13
Jul
2012

Divine Impassibility

The Christ the Center panel meets with Rev. Dr. James Dolezal to discuss the much maligned doctrine of divine impassibility. Beginning with a look at Westminster Confession of Faith 2.1, that “There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions…” the panel looks at the biblical basis and importance of understanding, affirming, and developing a proper use of this doctrine that God does not have passions. Often taken to be a denial of, for instance, God’s love, it is shown that the truth is to the contrary. As simple and as pure act, God is love in the fullest sense without fluctuation or change which is the human lot. This discussion offers much food for thought.

Dr. Dolezal is the author of God Without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness, which he spoke about on Christ the Center episode 185.

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Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program and learn how to subscribe.

44 Responses

  1. So glad Dr. Dolezal was on this week! Love him as a guest, and it’s not just because I’m a Reformed Baptist. I read his “God without Parts” on the flight from the Southwest U.S.A. to the Philippines and back in May. Just awesome.

    That being said, I appreciate listening to you guys every week, regardless of the guest (or lack thereof). I listen to “Christ the Center” on my trail runs through the hills (making the 1:40 length this week especially productive spiritually, mentally, AND physically!).

    I minister to two small congregations 90 miles apart in the rural Southwest – there’s not a lot of fellowship with like-minded elders out here, so listening to you guys is like hanging out with brothers who edify deeply and always leave me looking forward to the next time I get to teach or preach. Thanks for this ministry.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement. We started Christ the Center specifically to provide an opportunity for people to somehow take part in a Reformed discussion even if their local circumstances didn’t allow for it. It’s a joy to hear that we’ve been able to help in that regard, but I’m also glad to hear we’re helping your physical exercise.

  2. Steve

    Hi,

    Very intelligent and interesting conversation. Here’s a really stupid question: We all agree that Jesus is God, right? And we all agree that He ascended into heaven, in His glorified body. I think we all also agree that He is fully God and fully man. Therefore, can’t one say that God does indeed have a body or “parts”. Any explanation would be appreciated.

    By the way, O. P. does stand for Order of Preachers (in English) but it designates members of the Dominican Order, of which Aquinas was one.

    1. Steve, that’s not a stupid question at all! Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. In interpreting Scripture, the Church has described this redemptive-historical phenomenon as a hypostatic union, that is, a union of two natures in the one person of Christ. The two natures are now forever united in the person of Christ. Moreover, they should never be confused, but kept distinct. This is the teaching of the Council of Chalcedon (451).

      Technically, it’s not proper to say that God has a body. We can rightly say that the person of the Son of God has a body and that he is God. But his divine nature, or essence, does not have a body. The doctrine of simplicity addresses God’s being as he is in himself—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one essence and three persons equal in power and glory—rather than what he has become for us through the assumption of a human nature for the purposes of redemption.

  3. I first became aware of this subject when I came across an entry in the first Theological Review and literary journal which originated from Andover Theological Seminary at the same time the Biblical Repertory came from Princeton Seminary. The article is called, God Without Passions – John Woodbridge D.D.

    But I noticed that our own Reformed Baptist Theologians took a contrary view, -Greg Nichols The Emotivity of God – Reformed Baptist Theological Review, Volume 2, page 95 from his notes on the Doctrine of God Chapter 9, http://www.rbtr.org/images/RBTRI2Cover.pdf as well it is held by Robert Gonzales the Dean of the Reformed Baptist Seminary. I know this because I have exchanged emails with him on the subject.

    It is also taught in one of Robert Dabney’s Discussions. Volume 1
    God’s Indiscrimate Proposals of Mercy etc.” It is under this head, “2. The attempt to illustrate the action of the divine will from the rise of rational volition in man, has doubtless been prejudiced by the
    scholastic explanations of God’s absolute simplicity.” Dr. Dolezal hinted that he was familiar with Dabney’s argument. Man, what work is he not familiar with? Well, maybe not Leonard Woods 1774-1854 first professor at Andover – 1812. Everybody has forgotten him, unfortunately.

    I was waiting for James to mention the works from our own R B theologians, but I am convinced they need to become familiar with Dr. Dolezal’s book. The reason is that Greg Nichol’s classes are being published one by one, starting with his works on the Covenants. http://www.solid-ground-books.com/detail_1613.asp He is now on sabbatical to finish his book on Ecclesiology, and I am sure that he will get around to publishing the notes on the Doctrine of God. It would, IMHO, be an embarrasment if he is not familiar with Dolezal’s work and published chapter 9 of his notes without first consulting James’ book.

    I have mentioned to him the PH.D. dissertation, now I will have to find out when his birthday is so I can give him the book as well!

    Anyway, my respect for Dr. Dolezal grows from every episode of the Reformed Forum he is on, even if my cranium still hurts from following along the first hour. (I am just a mailman, theologians have to go easy on me.)

    Well, we learn our God is an Awesome God and episodes like this show us our own comparitive meaness. Thomas – Grand Rapids, MI

  4. keith

    I enjoy your broadcast tremendously Camden and look forward to it each week. It’s fun to listen in on a conversation of significantly smarter people talking about things I wish I knew more about.

    Thanks especially for this program. The impact of this doctrine on Christology near the end of the broadcast was helpful. Are you going to have John Frame on for a response to Dr. Dolezal’s criticisms of DG – or at least to allow Dr Frame to explain Dr. Dolezal’s thesis in a way the average galatian can understand?

    thanks again.

  5. Ryan Liebert

    Dear Reformed Forum,

    I wanted to start by thanking you for providing this resource to the brethren. I have learned so much about the Lord as I’ve listened. I have two questions about impassibility and simplicity.

    I remember Dr. Dolezal explaining that the implications for simplicity upon God’s knowledge are that His knowledge becomes identical with Himself, as He knows exhaustively the infinitude of ways He could image Himself forth into creation.

    – How would this doctrine handle sin in creation?

    Also, with regards to the impassibility of God:

    – How does this doctrine handle God’s relation to a sinner before and after conversion? I’m thinking of John 3:36, Eph 2:3.

    Again, I really thank you for your labors. Especially with regards to these two episodes because they’ve helped me more appreciate how awesome our God is.

    Blessings,
    Ryan

    1. James

      Dear Ryan,
      Thanks for your kind remarks. You raise two important and difficult questions. I’ll try to give an answer to each, though ultimately both answers lead us back to God’s incomprehensibility.

