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Nov 15, 2016

Martin W. Bender

It’s taken me a while to get through this book. It deals with a subject I’ve not thought terribly deeply on and thus I’ve reread most of the book and probably have gone through the whole thing twice. I can understand the concern for upholding the Classical understanding of God when it is being challenged in both academic and popular writing. It’s certainly a little telling that I’ve not been challenged on the subject in over ninety hours of graduate study. This is an area (theology proper) that deserves more careful consideration from pastors like me as it ultimately effects the ministry I perform.

Closing Comments and Affirmations and Denials by Ronald S. Baines and Charles J. Rennie

Open and Process Theism and the influence they have in today’s theology are the primary cause of the rise of alternative interpretations of divine impassibility. Both these positions hold that God is not atemporal and eternal as he has been classically understood, rather that his nature possesses potentiality regarding creation. Criticism that an impassible God is somehow cold and distant springs from the idea that God’s experience of emotions is the same as man’s. This is a grave error. Man’s emotions are like God’s, but his are not like ours. Both Open and Process Theism fail to properly understand the Creator/creation distinctive and ultimately make God in the image of man: passible.

In this final chapter, there is a list of affirmations and denials that is most helpful. It lists all the positions discussed through the course of the book and succinctly reviews them. For those interested in reading the book, I recommend beginning with the affirmations and denials first to understand the perspective of the writers. I probably would have gotten through the book more quickly had I done so.

I must say; I agree with affirmation 24.

Appendix 1: Charles J. Rennie’s Review of God with Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God by K. Scott Oliphint

I’ve not read Oliphint’s book, but I have enjoyed the articles I’ve seen by him and the interviews I’ve listened to. I’m a little surprised he holds to an alternative view of impassibility. I agree with the review’s criticism that there needn’t be a new theological category created to answer Open and Process Theism as Classical Theism, as it’s been traditionally held, stands up better under criticism and has greater biblical support than today’s alternatives. When the Hellenization criticism is accepted of Classical Theism then it makes sense to attempt an answer that allows for covenant passions, but since that criticism is questionable at best there remains little reason to abandon the biblical and historically supported position.

Appendix 2: James E. Dolezal’s Review of God is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion by Rob Lister

Unlike Oliphint, I’ve not heard of Lister. That doesn’t mean a whole lot as I’m just beginning to seriously explore Reformed theologians. The review points to the greatest issue I have with passibility or altered views of impassibility, namely, that in any such view God cannot be rightly thought of as atemporally eternal. That might not be a big deal for many people, but once God’s atemporality is removed so too is his eternity, omniscience, omni anything, really. And that’s a problem because the Bible describes God in these ways. Any position that denies God’s perfection in all things must be dismissed as unbiblical and outside Christian thought.

Thoughts

As I put Confessing the Impassible God on the shelf, relegating it to reference use for the foreseeable future, I find myself moving ever closer to becoming confessional. My own theological journey departed from its projected course quite a while ago during post-work conversations at UPS, Bible studies at Arifjan, and in my own kitchen working on papers for school. I’ve gone from refusing to sign a membership card at my church to exploring the historic confessions and finding they are far more consistent theologically than anything I experienced in the non-denominational, anti-creedal world in which I was raised. As I continue to study I set my eye on a monster of text: Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. I can’t believe I’ve been a student of theology this long and still haven’t read what is commonly regarded as the most significant work of the Reformation. Well, it’s the 500th anniversary of old Martin Luther causing a ruckus next year… I better get this bad boy started.

 

Baines, Ronald S., Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, James M. Renihan eds. Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility. (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2015).

Nov 14, 2016

Martin W. Bender

Seeing how the doctrine of impassibility effects both confessional thinking and pastoral ministry is both interesting and helpful to a feller like me. While I’m not confessional in my faith, I am increasingly interested in the history Protestant confessions and how they impact modern theology. As a minister, I am fascinated to see how seemingly distant theological concepts can be applied to practical ministry and everyday life. These two chapters speak to both areas, making them some of my favorites so far in the book.

Confessional Theology and the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility by James M. Renihan

Since this book is written from a confessional Reformed Baptist perspective it is no surprise it contains a chapter exploring the doctrine of impassibility as it exists in the Second London Confession of Faith. The 2LCF is clearly an expression of Christianity that holds to divine impassibility as it has been historically understood. This chapter is quite convincing in articulating how the impassibility of God is a key element in the second chapter of the 2LCF and a fundamental assumption for the confession as a whole. The most relevant phrase describes God as “without body, parts, or passions.”

