A MOLINIST PERSPECTIVE ON THE HOMILETICAL “DIVINE APPOINTMENT”

Shandon L. Guthrie

 I.  INTRODUCTION 

            It was an early Sunday morning when Brian woke up to attend a local church just down the street.  The sign outside read, “For those of you who are troubled in your spirits, stop in and see how Jesus can save you from your sins.”  If it were any other day, Brian would have snubbed such a politically incorrect sign.  But when passing it the previous evening, it stared at him like a focused archer poised for battle.  Brian was just like anybody else trying to make it in the world.  He worked his nine-to-five job, ate dinner with a friend, and turned in for the evening so that he would be refreshed for another day of the same ritual – work, eat, sleep.  For Brian, the words on that sign hit him like a hammer.  “I am very much troubled,” Brian thought.  “Every day it’s the same thing; and my boss is just increasing the pressure each day I put up with him!”  He felt like he was screaming inside but no one was round to hear him.  “Troubled, you say?” Brian mused.  “You bet I am and now I’m going to do something about it!”

            When Brian finally retrieved his scarcely worn tie to complete the church ensemble, he locked up his apartment doors, started up his car, and drove to that eagerly anticipated source for answers.  The people seemed nice and the music was quite stirring.  In fact, he thought, it awakened a slumber from within my very soul.  When the pastor walked up to the podium decorated with the usual wooden cross on its face, the sound engineer in the back quietly made the transition from the worship microphones to the pastor’s lavalier.  And then he spoke.  “Those of you who are here for the first time are not here by accident.  You are here by divine appointment.”[1]  The pastor continued, “God has brought you here so that you could receive the Lord Jesus Christ into your heart as Lord and Savior.  You have been living a mundane life that is bogged down by routine.  You feel as though there is no meaning to your life.  I’m here to say that Jesus is the answer you’ve been looking for.  In Jesus, there is newness of life and a refreshing fill of the waters of eternal life.” 

            Brian listened to the entire message without batting an eyelash.  The pastor is talking to me!  How can this be? Brian wondered.  I don’t remember God every appearing to me or lifting me up to bring me to this church.  I came here out of my own free will.  Nobody told me to come.  I just saw that sign and – the Pastor interrupted Brian’s internal thoughts, “None of you are here by accident but you are here because God brought you here.”  It became even more strange if not overtly misguided.  How can that message which describes me within 97% accuracy be aimed at anybody else?  When the pastor finished his message and opened up the opportunity for anyone in the congregation to come forward to accept Jesus into their hearts, at least five people walked up to the front as if they were about to embark on a new adventure.  Brian hesitated and then, for whatever reason, he began to feel the status quo in his life begin to be disturbed.  In fact, it was as if someone was taking his hand and leading him to the altar.  Going to the front to receive Jesus was inevitable for Brian.  And ever since his conversion he as been infused with a joy so precious and peaceful that he never looked back to his old, meaningless life.  I came here tonight because God brought me here.  Praise be to God.

            Some people can relate to Brian’s account.  The details may be different, but such people recall the ominous message of the pastor who appeared to have been speaking directly to them.  But how is this situation conceivable?  On the one hand Brian struggled with a difficult life and was captivated by a church’s advertisement.  He was the one who took the initial steps to get to church.  On the other hand, Brian was destined to be there so that he could hear a message that spoke directly to him.  But how did the pastor know Brian, whoever he was, was going to be there?  And how did the same message manage to speak to five others?  These questions are typically passed off as being an exemplification of God’s providential design at work.  But what does that mean?  Did Brian freely go to church that day or did God make him go?  If God made him go then were Brian’s decisions all determined in advance?  In this essay we shall explore how it is feasible that Brian was able to freely choose his own destiny and courses of action while at the same time God admitted Brian into his divine appointment with salvation.  I believe that this solution will assist in making the mind more edified as it comprehends more of the mysterious workings of God. 

