Calminianism and Open Theism

In a recent post on Koinonia (HT: Peter Kirk), Craig Blomberg lays out a mediating position between traditional Calvinism and Arminianism, which he slyly calls “Calminianism” – otherwise known as “middle knowledge”:

Simply put, middle knowledge affirms, with classic Arminianism, that God’s predestining activity is based on his foreknowledge of what all humans would do in all possible situations that they could find themselves in. But it also observes that God’s omniscience is so great that it is not limited just to what all actually created being would do but to what all possibly created beings would do in all possible situations. Because God creates only a finite number of persons between the beginning of the universe and Christ’s return, his sovereign choice is preserved, because he must choose to create some beings and not others. Thus, with classic Calvinism, his sovereign, elective freedom is preserved.

Essentially, Blomberg seems to be saying that God knows how different types of people will respond to different situations in life. Based on that knowledge, God chooses whom to create (and presumably when they are created), thereby sovereignly affecting the course of human events.

It is interesting to me that with the change of one single letter, Blomberg’s position might echo that of Greg Boyd, a leading proponent of open theism. That is, if the statement, “God’s predestining activity is based on his foreknowledge of what all humans would do in all possible situations that they could find themselves in” were modified to read “[…] what all humans could do in all possible situations […]”, then open theism fits.

In his introductory book on open theism, God of the Possible, Greg Boyd lays out the basic model is that God is sovereign and has imagined or created all of the possibilities of choice in life, but leaves the actual choosing up to us. Sort of a grand book of Choose Your Own Adventure, where we are free to make decisions that take our lives down different plot lines, but the paths that we go down have already been imagined and thought of by God.

The difference between open theism and a more traditional model is whether God foreknew what choices we would/will make, before we make them. The traditional view says, “yes, God foreknew what choices we would make and thus knows what path our life will go down”, while open theism says, “no, God does not know what choices we will make, leaving our life’s path a sequence of open possibilities.”

As for the second part of Blomberg’s position reconciling middle knowledge with Calvianism, I don’t see a conflict there if open theism were in play: based on God’s knowledge of our tendancies, he chooses to create some beings and not others. The difference is whether God has specific people in mind for specific tasks/outcomes in history, or whether he uses specific types of people, who may or may not respond “appropriately”. In either case, God’s “sovereign, elective freedom is preserved” through the intentional creation of human beings throughout history.

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8 Comments

  1. Posted July 20, 2009 at 10:36 AM | Permalink

    Interesting observations, El Shaddai. I do think that some form of middle knowledge may be instrumental in tempering a number of divisive issues in the Church today. It’s interesting that, on your argument, with a little tweaking Greg Boyd could hold this view, while a staunch Calvinist and anti-Open Theist like Bruce Ware also advocates a version of middle knowledge. I don’t claim to understand all the implications and nuances of the middle knowledge view, but I’m sympathetic to Blomberg’s assessment.

  2. Posted July 20, 2009 at 11:55 AM | Permalink

    Because God creates only a finite number of persons between the beginning of the universe and Christ’s return, his sovereign choice is preserved, because he must choose to create some beings and not others.

    This pegs God as a puppet master. Is this the best way to frame things? I don’t think so.

    • Posted July 20, 2009 at 12:00 PM | Permalink

      Puppet master in the sense of controlling the actions of the puppets, or in the sense of choosing which puppets are on stage?

      • Posted July 20, 2009 at 12:55 PM | Permalink

        “In the sense of choosing which puppets are on stage?” I think that is all based on conjecture. It’s like trying to figure out what best possible world God could have created.

  3. Craig Blomberg
    Posted July 21, 2009 at 10:44 AM | Permalink

    Thanks for all your thoughtful comments. I wasn’t aware of doing anything slyly. While not in the theological dictionaries, Calminian is a term many people have used for a long time. Yes, there is only one letter difference between would and could but what a world of difference that makes. Middle knowledge and open theism, as I see it, are at two opposite ends of a spectrum regarding God’s omniscience. Traditional Calvinists and Arminians alike hold that God foreknows all that ever will happen. Open theism denies that by saying that he cannot foreknow what truly free creatures will choose in the future. Middle knowledge affirms not only that he does foreknow what truly free creatures will choose in the future but what all possibly created beings would choose in all possible situations in all possible worlds in the future. It’s hard for me to imagine two positions more opposite than that. The question rightly comes back as to whether middle knowledge is logically incoherent with libertarian free will. I’m not sure that it is incoherent, but I understand why some think it is. But my approach would be to combine middle knowledge with compatibilist freedom, which is the only kind I think the Bible ever teaches that we have. So I’d come down very close to where Terry Tiessen does in his wonderful book on Providence and Prayer.

    • Posted July 21, 2009 at 11:30 AM | Permalink

      Thank you for your kind response, Mr. Blomberg. I did not mean any offense by using “slyly” – I simply thought it was a clever amalgamation of two terms such that I had not seen before.

      Abandoning open theism for a moment, the concept of middle knowledge as God foreknowing “what all possibly created beings would choose in all possible situations in all possible worlds in the future” has a remarkable echo of quantum mechanics (which a commenter on your original post also noted) – especially in the exploration of mathematics and philosophy by authors such as Neal Stephenson in his recent novel, Anathem. The possibility of multiple realities (or states of consciousness) that are influenced by the quantum triggers of actions and decisions in other states creates a mind boggling cascade of cause and effect throughout history, but not one too large for our God to foreknow completely.

      Thank you for the recommendation on the Tiessen book – to date, I’ve subscribed to the ideas that Garry Friesen outlined in his book on the will of God – I’ll be sure to take a look at this as well.

      • Posted July 21, 2009 at 11:59 PM | Permalink

        I cannot recommend highly enough Tiessen’s book mentioned by Dr. Blomberg. It’s an outstanding read, although I understand Tiessen may have abandoned the need for middle knowledge (see here).

        Coincidentally, I just finished drafting a 3-part series on providence and prayer from which I draw heavily from Tiessen and Helm. I will be posting on my blog in a few days, if interested.

  4. Posted July 24, 2009 at 4:51 AM | Permalink

    I don’t see how open theism could possibly fit with Psalm 139:16–Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

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