      With respect to how or whether exemplarism (the doctrine that God knows all things in knowing himself as imitable) accounts for God’s knowledge of sin, we should first acknowledge that God’s perfect holiness proscribes any possibility that his nature is somehow the exemplar for sin in creatures. In this connection, the classical Christian tradition – as found in thinkers such as Augustine, Aquinas, Turretin, and Bavinck – teaches (rightly, I think) that sin is not something God creates, but, rather, a privation of goodness where it ought to be. In this sense sin is not a created nature founded upon the exemplar reality in the divine nature. In fact, in knowing sin God is not conceiving “something” but rather the absence of something that ought to be. The foundation for this knowledge lies in the fact that in knowing his perfect nature as imitable and participable in creatures he also knows the plethora of ways in which creatures may fall short of his perfection. In this respect I suppose we could say that God’s knowledge of sin is indirectly founded upon the knowledge of himself as imitable in creatures insofar as those creatures must necessarily fall short of his absolute perfection. Most of the ways in which creatures fall short of God’s perfection are simply due to creaturely finitude and are not the result of the absence of being or goodness where it ought to be. But the moral falling short (sin) is such a lack of requisite being and goodness. The fact that God decrees this moral failure in humans is a great mystery, but it does not necessarily undermine the exemplarist account of God’s knowledge.

      As for how an impassibilist might explain God’s relation to a sinner before and after conversion, I would first want to say that in God there is no before and after. So whatever change takes place, it is solely within the order of creaturely being. This does not mean, though, that creatures do not really move from being under God’s wrath to being under his grace through Christ. How are we to explain this? Some impassibilists have suggested that what changes is man’s “perception” of himself as being under God’s wrath at T1 and now under his grace at T2. While this is certainly true, I think we need to say more with respect to God’s role in bringing about this change. It is not only that man’s perception of his relationship to God changes, but that God himself has altered the manifestation of his countenance toward the regenerate from once of wrath to one of grace. But the “manifestations” of divine wrath and grace are temporal effects. The divine action upon which these effects are founded is the eternal, immutable, and simple will of God. Moreover, the divine affections that are variously disclosed toward us in this temporal sequence are purely actual in God and thus are atemporal and immutable. So, the change in God’s effects – manifesting his wrath toward us before conversion (at T1) and his grace toward us after conversion (at T2) – does not entail a change in God himself, but rather in the manifestation of himself toward us (a change which he himself decrees and brings about by the atemporal action of his perfect will). For those in John 3:36 upon whom the wrath of God abides, we must say that God did not decree a change in the manifestation of his wrath against their sin.

      In this discussion there are two temptations we must resist. The first is to eternize God’s effects as if they stood is some strict correlation to the order of God’s action (i.e., his single eternal act of will). This is what leads some to suppose that if God’s affections don’t undergo change (as impassibility claims) it must follow that in conversion sinners don’t “really” move from being under God’s wrath to being under his grace. But the order of being in which God acts is his eternal divine order and the order in which his effects unfold is the creaturely temporal order. There is no univocity of being between these two orders. The second temptation, which seems much more prevalent, is to temporalize God’s action so that a change in his temporal effects must indicate a change his actuality (such as a fluctuation in his “emotional life”). Again, this presupposes that God is both agent and patient (possessed of active and passive potency) and that he is somehow correlative to his creation. Difficult as it is, we must uphold the distinction between God’s action in eternity and his effects in time, striving not to conceive of him as a univocal causal agent.

      Anyhow, I hope these answers are of some use to you. Thanks for bearing with a long reply.
      Warmly,
      James

      1. Ryan Liebert

        Great. James, I appreciate the relatively longer reply, and it makes good sense to me. It has been interesting for me to learn that having a good, hearty doctrine of God is not only helpful when it comes to admiring and worshiping the Lord, but also for making a strong defense of the Doctrines of Grace.

        Anyways, again I thank you. And while I have you ear (or eyes) I would just mention that I have found many of your uploads on sermonaudio.com helpful, especially the lectures on the doctrine of the resurrection. I wanted to say, if it is feasible, it would be nice if the church you are serving could find a way to record and upload them on a regular basis.

        Blessings,
        Ryan

  6. Mike

    I found James’ reply to Ryan is very helpful. For clarification, however, I”m wondering if someone could comment on how this discussion relates to ideas Scott Oliphint has communicated regarding God’s actions in his covenantal condescension as being distinct form who God is essentially. Part of Oliphint concern in making this distinction seems to be that we do not empty all of the statements regarding’s God’s acts in creation (such as statements of God’s repenting) of all positive truth about God’s real actions in creation. He seems to say that we can do that if we make a distinction between who God is essentially and who God is his covenant with creation. Perhaps I am misunderstanding Oliphint. But it seems like his ideas concerning the covenant would be helpful in understanding impassibility, not only in regard to the incarnation and atonement, but also as a paradigm to think about passibility language being ascribed to God in other contexts.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    1. I’ll leave it to someone else to expand on this point if it’s necessary. Forgive the terse nature of this comment—but to provide a quick answer to your question, the two approaches to metaphysics differ. That is not to say that either Dr. Oliphint or Dr. Dolezal reject divine impassibility. They both strongly affirm it. It’s simply to say that Dr. Oliphint’s and Dr. Dolezal’s published materials are not thoroughly compatible with one another. Dr. Dolezal has expressed his usage of a modified Aristotelianism within the Thomist metaphysical tradition, and Part 3 of Dr. Oliphint’s Reasons for Faith as well as his most recent work God with Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God expand his particular views.

  7. Alan

    This was very helpful in pointing out our Father’s eternal, actual love is much greater than a mutable, passionate love.

    Is covenantal condescension in redemptive history a temporal effect of His eternal love? Is His calling us to pray in Jesus’ name promising to hear and answer (John 16:24 and I John 5:14-15) a benefit of His covenantal condescension?

  8. Hi Mike,

    Sounds to me like you’ve got Oliphint’s intentions right–to preserve the positive truth of Scripture. What James doesn’t make explicit is that a number of the categories he wants to maintain are invented by philosophers and are merely stipulative. They are helpful at times, but bear no real authority of their own. For example, there is no reason to believe that such things as active and passive potency really exist, or the distinction between potency and act; these are just ways of trying to make sense of the world like left and right, north, south, east, and west. So Dr. Dolezal’s explanations are so assertive because he is compelled by commitment to these categories and attendant stipulative (made-up) necessity to draw many of the conclusions that he does. Of course no one wants to say that the positive theological truths of Scripture are ‘not true of God’; so the Thomistic story wants to say that they are true in one sense and not true in another, that somehow we are supposed to believe both that God grows angry, that he relents, etc., and that he does not do these things. James suggests a distinction between temporal effects and the eternal pure act that is God. So there are two orders of being he says, and consequently two orders of truth, he seems to say. What troubles me is that this means that Scripture cannot be taken, by the lay reader unfamiliar with a substance metaphysic, or any reader not committed to it, as meaning what it says. Seems to me one implication of the hermeneutic Dolezal lays out is therefore that revelation itself is only appears to be revelation, or by “revealing himself” God cannot be said to have undergone any change, say, from not (truly) known by creatures to (truly) known by creatures. Wouldn’t that call into question everything we “know” about God? So not only the positive theological content of Scripture must be (Thomistically) qualified, but even the Thomistic qualification must be qualified as merely revealed and possibly–probably–not true of God ‘an sich’.
    Not sure. But yeah, I think you’re right on what Oliphint is going for.

