God Is Impassible and Impassioned

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James Dolezal, part-time professor of Theology and Church History at Cairn University in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, reviews God Is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion by Rob Lister. The book explores the significance of God’s emotional experience and most especially the question of divine suffering.

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35 Responses to “God Is Impassible and Impassioned”

  1. Aron says:

    A very helpful broadcast, thank you.

  2. pba says:

    Quick question: James said that if “All that is in God is not God from eternity” in that there are things in God that are acquired in God’s temporal interaction in creation then “It would be very difficult to say that God is without parts,” around the end of the review. However, doesn’t this idea have precedence in the Reformed tradition? For example, isn’t this what Oliphint argues in God With Us, that God takes on contingent (covenantal) properties in his interaction with creation, yet without impacting his divine simplicity, insofar as his essential properties are concerned (also, please, no more Aristotelian metaphysical categories, there is a reason for analytic metaphysics =P)?

  3. degibraltar says:

    To cite Oliphint:

    “We mean that God freely determined to take on attributes, characteristics, and properties that he did not have, without creation. In his taking on these characteristics, we understand as well that whatever properties he takes on, they cannot be of the essence of who he is, nor can they be necessary to his essential identity as God. In other words, given that whatever properties he takes on are a result of his free knowledge and will, he did not have to take them on; he could have chosen not to create or decree anything. Thus, his condescension means that he is adding properties and characteristics, not to his essential being, as the triune God … but to himself” (p. 110).

    Not surprisingly, Oliphint believes, “There must be some real and fundamental sense in which God can have or experience passions (p. 87). He even uses the term “react” to speak of God’s emotive dispositions vis-a-vis different states of affairs in the world:

    “When Scripture says that the Lord’s anger was kindled, it really was kindled. Because God is personal, we should expect that he will react in different ways to things that please and displease him. These ascriptions of God in Scripture are not meant simply to tell us more about ourselves, but rather are meant to show us more of who God is, especially as he interacts with his human creatures” (p. 191).

    It would seem, then, that Oliphint represents a strand of Reformed tradition that supports a view much like Lister’s. See also Michael Horton, Lord and Servant, pp. 40-52, and John Frame, The Doctrine of God, pp. 608-11.

  4. degibraltar says:

    Moreover, I didn’t find Dolezal’s identification of Lister’s view with Karl Barth helpful. Since many of the conservative listeners of this podcast are (rightly) wary of Barth’s theology, they may, I fear, be overly suspicious of Lister’s view. It’s true enough that Lister agrees with a statement Barth makes respecting God’s freedom to act and to respond to the created world He made. But Lister doesn’t agree with Barth’s basic rejection of impassibility. Furthermore, Lister spends far more time citing and identifying his view with orthodox theologians such as Michael Horton (pp. 181, 183, 222-23), John Frame (pp. 165, 185-86, 239-40), Bruce Ware (pp. 195, 210, 225-26), Donald Carson (pp. 204, 242-43), and John Piper (pp. 233-34). For some reason (maybe time constraints), Dolezal doesn’t point this out.

  5. Bob says:

    degibraltar,

    Great quotes from Oliphint. I think you’re right-on with the connection between Oliphint and Lister.

    You quoted this: “We mean that God freely determined to take on attributes, characteristics, and properties that he did not have, without creation.” (God with Us, 110).

    Here is my question: Do the attributes/properties God “takes on” really exist?

    (Hint: the next two quotes you cite both contain the words “real” or “really”).

  6. “We mean that God freely determined to take on attributes, characteristics, and properties that he did not have, without creation.” (God with Us, 110). I am no expert in this field and have not read the book but this statement seems to me to be quite problematic. A few questions/observations. Aren’t the divine attributes “identical with and inseparable from the essentia Dei”? (Muller, Dictionary, 283). But in this quote we are told that God *takes on attributes* within creation. The essentia Dei became what it was not? How would one uphold divine simplicity in light of this? The essence of God becomes the result of what is willed by God? God is contingent upon what He wills Himself to become? Is God the absolute ultimate or the “becoming ultimate”? God has willed to move from potency to actuality? Also, is it not true that all things outside of God are not God? Creation is outside of God. If God takes “on attributes…that he did not have, without creation,” then does it not follow that God became what He created Himself to become, since without creation He was not what He become within creation?

