Since I started this blog, we haven’t talked about the subject of God’s knowledge of counterfactuals and the way in which I believe it figures into God’s prior decision about which possible world he would actualize. I know that some readers of Providence and Prayer are unaware that I no longer affirm that God’s knowledge of counterfactuals is middle. This has affected my doctrine of providence very little, but I concede to the classical tradition that God’s knowledge of counterfactuals is part of his necessary/natural knowledge, not middle. I now speak of it as his “hypothetical knowledge” rather than as “middle knowledge.” My most recent thoughts on this appeared in a dialogue with Paul Helm, published in Westminster Theological Journal, in the Fall of 2009. (Details of publication can be found here.) We will come back to this at some future time, indeed possibly many times, since it is a subject in which I am keenly interested.
Because of my interest, I keep an eagle eye open for comments about God’s hypothetical knowledge and its usefulness, as I read and listen to others, particularly to fellow Calvinists. I’ll be grateful if you draw to my attention any such items that you discover. One showed up today in comments made by Don Carson at the Gospel Coalition blog. It is an informative post in which he discusses his perception of the strengths and weaknesses of evangelicalism in Great Britain. Along the way, he makes some wise observations about how God assesses the effectiveness of his servants. He proposes the possibility of God’s being well pleased with some whose visible signs of success are few, because : “At the final Great Assize, God will take into account not only all that was and is, but also what might have been under different circumstances (Matt 11:20ff).”
Here is the larger context in which that sentence appears:
“But there is a bigger issue. We must not equate courage with success, or even youth with success. We must avoid ever leaving the impression that these equations are valid. I have spent too much time in places like Japan, or in parts of the Muslim world, where courage is not measured on the world stage, where a single convert is reckoned a mighty trophy of grace. I am grateful beyond words for the multiplication of churches in Acts 29, but I am no less grateful for Baptist ministers like my Dad, men who labored very hard and saw very little fruit for decades in French Canada, many of whom went to prison (their sentences totaled eight years between 1950 and 1952). I find no ground for concluding that the missionaries in Japan in the 20th century were less godly, less courageous, less faithful, than the missionaries in (what became) South Korea, with its congregations of tens of thousands. At the final Great Assize, God will take into account not only all that was and is, but also what might have been under different circumstances (Matt 11:20ff).”
This is an encouraging recognition of the significance of God’s knowledge of counterfactuals and it is a truth that may encourage some of you at this point in your own ministries.