    Thanks

  9. patrick

    I too would like to know more about how Dolezal’s work on divine simplicity relates to Oliphint’s recent God with Us (so far, I’ve finished the latter but am just starting God without Parts). At times, Dolezal sounds like he falls closer to an eternalist like Paul Helm than Oliphint who allows that God takes on contingent properties. Does James disagree with Oliphint on any substantive points?

    The main problem with the podcast and James’s book, though, is that it is using a metaphysics everyone in contemporary metaphysics (except that small corner of Thomism that no one pays attention to besides Thomists!) stopped using centuries ago 😛 Honestly though, much of this podcast went over my head. I have a seminar coming up focusing on Robert Pasnau’s new book Metaphysical Themes: 1274-1671–I am wondering if James is familiar with this book. Would be fun to have a RF series on this beast!

  10. RDL

    Camden,

    I think you are right that the divergence between Dolezal and Oliphint indicates (among other things) a difference in metaphysics. I would add that it is not just that Dolezal has adopted a Thomistic metaphysic and Oliphint is untouched by any metaphysical assumptions – Oliphint has adopted a contemporary analytic modalism which is evident on p. 155-156 in “God With Us” when he rejects substance/accident composition and opts for a necessity/contingency divide as satisfactory (thus sidestepping the question of existence amongst the “covenantal properties”).

    Also, Oliphint should not be contrasted with Dolezal alone, but virtually the entire Reformed tradition (as far as I know, Voetius, Zancius, Owen, Charnock, Turretin, Bavinck, and Van Til would all disagree with Oliphint’s central thesis). It is Dolezal who faithfully re-presents the Reformed doctrine of God on the matters of simplicity in his book and impassibility in this talk.

    1. PDQ

      RDL,

      Seems to me, yes, G– must do X in order to have the property of having done X or being the/a doer of X. But maybe I’m missing something. God would not be creator if he hadn’t created, and he wouldn’t be revealed if he hadn’t revealed himself, and he wouldn’t be redeemer if he hadn’t redeemed, and he wouldn’t be the God of A, I, and J, if he hadn’t called them and entered into covenant with them, right? Am I missing something?

      If God is all of those things regardless of whether he has done them–if his being creator has nothing to do with his creating, being redeemer nothing to do with his redeeming–isn’t he just as much NOT creator as he is creator, and just as much NOT redeemer as he is truly redeemer, just as much NOT revealed as revealed? Isn’t he just as much the G– of Larry, Moe, and Curly, as he is of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, if his having acted to make himself such is unrelated to his being such?

    2. James

      In response to the question posed by RDL — “Must God create in order to be a creator?” — John Owen seems to answer in the negative; a rather different answer than the one given by PDQ. In his “Works,” vol. 1, p. 368 (to which Rich Barcellos kindly directed me) Owen stresses the fullness of God’s being and argues that nothing God is depends on anything outside himself:

      “God alone hath all being in him. Hence he gives himself the name, ‘I AM,’ Exod. iii.14. He was eternally All; when all things else that were made, or now are, or shall be, were nothing.”

      The striking statement is, “He was All . . . when all things else . . . were nothing.” Since Owen clearly means that God is all “being” he would seem to be saying that there is nothing God can be that he is not from all eternity. He doesn’t have to “wait” until the moment of creation in order to “be” Creator, or the moment of redemption in order to “be” Redeemer. Rather, that in virtue of which God is Creator and Redeemer he is from all eternity, and apart from the existence of the world. Owen is simply making the point that Van Til often made — that God is in no way correlative to the world, not even in his actuality as Creator and Redeemer. Consider these additional words of Owen from the same page:

      “In this state of infinite, eternal being and goodness, antecedent unto any act of wisdom or power without himself to give existence unto other things, God was, and is, eternally in himself all that he will be, all that he can be, unto eternity. For where there is infinite being and infinite goodness, there is infinite blessedness and happiness, whereunto nothing can be added. God is always the same . . . All things that are, make no addition unto God, no change in his state. His blessedness, happiness, self-satisfaction, as well as all his other infinite perfections, were absolutely the same before the creation of anything.”

      In other words, creation in time does not alter God’s “state” from potential-Creator to Creator, and the unfolding of his redemptive plan in time does not alter his state from potential-Redeemer to Redeemer. I submit that Owen’s words are representative of the vast majority in the Reformed tradition, and especially of the Reformed orthodox.

      1. Agreed: there is a vast witness to this point of view in the history of Reformed theology, and, agreed, it would appear that Owen is representative of this view as well.

        But they might be mistaken, and it might be the case that the commitments constitutive of and distinctive of Reformed theology and Reformed theological method will, when applied to this question, betray a very significant methodological oversight in this point of view–that of adopting an absoluteness that is an abstraction by contrast/negation from created being instead of affirming God’s a se, triune, personal absoluteness.

        Again, we may distinguish the historical argument by consensus from the theological and methodological question. As folks ‘always reforming,’ we ask again and again, what do the Scriptures say? Or, will this metaphysic allow Scripture to say what it clearly, perspicuously, says?

      2. In addition to the distinction between the historical argument and the theological/methodological (the point of my post below this one, but posted previously), it’s worth pointing out that we have an ambiguity–or we must make a further distinction–in uses of the word “Reformed.” If it is for the most part–by sheer weight of numbers–the opinion of 17th century Reformed theologians that Paul wrote Hebrews, then ‘that Paul wrote Hebrews’ is in that sense the ‘Reformed’ opinion. But that does not make this view also the view that is necessary by virtue of Reformed theological distinctives.

        The same would go for this notion of simplicity or of a Thomistic notion of immutability. It certainly may be–we agree that it is–in the historical sense the Reformed view, by sheer weight of numbers, and by the ‘weight’ of many of the names who hold this view. But that does not mean that this view is Reformed in the theological or methodological sense. It may very well turn out that, in the theological and methodological sense, this approach is decided not Reformed (though it was the opinion of many influential Reformed thinkers).

  11. PDQ

    RDL,

    Dr. Dolezal’s argument was better, when he said that the inference from multiple effects to multiple causes, or from multiple effects to multiple acts (of G–), is invalid. I think that gets where you want to go without the baggage; but there is still the fact that Scripture plainly represents God as acting at one time and then as another, and not as the effects of a single eternal act identical to God’s simple being appearing to take place sequentially. So Dolezal could be right about the logic–the inference isn’t necessary–but it’s not the inference I think that is the issue, but the plain meaning of Scripture and of redemptive history.

