As I have wrestled with questions related to the relationship between human free will and the sovereignty of God the concept that made the most sense to me is “Middle Knowledge Calvinism” (see Craig Blomberg’s article “Middle Knowledge” here). There are many smaller details that I will need to think through over time, but as a big-picture theory it makes the most sense. I have been educated in both a strong Arminian perspective as well as a strong Calvinist perspective. Usually I come away with the sense that both sides have to explain away certain parts of the canonical testimony. I have not felt that way about the middle knowledge position.

For those unfamiliar with middle knowledge let me provide you with a paragraph from the aforementioned article by Blomberg:

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.

In other words, along with Arminians I can affirm that God does not elect on the basis of some arbitrary game of soteriological duck-duck-goose. Along with Calvinist I can affirm that God is sovereign is determining who will be saved since God knows all things, including all possible humans and all possible decisions made by all possible humans in all possible worlds. Also, along with Calvinist I can disagree with Arminians who understand foreknowledge to be a reference to God electing whom He knows will choose salvation as if humans are ever so free from sin as to choose God (contra Romans 3:10-18).

The almighty acronym of many Calvinist is “TULIP”:

T – Total Depravity

U – Unconditional Election

L –  Limited Atonement

I – Irresistible Grace

P – Perseverance of the Saints

Let us examine how Middle Knowledge Calvinism compares with classic Calvinism as we work our way through the TULIP.

Total Depravity: Middle Knowledge Calvinism affirms total depravity. As I read through the aforementioned Romans 3:10-18 it becomes obvious that the Arminian suggestion that there are some humans that actually can choose God contra those who are just too selfish and too evil does not seem to line up, at least with Pauline thought.

On the other hand, in Romans 7:14-25 it is equally true that although we cannot seek God there is something within us that cries out for God. There is a desire to do good, to do the law of God, but we cannot actually do it. In the Middle Knowledge Calvinist paradigm God can know what every individual would choose if the choice could be made. In other words, God can see what every humans that has ever existed would do in a sort of recreated Eden where the question of a free salvation through Christ is offered. Some may choose this reversal fruit. Others may remain in rebellion against God.

Since only God knows what all people would do if we could do it only God has the power to send the Spirit to those people to make sure that they have the faith to come to God through Christ. This is a sovereign act of God, but it is not an arbitrary one. Equally, it does not side with Arminianism suggesting that there are actually people who by their own desire freely “choose’ God.

Unconditional Election: This may appear to be the place where Middle Knowledge Calvinist and classic Calvinist part ways. I did write in that last paragraph that God does not make arbitrary decisions and that God makes His choice on the basis of not only foreknowledge, but Middle Knowledge of all possible people, times, place, and decisions in all possible worlds. But does this make it a conditional election?

Some may say that it does, I do not. The Calvinist understanding of election derives from the Pauline understanding that humans can do nothing to earn salvation. Humans can do nothing. This does not mean that God cannot see past our inability to do. God can see what the heart might desire if the person could respond in his/her own strength.

Therefore, although election is not arbitrary it can be unconditional if we understand that it is not conditioned on anything that the Apostle Paul or the Reformer John Calvin would have seen as merit behavior. If someone thinks that this is conditional because God sees the heart we will just have to agree to disagree. I feel that at this point we must move to TALIP with the U being replaced by an “A” for arbitrary!

Limited Atonement: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever should believe on him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).” “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).” These passages are not very friendly to classic Calvinism. It is simply bad exegesis to suggest that the “world” of John 3:16 is the “world of the elect”, especially since the “world” in Johannine thought is the exact opposite.

Yet we know the atonement must have some limitations, otherwise we do not have Arminianism, we have universalism! Let us make this really simply. The best way to maintain balance while letting the entire canon have a voice is this: (1) the atonement is unlimited in scope and availability; it was sufficient enough for the salvation of all people, everywhere, at all times, but (2) it has limited application, namely to the elect.

The benefits of the atonement are accessed by/in/through faith alone. This does not mean that the atonement was limited in power. It means it is limited in application. Therefore, the Middle Knowledge Calvinist position affirms the limited atonement position by stating that God has only applied the atoning work of Christ to those whom we have already discussed as being elected by God.

Irresistible Grace: For those whom God has chosen on the basis of His Middle Knowledge there will be no avoiding the grace of God. This is not “Divine rape” as some have so crudely said. This is simply God seeing those who would be saved if they could choose salvation and God determines to save. In other words, God is not the gods of the pagans. God does not change His mind about those who He intends to save based on whether or not they have a bad day or do the right things. God is sovereign and God will see the elect through to the end. Those whom God chooses cannot resist this grace.

Perseverance of the Saints: I think I already said in gist what I am going to say here. Those whom God chooses will make it all the way to the end. Classic Calvinism sees this as being because God arbitrarily elected people and therefore those people cannot fail. Middle Knowledge Calvinism agrees to some extend, except the arbitrary part. Both agree that the elect will be saved and that nothing can prevent that.

So yes, I think Middle Knowledge Calvinism can use the TULIP acronym, though there is no reason to feel too dependent upon doing so unless you have some people that need to be convinced you are not a closet Arminian!