As a reader who does not hold to a confession, the dispute over the nature of God’s emotional state remains distant. I can certainly see the complaint of the writers of this book as they clearly demonstrate how failing to hold to the traditional understanding of impassibility leads to an inevitable mutability on the part of God. At the same time, I doubt there will be significant problems for apologists created by those who hold to an augmented view. As the book draws toward its conclusion I can see how augmented views on impassibility undermine the way the 2LCF has traditionally been interpreted. Such undermining may impact the viability of the confession in the long term.

Practical Theology and the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility by James P. Butler

Practical theology is where the rubber meets the road for most of us. It is in the chapter on practical theology the doctrine of impassibility is shown to be a great comfort for the believer as all hope is predicated on the belief in God’s eternal reliability. If there is the possibility of change in God’s emotions there remains the possibility that God’s love for his people will wane, or at the very least, has the potential to be greater than what it is at any given moment. This would mean God’s love would at points lack the perfection that seems to be a requirement of an eternal God. When the impassibility of God is denied there is no reasonable assurance to be had by the believer that his promises are applicable individually and therefore, no reasonable hope to be had.

Pastorally, God’s impassibility is a great help to those who are in the midst of trial. The finite nature of mankind means we all will undergo change and have both potentiality and actuality (remember, God only has actuality). When the change we undergo is undesirable to us, the knowledge that our God loves us perfectly in our suffering is quite a blessing. Despite the struggles of the world, those in Christ have confidence in his unchanging nature. Helping fellow Christians to see God’s presence in their distress is a wonderful opportunity to explore the vastness of his love.

Thoughts

As Confessing the Impassible God comes to its conclusion I find myself increasingly interested in the historic confessions. Confessional Christianity isn’t the theme of the book and doesn’t make a case for the reader to adhere to a confession (rather, it assumes adherence), but it does demonstrate how a well thought out and documented confession can point out errors in one’s personal theology. The challenge for those who are less systematic in their faith, like me, is to be consistent while sharpening their positions based upon the Bible. All in Christ have a responsibility to grow in their knowledge and appreciation for him. Exploring the historic confessions is an opportunity to do that very thing.

 

Baines, Ronald S., Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, James M. Renihan eds. Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility. (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2015).

Nov 8, 2016

Martin W. Bender

One of the disagreements Justin and I have is the nature of God’s love for people. Justin is synergistic while I am monergistic. I find God’s love, both for himself and for his creation, to be necessary rather than contingent, while Justin seems to hold that God’s love is contingent upon man’s reaction to God. At least that’s how I interpret the differences between us (I may hear about it later). I think he would benefit from reading the chapter on divine affections as it shows the difference between the God’s love and man’s love.

A Theology of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (II) Impassibility and the Divine Affections by Charles J. Rennie

The doctrine of impassibility states that God does not experience changes in his emotions. How does such a doctrine deal with the notion of God being love? The human understanding of love is unequivocally passible. We talk about falling in and out of love, being in love or not, and loving as a state of progression. God, however, if he is impassible, must be understood to love differently than man. God is love. No person can make such a claim. God’s self-identification as being love reflects the love he has for himself within the Trinity. This love, by nature, is eternal and immutable as it is perfectly held by a perfectly eternal being. What is fascinating is that he also loves his creation.

The love humanity experiences is both like God’s love (in that it is deeply felt affection) and is infinitely different (in that it is based upon an ever deepening relationship). God’s love as an indivisible part of his being cannot be understood fully by the finite mind. Man’s love is like God’s, but God’s love is not like man’s. This is important for the believer to understand because it helps them to maintain their understanding of the difference between God and man. There is a huge difference between our natures that must always be at the forefront of our minds when thinking about our relationship to one another.

A Theology of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (III) Impassibility and Christology by Charles J. Rennie and Stefan T. Lindblad

Impassibility is most thoroughly discussed when one seeks to understand the nature of Christ in relation to his sufferings. I must admit, it is in the incarnation the doctrine of impassibility is most difficult to understand. We know Christ suffered. He is called the suffering servant, in Hebrews, it is made clear Jesus suffers as a man, the crucifixion in its beautiful horror is clearly an example of suffering. But how can Christ suffer and be a person of the Godhead? The answer lies in the Formula of Chalcedon.

