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.
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).