    Maybe I don’t understand what is being asserted.

  7. degibraltar says:

    Rich,

    If I’m not mistaken, I think Oliphint’s making a distinction between God’s essential (or absolute) attributes and his contingent (or relative) attributes. The latter would include such qualities or characteristics as “Creator” and “Redeemer.” Of course, these qualities or characteristics of God are grounded in who God is essentially. But they are contingent in the sense that they aren’t necessary, just as creation itself is not necessary to God’s essence or identity in any absolute sense.

    In the context of Oliphint’s argument, God takes on the attributes of Creator and Redeemer by means of condescension, which he links to the idea of “covenant” (see God With Us, pp. 110-11). So when Oliphint says, “There must be some real and fundamental sense in which God can have or experience passions (p. 87) and avers, “When Scripture says that the Lord’s anger was kindled, it really was kindled” (p. 191), he’s referring to contingent qualities that God assumes and expresses relative to various state of affairs in his created order (e.g., evil, sin, disobedience, etc.). Such contingent qualities or attributes–whether “anger” or, say, “compassion”–aren’t just metaphors “to tell us more about ourselves, but rather are meant to show us more of who God is, especially as he interacts with his human creatures” (p. 191). The contingent quality (which might be called an attitudinal-affectional posture or a cognitive-affectional valuation) reveals “who God is” because its grounded in and serves as a revelation of God’s essential and immutable character.

    I think Bruce Ware articulates the same idea as Oliphint when speaking of God’s retributive justice and redemptive mercy:

    Justice, of course, is correctly understood as an attribute of God, but the retributive nature of justice necessarily invokes the presence of sinful violation of law requiring punishment…. since Scripture clearly highlights this quality of God (e.g., Rom. 2:2-11; 2 Thess. 1:7-9; Rev. 20:12-13), a quality that cannot be expressed by God except in the context of a fallen creation, then it stands to reason that this divine attribute is a contingent quality in God…. we certainly would want to insist that the contingent attribute of retributive justice did not simply appear in God ex nihilo. Rather, the contingent attribute of retributive justice in God is the expression, in time and space and in ways fully appropriate to the sinful moral setting in which it is expressed, of God’s eternal and necessary attributes of holiness and righteousness.

    The contingent attributes of mercy and grace in God are the expressions, in time and space and in ways fully appropriate to the sinful moral settings to which they are directed, of God’s eternal and necessary attributes of goodness and love. Yes, indeed, God possesses eternally and necessarily the attributes of goodness and love, but apart from the creation and fall, God simply would not appropriately be called or thought of as “merciful” or “gracious” since neither of these can have any rightful and appropriate expression within the immanent Trinity (God’s Greater Glory, 152-53; note that Ware uses “immanent” here to refer to the Godhead apart from the created order in contrast with the “economic” Trinity).

    In a similar vein, Michael Horton writes,

    If we say that God is not intrinsically affected by the world, what are we to make of the intimacy of that personal relationship that God is represented as having with his creatures? Yet if we say that God is intrinsically affected by the world, how can we continue to say that God is perfect and independent of created reality? The answer proposed here is to recognize that although God exists independent of creation, he freely chooses to enter into a genuine relationship with the world. In this freedom for creaturely reality, God is genuinely affected, although in any given case this is to be understood in an analogical rather than a univocal sense (Lord and Servant, p. 43).

    As I noted in my earlier comment, I believe Lister’s view of divine impassibility and emotivity is consonant with the views expressed by these theologians who represent (at least) a strand of the Reformed tradition.

  8. I think I understand what these men are saying, I just don’t see how they answer my questions. Maybe the problem is that I am relying on Muller for definitions and the men you are quoting are not. It seems to me that older theologians (like way older than living ones) would not say that God assumed that which was not God within the realm of creation. That’s what I think Oliphint’s statement implies. I could be wrong.

  9. My problem seems to be with the assertion that God took on attributes He did not have. This seems to deny that attributes and essence are coextensive. It seems to assert that God becomes what God wills, that attributes can be multiplied, that He can become tomorrow what He was not today.

