If Molinism was a TV show I think it would be Quantum Leap. Ok, a few adjustments would have to be made here and there (and ‘by a few’, I mean a lot and by ‘here and there’, I mean everywhere).
According to Molinism, people act with complete freedom, yet God has knowledge of the future and this future only comes into being through divine and human actions. In fact, Molinism proposes that before time God had perfect knowledge of every possible world and the outcomes included within that existence and chose our world based on the decisions and actions we would make. Still following?
Molinism is the attempt to reconcile the absolute autonomy of the creature, on the one hand, and God’s sovereignty, on the other. While Luis de Molina was a sixteenth century Spanish Jesuit, his ideas are alive and well and can be found in the work of contemporary thinkers like Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, so we cannot simply shed this belief as something expired.
The question remains: How exactly is this reconciliation between human autonomy and divine sovereignty accomplished for the Molinist?
The answer: through a theological idiom known as divine scientia media (middle knowledge). Within the scope of God’s omniscience, Molina held that God knew how humans would respond under other possible situations. According to middle knowledge then, God knows exactly what a person will choose to do and based on this knowledge, God will ‘equip’ this individual and her surroundings to accomplish what God foresaw in the life of this particular individual. Craig confirms this point when he claims in regards to salvation that
… the relation of the unevangelized within God’s providential ordering of the world [is] a situation in which God may have so arranged the world that those who never in fact hear the gospel are persons who would not respond to it if they did hear it. God brings the gospel to all those who he knows will respond to it if they hear it (Craig, Only Wise God, 150).
With that said, God can in no way intervene to bring this human action to pass through his own willing or activity; this action is entirely within the remit of the creature. I like to think of it in terms of what happened in the Quantum Leap episode where Sam teaches Chubby Checker how to do ‘the twist’, but you’ll probably better appreciate Molina’s example of two men pulling a barge:
There are two causes cooperating to produce a single, total effect. Thus, when a man wills to produce some effect, God concurs with the man’s decision by also acting to produce that effect; but God does not act on the man’s will to move it to its decision (Tiessen, 170).
Problems: Molinism still commits itself to a zero-sum game, where one party/agent has to come out on top as winner and the other, consequently, as the loser. The discussion can’t simply go back and forth between God and man as though these were equal and similar agents as, in this frame, one party inevitably has to win and the other has to lose. As Kathryn Tanner has helpfully explained, ‘The theologian must correct the assumption that freedom and power are had by the creature only in independence of God’s creative agency for them. The theologian must talk of creaturely freedom and agency as freedom and agency under God’.
The mistake, therefore, of Molinism and other accounts that speak of the relation between God and humanity in this uniform way is that it subjects both parties to a single category. By doing so God is stripped of his Lordship and made an equal with the creature within this single category, but so parsed, this category cannot contain both, as God refuses to be domesticated. At the end of the day one party will inevitably have to declare: ‘this town aint big enough for the both of us’.
Finally, the account of God’s providence that underwrites this model essentially culls an orthodox doctrine of God. Here God is portrayed as an indifferent divine agent who creates things and secures the power by which humans bear the responsibility of executing their own agency by their own will and without any real involvement of God in the day to day affairs of life.
The result is a Deus otiosus – an ‘idle God’ – who we can certainly pray to, but the kind of questions we have to ask ourselves vis-à-vis this model pertain to exactly how we are to pray, what do our prayers amount to and what kind of God is it that hears our prayers?