time. Indeed, my understanding of sovereignty and providence have a lot more to do with the present than the future.
What Craig seems to be talking about is foreordination 4. Foreordination explicitly deals with how God establishes what is going to happen in the future from the perspective of the past. Foreordination is certainly a part of providence, but providence doesn’t reduce to it.
But, OK, does Craig’s description of how Arminians understand providence accurately describe how SFV describes foreordination?
I would stipulate, if not insist, that the SFV is necessarily grounded in the B-theory of time. Indeed, the only reason I’ve ever had to question SFV is the doubts I currently have on the B-theory. The problem comes when one sees that Craig’s description of SFV is assuming A-theory categories.
The fundamental mistake that the analysis makes is that it assumes that God’s providential activity is simply declaring the future. This is false. Rather, God is already in the future, molding and shaping it, as He is also molding and shaping the present.
Imagine a potter whose potter wheel is spinning clockwise. Does it make sense to say that the work of the right hand is merely to declare what the left hand is doing? Or are both hands working simultaneously on the same pot?
Likewise, from the perspective of eternity, God has a hand in both the past and the future, and He is shaping both in reference to each other. God’s providence is simply the action of His hands, whatever action that may be. I see no reason why God acting eternally throughout history should be understood as merely Him declaring what will happen from the past. Rather, God’s foreordination is grounded in Him actively being in the future.
1: This is Defenders series 3, section 8, part 10.
2: Thomas Oden, The Living God, (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 1992), pp. 72
3: Jacob Arminius, Disputation 4: On The Nature of God, www.ccel.org/ccel/arminius/works1.v.v.html, section XXXIV
4: Another word I could have used is predestination, but predestination is often more specifically linked to election and reprobation. But I didn’t want to confuse things by adding more and more words like regeneration, glorification, propitiation, expatiation, procrastination, consternation, and other words ending in nation and cation and ration, which are simply suffices to say that stuff happens in theology.