    I don’t think that Scripture is plain about some things–the metaphysical attributes, e.g.–but obscure about others (God’s acts relative to creation); I think it is plain about both, aseity and God’s eternity, and so on, just as much as God’s acts in history. Revelation favors neither one. So if you say that God is pure act because not composed of parts, that his essence is identical with his act of being, and then you say that, therefore, the divided, historical acts we read about in Scripture are actually undivided, ahistorical, and eternal, I think you are reading Scripture with a skewed hermeneutic–doing violence to its plain meaning (and using “eternal” in a strange way). If you say that God is eternal and unchanging, and therefore the acts of G– which appear to be sequential really only appear to be so, I think you are seeing a dichotomy where Scripture does not.

    PDQ

  12. RDL

    PDQ,

    Thanks for giving the question a stab.You ask if you are missing something – I think you might be missing the ascription of God as PURE ACT. God’s act of existence contains no potentiality, so his act of being (absolute, omniscient, a creator, a savior) is complete within himself. Thus he requires no actions ad extra and undoubtably no beings from without to make him HE WHO IS or WHO HE IS.

    God is not not anything. He contains within himself all perfections – indeed the perfection of being. We can confess that God is not evil because evil is a privation, not a perfection of being. We can say that God is not any created essence (a stone, tree, a dog) because those essences are the principles of potency in finite beings. But we can say that God is pure act, and his act is the exemplar for the actuality of finite created beings.

    As for your second post:

    It is only a univocism that would demand that God’s revelation of himself in divided historical acts actually divides up the attributes of God. The division of attributes is purely an epistemological distinction, not an ontological one. By accommodating himself, God can reveal his wrath without revealing his mercy. God can reveal his jealousy without revealing his patience. But God’s wrath, mercy, jealousy, and patience are all his one absolute and simple being. If you are Christian, at one point God was revealing his wrath against you (in view of your sin), but has now revealed his grace through the down-payment of the Holy Spirit (for example). The distinction is one of revelation, not an ontological exchange of various properties. So terms like “wrath” and “grace” are only analogical in regards to God’s absolute being, who encompasses all perfections as pure actuality.

    No violence is being done to Scripture. God reveals his absolute being in piecemeal revelations that only manifest God in certain finite respects. Analogically, however, we are to acknowledge that the God behind revelation is the God who contains all perfections and IS WHO HE IS in every respect without the need of action, change, or the addition of properties.

    My answer to the question is: No, God does not need to do in order to be, because his being is pure actuality with no mixture of potentiality. Any action that would add a property to his being to make him what he was not before only denotes a lack of a perfection – which is a denial of his absolute nature.

  13. Bob,

    I’ll step in for PDQ. But I do think his first point is cute: if God’s doing has nothing to do with his being, then we can say God is anything, or not anything, esp. if you throw revelation (God’s ‘speaking’ about himself) into the mix. As he said, if God’s being the creator has nothing to do with his creating (the doing), then it doesn’t really matter whether we predicate ‘creator’ or ‘having created’ of him at all; we can just as well say that he didn’t, and isn’t. And anyway, I don’t think that way of putting things represents you position that well.

    All that aside, I am sympathetic to trying to safeguard God’s absoluteness. I think Scripture teaches God’s absoluteness. What concerns me is the inference from God’s absoluteness to the proposition that Scripture misrepresents God’s activity in history, which is what I hear you saying. That is one angle: the truth of what Scripture teaches, on the way you’re putting things, is pried loose from the plain words of Scripture. I can’t follow you there. I’m sure you would agree that Scripture represents God as leading his people out of Egypt and as the departure of the Israelites from Egypt as an event historically situated. I just can’t see reading the biblical account of the Exodus while thinking that God doesn’t actually respond to anything historical or act in history.

    My concern about this does not imply that I do not understand metaphysics (which wouldn’t matter anyway) or the concerns you’re raising about safeguarding the C/c distinction, God’s absoluteness, simplicity, immutability, etc., or that I haven’t read Reformed dogmatics or Thomas or whatever else. All it says is that when I hear the inference from absoluteness to the idea that the historical witness of Scripture must be qualified, I call foul: in my view, at that point, you are declaring the priority of natural theology over Scripture. I’m sure you disagree, but I hope that I’ve made my point of view clear.

    There is a second part of this. When you take that step from absoluteness to qualifying our understanding of God’s activities (apparently) in history, you qualify the very revelation on which we stand when we talk about God. If I must understand that God’s delivering the Israelites from Egypt is an eternal act that is merely revealed as spatio-temporally located, then I must understand everything Scripture says with this qualification, with this divorce between the plain meaning of Scripture and how I am to understand it. That means Scripture’s teaching about absoluteness as well, about his personality, and so on. Maybe God is not personal, but he just reveals himself as personal because he must appear personal in order for creatures to understand what appears to be personal activity. And if we do not make this qualification across the board, we’re arbitrarily favoring some things Scripture teaches over others. Furthermore, which I think is deeper problem for your view, Scripture itself is a historical act of God. If you drive a wedge of metaphysical necessity between our theology and God’s self-witness, I can’t see how you can claim to be speaking truly about God at any point at all.

    All of this is indicated by the fact that I see no exegetical support for the inference from ontological absoluteness to the dichotomy between God’s eternal and immutable act and the historical effects of that act. I see no biblical warrant for that dichotomy; I see Scripture teaching that God acts in history. I do indeed see biblical warrant for absoluteness; but I do not see warrant for this implication you are drawing from it. I see the implication as required by the logic of absoluteness simpliciter (an abstract idea of absoluteness), but I see it categorically rejected in and by Scripture.

    What I’ve said above is that I see massive amounts of biblical witness AGAINST this inference; and even the revelational ground we’re standing on when we speak truly of God, as I understand things, will not allow for the distinction you want to make.

    I think you are right that we do not want to confuse God’s historical activity with his essential being. So how are we to understand Scripture when it speaks of God acting in history? I think the answer cannot be to say that God does not truly act in history.

    I do think a way out of this is to remember that God’s simplicity and absoluteness are triune and personal, and I think the lack of attention to this in the metaphysics you’re working with should indicate a fundamental problem: there is no divine absoluteness that is not triune.

    Thanks

  14. RDL

    Nate,

    I’d like to keep this discussion going. But before I respond, here some requests to ensure you are not refuting a straw-man (please your evidence before continuing the discussion):

    1) Did I write that God’s doing has nothing to do with his being? or did I write that God’s being is the principle or exemplar for his actions? (The first question can be answered with a yes or no).

    2) Can you quote a sentence from what I wrote that gave you the impression that I believe that “Scripture misrepresents God’s activity in history” or that he doesn’t respond to his people?

    3) Give me another quote from what I said that gives you the impression that I am qualifying what the Bible says.

    4) Give me another quote from what I wrote that makes you think I do not think God truly acts in history.