 

II.  THE CONVERGENCE OF TWO WORLDS 

            Many conundrums are seen in areas of theology where human free will comes into painful contact with the decrees of God.  In a sense, two separate worlds converge at a single moment, only to part ways into the stillness of time without explanation.  Recall the pastor’s penetrating insight that “You are not here by accident but by divine appointment.”  What exactly does it mean to not be here by accident?  Typical usages of accident suggest that an event occurs unintentionally.  “I accidently spilled the soda on the table” reflects the agent’s unintended action of spilling the soda.  Of course it does not absolve one of any culpability (“I can’t believe you were careless enough to spill the soda! You’re in time-out, mister!”), but the act itself was neither premeditated nor calculated.  And Brian, the object of that “divine appointment” homiletic, most assuredly premeditated and calculated his arrival at the church that Sunday morning.  And the pastor said that he was there by divine appointment, not by his own appointment.  Granted that the Sunday arrival was not accidental, just who is actually responsible for bringing Brian to that church?  The pastor said that God was responsible, but Brian knows he chose his own course of action. Is the pastor wrong about this?  As far as Brian’s immediate experience is concerned, he seems to be.

            One explanation that is certainly plausible is that the entire affair is purely accidental.  That is, many sermons regularly intimate messages about divine appointments.  In fact, such an explanation would be tantamount to a newspaper’s daily horoscope – sooner or later someone will fit the description.  Has the accidental thesis been ruled out?  To answer this, we have to understand that the question is not “Is Christianity true on the basis of the incredible circumstances surrounding Brian’s arrival?”  This would be to misunderstand the scenario for the events in question are precisely within a Christian paradigm.  The seemingly astonishing set of circumstances surrounding Brian are not meant as evidence for Christianity but rather as an expectancy within a Christian world view, though the more specific to Brian the homiletic the better it would serve to validate a belief in Christian theism.  Instead, in a broader sense, the question is “Since Christianity teaches divine sovereignty, in what sense are the incredible circumstances surrounding Brian’s arrival guided by God?”  Perhaps the answer exists outside of divine sovereignty.  Maybe Brian is solely responsible for arriving just in time to hear “You are here by divine appointment.”  Had he not arrived, he would not have heard those words.  The only reason Brian reflects on this, one might say, is that he just happened to have heard it, otherwise he wouldn’t have been around to reflect on it.  But this sounds unacceptable.  It is similar to an explanation given by John Leslie about a comparative situation involving someone who survives a firing squad, ultimately expressing why the response that one only reflects on something if the conditions appropriate for their survival just happen to keep them around to reflect is unacceptable: 

                        “Suppose you are facing a firing squad. Fifty marksmen take aim,

                        but they all miss. If they hadn't missed, you wouldn't have survived to

                        ponder the matter. But you wouldn't just leave it at that - you'd still be

                        baffled, and would seek some further reason for your good fortune”[2] 

Of course one has to be alive in order to wonder about why they are there at all.  But this does not appear as a satisfactory answer to the question: Why did the marksmen miss?  Similarly, to say that the only reason why Brian would be baffled at the pastor’s announcement of a divine appointment for someone fitting Brian’s description is because he showed up to hear it sounds a bit like the 50 marksmen taking aim and missing.  Clearly, one cannot rule out pure chance in Brian’s situation.  But evidence for the Christian faith coupled with this event should make Brian wonder.  That is, 

p1: If justification for Christian theism exists, then the God of Christian theism     

      exists.

p2: If the God of Christian theism exists, then God has expressed His will in the

      Bible.

            p3: Justification for Christian theism exists.

            p4: God has expressed His will in the Bible (from p1 to p3).

p5: If God has expressed His will in the Bible, then other-directed prophecies

      from God are plausible.

p6: If other-directed prophecies from God are plausible, then a “divine

      appointment” homily is plausible (being an other-directed prophecy).

              C: A “divine appointment” homily is plausible (from p4 to p6). 