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the Godbearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures, being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

That’s certainly a mouthful, but it shows how Christ, as both fully God and fully man, can suffer in his humanity, yet remain impassible in his divinity. It was this challenge, the challenge of the incarnation, that made me wonder about the viability of the doctrine of impassibility, but linking the issue to the hypostatic union sweeps away all the seeming disparities.

Thoughts

The trouble we have in trying to understand God is that we want to imagine him as a superman rather than a completely different being. All our language forces us to demystify God and make him lower than what he is. This is done by necessity as he is so far over us there is no way for us to speak of him as he truly is. We simply do not have the language, senses, or intellect to give him his due. So, when we look at the text of the Bible we see God as he has made himself known and not God in his fullness. Moses wanted to see God but was only allowed a muted glimpse of his glory. He glowed afterward. Because he is so different from us we cannot make the mistake of limiting his affections to those of man. Man changes in his demeanor and feelings, but God does not. His emotions are static and he perfectly experiences them. Our emotions are a mere shadow of his own.

 

Baines, Ronald S., Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, James M. Renihan eds. Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility. (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2015).

Oct 23, 2016

Martin W. Bender

The impassibility of God was never taught to me growing up. Even in Bible college and seminary, there was little talk about how an eternal God experiences emotions. It’s a little surprising to me that such an important doctrine for the defense of Classical Theism was largely ignored in my preparation for ministry. Granted, I do not come from a church tradition that places much value in clearly defined theological systems. Now that I am responsible for the care and feeding of a congregation, I take having a consistent theology very seriously. That’s why it’s so important to me that I gain a greater understanding of the current debate surrounding the doctrine of impassibility.

Historical Theology Survey of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: The Modern Era by Brandon F. Smith and James M. Renihan

In reviewing the modern era, the authors note that the 18th century maintained most of the doctrinal positions received from their forbearers. Gill, Tennent, and Edwards are all used as examples to prove this point. Shifts begin to take place in the 19th century and following as Enlightenment thought begins impacting the Church. Hodge and Warfield are identified as Princeton thinkers who defended the classical understanding of God during this time, but who had some difficulties with impassibility and developed modifications. In the 20th and 21st centuries, more and more theologians followed in Princeton’s footsteps, eroding the traditional view and opting for positions where God sovereignly governs his emotions.

Many of today’s Reformed thinkers have struggled to reconcile Barthian categories with their confessions. Feinberg, Frame, Packer, and Oliphint are all identified as having altered the traditional understanding of impassibility in favor of frameworks that allow for emotional change in the Godhead. Each of their positions is described briefly and shown to be alternatives to how God’s impassibility is described in several confessional statements.

A Theology of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (I) Impassibility and the Essence and Attributes of God by Charles J. Rennie

Impassibility is an important doctrine because any change in God allows for all his attributes to be diminished. In Classical Theism, God is so profoundly simple change is not even possible for him. God’s infinite nature means there is no limit to his perfection. If there was the possibility for change, the only change possible would be to become less as he is already perfect. This is part of the argument supporting his immutability.

Clark Pinnock, an Open Theist, points out the fundamental flaw with the altered views of impassibility. Any alternative position that rules out divine impassibility as it has been classically defined undermines God’s immutability. Whether described as covenant condescension or God-in-time/God-in-eternity distinction, there is simply no getting past the fact that his attributes are undermined by any occurrence of change, even a shift in emotion.

Thoughts

One of the major problems I see with the theological system I was raised in is that it is inconsistent in what it teaches about God’s relationship with creation. God has always been described to me in classical terms, but his relationship with creation (particularly humanity), seems to make him and his actions contingent. God in no way can be contingent upon creation if his infinity is to be taken seriously. As I read through this book I am reminded of these challenges as they seem to hinge upon one’s understanding of God and his relationship with time. If God is truly timeless, as he seems to be described in scripture, then change is impossible for him. As I work through the implications of this idea books like this one are very helpful in raising issues I have yet to consider.

 

Baines, Ronald S., Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, James M. Renihan eds. Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility. (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2015).