    1. It would be nice if you explained your views in response to what I’ve said, instead of making curt demands. ‘Discussing’ things this way is exhausting.

      1. You said that God’s doing has nothing to do with his being; that he being does not depend on his doing. I think this is an unfortunate way to put things, because God can ‘be’ whether he does or he doesn’t; then what we say about God we may say without regard what anything he has done, which includes, among other things, reveal himself. Three times now I’ve made this point (the first time as PDQ), and now a couple more times. You haven’t addressed it.

      2. & 3. Are funny. You say “give me a quote.” Then you say “give me another quote.” You aim to keep me very busy. My response is that I will not provide a quote. Actually it would be less work to extract the few things you say that do NOT imply that the plain meaning of Scripture must be qualified, i.e., ‘yes it says that God did X in response to Y, at time T and location L. In fact that is not true, or it is only true in a qualified, “revealed” sense. To affirm that God did X in response to Y at T and L is metaphysically problematic.’ It is obvious to most readers that what you are doing is qualifying the truth of Scripture; you are saying that you ‘know’ that God is most absolute; but that no one can ‘know’ that God acted/s in history. You are doing hermeneutics here, clearly–that is, IF your metaphysics are drawn from Scripture in the first place.

      4. is funny too.

  15. RDL

    Nate,

    You have no evidence. You actually kept it up with the straw-man.

    If God didn’t reveal himself by creating us, then yes, we wouldn’t be able to make any predication of God because we wouldn’t exist. Absolutely correct, we couldn’t say anything about God unless he reveal himself. But when God revealed himself, no change was renderd unto his being. God is all he is. God is the God who reveals himself before he revealed himself to finite creatures.

    Well it seems you cannot evidence your claims about what you say about my theology proper. I have the evidence for my claim:

    Your theology proper is couched in univocism.

    1) You wrote on the 17th:”So there are two orders of being [James] says, and consequently two orders of truth, he seems to say. What troubles me is that this means that Scripture cannot be taken, by the lay reader unfamiliar with a substance metaphysic, or any reader not committed to it, as meaning what it says. Seems to me one implication of the hermeneutic Dolezal lays out is therefore that revelation itself is only appears to be revelation, or by “revealing himself” God cannot be said to have undergone any change, say, from not (truly) known by creatures to (truly) known by creatures. Wouldn’t that call into question everything we “know” about God?”

    What really troubles you is that the names given to God in Scripture cannot be taken univocally. (I [and James, I think] would insist that all names ascribed to God are analogical). You are uncomfortable with the idea that God can have certain names that creatures share, but all the while God has that name in a completely transcendent (and therefore diverse) manner. If we are to understand the “plain meaning of Scripture” we are to understand it univocally – names apply to God in the same way they apply to creatures – by the addition of properties. God cannot be said to go under any change unless it is an ontological change of properties, which is how creatures change. Of course, unless we are univocists in this manner, you insist, we cannot know God (as we know creatures). Indeed, you say God cannot be known truly unless he somehow participates in the property of “being known.”

    2) On the 24th you wrote: “I just can’t see reading the biblical account of the Exodus while thinking that God doesn’t actually respond to anything historical or act in history.”

    Ah, the word “actually.” (For Oliphint it is “really and truly”). For a univocist, “actually,” “really,” and “truly” denote that an action or change is accounted for just as it is always accounted for amongst creatures. If we cannot affirm that God has taken on an accident of action, then we cannot say God has truly acted. For any realist, this is the case amongst creatures. I believe God acts in history, we just cannot account for that action in the same way we would account for actions amongst creatures.

    3) Again, “If I must understand that God’s delivering the Israelites from Egypt is an eternal act that is merely revealed as spatio-temporally located, then I must understand everything Scripture says with this qualification, with this divorce between the plain meaning of Scripture and how I am to understand it.”

    That is because you are understanding Scripture as a univocist. The plain reading for you is that divine change and action is understood plainly, that is, creaturely, accounted for by the addition of accidental properties. Of course it is difficult to understand how God could be the redeemer of Israel before acting in history to redeem Israel. That isn’t how creatures operate. If God isn’t like a creature, then the “plain meaning of Scripture” is thwarted.

    4) Last, you wrote: “What I’ve said above is that I see massive amounts of biblical witness AGAINST this inference; and even the revelational ground we’re standing on when we speak truly of God, as I understand things…”

    There is only a massive amount of biblical evidence against THE REFORMED TRADITION if that biblical evidence is understood univocally. For you, revelation cannot be true revelation unless it is renders univocal names to God, and presents a God whose actions can be comprehended in a univocal manner – by the addition of accidental properties of action (just as we comprehend action amongst creatures). If you go along with Oliphint, the properties are created, just like ours! God’s lordship and Caesar’s lordship are both created lordships (and therefore univocally applied as a predicate).

    I’m not reading in. The moment you embrace a doctrine of analogy based on the Creator/creature distinction and the divine similitude in created being (just as Bavinck and Van Til do) – your univocism will be healed. You will apply that doctrine analogy not only to finite beings and infinite being, but also to infinite being revealing Himself in finite ways.

    In the end, these quotes are only from your rejections of other people’s theology. Perhaps you should render your own account of how God creates certain properties and then assumes them as accidents that qualify his being.

    1. In response,

      I can’t see at all how reading Scripture as true when it says that God acts in history is univocal. Actually I think that charge betrays the strangeness of your own position. The reason you’re stuck with that question, and the reason that there might appear to you to be a problem with saying that God’s acts relative to creation are in history actual (rather than immutable, simple, and eternal) is that the absoluteness of God you’re working with is not God’s triune, personal, a se absoluteness, but an absoluteness that is defined this way: as not creation, not temporal, etc. It is not a positive assertion of the triune, personal God, but a notion of absoluteness abstracted from the created order of being. In other words, it is because God’s absolute being (or divine absoluteness) is defined by Thomas as an aspect of creation—in this case a negative aspect, an aspect of contrast—that there is a problem with God’s activity in history actually beginning and ending in history.
      God’s response to things in history happens in history, not eternally; and if you say that anything and everything God ever is and ever does he does in a single, immutable, eternal act, you make all of redemptive history an illusion.
      So if you take the metaphysical route you’re proposing, taking a contrastive aspect of creation as absoluteness and that absoluteness as the constitutive characteristic of God’s being, then you have to say that Scripture speaks deceptively, at worst, or ambiguously, at best. As you say, God is revealed as acting and being one way, but in reality he is not that way; he is revealed as responding to and interacting with historical beings and events historically, but that is not strictly true. All of those acts are timeless, simple, immutable, etc. They are “absolute” in this correlative, contrastive sense.
      The obvious question is, how do you know that God’s activity relative to historical beings and events is not in the fullest sense historical activity? There is no exegetical support and no good and necessary consequence support for that claim; but there is ample Thomistic-metaphysical support for it. So, shall we say “so much the worse for exegesis, good and necessary consequence, and redemptive history?” or shall we say, “so much the worse for this contrived notion of absoluteness?”