According to this argument, the nature of Christianity contains the plausible assertion that God enables other-directed prophetic statements.  Since grounds exist for belief in Christianity, then it follows that other-directed prophetic statements (e.g. the “divine appointment” homily) are plausible.  Brian should not take this too lightly.  Indeed, if Brian only had the bald occurrence of the pastor’s sermon then he would be within his rights to posit mere chance.  However, if there are grounds for embracing the religion of the pastor then it seems less likely than not that the “divine appointment” is purely random.  This is  perhaps partially what motivates Brian to respond.  If Brian is feeling the voice of God bearing witness to himself, then the combination would perhaps yield a forceful motivation to respond.

            Nonetheless, it would be unduly strange to shrug off the pastor’s sermon as Brian’s accidental arrival if the pastor was being descriptive of Brian’s lifestyle down to the letter – all but mentioning Brian’s name!  Given the circumstances of Brian’s inclination to go to church and his actual arrival that Sunday morning, the fact that the pastor spoke directly to Brian’s heart and that Brian received the Lord that day all make the idea of being there by his own accord inexplicable.  In the broader context, the pastor’s sermon, Brian’s favorable response, and the details of Brian’s life all contribute to a theory of an overarching divine plan.

            But in a Christian paradigm, the problem becomes internally complicated.  How could God have insured that Brian would not have missed his “divine appointment”?  Two major worlds have just converged at a single moment in time.  One world consists of the divine decrees of God’s sovereign plans and the other world consists of Brian’s libertarian free will.  So, apart from motivation for Brian’s free will, who is really responsible for why the two worlds met?

 

III.  ATTEMPTED RECONCILIATIONS OF THE TWO WORLDS

             The history of the Christian church has seen many days where issues about human free will and divine sovereignty have been debated.  On the one hand we have the simple foreknowledge position that perceives God as someone who lets human beings choose their courses of action and God, having created the circumstances they are in, only becomes aware of the future by knowing it.  In this view, God simply “observed” how history was to unfold and then proclaimed His eternal plan after reviewing actual history.  Brian’s arrival to the church at the given date and time was foreseen and so God was able to anticipate it.  A contemporary proponent of simple foreknowledge, David Hunt, says, 

                        I am committed to defending . . . the view that God simply

                        knows the future (leaving open the question of how he

                        does it).[3] 

This view is the immediate way that readers of the New Testament come to think of God’s knowledge.  Hunt acknowledges that God knows the future, but he affirms what he calls “agnosticism” about the vehicle through which God comes to know it.  Despite Hunt’s dubious thesis that fatalism is somehow compatible with human freedom, the simple foreknowledge view leaves open the idea that events occur out of pure accident.  It could be that someone did not adequately hear the Gospel and so missed their opportunity for salvation simply because they had the misfortune of being geographically or chronologically removed from missionary outreach.  This view might suggest that the pastor accurately addressed Brian out of sheer accident.  And if the pastor was made privy to Brian’s situation by direct revelation from God, then how could it be guaranteed that Brian would have come to the point of attending that pastor’s church at that moment?  This explanation just will not do.

            What about a Reformed approach to the problem?  Could it be the case that God  directly determined Brian’s appearance in church to hear the pastor’s sermon at a given day and time?  I suppose.  But this solution then cries out for resolving the age-old criticism of libertarian free will in the face of determinism.  It seems like a logical contradiction to say, “God determined Brian to arrive freely at the designated church.”  What does the Reformer mean when she says that God made someone do something freely?  One possible resolution is found in commentator Edwin Palmer who says in a popular level book, “Contrary to what most people think, the Calvinist teaches that man is free . . . And just because man is free, man is a slave.”[4]  But just what does that mean?  He continues: 

                        Just because man does what he wants to do, man has no free

                        will (which is different from saying that he is free); that is, man

                        is totally unable to choose equally as well between the good

                        and the bad.[5] 

He gives an example of an alcoholic who, apparently, “no more can stop drinking than he can stop breathing.  He is a slave to alcohol.”[6]  As for the Christian, he “may technically have the external option to choose or reject Christ, but basically he does not . . . In other words, the Christian does not have free will.”[7]  Now, I fail to see how someone can have the “external option” of choosing or rejecting Christ yet that person “does not have free will.”  As I read Palmer, he seems to suggest that people simply will always choose actions in accordance with their sinful nature such that they will never choose Christ no matter the options laid before them.  If this is the case, it is still logically possible that someone choose Christ.  And what steps could God take to guarantee that someone would freely choose one course of action over another?

