Does Calvinism Have Room For Middle Knowledge? A Conversation -- By: Paul Helm

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 71:2 (Fall 2009)
Article: Does Calvinism Have Room For Middle Knowledge? A Conversation
Author: Paul Helm

Does Calvinism Have Room For Middle Knowledge? A Conversation

Paul Helm


Terrance L. Tiessen

Paul Helm is a Teaching Fellow at Regent College, Vancouver. He was Professor of the History and Philosophy of Religion, King’s College, London, from 1993 to 2000. Terrance L. Tiessen is Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, Otterburne, Man., Canada.

I. Helm: “No”

Terrance L. Tiessen has recently offered a detailed advocacy of why Calvinists should believe in divine middle knowledge while at the same time rejecting Molinism.1 He believes that such a position has various advantages. In this rejoinder I first examine the cogency of the position that he defends, and then take a look at the supposed benefits of it, and finally consider an objection.

1. Background

It is a great merit of Professor Tiessen’s presentation that as part of it he engages with the history of Reformed theology, notably with the Reformed Orthodox such as Francis Turretin. So it is appropriate that we should briefly remind ourselves of aspects of the position that they adopted, particularly the distinction that they drew (drawing in turn on medieval discussions) between God’s natural knowledge and God’s free knowledge. Turretin, for example, puts the distinction in the following way:

It [viz., God’s knowledge] is commonly distinguished by theologians into the knowledge of single intelligence (or natural and indefinite) and the knowledge of vision (or free and definite). The former is the knowledge of things merely possible and is therefore called indefinite because nothing on either hand is determined concerning them by God. The latter is the knowledge of future things and is called definite because future things are determined by the sure will of God. Hence they mutually differ: (1) in object because the natural knowledge is occupied with possible things, but the free about future things; (2) in foundation because the natural is founded on the omnipotence of God, but the free depends upon his will and decree by which things pass from a state

of possibility to a state of futurition; (3) in order because the natural precedes the decree, but the free follows it because it beholds things future; now they are not future except by the decree.2

The object of God’s natural knowledge

is both himself (who most perfectly knows himself in himself ) and all things extrinsic to him whether possible or future (...

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