      Thanks

  16. Thanks, Bob. Let me say something about the historical issue. I’ll try to get into the substance of your response shortly.

    I’d like to say, let’s dismiss with the historical/genetic arguments. No one really believes that “because Thomas said it, it is false,” nor that “because Reformed theologians said it, it is true,” or whatever. So we can distinguish quite easily between historical data and theoretical questions, with the following qualifications.

    “Reformed tradition” is a curious thing. First, in the Reformed world, the Reformed heritage is highly esteemed; secondly, it is categorically subordinate to revelation according to the Reformed view of theological method as bound to revelation.

    Reformed folks esteem highly their forebears and whatever has become Reformed tradition by sheer weight of consent (that whatever believed is consistent with Scripture). So Reformed folk take very solemnly the duty to heed the counsel of the Reformed tradition. If I take a position contrary to the most influential Reformed theologians, I have reason to be very cautious, to check myself. Especially when you write it with all capital letters; that makes it especially intimidating.

    But no one more than the Reformed have a proper view of tradition as always subject to reform. Of course that does not mean unfettered ‘progress’ as a good in itself; it means that our tradition is a tradition of perpetual revision and renewal and review; it is as much a reforming tradition as it is a Reformed tradition. So it is the very nature of the Reformed tradition to reform. It was once thought, by all the Reformers, that Paul was the author of Hebrews, for example.

    And Westminster is itself distinguished by what we might call Reformed innovations, such as Vosian biblical theology, Vosian redemptive-historical hermeneneutics, Klinean covenantal theology, Ridderbos’s Pauline theology, Murray on definitive sanctification, Van Til on evidence/evidentialism, Van Til on trinitarian theology, and so on. These developments are both consistent with the Reformed tradition and significant enough to give them new names: “vosian” this and that, etc.

    So when you say that I am defending a position at odds with a handful of influential Reformed theologians, even the majority of influential Reformed theologians, I know, as a Reformed dude, (1) that I should tread lightly, and (2) that there are heaps of historical arguments at your disposal if you want to take me on; I also know that, (3) if what I am defending is consistent with Scripture either explicitly or by good and necessary consequence, then I am doing Reformed theology in the best sense of the word, and that (4) if that is the case, all those guys would agree with me and abandon their initial views on the matter.

    Reforming the Reformed tradition is the most Reformed thing to do. So, in sum, let’s dispense with the historical witness, because it does not count as argument. You’re free to mine the riches of the historical arguments against my position, as long as I am free to ask you for exegetical support for yours. In other words, I am not beholden to the history of metaphysics, because Scripture is not either. So, contrary to your closing demand, I am not under any obligation to give an account of ‘how’ God can do this or that, as long as it is clear, in Scripture and according to Scripture’s view of itself, that He does. Again, this does not mean that I reject metaphysics; it just means that, as Reformed, I understand metaphysics as a bag of tools useful for articulating the data of revelation, but bearing no intrinsic authority. That is Reformed, as I understand it.

    I do want to get to the rest of what you said–which is the majority of what you said. Asap.

    1. B. L. Smith

      Nate:

      This is a very clear and concrete description of the way Reformed theologians treat reformed tradition. Much the same could be said about the way Catholic theologians treat the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

  17. B. L. Smith

    James,

    This was probably the finest presentation on the topic I have seen. I was particularly interested that in your description of immutability you emphasized God as a complete effecient cause. This is right of course and follows from God’s pure actuality, but does this impact the way you read the First Way, i.e., do you think that the first way terminates in an unmoved mover that this unmoved because He is the absolute first efficient cause of motion (becoming) or do you understand the unmoved mover as the ultimate final cause of all things; this would be in line with Aristotle, but some find it theologically and philosophically problematic. Plotinus is especially good on this point.

    The real heart of impass. and immutability concerns the question of whether all is becoming; if so, then there is no eternal truth and all becoming is reduced to the necessary outcomes of random combinations—no providence, wisdom, law, order, etc.

    In Christ,

    B. L. Smith

  18. CNC

    This may be a little lowbrow after the rigorous discussion preceding, but could a helpful example of pure actuality be described from this year’s “Avengers” movie when Banner (the Hulk) is about to engage the Chitauri army, and turns to his fellows and says, “The secret (to my turning into the Hulk) is that I’m always angry.”? 😉

  19. RDL

    Nate,

    Again with the straw-man:

    1) You write, “The reason you’re stuck with that question, and the reason that there might appear to you to be a problem with saying that God’s acts relative to creation are in history actual…”

    I’m not stuck. I affirm that God acts in history – even my personal history. My point is that we cannot account for those actions in history in the same way we account for actions in history amongst creatures. History adds and detracts from creatures, but history adds and detracts nothing from God. Classic Reformed theology accounts for both God’s absolute nature and his actions amongst creatures. Your theology (inspired by Oliphint’s) cannot account for God’s absolute nature because God can become that which he is not (he can become a creator, even if he is not essentially so).

    2) You write, “God’s response to things in history happens in history, not eternally; and if you say that anything and everything God ever is and ever does he does in a single, immutable, eternal act, you make all of redemptive history an illusion.”

    This is a false dichotomy. I affirm both: God responds in history, but that response is a manifestation of who he is eternally – albeit in a finite mode of revelation. The reason why redemptive history reveals God’s infinite being is because God’s acts in history reveal WHO HE IS in his being. God is all he is before creation, redemption and consummation. Thus Redemptive history does not reveal who God could be, it reveals who he is – eternally and immutably – again, in a finite accommodation.

    3) You write, “…God’s absolute being (or divine absoluteness) is defined by Thomas as an aspect of creation…”

    That is a pretty provocative statement about Aquinas’s natural theology. Are you sure you are familiar enough with Aquinas to say that divine absoluteness is an aspect of creation? Tell me, what aspect? Formal? Material? Existential? Categorical?

    Nate, your univocism is manifest in every paragraph. Let me touch on the obvious points:

    1) You write, “if you say that anything and everything God ever is and ever does he does in a single, immutable, eternal act, you make all of redemptive history an illusion.”

    Again, this is a false dichotomy. All that God is is indeed his single immutably pure actuality. BUT, God has also revealed his absolute actuality in the modes of finite revealing acts throughout creation and redemption. Redemptive history is not illusory – it is a true revelation of the ultimate God, but that “truth” is still a finite analogical truth and does not comprehensively grasp God’s infinite being. God, in his being, is the savior of Nate – but that predicate is analogical and only indicates a finite way in which God’s being is manifested to creatures.