            If Palmer is grasping for some form of soft determinism (as opposed to the traditional view in Reformation theology of hard determinism), then the problem erodes into a guided, simple foreknowledge view.  If someone is simply overwhelmed or highly influenced toward some action A then it remains available to the agent to do ~A which is precisely what the Reformer wants to avoid!  The fact that someone might be extremely influenced toward one course of action is not sufficient to warrant the conclusion that the agent is now incapable of another course of action.

            Examples of more sophisticated defenses of how God can determine people to freely work toward a certain result (a.k.a. compatibilism) abound.  In a recent edition of the Faith and Philosophy journal, University of Massachusetts professor of philosophy Lynne Rudder Baker has defended one such position in the context of Augustine.  Professor Baker argues (in the spirit of Augustine) that free will is to be understood as the following: 

A person S has compatibilist free will for a choice

                                    or action if: 

                                    (i)         S wills X,

                                    (ii)        S wants to will X,

                                    (iii)       S wills X because she wants to will X, and

                                    (iv)       S would still have willed X even if she (herself)

                                                had known the provenance of her wanting to

                                                will X.[8] 

She explains,  

“according to [compatibilist free will], a person freely wills what

                        is good – to love God, say – if (i) she wills to love God; (ii) she

                        wants to will to love God; (iii) she wills to love God because she

                        wants to will to love God; and (iv) even she knew the provenance

                        of her wanting to will to love God – namely, that her wanting to will

                        to love God was caused by God Himself – she would still want to will

                        to love God.”[9]

 Baker’s thesis is that the libertarians have usurped the industry as of late in dealing with reconciling human free will with divine sovereignty since it is the most popular view today among Christian academics.  So, she wants to know why we just don’t bend over backwards to make determinism and human freedom compatible since the Bible explicitly teaches that God draws people unto Himself.  Her resolution, according to what is noted above, is to say that God causes some people to want to will to love God.  That wanting to will to love God in turn causes the person to choose a specific action like salvation.  So the explanation for Brian turns out to be that God made Brian have the desire to appear at the church at the given time and day and, as a result, Brian chose to appear at the church at the given time and day.

            I find this interpretation untenable for several reasons but I’ll briefly mention only four here so as to not go beyond the scope of this article.[10]  First, by making one’s desires the intermediate cause between God and human actions does nothing to abscond God of determining those actions.  In other words, no matter how many cars there are in a train, the engine will always be responsible for the caboose’s motion.  The intermediate causes, the individual train cars, are only doing what the engine makes them do thereby transferring to the caboose what it must do.  Secondly, what happens if a person wills to go against his own desires?  Does God embolden the initial desire even more to compensate?  Without a well-defined threshold below the “force” level, it is conceivable that God ultimately coerces someone to want to do something.  Coercion is not freedom.  Thirdly, this view is no more reconciling human freedom with divine sovereignty than reconciling how someone can freely choose something and having been hypnotized into doing it.  There just is no freedom of the will.  Instead, the ultimate explanation to the conundrum is to understand that one’s desires are simply illusory.  Finally, what of missionary work?  Conceivably, God should make all persons desire to seek Him.  Why are some, nay, most left out of account?  If one falls back and appeals to God’s providence and His inscrutability, isn’t that tantamount to saying, “I honestly don’t know how the two are reconciled but I believe it nonetheless”?  But what exactly is there to believe since the concepts of “being free to do X” and “being made to do X” are mutually exclusive?  Self-contradictory propositions are not descriptions of anything at all. Consider that there is no reason why God couldn’t have created just as many saved people that the actual world has but with no people who would be lost.  This would help the Matthean statement be more meaningful:

                           “the everlasting fire [is] prepared for the devil and his angels.”

