The following post comes from a friend of mine in the student-run philosophy organization at my university. I don’t agree with his views, but I want to share this, because it’s well-written and a good challenge to the more liberal view of scripture I hold. Critical thinking is quite important for our beliefs, and this is certainly a fine example.
An introduction: this is on the Christian philosophical viewpoint of Molinism, which tries to provide a middle ground between the conservative and liberal views on the inspiration of Scripture. The basic premise is that God created the world so that its human authors, of their free will, would create the best possible account of God’s will when they wrote the books that would become the Bible.
A General Liberal View-
I certainly can’t account for all views that might come under this category, but the following description seems adequate enough to me to get the line of thought across (same with the conservative account). This view sees the Bible as a collection of writings throughout history by fallible men working with influence from their own culture and background in an attempt to record what God had revealed or done, if He had revealed or done anything at all and they are not simply mistaken.
On this view then, the Bible is the human record of God’s revelation, instead of being itself the revelation from God.
- Contradictions and apparent historical errors in scripture are not problematic because these are the errors of men rather than God.
- Seemingly immoral acts and commands on God’s part can be explained as man mistakenly believing they had God’s support and errantly recorded accordingly.
A General Conservative View-
The more conservative view is going to usually be along the line of thought that God is ultimately the author of Scripture, and because He is perfect and truthful, then Scripture too is completely perfect and true. The human authors were either inspired to write what they did or some may have been given direct words from God.
On this view, the Bible is primarily God’s work for man, rather than man’s work for man with God as its subject or original influence.
- We can use the Bible as an ultimate source for determining and testing doctrine in a stronger way than the liberal view.
- It makes sense of how the Bible seemed to be understood by its own authors, the early church, and Christ.
It is important to realize though that on this view, errors, contradictions, and seemingly poor teachings in scripture have to be defended and explained, which can be difficult in some cases and tedious in conversation with those who would disagree.
A Molinistic Perspective-
I think there is a more moderate perspective that can be taken which would give us the strengths I’ve noted from both views.
In Molinism, God has as His fundamental knowledge, “Natural Knowledge”.
And N is- God’s knowledge of how all things could be. In terms of possible worlds, it is His knowledge of all the possible worlds He could, so to speak, choose to create.
God also has what we can call His “Free Knowledge”.
And F is- God’s knowledge of what will be. He knows which possible world is actual and He knows the future.
Then in addition to N and F, God will also have His “Middle Knowledge”.
And M is- God’s knowledge of how every free creature would act in every way things could be. In terms of possible worlds, God knows for any possible world he might create, how the free creatures will freely choose to act in each of those possible worlds.
On this view, the logical order by which God creates is,
N implies M implies F
In between M implies F is God’s divine decree (D) of which possible world to create. F is contingent in that God’s knowledge of what will happen depends on which possible world He chooses to create.
N implies M implies D implies F
It is important to remember that God will only create one of the possible worlds that meet certain criteria. For example, it is likely that God would only create a possible world in which the greatest number of people receives salvation.
Relating to the Bible as God’s Word-
If we take Molinism to be true, then what we can say is;
God chose to create the possible world in which the biblical authors freely choose to write that which best conveyed to us what He intended to be His message/word for us and in the way closest to how He wanted it to be conveyed.
- What this means for inerrancy, apparent errors in Scripture, and seemingly immoral acts of God- On this view, if we were to find overwhelming evidence that the Bible contained some contradiction or historical error, we would be able to acknowledge it while still saying the Bible is the word of God. It would simply mean there was no possible world which God could have actualized, that was consistent with all His criteria, in which none of the Biblical authors made a mistake or taught something that was not true.
- What this means for the Bible as a source for testing doctrine- On this view, since the works of the Biblical authors is what God intended to be His word for us, then we should presume that beliefs or teachings contrary to its teachings are false and that it is useful for learning truth. However, if we find that an argument against a particular teaching is overwhelmingly strong, such that it would be irrational to hold on to the Biblical teaching, we still have the option of explaining it in the way we do errors.
- What this means for inspiration- God could still have, in some cases, inspired or directed some of the authors in a more direct way if He so choose. For example, if we read “The Lord says,” from a prophet this may be a good indicator that God gave more direct guidance. God’s knowledge of how He would further freely act in the world is within F, because it is only after D that He knew how He would act in the world. He could only know this after D, because a person endowed with M does not have knowledge of how they would themselves freely act in any possible world. Since the true propositions regarding M are counterfactuals, if He had M of Himself the truth of such counterfactuals would be outside His control, in the same way His N and M (with regard to others) are outside His control, and this would destroy His freedom.
This Molinistic perspective is an attractive one because it allows us to take the strengths of both the general types of views I mentioned without their relative weaknesses. The major problem with this view is that it requires acceptance of Molinism. However, for the person already favorable of Molinism, this need not be an issue.
A Brief Look at Two Points in Chris’s The Existential Freedom of Uncertainty
1. “To be a True Christian, one had to accept a particular set of doctrines which really weren’t up for debate. Until then, you fell into this other category of Baby Christian or even non-Christian. Among the requirements for True Christianity was believing that the Bible was the directly revealed Word of God, infallible and inerrant in its original texts.”- The line of thought Chris is referring to here I would say is mistaken and ought to be done away with. Though I do myself affirm that the Bible is the word of God it is not at all a required doctrine for being a Christian (there are far too many persons ready to respond to Christ and many who have truly repented before God that struggle with this doctrine in order to say otherwise). The fundamental truths that Christians must affirm are that God exists, He sent His divine son Christ who died for us, and He raised Christ from the dead. Other doctrines, such as Biblical Inspiration and the like, may be important and even required to be classified as “orthodox” or “creedal”, yet are certainly not necessary to be considered Christian. I see “orthodox Christian” as a subgroup of the larger “Christian”. It is for this reason I would even consider Mormons to be within the group of “Christian”, though outside the group “orthodox Christian” (and this is not something one need be ashamed of).
2. “So here’s the test: do the teachings of the Bible reflect those of contemporary cultures? If the answer is unilaterally “no,” then we can say that it would have been extremely improbable that anyone wrote the Bible of his/her own free will. If the answer is yes, such as if the Bible were to reflect the myths of the area…, then we should say that it is extremely likely that the authors wrote very much out of their own preferences and personal moral judgments.”- On the Molinistic perspective, if we say “yes” to this test, we are not committed to the position that God did not guide the Biblical authors. It would indeed be the case that the Biblical authors “wrote very much out of their own preferences and personal moral judgments”, and yet it would also be the case that the conclusions they freely derived and recorded were the conclusions God intended for us to take as His teaching since He selected the possible world where they taught these things. God knew the circumstances of all the possible worlds the authors could write in and what conclusions they would derive relative to their cultural backgrounds, and He actualized the possible world in which the authors would write what He wanted to be His teaching even if there was still room for the background culture to improve. The accuracy of the background culture that influenced the authors’ teachings does not say anything about whether or not the teachings are what God intended for us. An understanding of the background culture would only help with interpretation of the teachings. The only way in which this would lead us to saying a teaching is false, is if we use the background culture to help interpret a teaching from the Bible that is overwhelmingly false, and thus would be explained in the way I previously noted the Molinist could.