Oct 18, 2016

Martin W. Bender

So after a mini vacation and a natural disaster, I return to writing about the heavier theological book I’m currently reading (I’m also reading Alister McGrath’s Why God Won’t Go Away: Is the New Atheism Running on Empty but it doesn’t require as frequent posting). It’s been over two weeks since I finished this chapter so hopefully, I can remember the gist of it. Here we go.

Historical Theology Survey of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: Pre-Reformation through Seventeenth-Century England by Michael T. Renihan, James M. Renihan, and Samuel Renihan

“History is not normative.” This is perhaps the best statement in the chapter, although it doesn’t figure prominently in the authors’ argument. Instead, it is a simple reminder that just because the ancients believed something doesn’t mean it must be maintained in perpetuity (there’s a whole other series of posts that can be written about how this idea should be applied to the church). When discussing the doctrine of impassibility in the history of the church the fathers clearly define the simplicity and unity of God, eliminating the possibility of emotional change. Athanasius perhaps best argues for divine impassibility in his arguments against the Arians, who understood Jesus as less than divine.

In the Reformation period, divine impassibility was maintained as the orthodox position regarding God’s nature. This carried over from Roman Catholic thought (as did so many doctrines) and helped to support the Creator/creature distinction so prevalent in Reformed theology. Calvin and others held tightly to this understanding of God as the biblical and traditional understanding of God’s nature.

Thoughts

I’m not a traditionalist by any stretch of the imagination. I was raised and trained by a group of religious deconstructionists who could only agree on the idea of stripping the church of the traditions and divisions that had built up over time. Oddly enough, from this rather dismissive perspective on the history of the church, I have come to develop a great love for those ancient writers too often ignored by today’s churchmen. I can see how old arguments are repeated through the ages even though errors were corrected hundreds of years ago (I’m looking at you, JWs. For some reason they won’t visit me anymore…). Since the doctrine of impassibility is so widely held throughout the history of the church modern Christians do well to seriously consider the position.

So far we’ve seen impassibility to be both biblical and classical, 100 more pages and I imagine they’ll knock out confessional too. I’m giddy with anticipation.

 

Baines, Ronald S., Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, James M. Renihan eds. Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility. (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2015).

Oct 4, 2016

Martin W. Bender

The New Testament takes the Old Testament as a given. This is why it is so important to understand the Old Testament’s take on impassibility and bring those ideas forward into the New Testament. In the history of Israel, we see a particular world view established over the ages as God interacts with his people. Each interaction builds upon the previous to demonstrate God’s covenantal love for his people as well as his personal character. The two previous chapters make a strong case for the impassibility of God as one of the definitive attributes from the Old Testament. The present two chapters do the same from the New Testament.

The New Testament on the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (I) Texts on the Nature of God, Immutability, and Impassibility by Richard C. Barcellos and James P. Butler

The nature of God as described in the New Testament mirrors the Old Testament. This isn’t surprising in the least. In various texts God is said to be invisible, spirit, other, eternal, immortal, and above all creation. These ideas are directly in line with the scriptures received by the New Testament writers. The creator/creation distinction is shown to be as much in effect in the Christian era.

God’s immutability is also evident in the New Testament. Immutability creates the necessity for impassibility. James 1:17 describes the Father as existing without variation or shadow. If this is taken didactically, it paints a picture of God in concert with Old Testament passages used to demonstrate immutability. He is utterly different from man in whom there is much variation and turning. As such, the Father’s love also is without variation and passages that seem to indicate otherwise must be understood as figures of speech.

The New Testament on the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (II) Creation, the Incarnation and Sufferings of Christ, and Conclusion by Richard C. Barcellos

The doctrines of creation and the incarnation are difficult when one attempts to reconcile them with the immutability and impassibility of God. Oliphint is used as an example of a modified view of impassibility to ease the tension inherent in this reconciliation. His position is that God eternally decrees his own emotional changes just as any of his other eternal decrees. This does not solve the issue of whether or not God reacts to actions of creatures. Impassibility is not off-putting because of the nature of God’s decree’s, but because the Bible uses language that on the surface indicates a sense of contingency on the part of God. It doesn’t seem Oliphint’s argument overcomes this discrepancy as his alternative view maintains contingency on the part of God. Without reading God with Us I can’t give an appropriate response, but maybe I’ll read it in the future (probably not unless it gets another printing).