                        (Matthew 25:41)

 Moreover, God’s desire that all persons come to salvation and repentance is even more perplexing if not self-contradictory if God actually has the inscrutable desire to have only some people saved:

                         “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;

                        Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge

                        of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4; KJV)

                        “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count

                        slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any

                        should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

 If God’s desires are commensurate with what He has the power to do, then there must be some explanation as to why some people are lost and destined for hell.  No satisfactory answers have yet surfaced.

            Thus no compelling explanation at the hands of the simple foreknowledge view or the Reformed view awaits us.  We must press on to what has undoubtedly been one of the most fascinating breakthroughs in Christian philosophy on a par with what quantum physics is to Newtonian physics.

 

IV.  MOLINISM AND THE UNITY OF THE TWO WORLDS

             There is a solution that is only now receiving more attention in the academic world of philosophy thanks mostly to the American philosopher Alvin Plantinga.  This view is called Molinism so-called after its originator, a 16th century Jesuit priest named Luis de Molina.  Though Molinism originally surfaced as a response to the Thomistic interpretation of the concurrence of free will and the divine bestowal of grace, it was largely shoved to the background at the hands of well-meaning antagonists of the Pelagian heresy – believing that Molinism was semi-Pelagian and offered non-Pelagians more reasons to embrace the heresy.  In The Columbia Encyclopedia, we have a brief note about Molinism and its historical controversy:

            “Molinism tries to reconcile the dogma of the efficacy of God's

                        grace with the dogma of the freedom of human will. Discarding

                        St. Thomas's reconciliation of the two dogmas . . . Molina

                        made the condition of grace dependent upon the free consent of the

                        will. The Dominicans attacked Molinism and Molina; the Jesuits

                        defended him in a dispute that grew extremely bitter. The theology

                        of Francisco Suárez attempted to bridge the differences.”[11]

 Properly understood, Molinism teaches that the reconciliation between divine grace and human freedom is found in God having scientia media (“intermediate knowledge”).  There are three tiers of knowledge for God defined in the literature on Molinism: (i) God has natural knowledge, (ii) God has intermediate knowledge (sometimes called middle knowledge), and (iii) God has free knowledge.  Natural knowledge is just God knowing all possible scenarios for a world He could create (also simply known as possible worlds).  God’s free knowledge is God’s foreknowledge; that is, it is what God knows about the actual world or the world that we are presently enjoying.  Intermediate knowledge, or as some philosophers refer to it “middle knowledge,” is defined sufficiently by George W. Shields who writes,

“Molina's argument runs as follows: Future events are not

                        contingent upon God's knowledge, rather, the converse is true;

                        God's knowledge is contingent upon future events. If I decide to

                        do X, God knows that I will do X. If I decide to do Y, not X, God

knows that I will do Y. The content of divine knowledge is, then,

dependent upon what I decide and what I decide is completely up

                        to me. God, however, knows what I will decide at any given time.

                        The reason that God can know this is because God possesses a

                        logically distinct kind of cognition which is "between" knowledge

                        of what can happen and knowledge of what will happen. This kind

                        of knowledge is knowledge of what would happen. Thus, Molina

                        proposes a kind of ‘middle knowledge,’ a scientia media, which

                        stands between Gersonides' position (whose notions limit the deity

                        to foreknowledge of what can happen and to what is already

                        determined to happen at a given juncture) and St. Thomas who holds

                        that God sees what will happen precisely because God knows it and

at the same time wills it. To be sure, for Molina, God knows what can

                        happen and what will happen, but the latter is so because God knows

                        what a person would choose given a certain circumstance. God directly

                        wills the circumstance for the decision, but does not directly will the

                        human response to the circumstance.”[12]

