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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).

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