  10. James says:

    Dear Degibraltar,
    Lister himself identifies his position with Barth’s voluntarism (p. 177). Why should readers not be made aware of this? Just as readers should be wary of Barth’s voluntarism, I would hope they would be wary of Lister’s as well. As for Lister’s “disagreement” with Barth’s rejection of impassibility, he actually argues that Barthian voluntarism is essentially agreeable with his own “two-pronged” understanding of impassibility and that Barth thus had no good reason to reject the doctrine. This is hardly a “disagreement” with Barthian voluntarism. In fact, we might ironically characterize it an agreement with Barthianism while disagreeing with Barth. Lister’s point amounts to claiming that the mainstream Christian tradition is in step with Barthian voluntarism and so Barth must have been mistaken about the tradition. I propose in my review that it is in fact Lister who is mistaken about the mainstream tradition. This stems from his failure to consider divine pure actuality as the reason that God is not controlled by creatures.
    One troubling element in so much of modern evangelical Calvinist theology is the willingness to diminish the classical understanding of immutability in favor of a notion of sovereignty in which God is sovereign over his own intrinsic actuality. Historically, sovereignty and divine voluntary production were strictly categories used to describe God’s work ad extra—in and upon creatures. In the past thirty years or so sovereignty has been reconceived by many evangelical Calvinists as also including God’s operation ad intra—insisting that God’s free will dominates and determines certain aspects of his own (non-essential) inner being and life. This is especially true of Bruce Ware’s doctrine of immutability in which he allows that God can change his intrinsic actuality in non-essential ways. In order to make sure that the changes in God do not leave him vulnerable, Ware proposes to save God’s honor by insisting that God is the one controlling the changes in himself. Traces of this same innovative proposal can be found in J. I. Packer and Kevin Vanhoozer (and in Michael Horton so far as he follows Vanhoozer).
    At the very least, we in the confessional Reformed tradition should recognize that this new proposal entails that God is composed of eternal essential attributes and newly acquired (temporal) non-essential attributes brought about by his free will. In other words, it flatly contradicts the confession of divine simplicity; that God is without parts (a key ingredient of which is the denial that God is composed of substance and accidents). Perhaps Lister and Ware do not believe the doctrine of simplicity as it was intended by the writers of the various historic Reformed confessions. That’s fine. But Reformed Christians adhering to one or another of the historic confessions (e.g., the Belgic Confession, WCF, or 2LCF) should be aware that the model of divine self-control and self-determination advanced by these writers simply will not square with the confession that God is simple or “without parts.” I might also add that their voluntarism is at odds with confession that God is “infinite in being and perfection.” It will not do to say that God is essentially infinite, but is also “becoming” and so finite in certain non-essential ways as this presupposes, contra the confession of simplicity, that God is composed of parts—essential and non-essential.
    Anyhow, this is only the tip of the iceberg. I suspect that deep down the ontological commitments of many modern evangelical Calvinists may be at odds with those of our Reformed predecessors—especially respecting the matter of God’s pure actuality. While we may greatly appreciate the broadly Reformed commitment of many of these authors (Ware, Lister, Packer, Horton, and others)—as I certainly do—we should not gratuitously assume that every aspect of their theology is automatically consistent with the Reformed confessions to which they may adhere.
    Respectfully,

  11. degibraltar says:

    James,

    Thanks for taking the time to provide a lengthy reply. I don’t disagree that Lister cites Barth favorably. I only meant to point out (1) that that doesn’t make him Barthian (which you don’t claim but which some listeners might wrongly assume), and (2) that he much more frequently cites evangelical authors who would self-conscientiously identify with the Reformed tradition (something that wasn’t highlighted in the review).

    Personally, I don’t see the problem in saying that God becomes Creator and that God becomes Redeemer and that God assumes a posture of condescension and that God makes cognitive-affectional value judgments (i.e., emotive responses) vis-a-vis the various states of affairs in the fallen world. None of these contingent qualities or characteristics necessitates any change within God’s essential nature (which you seem to concede). None of them adds anything intrinsic to God’s perfect being, power, wisdom, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. Indeed, the varied contingent qualities that God assumes and the varied emotive responses that he expresses only serve to reveal his unchanging and perfect nature. God changes in his relation to the world because the world changes in its relation to him according to his decretive purpose. As John Frame states it,

    Although God’s eternal decree does not change, it does ordain change. It ordains a historical series of events, each of which receives God’s evaluation. God evaluates different events in different ways. Those evaluations themselves are fixed in God’s eternal plan. But they are genuine evaluations of the events. It is not wrong to describe them as responses to these events (Doctrine of God, p. 610).