 This intermediate knowledge serves as God’s knowledge of what each person would do in every circumstance, whether placed in a Christian home, in a different country, or in the Bronze Age – the circumstances are innumerable.  For example, God may know some things about the college student Ivan Tulern:

            (1) If Ivan were in circumstance C1 then he would freely enroll in Philosophy 101

 and

         (2) If Ivan were in circumstance C2 then he would freely not enroll in Philosophy 101

 Now, God is complete control of what He wants in creating the actual world.  If God wants a world where Ivan Tulern will eventually enroll in Philosophy 101 then God need only create circumstance C1 in order to bring that about.  If God’s plan is to avoid having Ivan freely enroll in Philosophy 101 at a given time, then God will put Ivan in circumstance C2.  Because God knows both (1) and (2) about Ivan, God can orchestrate the world He desires to create by choosing the one guaranteeing a specific action without infringing on Ivan’s free will.

            Some objectors think that simply by God knowing that someone will do a certain action, then that somehow implies that there is no human free will after all.  In effect, it is argued:

                         p1: Necessarily, if God foreknows X then X will occur.

                        p2: God foreknows X.

                         C: Therefore, necessarily X will occur.

 No Christian disputes any of the premises here.  But, it may be charged, any deductive argument that is valid and has true premises is necessarily sound.  Indeed, but the problem lies not in the traditional truth-functional logic but in the modal logic being employed (propositions using “necessarily” and “possibly”).  Notice that the necessity of something happening because God foreknows it is transferred to the simple statement that necessarily X will occur.  It is like saying the following:

                         p1: Necessarily, if Joe is a Dallas resident then he is a Texas resident.

                        p2: Joe is a Dallas resident.

                         C: Therefore, necessarily Joe is a Texas resident.

 The problem here is that we go from the obvious truth that being in Dallas is a sufficient condition for being in Texas to the conclusion which tells us that it is impossible for Joe to be a resident in any other state.  And that’s clearly false.  Similarly, to make some action X a necessary feature of the actual world is to commit a modal fallacy.[13]  The argument would be better constructed as:

                         p1': Necessarily, if God foreknows X then X will occur.

                        p2': God foreknows X.

                         C’: Therefore, X will occur.

 Now it is no longer necessarily true that X will occur, it is simply contingently true.  Keep in mind, to say that something is certainly true is not the same thing as saying that something is necessarily true.  You can be certain about something that is possibly false (that there is extra-terrestrial life in the universe outside of our solar system), and, obversely, you can be uncertain about something that is necessarily true (like Pythagorean’s theorem).  If someone freely refrained from doing X then God would have known that and then God’s intermediate knowledge would have been:

                         p1'’: Necessarily, if God does not foreknow X then X will not occur.

 But this scenario has not been met with complete satisfaction.  Philosophy professor Richard Popkin complains that

                         “Molinism . . . preserves free will but at the price of introducing

                        other difficulties to Christian orthodoxy; for example, because the

                        efficacious grace needed to accomplish God's commands ultimately

                        depends on humanity's will, God's will is subordinate. Besides,

                        Molinism tends to Pelagianism – heresy that dismisses original sin –

                        because fallen humanity is practically in the same condition as

                        innocent Adam, namely, fully enabled to do good or evil as each

                        individual wishes.”[14]

 It is not my intention to deal with every objection to Molinism, but this one requires a second look.  Essentially, the error here is that just because human beings may not be tainted with total depravity does not entail that human beings are not tainted with depravity at all.  The enablement of Adam’s decisions to do evil or good is obvious.  But I submit that the doctrine of transworld depravity is not such that it need fully impede the morally significant enablements of human beings in a post-Adamic world.[15]  If by “practically in the same condition” Popkin means only to say that human beings today enjoy the capability of libertarian free will, then the emphasis is trivial.  As René Feülöp-Miller explains,

                         “The most important point in this system of ‘Molinism’ was the

                        assumption that man is, through his will, enabled constantly to

                        resist grace, so that it depends on him whether it is effective or

                        not.”[16]

 Yet Feülöp-Miller notes, along with Popkin, that “[this system] had a suspiciously Pelagian flavour.”[17]  Whatever one makes of the Pelagian flirtation here, it no more renders Molinism heretical anymore than the Johannine doctrine of the logos’s similarity with the Heraclitean logos makes it illegitimate.[18]  At best it commits the genetic fallacy (that a proposition ought to be abandoned because of its unacceptable origin).