    So you would only think my theology “makes all of redemptive history an illusion” if you rejected the doctrine of analogy and assumed a univocism that demands that our predicates of God function alike to our predicates of creation.

    2) You write, “then you have to say that Scripture speaks deceptively, at worst, or ambiguously, at best. As you say, God is revealed as acting and being one way, but in reality he is not that way; he is revealed as responding to and interacting with historical beings and events historically, but that is not strictly true.”

    So, you want God’s actions to be “strictly true.” What does “strictly true” mean? If you follow Oliphint, “strictly true” means that we can account for God’s actions by the ontological addition of real (existing) properties. This is exactly how we account for actions and relations amongst creatures! So, if I reject those properties, I cannot say that God’s actions are strictly true, because strictly true means the addition of properties – just as it does amongst creatures. This is univocism. If God’s actions aren’t accounted for in the same way as creaturely actions, then the Bible must be deceptive or ambiguous. A few lines up in this quote you require that revelation of God and the reality of God to correspond (and insist that I don’t believe they correspond). The correspondence you require is univocal, the correspondence I recommend is analogical.

    3) You write, “how do you know that God’s activity relative to historical beings and events is not in the fullest sense historical activity?”

    Now if there was any doubt about your univocism, that doubt should be dissipated by this question. The simple answer is: It God’s activity amongst creatures is NOT activity in the fullest historical sense, if that sense is UNIVOCAL! Don’t you see? You want God’s action in the Exodus to be the ontologically accounted for in the same way as George Washington crossing the Delaware. I believe in God’s real historical actions in history – just these words “real” “historical” “actions” are analogical. “Real” is not accounted for amongst God and creatures in the same way because God’s existence is his essence. “Historical” must also be ANALOGICALLY predicated of God in that he is timeless (he is not informed by the accident of time when). Finally, “activity” must also be analogical because God’s actions are not to be explained by accidents, that is, as actions are explained amongst creatures.

    I’ll say it again: I confess that God acts in history. But we cannot account for that action as we do amongst creatures. You don’t have Scripture for a support – your only support is your reading of Scripture with the assumption that the names and actions scripture attributes to God are univocal and are historical in the plain sense of historical.

  20. Thanks, just a few quick comments. You are trying to say that you affirm God’s activity in history, but my claim is that you do not affirm it. You say that God’s activity in history is a “manifestation of who he is eternally.” That is not what I mean when I talk about God’s activity in history. I am not sure how the ontology of all that works out:

    is all of creation and history also a revelation or manifestation of a simple, immutable, and eternal reality? No, as only God is simple, immutable, and eternal.

    Then are only God’s acts revelations or manifestations of a simple, immutable, and eternal reality? Then God’s activity in history is illusory or less real than its historical context.

    The point is that you are distinguishing between a “revelation” of a reality and the reality itself, and a “manifestation” of a thing and the thing itself. That is your ontology of God’s historical acts; you say this is analogy. I say it is unbiblical. I see know biblical way to make this distinction. I understand that this is where you say I am being univocal, and I think I can sympathize with your concern a bit there. But do not worry that I drag God down from heaven as the open theists do. I affirm God as a se, God as God, just as Scripture does. But Scripture also affirms that God enters into new states of affairs and enters into relationships neither eternal nor essential to him. They way you are using “univocal,” the entire Bible is univocal.

    There is no biblical support for the claim that God’s activity in history is a “manifestation” or a “revelation” of a single, simple, immutable, and eternal act that is God.

    Say we take Mal 3:6. “For I the LORD do not change.” On your view, one would read this and think, ‘this is odd; God does not change, and yet he spoke and revealed himself. God historically, temporally, revealed the fact that he is ahistorical and atemporal.’ So you say, ‘his revealing that fact is not a historical act but an eternal act this is manifest in history.’

    I think this is fraught with problems, but the obvious one is this: there is no biblical warrant for reading it this way.

    I would rather, reading Mal 3:6, affirm that the LORD changes not, and also that he has historically, temporally, condescended and revealed that fact. The appearance of Mal 3:6 in the course of redemptive history is not the mere manifestation of revelation of an act that is not temporal or historical.

    I’ll conclude my portion of this conversation by saying again that the way you are using the term univocal, the entire Bible is univocal, and that there is no biblical ground for the metaphysical slight of hand you call “accounting for” God’s activity, by which you distinguish between a manifestation/revelation of a thing and the thing itself, etc.

  21. RDL

    nate,

    just a note for now:

    You ask, “is all of creation and history also a revelation or manifestation of a simple, immutable, and eternal reality?”

    You answer: “No, as only God is simple, immutable, and eternal.”

    My answer to your question is: YES! All of creation and history is a revelation and manifestation of God’s simple, immutable, and eternal being. God has revealed himself GENERALLY in creation.

    God has also revealed himself in special communications and acts that, like the general revelation in creation, reveals His simple, immutable, and eternal being.

    This is the Reformed doctrine of general and special revelation. Both reveal God’s absolute and pure actuality through a finite medium to finite humans.

    I’ll respond later with two points:
    1) I want to indicate that your theology proper, derived from Oliphint’s books, departs from the Westminster Confession of Faith. This is not an argument, however, for as you insist, traditional Reformed theology might be wrong and in need of reforming.

    2) I want to clear up what I mean by “univocism.”

  22. JoBeth

    RDL:
    I have no doubt that when God acts, He is manifesting who He is. But there is more to be said than that.

    Here is the challenge you made:
    “I’ll say it again: I confess that God acts in history. But we cannot account for that action as we do amongst creatures. You don’t have Scripture for a support – your only support is your reading of Scripture with the assumption that the names and actions scripture attributes to God are univocal and are historical in the plain sense of historical.”

    The problem is that God seems to claim that He does NOT act timelessly. Rather God seems to say that He acts historically, or “in” Time.

    See Isaiah 37:26; 43:19; 46:11; 48:3
    Notice the words “now” and “suddenly” and “I will do it”. What is the “it” that God is now doing? That’s easy to answer. God is now doing in time what He already planned (pre-determined) to do.

    I think these verses can be explained in the Reformed Tradition by making a distinction between “actual” reality and “conceptual” reality. The specific events in the future exist only conceptually, not actually. Future events are “real” in the Mind of God (conceptual existence) but those same events do not become real in actuality until God actualizes them in time.

    I think this avoids the danger of saying that God “responds” to creatures or to historical events. God does not “respond” or “react” in the same sense that creatures do. Rather, God simply actualizes what He had already planned and foreknew He would do, at the right time. God acts in the “now” of time, but that doesn’t mean that God “reacts”. He doesn’t. God only acts.

    God’s actions are done in time, unlike God’s predetermined, preordained, and predestinated plan and purpose which was all done long ago (before the foundation of the world).