    I fail to see how such a view necessitates a denial of God’s simplicity or independence (see Frame, pp. 225-37). Rather, I see it as consistent with the biblical data to the effect that God is free to create and to relate in different ways to the world he has created. Of course, these different ways of relating to different states of affairs in creation all serve to reveal a God who is perfect and unchanging in his moral perfections.

    Whether or not this depiction of God’s essential and relative attributes squares or is consistent with the older tradition, I cannot say. The Reformed theologians I’ve cited seem to think so. At the very least, they would likely argue that their view does not undermine the integrity in any Article of or the integrated system of the Reformed faith in the Confession.

    Grace and peace.

  12. RDL says:

    degibralter,

    Again, the properties God assumes, do they exist? And if so, is their existence divine or created?

    Anytime we posit existence we must decide if it is God’s existence we are positing or something that exists because it is created by God.

  13. degibraltar says:

    RDL,

    The question sounds a little like, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” But perhaps I need to meditate on it a bit more. :-)

    Jesting aside. With my present knowledge, I’m inclined to answer thus: Creator is distinct from creation. Creator predicates God, not the work of his hands. Creator, then, is an attribute of God. It is a relative or contingent attribute that exists as a consequent necessity. That is, having freely chosen to create the world, God must, as a consequence of his infinite, eternal, and unchangeable nature, necessarily relate to the world as Creator and Lord.

    Cordially

    • James says:

      Dear Degibraltar,
      In your previous post you affirm that “Creator” is something God “becomes.” You now say that Creator is an attribute of God and not of creation—a divine attribute. Does this not locate some sort of “becoming” and contingency in God? Are there some divine attributes that simply exist eternally and immutably and others that come to be as result of God’s will? How can you affirm the doctrine of simplicity in which each divine attribute is really identical with the divine nature without implying that the divine nature itself is becoming? Moreover, how can one confess that God is actually infinite in being and perfection and “most absolute” if some of his divine attributes are brought about as the consequences of his free will? These questions are not meant to trick or trap you, but only to spotlight the perceived difficulty of the position you adopt.
      Sincerely,

      • degibraltar says:

        I’ll confess ignorance. In the words of one writer, “Though we discover strong reasons for confessing both simplicity and freedom in God, we cannot form an isomorphically adequate notion of how this is the case. In fact, this confession of ignorance is precisely what one finds in the Thomist and Reformed traditions.”

  14. degibraltar,

    1. Isn’t power an attribute of God from which creation comes?

    2. If Creator is a relative or contingent attribute and if there was a time when creation was not, then would it not follow that there was a time when God (as Creator) was not? Assuming that Creator is an attribute God took upon Himself seems to me to strike a blow at immutability, simplicity, and ends up denying the coextensiveness of attributes and essence.

    • degibraltar says:

      Rich,

      Contingent or relative attributes do not add to or change God’s immutable and perfect nature. Rather, they are expressions of that nature relative to God’s work of creation and redemption. To understand how such a construal is consonant with divine simplicity, read John Frame, Doctrine of God, pp. 225-37.

      Sorry, but I’ve got to run …

      • degib,

        You quoted Oliphint, “We mean that God freely determined to take on attributes, characteristics, and properties that he did not have, without creation.” (God with Us, 110). Then you said above, “Contingent or relative attributes do not add to or change God’s immutable and perfect nature.” But if contingent or relative attributes are taken on by God *within creation* and if creation is not eternal, which I am sure you affirm, then in time God become what He had not always been, He took upon Himself newly created (?) attributes, He become what He was not and never had been. If He takes on things He did not have without creation, then He adds things He did not have without creation. Maybe I am not understanding you but it sure seems to me that you need to re-think your position at some crucial points. I could be wrong.