            One final point should be noted here.  The New Testament seems to drop hints to its readers that God has this intermediate knowledge.  For example, in Matthew 11 Jesus makes the following hypothetical remarks:

                         "’Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty

                        works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon,

                        they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. . . .

                        And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought

                        down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you

                        had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this

                        day.’” (Matt. 11:21, 23).

 Intermediate or “middle” knowledge concerns what God knows what events would transpire under any condition or circumstance.  Jesus’ words here seem to exhibit that fact.

                         (i) If the mighty works which were done in you had been done in

                        Tyre and Sidon, [then] they would have repented long ago in

                        sackcloth and ashes

 and

                         (ii) If the mighty works which were done in you      had been done in

                        Sodom, [then] it would have remained until this day.

 These two conditionals express what God (in the person of Jesus) knows would have happened had the “mighty works” been exhibited in the secular cities of Tyre, Sidon, and the notorious Sodom.  But why would God simply know that unless those conditional statements were true?  In other words, God must already have the information about what the inhabitants of those cities would freely do under a certain set of circumstances.  Though God foreknew that Sodom would become a depraved locale, it is apparently also true that they would have freely repented under the right circumstances - the “mighty works” circumstances.  What was true of these secular cities might also be true of Brian’s life.  God simply chose to effectuate those circumstances that would draw him to his divine appointment.

            If it is true that God has sovereign control over the unfolding of history and that human creatures are genuinely free, then Molinism serves as the best candidate to solve this crisis.  In the absence of defeaters to the Molinist hypothesis and some reasons to think that it is true, it seems to me that this serves as a plausible worldview upon which to understand the unity of the two worlds of divine sovereignty and human free will in Brian’s joyous predicament.

 

V.  THE “DIVINE APPOINTMENT” AND THE FRUITS OF MOLINISM 

            Pastors and ministers, typically in Protestant churches, sometimes suggest that visitors have arrived at their “divine appointment.”  When this phrase surfaces, it conjures up the image of intending to be where God wants one to be.  I think this is perhaps an accurate understanding.  When Brian reflects on the world of divine sovereignty and the world of human freedom, perhaps the Molinist perspective successfully marries these to worlds.  Brian can then rejoice in his understanding that God can indeed have complete control over his free creatures without the burden of contradiction.  Perhaps God arranges the circumstances in Brian’s life such that Brian will freely arrive at God’s chosen destination.  In God’s mind are all of the various scenarios where Brian reacts to a variety of circumstances.  God was then able to choose which world history to enact such that Brian will freely make his journey to the pastor’s church just in time for his divine appointment - an appointment Brian never knew he had.  I believe Brian’s situation here is something we should ponder in the majesty of God’s wonder.  As such, I would like to list the fruits of Molinism particular to the homiletical divine appointment.

            1. Molinism makes it feasible for one to intend to be where God wants them to be even though they may attend out of ignorance of God’s appointment.  Someone who is about to be where God intends them to be need not necessarily be aware of their divine destination.  Sometimes knowledge of one’s destination tends to curtail such a visit (as in the case of a doctor appointment).  God can move in ways that remain mysterious and anonymous while being in complete control during one’s personal, freely chosen journey.

