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.
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).