  15. RDL says:

    degibraltar,

    It seems you are allowing yourself to talk of real existing properties that are:

    1) Distinct from the divine essence.
    2) Contingent upon the divine will.
    3) Caused and Dependent (in that they do not necessarily exist, because if they were necessary their essence would be indistinct from their existence, and thus Purely Actual, which is only said of the Divine Being).
    4) Exclusively Relative to creation.

    yet…

    5) DIVINE. That is, of the BEING of God.

    “Caused Divinity” is permitted to exist in your theological system.

    I think, regarding Oliphint, Ware, Horton, Frame and Lister, “Caused Divinity” is the ultimate outcome. That is the bedrock notion. It is their pivot – their departure from Reformed confessions and orthodoxy.

    If you have any doubts, try to answer the question of existence with regards to the “qualities,” “properties,” or “attributes” of which you speak. But you seem well-read enough to know that you cannot say they are neither God nor a creature and you cannot say they are both God and creatures. If they exist, they must be one or the other. When it comes to this question (the Creator/creature distinction), ignorance is not an option.

    • RDL, “caused divinity” – that’s it! That’s what I’ve been having a problem with. This stuff sure seems to end there…a not safe place to be no matter who advocates it. Thanks for the clarity.

  16. degibraltar says:

    Wow! First “Open Theism,” now “Caused Theism.” A new heresy being promoted by the likes of Michael Horton, Scott Oliphint, Bruce Ware, J. I. Packer, and Rob Lister. That’s a pretty serious charge!

    I wonder, RBL and Rich Barcellos, if you men would assess the following citation as another instance of the “Caused Divinity” view. The author I’m citing is self-consciously Reformed and Confessional.

    I believe … that we must in a certain sense affirm the doctrine of divine impassibility. To do so, we must, however, make a crucial distinction. We must augment the doctrine of impassibility with a clear doctrine of divine relationality.

    We are here making the same distinction (although with a slightly different application) as must be insisted on with reference to the doctrine of the divine eternity or supratemporality. To affirm divine eternity we must insist that God’s transcendence over time does not prevent Him from a freely chosen immanence in time. Thus, by the free act of creation, God chose to add to His eternal perspective a temporal perspective. He is, thus, to use Frame’s happy phrase, temporally omnipresent.

    Similarly, we must, I think, clearly affirm that God is both impassible and passible. As the God who was free not to create, as the God who has decreed whatsoever comes to pass, as the God who has no needs not satisfied by His own fullness, He is and must be immutable and impassible. He is (always has been and will be) serene in the blessedness of the inter-Trinitarian fellowship of persons and in the execution of His immutable and comprehensive decree.

    Yet by His free act of creation God has chosen to subject Himself to the influences of His creatures. Of course, He has done this without giving up His position as the Creator and Sovereign of the universe who in Himself is immutably serene, has no need-based emotions, and who is immutable in His comprehensive purpose. Thus, He is only passible in exactly those ways and for exactly those purposes that He has freely chosen in His decree and in no other way. The fact, however, that He has chosen to be passible and passible in only those ways He has chosen does not devalue or deny the fact of His passibility. It simply means His passibility is limited and has to do with His purposes in the world—His free decision to glorify His name in the world. It also means that it coexists with an infinite and transcendent impassibility in God considered in Himself eternally.

    The author I’ve just cited above claims to be Reformed and Confessional. I think his remarks reflect a view consonant with that of Ware, Lister, and Horton. What is your conclusion?

    • degibraltar,

      You are asking me a pointed question concerning four paragraphs written by someone else than you (I presume, though I could be wrong). I will answer below.

      I have posed numerous questions I have asked of you without simple, straight-forward answers given by you. Most of the questions I asked could be answered with a yes or a no. Here are some questions I have asked:

      You quoted Oliphint, appearing to agree with him. Here’s the quote: “We mean that God freely determined to take on attributes, characteristics, and properties that he did not have, without creation.” (God with Us, 110). Here are the questions I asked:

      1. Aren’t the divine attributes “identical with and inseparable from the essentia Dei”? (Muller, Dictionary, 283).
      2. But in this quote we are told that God *takes on attributes* within creation. The essentia Dei became what it was not?
      3. How would one uphold divine simplicity in light of this?
      4. The essence of God becomes the result of what is willed by God?
      5. God is contingent upon what He wills Himself to become?
      6. Is God the absolute ultimate or the “becoming ultimate”?
      7. God has willed to move from potency to actuality?
      8. Also, is it not true that all things outside of God are not God?
      9. Creation is outside of God. If God takes “on attributes…that he did not have, without creation,” then does it not follow that God became what He created Himself to become, since without creation He was not what He become within creation?