            2. Molinism makes it possible for those attendants who are visitors to have the same divine appointment.  Brian’s situation is specific to him, but God is sometimes bigger than the immediate self.  It is certainly within God’s abilities to have not just one person attend their divine appointment but for many people to attend their divine appointment.  Though the pastor’s message to Brian was seemingly specific to him, perhaps others shared the same history prior to their arrival.  It is marvelous to consider how God is able to work in so many people’s lives simultaneously.

            3. Molinism makes it possible for those attendants who are regular members to have the same divine appointment.  Divine appointments are not just for new converts, either.  Regular members of a fellowship or church can be touched by a message directed toward someone else.  This is perhaps why some television shows like Dr. Phil tend to be popular – they often feed on the advice aimed at someone else.  Divine appointment homilies are appropriately for both new believers and seasoned ones.

            4. Molinism makes it possible for each of these circumstances to converge on the same Sunday morning.  Beyond the cast of characters assembled for the divine appointment homily and the location, God is able to bring events to a zenith at the same time.  Indeed, God can arrange to have certain circumstances ensue on the same day so that He can economically effectuate more than one plan for people’s lives.  Some people take delight in that others share their divine appointment with them.

            It might then be the case that both the pastor’s announcement that every member is present by divine appointment and that every attendant is there for reasons other than having made such an appointment are both true.  With the cooperation of what human beings will do and what God wants to happen, God can draw those whom He knows will be drawn by the relevant circumstances so that they can each benefit from the message He wants them to hear.  Has this essay been your divine appointment to understanding divine sovereignty and human freedom?



ENDNOTES

[1] This expression is common in reflections on Christian providence.  See Rob Boston and Steve Benen, "Roberta's Retreat," Church & State, April 2000, 12; Larry Witham, "Spirit Drives, Unites Men to Be Keepers," The Washington Times, 20 September 1997, 4.  The phrase “divine appointment” typically refers to the appointing of a leader or ruler by God.

[2] John Leslie, "Anthropic Principle, World Ensemble, Design," American Philosophical Quarterly 19 (1982): p.150.

[3] David Hunt, “The Simple-Foreknowledge View,” Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, eds. James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2001), p. 67.

[4] Edwin Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism (Michigan: Baker Book House, 1980), p. 35.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., pp. 35-36.

[7] Ibid., p. 36.  Palmer proffers a distinction between free will and free agency.  Free agency is doing what one wants to do and free will is choosing between a good action and an evil one.  He says that no Christian has free will, but he does have free agency.  But the key is that doing what one “wants” is apparently unidirectional – that is, one never does otherwise due to their transworld depravity.

[8] Lynne Rudder Baker, “Why Christians Should not be Libertarians: An Augustinian Challenge,” Faith and Philosophy, Vol. 20, No. 4 (October 2003), p. 467.

[9] Ibid., pp. 467-8.

[10] For a good detailed critique of compatibilism, see Timothy O’Connor, Persons and Causes: The Metaphysics of Free Will (New York: Oxford, 2000), pp. 3-22.

[11] The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., s.v."Molina, Luis ."  For an historical overview, see George W. Shields, "Some Recent Philosophers and the Problem of Future Contingents," The Midwest Quarterly 34.3 (1993).

[12] George W. Shields, "Some Recent Philosophers and the Problem of Future Contingents," The Midwest Quarterly 34, no. 3 (1993) [database on-line]; available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/; Internet; accessed 29 September 2004.

[13] See Alfred R. Mele, Autonomous Agents: From Self-Control to Autonomy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 189.

[14] Richard H. Popkin, ed., The Columbia History of Western Philosophy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999) 353.

[15] Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity (Oxford: Oxford University, 1974), pp. 184-189; Richard Swinburne, Providence and the Problem of Evil (Oxford: Oxford University, 1998), pp. 129-133.

[16] René Feülöp-Miller, The Power and Secret of the Jesuits, trans. F. S. Flint, and D. F. Tait (New York: The Viking press, 1930), 97.

[17] Ibid.

[18] For a discussion of the Heraclitean logos see Seth Benardete, "On Heraclitus," The Review of Metaphysics 53.3 (2000).

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