[K:NWTS 25/1 (May 2010) 50-53]

Book Review

Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010. 232 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0805431985. $24.99.

The past fifty years have brought with it a revival of Molinism, the view advocated by the Jesuit Counter-Reformer Louis de Molina (1535-1600) who believed that God possesses and utilizes his middle knowledge (scientia media) to create a world in which creatures retain their libertarian freedom. Of late, many philosophers have come to Molina’s defense, including William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, Thomas Flint, and others. Arminians like Craig have found Molina’s view advantageous for a theology largely sympathetic with Arminianism and one that seeks to act as a middle position in the Calvinism-Arminianism divide. Following Craig, Kenneth Keathley has also adopted Molinism in his new book, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach. Keathley rejects the Reformed belief that God’s sovereignty entails necessity, especially with regard to freedom whereby man’s actions are understood in terms of God’s causal determinism (14). For Keathley, such a view excludes libertarian freedom, with which Keathley refuses to dispense. However, Keathley believes libertarianism can still be affirmed if one adopts a middle knowledge position. According to Keathley, God possesses natural, middle, and free knowledge. Natural knowledge means God, prior to the divine decree, knows everything that could be. Also prior to the divine decree, God possesses middle knowledge, meaning that God knows everything that would be. God then utilizes middle knowledge in his deliberation of what world he wants to decree. Since God is able to foreknow what a libertarian free creature would do in different possible worlds, God is able to use his middle knowledge to simultaneously preserve man’s libertarian freedom and yet establish the type of world he desires. Posterior to God’s decree, God also possesses free knowledge which means God knows everything that will be. Soteriologically, Keathley believes his position entails a rejection of five-point Calvinism. Keathley trades Calvinism’s TULIP for what he calls ROSES: R is for radical depravity, O is for overcoming grace, S is for sovereign election, E is for eternal life, and S is for singular redemption. It is clear, however, that ROSES is far more sympathetic with the synergistic conditionality of Arminianism than the unconditional, monergistic nature of grace in Calvinism. Nevertheless, since Keathley’s book indicates that his main goal is to provide a biblical account for Molinism, I will examine Keathley’s attempt to reconcile Molinism with the sovereignty of God.

There are at least two strengths to Keathley’s work. First, Keathley rejects Open Theism for its denial of God’s exhaustive omniscience. Such a move is commendable in light of the unbiblical nature of Open Theism. Second, Keathley seeks to preserve God’s control over events and persons in history. Keathley spends pages affirming numerous Scriptures which clearly demonstrate that God is Lord over all things and as Lord, he is in control (21-25). However, from this point on, Keathley unravels exactly how it is that God has control; for Keathley, Calvinism’s determinism is not an option since man possesses libertarian freedom. Keathley believes middle knowledge is the key to explaining how it is that God can be in control and yet man possess libertarian freedom. Unfortunately, Keathley’s middle knowledge position lacks biblical support and should be criticized on several counts.

First, Keathley seeks to present the “biblical” case for Molinism and he goes to great lengths to cite numerous passages which demonstrate that God possesses counterfactual knowledge. However, Keathley’s presentation fails in two ways. (1) Keathley never shows that God uses this counterfactual knowledge to determine what world he will and will not create. Molinism is grounded in the fact that God not only possesses knowledge of what man would do, but that God uses his middle knowledge in deciding what world to decree. However, the verses Keathley lists never specify that God uses his middle knowledge to decide what world to decree. Keathley admits: “Scripture never states explicitly that God utilizes middle knowledge to accomplish his will” (41). Other Molinists like Craig have made the same confession. Therefore, the “biblical” justification for God’s use of middle knowledge prior to the divine decree is left vacuous. (2) It is also questionable whether the verses Keathley believes support middle knowledge actually do so at all. Scripture is clear that God does indeed possess knowledge of all counterfactuals (1 Sam. 23:10-13; Matt. 11:20-21). However, counterfactual knowledge and middle knowledge are not identical nor does the former prove the latter. And again, none of these passages demonstrate that God exercises use of this counterfactual knowledge posterior to his divine decree.

Second, Keathley’s case for middle knowledge is dependent upon libertarian freedom (contra-causal freedom), meaning that man can always do otherwise than he chose to do. The implication of libertarianism is that there can be no single factor, internal or external, which necessitates or determines that man choose one thing over another. However, libertarianism is severely problematic. For instance, libertarian freedom is incompatible with God’s exhaustive sovereignty. If man can always do otherwise, then God can in no way guarantee the outcome of any particular choice. Furthermore, if man can always choose otherwise, then God cannot know ahead of time the exact choice man will make since God’s foreknowledge of such a choice means that man will indeed choose that which God foreknows rather than an alternative choice. Consequently, libertarianism is incompatible with God’s exhaustive foreknowledge, even if it be knowledge of what a creature would do in another possible world. Once God determines what world he will create, he foreknows every decision his creatures will make (free knowledge). This being the case, man must choose that which God has foreordained in this world, thereby negating libertarian freedom. In the end, Keathley is in the same predicament as the Open Theist. The only difference is that Keathley inconsistently affirms God’s foreknowledge and meticulous control while affirming libertarianism, while the Open Theist seeks to be consistent by denying God’s exhaustive foreknowledge in order to preserve libertarian freedom.

Third, Keathley’s case for Molinism cannot avoid the conclusion, especially in light of his affirmation of libertarianism, that God is dependent upon the creature for his knowledge, even if it be of what free creatures would do in a given circumstance. Consequently, God’s foreknowledge is not based on God’s decree, but God’s decree is based upon God’s foreknowledge—a view which deviates from the biblical witness (Isa. 40:12-17) and resorts to the conditionality of Arminianism. Such a move conditions God’s choices upon the libertarian freedom of man, a notion in complete tension with Romans 9. Some Reformed scholars (Travis Campbell for example) have even argued that middle knowledge compromises God’s self-existence.

Overall, Keathley’s interaction with opposing scholarship is lacking altogether and consequently Keathley’s case for Molinism appears to avoid tough objections to his view. Keathley uses William Lane Craig as his primary resource for Molinism, but never interacts with evangelicals who have presented numerous objections to Molinism, including Paul Helm, Travis Campbell, and others. The same can be said concerning Keathley’s case for libertarian freedom. Why does Keathley not address the numerous objections to libertarianism, both biblical and philosophical, that have been posed by John Feinberg for example? How can Keathley expect others to be persuaded by his view if he neglects to refute those who bring serious problems to bear against the Molinist position?

Finally, while the intention of this review was limited to an evaluation of Keathley’s case for Molinism, it should be observed that Keathley’s work as a whole abounds with caricatures and misrepresentations of Reformed theology, which in no way serves to advance the debate. Keathley, for example, is so bold as to associate Calvinism’s determinism with Islam and the atheistic, Darwinian determinism of Richard Dawkins. Again, Keathley often errs when he picks extreme representatives of Calvinism to refute, only to then conclude that he has shown Calvinism to be inadequate (e.g., 80-84). The all too well-known straw man argument infiltrates Keathley’s presentation around every turn.

In conclusion, Calvinists will find themselves in agreement with Arminian Roger Olson when he argues that a middle way position between Calvinism and Arminianism is simply not possible. Keathley’s work is another unsuccessful attempt to reconcile libertarian freedom with Scripture’s affirmation of God’s sovereign, meticulous control over all things.

Matthew Barrett
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, Kentucky