    God’s particular actions in time, are partial manifestations of God’s essence which is hidden and only fully revealed in the fulfillment (consummation) of His plan and purpose.

    When God acts, He is partially manifesting His essence. The fullness of God’s essence already exists conceptually in His own Mind (in Himself). But the fullness of that manifestation in actuality is yet to come.

    Hope this helps.

    1. James

      Hi JoBeth,
      I wonder if you might be overlooking RDL’s point about God not being a univocal agent. In an earlier post he wrote, “God’s activity amongst creatures is NOT activity in the fullest historical sense, if that sense is UNIVOCAL!” And then, “‘Historical’ must also be ANALOGICALLY predicated of God in that he is timeless (he is not informed by the accident of time ‘when’). Finally, ‘activity’ must also be analogical because God’s actions are not to be explained by accidents, that is, as actions are explained amongst creatures.” In your response you seem to assume that God is a univocal and temporal causal agent.

      You are right to maintain that God acts in time. But RDL affirms that too. The point of disagreement seems to be that he understands “God acts” analogically and you understand it univocally. RDL’s point is simply that God does not act in time AS AN HISTORICAL AGENT. If he did then one would have to say that God is not pure act and that he is subject to the additional of new (accidental) actuality. Perhaps we could express this, if somewhat enigmatically, by saying that God’s acts in time but does not act temporally. That is, the unfolding of his eternal plan in history does not mean that God undergoes a succession of new internal acts by which he becomes (accidentally) actual in some new way.

      Francis Turretin offers some insight into this mystery by explaining that God’s act of creation brings about no new actuality in him. In fact, Turretin concludes that the volitional act by which God created the world is itself atemporal. Here are his words from Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 5.1.12:

      “Now although creation is not formally a divine volition, still on that account there is no change made in God by it. Nor is any new perfection added to him because it is an external and transient act which is from God, but not in him. It is made without any motion and new determination. No new will enters into him, but only a new external work proceeds from his eternal efficacious and omnipotent will. Nor ought any perfection to be added to him on that account because the internal acts (which perfect the operator) must be distinguished from the external (which perfect the work, to which class creation belongs). Hence whatever change was made by the creation was made in the creatures passing from nonexistence to being and not in God himself creating. By the same practical volition which he had from eternity, he created the world in time – produced it actually in the beginning of time.”

      What Turretin says about God’s act of creation could also be said for all his acts of providence in history. The “newness” is in the creature, not in God himself. When God speaks in Scripture about undertaking new actions he is simply accommodating himself to our creaturely way of thinking and speaking. The effect of his action externally is indeed new. But the intrinsic act by which he brings about that effect is not. Intrinsically, that in virtue of which God brings about all the changes in creation and history is nothing but “the same practical volition which he had from eternity.”

  23. JoBeth

    James,
    Thank you for the quotes from Turretin. That is what I agree with.
    God does act in Time, but His acts are not accidental or historical in the sense that what God does is new to HIM. In fact nothing God does in new to Him. Everything God does in Time was planned, predetermined and preordained long ago (from before the foundation of the world).

    What I don’t like is saying that “When God speaks in Scripture about undertaking new actions he is simply accommodating himself to our creaturely way of thinking and speaking.” When God acts, God is not simply accommodating to us. God does not “react” or “respond”. Rather God only acts. And His acts are in accordance with His plan and purpose, not in accordance with anything that happens historically.

    My understanding is not that God acts univocally, but that God acts omni-causally. God acts temporally and historically, but not in response to anything temporal or historical. The reason God acts temporally and historically is because God is omnicausal. God is bringing to pass what He planned, and pre-determined and preordained and predestinated to happen. God’s actions are not accommodating or responsive to any creature. Rather God’s actions are pure acts of His WILL. All things happen as predestinated according to the counsel of His will. NOthing that happens is a consequence of anything other than God’s will. There are no accidents.

    I think you agree, because you said “Intrinsically, that in virtue of which God brings about all the changes in creation and history is nothing but “the same practical volition which he had from eternity.””
    See that’s right. Everything that happens is in accordance with God’s Plan and Will. God is omnicausal.

  24. Dennis

    Thanks James and Reformed Forum for a very stirring and enlightening discussion! I found the discussion on the nature of divine love and joy most illuminating. Branching off from that, I have some thoughts and questions:

    If God is pure act, and this attributes, decrees, will are identical with his eternal immutable being, then how does this fit in with election? Does election belong to that singular act of will (and if so, does this mean that supralapsarianism is correct?), or does it belong to temporal effects that are seen in the created order?

    It seems to me that so much of Reformed theology – not least those acts which I thought are supposed to be part of the eternal decree of God – requires and depends on the language of sequence in God. God decrees, sees, knows the fall of man, THEN performs election, etc. Related to this the Covenant of Redemption. Do the Reformed believe that this is an “event” within the pure act that is God?

  25. Dennis

    On a more practical matter, I do have friends who are open theists, and I think they are the worst culprits when it comes to that tendency to reject all “hellenizing” hermeneutical principles when approaching the Bible. As simple readers, as most of us are, they would argue that the verses affirming God’s unchangeableness is rather scant. A typical systematic theology often refer to no more than 5 or 10 of them. However, the verses affirming his dynamism, emotivity, conditional actions, etc are vast and quite clear. There’s no debating the grammar of such passages. Thus, they often argue that the clear and plain sense of scripture seems to principally teach passibility, rather than impassability.

    I know that this is how we often do theology. We say that doctrine X is the “clear teaching of Scripture” because “look at all the clear verses that teach it!” I’m no theologian, so hopefully there are other more fundamental frameworks that must be applied when arriving at doctrine, but on this point of sheer Biblical data, aren’t they kinda right? I’d love any help that any one can offer. I’m often stumped at this point.

    Thanks!

  26. Steve Rives

    Please explain propitiation with respect to a new state that was achieved. If, as you say in your discussion, “God can’t have pain inflicted upon his heart”, then can he have satisfaction? I assume, using your language, that satisfaction is not proper to God. Using your language, would you say it is the nature of satisfaction that God was not, and then was?

    As a completely unrelated comment: I am impressed how you expound upon “analogical predication” so easily and naturally and apply it quickly to comments. Amazing! I wonder if there are 10 people that have such a command of the subject in the manner you exhibit. I haven’t met any of them! Not even my theology professors were conversant at this level.

  27. Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies – Sample of Impassibility article Dr. James E. Dolezal’s article for JIRBS 2014 is entitled, “STILL IMPASSIBLE: Confessing God without Passions.” It is a very important subject and Dr. Dolezal handles it with precision and awareness of the doctrine in its history and current state. Here is a sample of his much larger discussion. Be sure to read the endnotes (which will appear as footnotes in the journal). http://www.rbap.net/journal-of-the-institute-of-reformed-baptist-studies-sample-of-impassibility-article/

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