On Evil, Providence, and Freedom

A New Reading of Molina

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Mark B. Wiebe
  • DeKalb, IL: 
    Northern Illinois University Press
    , April
     2017.
     180 pages.
     $45.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780875807522.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Debates about Christian providence and free will may be as old as the first-century church. In his book, On Evil, Providence, and Freedom: A New Reading of Molina, Mark Wiebe introduces a new chapter to this historic argument. The book is an attempt to think about Molinism with a nuanced approach to human freedom that relates to Christian positions on the nature of the creator God and the created. The movement begun with the writings of Luis de Molina, a Spaniard and Jesuit priest from the 16th-century. Wiebe is not new to this topic. He is Professor of Theology and Bible at Lubbock Christian University. He received a PhD in religious studies from Southern Methodist University, where he focused his doctoral work on systematic theology. Wiebe currently teaches on a variety of subjects surrounding Christian history, theology, and biblical studies.

On Evil, Providence, and Freedom is an intellectual approach to the study of Molinism. Wiebe’s goal is not to describe people’s experience of Molinism; neither is he concerned with creating a genealogy of power that led to the movement’s inception. Instead, Wiebe follows the trajectory of the beliefs and ideas behind Molinism. This method actually works in Wiebe’s favor, as it helps him systematize Molinism across centuries and geographical contexts. Though Molinism was born in a specific place and time (Spain, in the 16th century), Christian theologians continued to use his writings well into the modern era. Luis de Molina argued for a strong notion of divine providence, while maintaining a libertarian conception of free will (12). According to Molina, humans remain free under the action of God’s divine grace. Molina explored this by commenting on Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae, writings which eventually become one of Molina’s most well-known and scrutinized works: the Concordia, published in 1589.

On Evil, Providence, and Freedom begins with a lengthy discussion of open theism (14-34), followed by a brief overview of biblical references to divine providence (35-49). Wiebe then moves to a major exposition of grace and free will as espoused by Thomas Aquinas (50-81). It is in the last two sections that Wiebe analyzes Molina’s work (84-111), ending with the final arguments of the book (113-41).

Wiebe sees in Molinism an opportunity to revise debates about free will and Christian providence. The book stiches various pieces together that culminate in a refined argument for creaturely “quiescence” and God’s “middle knowledge.” Quiescence was an idea introduced by Thomas Aquinas; it was the position someone could take to neither accept or reject God’s grace. Luis de Molina introduced the argument of middle knowledge, which stated that God has knowledge of what could be the case, but has no control over it. Wiebe’s book brings these two solutions together. He argues that for creaturely quiescence to work, God must have middle knowledge: a hard determinism and creaturely responsibility can be contradictory positions, and thus these two solutions must be paired.

The contributions that On Evil, Providence, and Freedom makes are of major significance to systematic theology and the Christian tradition. The discussion surrounding ideas from the scholastic period showcases the book’s main contribution. The opening sections on open theism and Thomas Aquinas offer a well-rounded analysis of this one theme, making Wiebe’s book an excellent starting point for anyone interested in debates over Christian providence, free will, and the problem of evil. In addition to a synthesis of important primary sources, Wiebe also includes a vast array of modern interpretations on Aquinas and Molinism. The book presents the essential materials for the overwhelming information on scholastic theology.

Although the Wiebe’s monograph presents the reader with a fountain of evidence to support its argument, it has some drawbacks. The book feels rushed throughout. With more space, the author could have expounded on his interpretation of the late medieval scholastic cultural context. All kinds of disciplines in the humanities suffer from writing comprehensively about challenging material; adding introductory sections would have helped readers who are new to the subject. This drawback also affected the treatment of Luis de Molina and the 16th century. The reader does not get the sense of Molina’s world and scope, nor what his physical interlocutors thought about him. Thinking about Luis de Molina’s theological evolution or his run-ins with other theologians throughout the early modern period would have strengthened the larger impact of the book.

Readers and scholars will continue to wrestle with historical and current debates about Christian providence and human free will. On Evil, Providence, and Freedom will enrich these theological discussions in important directions. Anyone interested in such prominent subjects in the Christian tradition will do well to visit the pages of Wiebe’s work.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Josefrayn Sánchez-Perry is a doctoral student in religions of the Americas at the Univeristy of Texas, Austin.

Date of Review: 
December 4, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Mark B. Wiebe is assistant professor of theology and church history at Lubbock Christian University in Lubbock, Texas.

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