The other challenge addressed in this chapter is the problem of the incarnation. The very notion of incarnation is difficult, but when you add to it the presuppositions of immutability, impassibility, and eternity it’s enough to boil your brain without removing it first. There are issues of logical vs. temporal primacy in trying to see how the Son can come into flesh (change?) while remaining immutable in eternity. The classical answer lies in the hypostatic union. “In the incarnation of the Son of God, a human nature was inseparably united forever with the divine nature in the one person of Jesus Christ, yet with the two natures remaining distinct, whole, and unchanged, without mixture or confusion, so that the one person Jesus Christ, is truly God and truly man” (Council of Chalcedon, 451). Christ’s human nature is created, but his divine nature is eternal. Christ’s immutability is maintained by understanding the difference between his two natures.

Thoughts

This book is very tricky. It took two readings of chapter seven and cracking open my Elwell to get a passable understanding what the author was trying to say. There is a lot of interaction with dissenting opinions which makes for more difficult reading. The reasonableness of divine impassibility shines through despite some nit picking theological jargon. So come for the nit picking if that’s your thing, but stick around for the thoughtful consideration of the classical doctrine of divine impassibility.  

 

Baines, Ronald S., Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, James M. Renihan eds. Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility. (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2015).

Sep 27, 2016

Martin W. Bender

I was raised and educated within Classical Theism, but the more difficult questions it raises were never answered convincingly. If God really is atemporal and eternal doesn’t that necessitate a static nature? It’s a philosophical argument to be sure, but one that is also supported by divine revelation. When the idea of change is introduced to the nature of God his atemporality is rejected. Change demands an experience of time. A previous state and a potential state. To say God has emotional change of any kind is to abandon the entire Classical formulation of God for something new. Hence the rise of Open and Process Theism, both of which limit God in terms of atemporality, power, knowledge, and sovereignty. But to hold to Classical Theism, one must have an answer to the challenge of God’s apparent emotional change articulated in scripture.

The Old Testament on the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (II) Text on Immutability and Impassibility by Ronald S. Baines and Steve Garrick

Four texts are used to argue in favor of divine impassibility in this chapter: Numbers 23:19, Deuteronomy 28:63, 1 Samuel 15, and Malachi 3:6. All four are used to make clear the distinction between God and man. This Creator/creation distinction is vitally important to understand in light of the theological, philosophical, and practical consequences that result from one’s understanding of God’s nature. The argument is God is totally different from creation (but creation does resemble, though incompletely, its Creator). One of those differences is God never changes. This is called his immutability. All of the passages used in the chapter indicate the immutability of God. If God truly is immutable, such a trait would also apply to his passions or emotions, hence impassibility.

Tying the doctrine of impassibility makes perfect sense. The challenge is that many passages in the Bible, generally not speaking to his nature, seem to indicate some sort of change in emotion (repenting, regretting, what have you). If one follows the hermeneutic method discussed earlier it becomes clear indications of change on God’s part are in fact anthropomorphisms rather than didactic passages on the nature of God. Conversely, if one takes the passages that seem to indicate change on God’s part as illustrative of a true change something must be done with those passages indicating God does not change. The former seems to be a more reasonable understanding given all the texts thus far considered.

The Old Testament on the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (III) Texts on Apparent Passibilism and Conclusion by Steve Garrick, James P. Butler, Charles J. Rennie

In this chapter several of the passages where God is indicated to have change of emotions are considered. It includes such events as his regret prior to the flood, the testing of Abraham, God’s pity and endurance in Judges, His desires in Deuteronomy and Hosea, and the many expressions of emotional change in Isaiah. Throughout the chapter, explanations are given as to how the expression of emotion is used to illustrate the Creator/creation distinction rather than show a true change in the nature of God. Those who hold to an augmented understanding of impassibility state that God in his condescending is able to experience change in emotion without affecting his immutability. He essentially decrees his own change in emotion in much the same way he makes all his decrees: eternally.

This augmented view seems like a neat trick, but does it answer the question of God’s impassibility satisfyingly? I’d say no, but to be fair, I’ve only read the detractors of this position thus far. It seems to take the track as Molinism (a theological position that attempts to reconcile the disparity between human free will and divine sovereignty) by redefining attributes that define Classical Theism in order to develop a more humanistic understanding of God. This chapter interacts mainly with this alternative view of impassibility, rarely interacting with the arguments made specifically against the classical understanding.

