The question of whether mankind is truly free in any meaningful sense is one that is faced by atheists, theists, and people who don’t identify as any “ist”, but who just think deeply about life.
Since there are so many angles from which to approach the subject, I’ll approach it here from a theological and specifically Christian perspective (you can go here for an excellent video by my friend Tim Stratton on how Atheism must struggle with this issue). Among Christians, the question is most frequently debated between people of various views encompassed by shades of Calvinism and Arminianism. Calvinists largely hold to a strong view of God’s control over the Creation (divine sovereignty) but also unfortunately forfeit meaningful human freedom. Arminians most frequently hold to a strong view of human freedom of volition but unfortunately sometimes compromise a sound view of God’s sovereignty.
Can divine sovereignty and human free be reconciled? I think so. I proposed that it can be done via the concept of God having “middle knowledge“. In this post, I’ll put it in layman’s terms and in a specifically biblical context.
In order to be true to the biblical text itself regarding this issue, we must make the best possible sense of the straight forward reading of those texts which refer to a “both/and” scenario in which both divine sovereignty AND human freedom exist without contradiction. The Bible affirms both God’s complete sovereignty and man’s volitional freedom and so must we. Below, we will seek to reconcile the two with special attention to God’s omniscience; specifically, His foreknowledge. The following discussion addresses:
- Both God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge as well as man’s responsibility (e.g. Acts 2:23),
- Passage speaking of “predestination and foreknowledge” (e.g. Romans 8:28,29)
- Specifically “election according to foreknowledge” (e.g. 1Peter 1:2)
This is where “Middle Knowledge” is very helpful. It looks like this:
A. In His omniscience, God knows everything that COULD happen in any possible world He could sovereignly choose to bring into being, including the free choices of human beings in that world.
(In technical terms this is called God’s “Natural Knowledge” since it is part of His essence as God)
B. In His omniscience, God also knows everything that WOULD happen should He sovereignly choose to actualize a particular world.
(This is called God’s “Middle Knowledge” since it comes logically “in the middle” between His Natural and Free Knowledge [see #3 below])
C. In sovereignly choosing (according to the counsel of His own will and foreknowledge) to actualize a particular world out of all feasible possibilities, God knows everything that WILL happen in that world since He has ordained and decreed it to be so.
(This is called God’s “Free Knowledge” since it flows from His free choice to actualize a world completely of His own choosing)
Since A,B,& C are known prior to creation, they are part of God’s foreknowledge.
1. God desires to create human beings in His image for a relationship with Himself.
2. Prior to creating the world, God knew all potential decisions by free creatures in every possible world. (see “would have” and “if /then” scenarios in the Bible statements like in 1 Samuel 13:13-14)
3. God is loving and desires to reconcile sinful humanity to Himself. (John 3:16, Romans 5:8)
4. It is likely that in every feasible possible world that some creatures would always reject God.
a. This is evident since the world was created by the omnibenevolent (all-loving) and omnipotent (all-powerful) God who does not delight in the punishment of the wicked and desires that none should perish; (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11, 1Timothy 2:4 ,2 Peter 3:9)
b. Yet, universalism is NOT true. Not all people actually are saved. Some (perhaps most) do indeed perish precisely because they reject God.
5. Being all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God can and did sovereignly choose to create a world in which every individual who would choose Him, will choose Him (Acts 17:22-31, John 6:39)
6. By choosing to actualize a world by the counsel of His own will in which He would create and draw certain persons to Himself, God then, is the sovereign over the world He chooses including the elect from within that world.
7. Since this is also done in accordance with God’s omniscience (the foreknowledge of what any free creature WOULD do in any given circumstance) the election is done through the God ordained circumstance without violation of human freedom and responsibility. (see A,B,& C)
So what are your thoughts on human freedom and Middle Knowledge?
Let’s talk about it!