      In another comment above, I asked:

      degibraltar,

      1. Isn’t power an attribute of God from which creation comes?
      2. If Creator is a relative or contingent attribute and if there was a time when creation was not, then would it not follow that there was a time when God (as Creator) was not? Assuming that Creator is an attribute God took upon Himself seems to me to strike a blow at immutability, simplicity, and ends up denying the coextensiveness of attributes and essence.

      And another:

      You quoted Oliphint, “We mean that God freely determined to take on attributes, characteristics, and properties that he did not have, without creation.” (God with Us, 110). Then you said above, “Contingent or relative attributes do not add to or change God’s immutable and perfect nature.” But if contingent or relative attributes are taken on by God *within creation* and if creation is not eternal, which I am sure you affirm, then in time God become what He had not always been, He took upon Himself newly created (?) attributes, He become what He was not and never had been. If He takes on things He did not have without creation, then He adds things He did not have without creation.

      Q: Did God take on newly created attributes?

      I fully realize others are saying things similar to what you are saying. That’s not the point. The point I keep bringing up is the addition of attributes within creation. The quote you provided above does not use that language, though the author may believe that to be so or his position may imply it. If either of these are the case, them I would say he needs to re-think his view. He seems to be wrestling with simplicity and freedom. I believe both to be true though I do not pretend to be able to explain just how. Claiming that “God freely determined to take on attributes, characteristics, and properties that he did not have, without creation.” (God with Us, 110)” sure seems to go farther than the Bible does and seems to be out of step with the Confession. I have said it before and I will say it again, maybe some are using terms in ways I am not, e.g., attributes and properties. But these are technical terms with a long history in the catholic (not exclusively Roman) tradition. I think the terms should be left with their definitions in tact.

      I am going running.

  17. RDL says:

    Quote One: “God has chosen to subject Himself to the influences of His creatures.”

    “Quote one” could be rendered “God has chosen to be subjected to causes outside of himself.” If God is influenced or caused, then He is in some way potential to the actuality those causes produce. Inversely, if the God is corrupted by those causes, His actuality is potentially diminishable. Here are the consequences:

    1) God cannot be simple, because He is composed of potency and act.
    2) God can become that which He is not – which entails that He is either corruptible or lacks the perfections the causes/influences produce.
    3) God is then also said to become the opposite of Himself (If an essentially impassible God can become contingently passible, why cannot an essentially faithful God become contingently unfaithful? Just like “passibility” one could say his unfaithfulness is limited to “His purposes in the world”).
    4) One would also have to ontologically account for the new ways in which God exists. Are his new attributes God himself or are they creatures? How can something divine be new, or willed into existence?

    Quote Two: “He is only passible in exactly those ways and for exactly those purposes that He has freely chosen…”

    “Quote Two” attempts to justify “quote one” by insisting that God is sovereign over the causes under which He is subjected. But even if God is ultimately the one causing effects within himself, God is still caused – there is still a movement from potency to act, there is still a process of either perfection or corruption. Here are the consequences:

    1) Actualism/Voluntarism. God is sovereign over his own being, even to the point where he may, by an act of His will, become the opposite of himself (the impassible is also passible). God can send Mary to hell and Judas to heaven because such an act might just be God taking on the property of covenantal unfaithfulness – act which falls under God’s sovereign will (as your mystery author would remind us). His acts ad intra and ad extra are not constrained or limited by his nature, they are totally liberated by His free will.

    short answer: This passage would also support a “caused divinity” view, which is by no means Reformed, perhaps not even orthodox in the broader catholic sense of the term.

  18. degibraltar says:

    RDL and Rich Barcellos,

    This conversation has been stimulating and intriguing, to say the least. For your sake for the sake of other readers, I’ll identify the authors of the two quotes I gave earlier.

