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Two Bearded Preachers

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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).

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