Thoughts

The argument for divine impassibility seems to be far more convincing than the arguments against it. Those who reject the concept altogether have no basis for understanding God as a necessary being, rather they make him contingent upon man for his emotional state. Those who hold to an alternate view of impassibility have to redefine the terms and invent decrees of God without scriptural warrant. Thus far, it seems clear impassibility is a necessary element of Classical Theism whose rejection will inevitably result in the failure of the system. Keep in mind, I come to the book already accepting impassibility as it is traditionally understood and have yet to read alternative positions from those who hold them. I’m on the lookout for the best work on both the alternative understanding of impassibility and its rejection. If you have a suggestion let me know what it is.

 

Baines, Ronald S., Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, James M. Renihan eds. Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility. (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2015).

Sep 21, 2016

Martin W. Bender

I come from a religious tradition that sets itself firmly against creeds and confessions. A common saying among restorationists was, “We have no creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no name but the name Christian.” Imagine my surprise when reading through a thoroughly confessional book I came across the exact hermeneutical paradigm I was taught in a restorationist Bible College. It really isn’t all that surprising.

Hermeneutics: Analogia Scripturae and Analogia Fidei by Ronald S. Baines

This book is going to be at least a little challenging because it openly questions some of my favorite thinkers. D. A. Carson, that crazy Canadian, is shown to hold a position somewhere in between impassibility and Open Theism. He dismisses the arguments for impassibility saying texts that seem to demonstrate a change in God’s emotional state is filtered out as simple anthropomorphisms. He also rejects Open Theism stating its adherents similarly dismiss passages that seem to indicate impassibility. Chapter two seeks to demonstrate Carson is incorrect in his glib treatment of those holding to the impassible God.

There are two foundational ideas in interpreting scripture. First, unclear passages should be understood in light of clear passages. This is called the analogy of scripture. It is clearly taught in the London Baptist Confession of the Faith (1.9) as well as in certain independent Bible colleges (wink). Second, clear passages of scripture should be used to create a sense of the theological meaning of the entire text. This is called the analogy of faith. These two principles are the foundation for the next several chapters which will articulate a biblical defense of impassibility.

The Old Testament on the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (I) Texts on the Nature of God by Steve Garrick with Ronald S. Baines

Does the Bible clearly teach the divine impassibility of God? Well, that’s up for debate. Certainly, there are passages that seem to indicate changes in God’s emotions, but wouldn’t such changes necessitate mutability as an aspect of God’s nature? In order to argue against this, the authors use passages that relate directly to the nature of God to establish his utter transcendence over all of creation including time.

The name of God spoke to Moses receives the greatest amount of attention. When the Lord says, “I am who I am” he is not merely naming himself, but revealing to the reluctant leader of the exodus a sense of his nature. The authors argue the name God gives to Moses indicates both his immutability and his interaction with creation. The idea of immutability seems fairly clear: “I am who I am” and by contrast, I’m not anything else. There is definitely an implicit rejection of becoming inherent in the divine name. The fact God reveals his name, and thusly a sense of his nature, reveals both his transcendence and his immanence. “Rather than seeing God’s transcendence as related to his essence and his immanent relations with his people stemming from covenantal properties, scripture portrays both as directly originating in the eternal God. Put another way, it is because God is transcendent that he is also immanent” (98).

Other passages are used to argue similar points but none are as convincing or as well developed as the nature of God revealed in his name. All the selections demonstrate the unchanging nature of God as a feature of his divine attributes. This sets the stage for a continued argument against the idea God is capable of change.

Thoughts

The hermeneutical argument used by the authors seems to be the primary basis for all they will write. I’m comfortable with this as it articulates the same hermeneutic principles I use and teach in my congregation. The challenge will be making convincing interpretations supporting their conclusion: God does not have changes in passions. Thus far, their argumentation seems a little lacking as their understanding of the nature of God is derived primarily from drawing quite a bit on a single text. I agree the Tetragrammaton is profoundly important as a baseline for understanding God but they may be drawing a little much from that single passage. Certainly, they are limited to what they can use effectively in their space but I hope for a little more fleshing out of the doctrine in upcoming chapters.