    (1) My confession of ignorance

    Above I said, “I’ll confess ignorance.” Then I adopted the words of one writer who when speaking on the difficulty of reconciling God’s simplicity and God’s freedom confessed, “We cannot form an isomorphically adequate notion of how this is the case. In fact, this confession of ignorance is precisely what one finds in the Thomist and Reformed traditions.” That quote comes from the featured reviewer of this podcast: James Dolezal.

    Of course, Dr Dolezal may not agree with my application of his words. But they serve to make the point that even he recognizes a tension between God’s simplicity and freedom that’s not easily resolvable. My adaptation of it was intended to convey my awareness of such tensions in theology (e.g., Aquinas’s view of God’s simplicity and how it fits with His attribute of Tri-Unity in which three distinct persons are, to use the language of the Larger Catechism, “distinguished by their personal properties”).

    My use of Dolezai’s words was also intended to indicate that I still don’t follow the reasoning you men offer. Much of what you two attempt to say seems to me like a linguistic “sleight of hand.” (Like “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”) But I suppose I’ve allowed my mind to be poisoned by reading such theologians as Horton, Oliphint, Lister, et al. Which brings me to the second larger citation above.

    (2) My theological mentor

    I studied theology under Dr Samuel Waldron, the author of A Modern Confession of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. It was Sam Waldron who said, “God has chosen to subject Himself to the influences of His creatures.” It was he who argued, “We must augment the doctrine of impassibility with a clear doctrine of divine relationality” and who asserted that God’s “passibility is limited and has to do with His purposes in the world—His free decision to glorify His name in the world. It also means that it coexists with an infinite and transcendent impassibility in God considered in Himself eternally.”

    Of course, Dr Waldron (and I) reject the kind of voluntarism that could “send Mary to hell and Judas to heaven.” The voluntarism (if that’s what you care to call it) that we affirm is one in which all of God’s responses and actions toward states of affairs in his created world reflexively flow from his unchanging moral perfection and decretive purpose. Hence, God’s freedom is bounded by his own nature and purpose to glorify his name.

    But despite these clarifications, I suspect that you two may still believe that Dr Waldron, along with Horton, Oliphint, Frame, Ware, Lister, Packer, and others are teaching a view of God’s impassibility that’s not only “un-Reformed” but that’s also “un-Orthodox,” which is another way of saying, “heretical.” If so, then they are wolves in sheep’s clothing poisoning the minds of unfortunate souls like me.

    Rich Barcellos, you are a close friend of Dr Waldron. You teach as an adjunct professor at the seminary where he serves as dean. Would you express the same concern to Dr Waldron as you have to me? Would you warn him that his position, which I cited above, is “not a safe place to be no matter who advocates it”?

    In closing, I can’t say that I agree with your conclusions or alarm. But perhaps I’m misled and blind. I won’t object if you want to pray for me and for any of the author’s above whom I’ve followed and who may still be living.

    Respectfully yours,

    • One last thing. You said, “…they are wolves in sheep’s clothing…” I think there are other charitable ways to look at this. I don’t think RDL, Dolezal, or I would put it that way. I know this much, saying such things does not add anything good to the discussion, IMO.

      • degibraltar says:

        Rich Barcellos,

        RDL judged the position of Dr Waldron as “by no means Reformed, perhaps not even orthodox in the broader catholic sense of the term” (emphasis added). He said, “Regarding Oliphint, Ware, Horton, Frame and Lister, ‘Caused Divinity’ is the ultimate outcome…. It is their pivot – their departure from Reformed confessions and orthodoxy” (emphasis added). Then you, Rich, agreed and replied, “‘Caused divinity’ – that’s it! That’s what I’ve been having a problem with. This stuff sure seems to end there…a not safe place to be no matter who advocates it” (emphasis added). So you and RDL have assessed the positions of Waldron, Oliphint, Ware, Horton, Frame, and Lister as a “departure from Reformed confessions and orthodoxy.” I didn’t say that. You did.

