Kirk R. MacGregor Zondervan

McGregor teaches religious studies at Carthage College, in Wisconsin, and philosophy at the College of DuPage in suburban Chicago. His biography of Louis de Molina is a welcome addition to the literature on Molinism. This is the first book-length biography of this influential thinker. Molina’s life is wrapped in mystery, with most of his story hidden in unpublished sixteenth-century sources. The author explains his goal “is to bring the information from these sources to light for the first time, thus revealing a fuller picture of the exciting story of Molina’s life and thought than has previously been available” (15).

Initially, MacGregor responds to several misconceptions about Molinism. For example, some believe Molinism is just for Roman Catholics. Instead, MacGregor notes that Molina agrees with Luther and Calvin that salvation is by grace alone, even though he disagreed with them in his defense of prevenient grace (18). Also, against the claim that Molinism is merely a more sophisticated version of Arminianism, MacGregor argues that Molina was an original thinker, neither Calvinist nor Arminian (19). Finally, in response to the claim that Molinism stifles God’s sovereignty, MacGregor argues: “Molina believed that by maximizing human freedom and maximizing randomness, he would maximize God’s sovereignty. . . . Molina insisted that his conception of God was more sovereign than Calvin’s” (25).

In chapters 1 and 2 MacGregor tells the story of Molina’s early life through his conversion and academic training. Key to Molina’s early development was his departure from the prevailing Thomist understanding of faith as an “epistemological category, or way of knowing . . . in favor of a relational understanding harmonious with the longstanding tradition of Christian mysticism” (34).

In chapters 3 through 5, MacGregor traces the development of Molina’s views of middle knowledge, providence, and predestination. He shows how Molina came to his distinctive views through interaction with the biblical text and how he defended his positions from the Scriptures. His discovery of the idea of middle knowledge, “God’s prevolitional knowledge of all true counterfactuals . . . a type of knowledge God possessed logically or explanatorily prior to his willing to create the world or his making of any decision about what kind of world, if any, he would create” (79), was the turning point for his theological pilgrimage.

MacGregor returns to his story of the life of Molina in chapter 6. Molina’s hope was that middle knowledge would bridge theological debates between the Dominican order and his Jesuit order. He also hoped that middle knowledge could “serve as a rapprochement between sixteenth-century Protestantism and the decrees of the Council of Trent,” even arguing that had middle knowledge been discovered earlier, the Pelagian controversy could have been avoided and the deterministic predestination of Luther and Calvin would never have developed (158). However, Molina did not prevail in his hope. The Inquisition denounced his work in 1591, ruling “that Molinism was incompatible with the Council of Trent” (173).

In chapter 7, MacGregor turns to Molina’s practical theology, which “was based on a spirituality of directing every human action to the glory and service of God. . . . Molina held that the essential rule in this relationship is to employ created things insofar as they help us to achieve our theocentric end, and to shun created things insofar as they hinder us from achieving our end” (179). As humans do this, they join God in his work: “By finding and then joining God in his labor, Molina contended that we become collaborators with God in the task of redemption. Because of our libertarian freedom and God’s providential use of our free choices to bring about the world, we stand in the divided sense, alongside God as cocreators of the world” (180). Thus, there should be no private ownership of property: “In sum, it is the fact that the Lord God has created the world and made humanity in his likeness, which, on Molina’s view, had made all humans common owners of all material things” (193).

MacGregor’s next chapter discusses Molina’s theology of social justice, particularly the practice of usury. For Molina, “social justice was the virtue that ordered all human actions to the common good” (201). Though the Roman Catholic Church had condemned the practice of lending money for profit, Molina argued that there was some biblical precedent (Matt 25:27) and some cultural value. MacGregor also explains Molina’s view that the church and state are “mutually complementary rather than contradictory. However, Molina separated in significant ways the spiritual role of the church from the physical role of the state” (216). Finally, he explains Molina’s opposition to the African slave trade; he was one of the first western thinkers to oppose the African slave trade (227).

In chapter 9, MacGregor returns to the attempts of Pope Clement VII to anathematize Molina’s perspective on middle knowledge. Molina died on October 12, 1600, “of dysentery at the age of sixty-five, taking to the grave the impression that he would be posthumously yet wrongfully anathematized” (240). But, on August 28, 1607, Pope Paul V officially pronounced Molina’s system to be acceptable Catholic doctrine, without taking sides on whether or not it was true (241).

Chapter 10 concludes with highlighting the legacy of Molina and his theory of middle knowledge. MacGregor observes that the last forty years have seen a revival in the interest in Molinism, largely due to the work of Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig (243–44). MacGregor asserts two primary reasons for the prominence of Molinism. “First, Molinism is the only theological stance that consistently maintains both God’s all-encompassing providence . . . and libertarian human freedom” (248–49). Second, “Molinism possesses tremendous explanatory power and scope to make sense of a wide range of pressing theological issues that are often deemed intractable” (249). Among these is the claim that it “gives the Christian ‘the best of both worlds’ of Calvinism and Arminianism’ and, in the process, removes the motivation and appeal of open theism” (ibid.).

MacGregor’s conclusion appropriately summarizes the value of this book: “It seems that Molina has finally assumed his rightful place among the greatest philosophical theologians and ethicists in the history of Christianity. Accordingly, no future history of the Christian tradition, history of Christian thought, history of the Reformation, philosophical theology, or systematic theology can legitimately afford to ignore Molina and his influence” (270). This book introduces the life and thought of this influential medieval mind. It is highly recommended for that purpose. Scholars will want to read this book alongside Molina’s writings. Nonscholars will be well served by this introduction to his thought. Whether one accepts Molina’s conclusions, MacGregor is correct that he cannot be ignored.

About the Contributors

Glenn Kreider

Glenn R. Kreider

Prior to teaching at DTS, Dr. Kreider served as Director of Christian Education and then as Senior Pastor in Cedar Hill, TX. His research and writing interests include Jonathan Edwards, theological method, theology and popular culture, and our eschatological hope. Dr. Kreider believes that grace really is amazing; it is a thought that will change the world. He is married to his best friend, Janice, and they have two grown children and one granddaughter, Marlo Grace. He and Janice enjoy live music, good stories, bold coffee, and spending time together and with their rescue dogs—a terrier/greyhound mix named Chloe and a black lab named Carlile.