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A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology.

A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology. By Kirk R. MacGregor. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America. 2007. Pp. 350. $46.

If not already acquainted with Kirk MacGregor through his book on Balthasar Hubmaier, (1) one would do well to get to know MacGregor's work through this latest book. A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology is worth reading not only because of its level of scholarship, but also because of MacGregor's ambitious attempt at combining what he believes to be the best in philosophical theology, Molinism, with the best in practical theology, Anabaptism. Though the former originated with a sixteenth-century Catholic theologian, Luis de Molina (1535-1600), its contemporary proponents include not only Catholic but also evangelical philosophers, such as William Lane Craig. MacGregor's work is thus best read as an evangelical appropriation of Catholic and Anabaptist thought--a combination that might be important for each of these traditions.

MacGregor's understanding of systematic theology is that it should attempt to answer questions that are not clearly answered in any one biblical text and thus require a logical synthesis of biblical exegesis and philosophical reasoning, a pairing with which MacGregor seems comfortable. Thus, this work does not proceed through the standard categories of systematic theology but rather focuses each chapter on a separate problem. After a prolegomena that offers the background to Molinism and Anabaptism--including a brilliant deconstruction of the Augustinian notion of original sin--MacGregor proceeds in two major directions: Molinist philosophical theology and evangelical Anabaptist practical theology. In chapter 2 MacGregor addresses the perennial question of how to synthesize a robust view of human free will with an equally robust view of divine sovereignty. MacGregor defends a Molinist view in which God's knowledge prior to creation proceeds in three logical stages: first, knowledge of every possible future state of affairs; second, knowledge of what would actually (though contingently) be the case in any world he could create; and finally, knowledge of what will indeed be the case based on the world he actually chooses to create. The second stage of knowledge, known as middle knowledge, is crucial for the Molinist system, which MacGregor distinguishes from both Calvinistic determinism and Arminian general sovereignty. MacGregor then spends the next two chapters applying his Molinist schema to two issues in theology: how to reconcile the personal God of Scripture with the God of philosophy--for which MacGregor believes Molinism has greater explanatory power than current "openness" views--and how to reconcile God's existence with the existence of genuinely gratuitous evils. Here again, MacGregor argues that a Molinist view offers the best explanation, in which "it is simply a logically unavoidable necessity of contingent living that even an omnipotent being cannot prevent evil" (122).

MacGregor next turns to theology proper, specifically to philosophical explications of the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation, and then applies his view of the Incarnation to an Anselmian satisfaction theory of the atonement. Notably, MacGregor proposes a nonviolent atonement theory, arguing that "if the crucifixion was necessary for God to instantiate humanity's salvation, then a monstrous human evil was necessary for God to accomplish the ultimate good" (163).

In the concluding chapters, MacGregor tackles four issues especially relevant to evangelical Anabaptist concerns: scriptural inerrancy; the sacraments and church discipline; women in ministry; and the implications of Jesus' ministry for violence and political involvement. MacGregor argues for inerrancy but cautions that it must be understood in light of a proper biblio-critical hermeneutic. Not surprisingly, he argues for believer's baptism and against baptismal regeneration. Somewhat more surprisingly, he argues for Calvin's eucharistic theology, which he finds "comprises the trajectory in church history having the most to commend it" (219). With both of the sacraments, he argues that their administration should be closely tied to church discipline. In the penultimate chapter, MacGregor masterfully argues on exegetical grounds that women should not be barred from any church office. Finally, MacGregor argues in his last chapter that, though the state is "not identical to the Kingdom of the World, [it] is dependant for its existence on the Kingdom of the World" (273). Christians should thus be cautious in their support of, or involvement in, the state, though such involvement is not necessarily prohibited. Here MacGregor follows Hubmaier closely as well as Greg Boyd and N.T. Wright.

As with any work of this scope, this book is not without room for critique. Though MacGregor rightly rejects consequentialist/utilitarian moral logic, it is difficult to see how his Molinist account avoids such logic, especially when MacGregor applies it to soteriology. MacGregor follows Craig's argument that "God has actualized a world with an optimal balance between belief and unbelief, creating no more of the lost than is necessary to achieve the maximum number of the saved" (79, cf. 115-117). Such a calculation of the ratio of lost to saved as a basis for which world to create seems utilitarian indeed. God's justice is still maintained by granting libertarian free will to each of his human creatures. But according to MacGregor, "God could have placed each elect individual in a salvifically comparable set of circumstances where that person would have been freely damned" and vice versa, a choice which "hinge[s] solely on the good pleasure of God" (83). So while Molinism may indeed be able to synthesize libertarian free will with a "high" view of sovereignty, one might question whether such a view of sovereignty is itself theologically viable. Here a reevaluation of Molina's interpretation of relevant biblical texts from a biblio-critical standpoint would be helpful.

Second, while MacGregor's chapter on women in ministry is one of the strongest in the book, one would have liked to see a defense of his assertion that "the complementarian position essentially reflects the biblical teaching on marital gender roles" (234). Instead, the reader is directed to a number of other works on the topic and given a few proof texts, which seem to have little if anything to do with the actual questions disputed between complementarians and egalitarians.

Finally, there are points where MacGregor noticeably parts from Anabaptist views without offering adequate discussion of the Anabaptist alternatives. His model of the eucharist is a prime example, where his description sounds like a reductio ad absurdum against his own view when he states that "the soul of the believer literally eats and drinks the infinite divine spirit of Jesus, thus respectively satisfying the soul's literal hunger and quenching the soul's literal thirst" (221, italics mine). How the biblical imagery of the soul's hunger and thirst for God is to be taken literally is perplexing. MacGregor owes the reader a fuller discussion of how to understand such spiritual consumption, or better yet, a discussion of Anabaptist views of the Lord's Supper.

A more important example comes in his concluding chapter, where MacGregor distances himself from the majority Anabaptist stream by arguing that questions regarding Christian participation in the military, support of just war and potentially violent self-defense are "highly ambiguous and open to legitimate disagreement among Christians" (298). Certainly, there is much disagreement over these matters among Christians, but most Anabaptists would be leery of characterizing these questions as "highly ambiguous." Here again a fuller interaction with the pacifist Anabaptist tradition would be helpful, although the logic of his chapter clearly supports a nonviolent position.

Such departures raise the larger issue of whether Anabaptism is the type of theological tradition that can be readily assimilated with other theological systems. Is Anabaptism open to ecumenical syntheses? Or does it have its own underlying logical integrity that defies such attempts? I leave this for the reader to decide, but certainly a great place to begin reflection on this question is Kirk MacGregor's A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology. Quibbling aside, this book is highly recommended for readers of all theological stripes.


Bethel College, Mishawaka, Ind.

(1.) A Central European Synthesis of Radical and Magisterial Reform: The Sacramental Theology of Balthasar Hubmaier (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2006).
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Author:Cramer, David C.
Publication:Mennonite Quarterly Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2009
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