Thus far, I still hold to divine impassibility.

Baines, Ronald S., Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, James M. Renihan eds. Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility. (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2015).

Sep 20, 2016

Martin W. Bender

When I want to learn about a new video game I usually watch a Let’s Play of the game on YouTube. In these videos, someone is commenting on the game as they play. I was thinking I’d do the same thing, but in blog format for heavier theological works I’m reading. So here are some thoughts on the introduction and first chapter of Confessing the Impassible God.

An Introduction to the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: Why is this Doctrine Important by James M. Renihan

This is a collection of essays on the concept of God’s impassibility. The idea is that God does not have passions or emotions in the human sense. He is without change in any way, form, or fashion and as such, does not experience emotion. This is an essential doctrine in Classical Theism and this collection comes from a Confessionally Reformed Baptist perspective. I don’t happen to be a Confessionally Reformed Baptist, but I do hold to Classical Theism and am interested in recent objections to the position.

The introduction includes criticisms of impassibility by the doctrine’s opponents. Jeff Pool rejects Classical Theism altogether arguing that divine immutability and impassibility are not biblical. Clark Pinnock is quoted at length from The Most Moved Mover and The Openness of God stating that many Calvinists reject impassibility and thus hold to an augmented immutability. Richard Rice points to the various occasions in scripture when God is said to be experiencing emotion of one sort or other.

The purpose of the book can be summed up in the quote, “A reformulation of the doctrine of God is underway within evangelicalism, and a trickle of professed Reformed confessionalists within the broader evangelical world are adopting the reformulations in whole or in part. This is deeply troubling, and has profound, far-reaching implications for Reformed theology.”

As an observer outside of the Reformed tradition, I am concerned about the growing influence of Open Theism, Process Theism, and Molinism. I’m not sure how the doctrine of impassibility fits into the discussion but hope my reading will clarify some of my thoughts on the subject.

Chapter One: Analogy and the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility by Charles J. Rennie

If divine impassibility is denied the doctrines of God’s immutability, aseity, simplicity, and timelessness inevitably fall apart. The question then is whether or not the Bible teaches God is immutable, self-sufficient, simple, and timeless. As stated above, impassibility is the doctrine that God does not experience changes in his inner emotional state. Rather, that God is eternally constant.

Does God experience potentiality? Classical Theism posits God is an eternal actuality. He is in no way potential. This is different from creation that has actuality and potentiality. Man can change to be something other than what we are, but is it possible for God to become? Open Theists argue God does have potentiality and has an experience of emotional change in much the same way as us. This, of course, monkies with atemporality and calls God’s sovereignty into question.

It is important when reading scripture that God is wholly other than his creation. So when the Bible speaks of God’s love it is not the same experience as the love I experience as part of creation. The same is true of God’s other attributes. I possess life, but not life in the same category as God possesses. Such distinctions are important for us to make as we are attempting to describe a transcendent being. God sees, but not as man sees. So when the Bible depicts God having a change of emotion it is important for us to realize God is being described in terms of “visible operations” rather than his “invisible nature.” The reason for this can be broken down by the threefold way of knowing God.

God can be known by his creatures through three basic categories: causation, negation, and eminence. Causation shows what God is like through the effects. Creation is an effect of God. Creation is orderly, so we can know God is orderly. Causation states the effect is like the cause. Negation states God is not like his creation. The example of a stature is used. A statue of a dog has more similarities to an actual dog than an actual dog has with the statue. So a contingent being is like the necessary being that created it, but the necessary being is unlike the contingent being. Eminence is the idea that God is infinitely greater than creation’s conception of him. There is not a degree of difference between creation and creator that can be measured, the difference is infinite. Aquinas is quoted, “… the ultimate human knowledge about God is that one knows that one does not know God, inasmuch as one knows that what God is exceeds everything we know about him.”

The conclusion of the chapter states, “The doctrine of divine impassibility could be alternatively referred to as the doctrine of God’s absolute perfection; God is not undergoing a process of perfection, nor could he be. He is infinitely and incorruptibly perfect in his eternal essence.” While this assertion was by no means proven in the chapter it does show where later essays will take the argument. I hope the implications of the doctrine of divine impassibility will be discussed in depth as the book continues.

 

Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility edited by Ronald S. Baines, Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, and James M. Renihan

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