“One of the most widely held doctrines of Christianity is that of meticulous divine providence. The doctrine of providence refers to God’s governance and preservation of the world-his ongoing activity in the creation-and it is “meticulous,” because it refers to the smallest details of all events”(13).
So begins John D. Laing’s book on Middle Knowledge (MK): Human Freedom In Divine Soveriegnty. He is correct in highlighting God’s providence over the affairs of His creation. As believers, you can imagine how important such a belief would be. Difficulties begin to arise when our belief in God’s providence leads to other questions that any thinking person would like to know. Questions such as “how exactly does God provide for His creation?” opens a myriad of responses addressing the relationship between God’s providence and human freedom. In MK Laing want’s to make the argument that it is through MK that we find the best explanation for God’s providence.
Laing does a very good job at covering many facets of MK. He begins the first chapter by providing some background information as well as an explanation of MK. From there he offers the reader some of the objections that have been given against MK. Following the objections, Laing explains certain implications of MK discussing divine foreknowledge/freewill, soteriology, theodicy, Scripture, science/theology, the Biblical case for MK, and the existential outlook of MK. For being an introduction to the topic of MK Laing has managed to cover a broad range of subjects.
In a nutshell (as if MK can be explained in a nutshell) MK comes from a place between two different types of divine knowledge. In the first place, there is a divine “natural knowledge” not to be confused with creaturely natural knowledge. According to Laing, “Natural knowledge refers to the truths God knows by his nature”(p.48). What this means is that God knows His creation by knowing Himself. He knows the possibilities in His creation by knowing what He can or cannot do. Some refer to this knowledge as the knowledge of “simple intelligence” or “necessary knowledge.” Secondly, Laing also speaks of divine free knowledge. Here he explains that “Free knowledge refers to the truths God knows by knowing his own will”(p.49). To put this simply, God knows what takes place in creation by knowing His plan for it.
Looking at these two types of divine knowledge we quickly notice there is no room for human autonomy. MK is something like the go-between of divine natural knowledge and divine free knowledge. MK is described as God’s pre-volitional (p.50) knowledge of counterfactual states of affairs within creation. Thus MK is divine knowledge of events under various conditions. Moreover, MK is not based on God’s nature or upon His free knowledge, but on the free decisions of created beings. Thus MK is based on God’s knowledge of autonomous decisions people will make. So if God possesses MK His providence is unaffected by creaturely freedom.
The book itself is well written and very informative. Laing succeeded in condensing a complex topic into a very readable, instructive, and concise volume. While I do find fault in the argument (mostly because it presupposes human autonomy) I find this particular volume to be very informative and worth the read whether you are a proponent of MK or not. Some would think this book should only be for the academy. I think it is written for anyone who wants a better understanding of God’s providence. Well worth the read.
My personal rating 5 out of 5 stars.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”