Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism

By Kirk MacGregor


October 12, 2020


Dr. Tim Stratton has the rare and precious gift of taking highly complex issues in philosophical theology and making them easily understandable to laypeople at the same time as he shows their tremendous importance for scholars in the disciplines of philosophy and religion. This book will be profitably and enjoyably read by laypeople and scholars interested in various themes, including biblical exegesis, the history of Christian thought, metaphysics, epistemology, systematic theology, and practical Christian living. This book [Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism] has several aims. It attempts to spell out how to best comprehend the sovereignty and providence of God biblically, philosophically, and theologically. It attempts to spell out how to best comprehend human freedom and responsibility biblically, philosophically, and theologically. It attempts to show how thinkers such as Augustine, Pelagius, Aquinas, Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Molina, Arminius, and Edwards have shaped the contours of the contemporary debate concerning God’s sovereignty and our free choice. It attempts to defend Molina’s proffered reconciliation of sovereignty and free choice on non-soteriological matters at least (what Stratton cleverly dubs in a Lewisian fashion “mere Molinism”) and on soteriological matters at most. Along the way, it attempts to provide many convincing original arguments for soft libertarian freedom (libertarian freedom on some matters) and divine possession of middle knowledge. It attempts to show how some of the most successful arguments for God’s existence are bolstered by mere Molinism and to show how some of the most powerful arguments against God’s existence are decimated by mere Molinism. Finally, it attempts to show the tremendous pragmatic explanatory power of mere Molinism in disclosing how infallible, inspired Scripture can freely be written by human beings, how God could use evolution to create life on earth [along with a literal and historical Adam and Eve], how God loves his people, and how our prayers make a vital difference in the overall fabric of the world.

In my judgment, Stratton succeeds admirably in achieving all these aims. Stratton crafts excellent definitions of divine sovereignty, divine providence, and libertarian freedom, careful all the while to obviate prevalent misconceptions of each. Extremely valuable to the historical theologian is Stratton’s demonstration that, on non-soteriological matters, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and (amazingly) Calvin held to soft libertarian freedom. Moreover, Stratton illustrates that the Canons of Dort say nothing that rules out soft libertarianism outside the salvific arena. These factors alone make the book well worth reading. Stratton reveals how the exhaustive divine determinism of many prominent contemporary Calvinists is indebted neither to Calvin nor to Dort but to Edwards, whose reasons for exhaustive divine determinism are more philosophical than biblical or theological. Calvinists who defend exhaustive divine determinism (a view that even Turretin denied) need to be reminded that, though fully intending to give exclusively biblical reasons for their view, unwittingly read the Scriptures through the presuppositional lenses of Edwardsian metaphysics. On the other hand, Arminians who infer that Arminius himself believed the anti-Calvinist polemics of his post-Dort advocates need to be reminded that Arminius needs to be allowed to speak for himself and, when he does, paints a far different and more nuanced picture than the one many Arminian theologians have unwittingly presupposed.

Turning to mere Molinism, Stratton ingeniously offers several cleverly styled “FreeThinking Arguments” for soft libertarianism, one of mere Molinism’s two ingredients. The terminology is clever because Stratton is deliberately giving the lie to the notion that atheists and agnostics are the true freethinkers. On the contrary, he proposes that a consistent atheist or agnostic cannot be a freethinker at all, since their positions rule out the logical prerequisites to free thought! However, the mere Molinist can truly be a freethinker. Epistemologically, Stratton argues that human beliefs are rational, that humans can deliberate, and that humans can affirm knowledge claims only if they possess soft libertarian freedom. Stratton also proves to my satisfaction that compatibilism is not a genuine third option mediating between determinism and soft libertarianism, as Guillaume Bignon, Matthew Hart, and Paul Helm assert, but instead collapses back to determinism. Biblically, Stratton reveals that his “Omni Argument,” his “Divine Desire v. Divine Determinism Argument,” and God’s testing of various individuals give more than adequate justification for soft libertarianism. I particularly appreciated Stratton’s strong defense and careful articulation of the grammatico-historical exegesis of Scripture, his stress on the importance of logic in formulating theological systems, and his incisive discussion of the nature of objective truth.

In defense of mere Molinism’s second ingredient, namely God’s middle knowledge, Stratton puts forward many novel and powerful arguments. Theologically, these include the “Maximal Greatness and Middle Knowledge Argument,” the “Omniscience, Omnipotence, and Middle Knowledge Argument,” and the “Mere Molinism Argument” (humorously abbreviated the MMA). He also surveys strong arguments for middle knowledge from other contemporary philosophers and theologians, displaying his thorough acquaintance with the literature. One extremely important consequence of these arguments is that mere Molinism can bring peace between Calvinists and Arminians despite their disagreements. Thus one can be a mere Molinist while a five-point Calvinist, and one can be a mere Molinist while an unflinching Arminian. Stratton provides an excellent rationale as to why atheists and agnostics fervently oppose mere Molinism, which seems odd at first glance—why would they care whether or not a God whose existence they at best disbelieve or at worst deny possesses middle knowledge and whether or not humans possess soft libertarian freedom? The answer, according to Stratton, is that mere Molinism dissolves the best atheist and agnostic arguments against God’s existence while rendering highly probable the best theistic arguments for God’s existence. Stratton shows that mere Molinism solves the problems of moral evil and natural evil, the two most prevalent anti-theistic arguments. He also shows that mere Molinism furnishes the power to ground the kalām cosmological argument, the fine-tuning design argument, and the axiological argument. Accordingly, mere Molinism should prove to be both intellectually and emotionally satisfying to any Christian who is fully apprised of its support. I recommend this book to anyone who is even remotely interested in the topics of divine sovereignty and human freedom.

Dr. Kirk R. MacGregor
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion
Chair, Department of Philosophy and Religion
McPherson College

Click here to purchase Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism on Amazon now!

Consider a few more impressive endorsements:

Dr. William Lane Craig:

“For years I’ve hoped to see someone take my work, expand upon it, make it their own, and run with it. This is exactly what Dr. Stratton has done in Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism. Stratton makes a systematic case for “mere Molinism” by examining scripture and history while appealing to metaphysics and perfect being theology. The final chapter connecting Molinism to the cumulative case of apologetic arguments and addressing the Problem of Evil is worth the price of admission alone.”

Dr. Mike Licona:

“For more than 500 years, questions related to the extent God has pre-determined one’s salvation and the events of one’s life have been vigorously debated. Dr. Stratton’s book builds a needed bridge between Calvinists and Molinists, showing quite convincingly that, although a divide remains pertaining to the role of God in one’s coming to faith in Christ, there are important points where Calvinists and Molinists can cross the theological chasm and agree. Thus, Dr. Stratton is a welcome player in this age-old discussion!”

Dr. Clay Jones:

“In the often musty discussion of human freedom, Tim Stratton’s book is a breath of fresh air! Although I’ve taught and debated about the nature of human freedom for over twenty years, I learned a tremendous amount from his book. Not only is it well argued, it is a fabulous, eye-opening historical exposé of what the biggest names in church history have thought about human freedom. Many who think they have had this issue figured out may be surprised. I highly recommend!”


About the Author

By Kirk MacGregor

Kirk R. MacGregor (Ph.D., University of Iowa) is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion at McPherson College. He is the author of several scholarly works including Luis de Molina: The Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge (Zondervan, 2015) and A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology (University Press of America, 2007).