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