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Why I'm a "Calminian" by Craig Blomberg

Categories Theology Guest Posts

"You intended it to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (Gen. 50:20).

Blombergc If either pure five-point Calvinism or its consistent repudiation in pure Arminianism were completely faithful to Scripture, it is doubtful that so many Bible-believing, godly evangelical Christians would have wound up on each side. The former wants to preserve the Scriptural emphasis on divine sovereignty; the latter, on human freedom and responsibility. Both are right in what they want and correct to observe in Scripture the theme that they stress. Both also regularly create caricatures of what the other side believes. Straw men are always the easiest to knock down.

But can progress be made in affirming the legitimate, biblical emphases of both sides? When one discovers a position that Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, two of the world’s leading evangelical philosophers, both endorse, even though the former is Calvinist and the latter is Arminian, it is worth taking a closer look. The position is often called 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.

There are countless passages throughout Scripture that, seemingly paradoxically, affirm at one and the same time God’s sovereignty and human freedom (with accountability). Philippians 2:12-13 commands us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, but only because God is the one at work in us to do his good pleasure. Isaiah 10:5-13 finds God using Assyria as an instrument to punishment faithless Israel but then promising to turn around and punish Assyria because of her evil motives in conquering God’s people.

But perhaps the text that says it best of all is the first one in the canonical sequence, Genesis 50:20, quote above. Joseph has been reunited with his brothers, but now that their father is dead they fear that Joseph may at last exact vengeance on them. Joseph allays their fears by explaining that he understands that God had different, good purposes in mind with their action of selling him into slavery in Egypt, even though their purposes were evil. Two separate agents, two separate wills, at cross purposes with each other, neither described as logically or chronologically prior to the other. Neither is said to cause the other; they occur simultaneously.

It is what some have called Calminianism. So in this month of honoring one great Reformer, let’s not forget his counterpart a generation afterwards. I give thanks to God for Cal but want also to be one of Jacob’s minions, which, I guess, adds up to Calminianism!

Craig L. Blomberg is distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He is the author, co-author or co-editor of fifteen books and more than eighty articles in journals or multi-author works. A recurring topic of interest in his writings is the historical reliability of the Scriptures. Craig and his wife Fran have two daughters and reside in Centennial, Colorado.

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