        If I might borrow your own words, “I think there are other charitable ways to look at this.” Personally, I myself find the views of Waldron, Oliphint, Ware, Horton, Frame, and Lister as (1) orthodox, and (2) consistent with Reformed theology. How’s that for charitable? What I do find uncharitable is the attempt to push such scholars outside the Reformed camp because you do not understand how their articulation of the doctrine of divine impassibility can be fully reconciled with a very philosophical notion of divine simplicity which is based on lots of inferences rather than lots of exegesis. To borrow the words of James Anderson (who reviewed Dolezal’s book): “it’s a speculation wrapped in a deduction inside an extrapolation.” It shouldn’t be surprising if such a doctrine introduces certain tensions with other clearly biblical doctrines, as Dolezal concedes.

        If you want to keep the discussion charitable, I suggest that you and RDL refrain from labeling un-Reformed and un-orthodox well-known and well-respected scholars who self-consciously stand within the Reformed tradition and who would never advocate the notion of God becoming God or “caused Divinity.” Such allegations are unwarranted and divisive.

        Finally, my point in citing and referencing men like Waldron, Oliphint, Packer, Frame, Ware, etc., was to show that Lister is not alone in his construal of divine impassibility. I’m not an expert in church history, but I detect elements of this “modern evangelical Calvinist theology” (as James calls it) in Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield too. So if Lister’s view of divine impassibility is incompatible with Reformed theology and, as RDL suggests, with orthodoxy, what shall we conclude about these other men?

        Personally, I think you and RDL need to think through the implications of your comments before you make them.

        Cordially

  19. degibraltar,

    I knew the authors of both quotes above prior to you informing us. I have interacted with both of them on this issue (in fact, I spoke to one of the authors about the very quote you gave very recently). I don’t see how revealing the identity of the authors moves the discussion along. I do have an idea about how to move the discussion along, though. For my sake and the sake of other readers, would you answer my questions (and the questions of RDL)? I am not trying to be cheeky. Clear and direct questions have been asked of you more than once but, for whatever reason, you won’t answer them. Instead of answering, you bring up the views of others. As I stated above, I fully realize others are saying things similar to what you are saying, but I am not interacting with others. If I was, I would ask them the same questions.

    Speaking of questions, here is one more question for you. Do you agree or disagree with these statements?
    1. “…God did not become Creator…”
    2. “The creation therefore brought about no change in God…”

    For those who like to know the identity of authors, these statements were made by Herman Bavinck (RD, II:429).

    • degibraltar says:

      1. “…God did not become Creator…”

      Every quality and characteristic requisite to fulfill the role of Creator (e.g., power) has resided in God from eternity. Yet, creation is not eternal. Nor is God’s Creatorship actual apart from an actual creation. In that sense, we may say that God’s actual Creatorship and Lordship are contingent on creation though all the qualities and characteristics requisite for these roles are latent in God’s eternal nature and moral character. In the words of Bavinck,

      The relative names–such as Lord, Creator, Preserver, Savior; etc.–are his on account of the work of creation: no one is called “lord” if he has no servants. Hence, these relative names became applicable to God after he created the universe, not before; for man is not from eternity but was created in time; hence, in time God became our Lord. These names, therefore, presuppose creation (emphasis his).

      2. “The creation therefore brought about no change in God…”

      No intrinsic change in God’s divine nature, moral character, or eternal purpose.

      As for your many other questions, forward them to Rob Lister, Michael Horton, Scott Oliphint, and the other un-Reformed guys. They are my teachers; I’m just the pupil.

      • James says:

        Dear Degibraltar,
        The Bavinck passage you cite is about how God comes to be “named” by creatures, not about how God comes to be. That is, Bavinck’s point is about the noetic/predicamental development from the side of the creaturely knower/namer, not about ontological (even if only accidental) development from the side of God. It is your suggestion of the latter that Rich Barcellos and RDL oppose. When Bavinck says in this context that “in time God became our Lord,” he is speaking from the standpoint of creaturely experience and predication and not suggesting that God has assumed a new accidental relation of being in himself. Divine names said relatively do not correspond to new divine attributes that God assumes ontologically.
        As for the “before” and “after” of creation of which Bavinck speaks, this is merely said from the standpoint of creatures inasmuch as God himself has and experiences no “before” and “after” in his divine life (contra Lister). The act by which God creates the world (and so is “Creator”) is an eternal and timeless act of his will; the effect that is produced, and from which God is NAMED by us as Creator, is temporal. This distinction between the manner in which we come to name God and the manner in which God exists is crucial.
        Regards,

  20. RDL says:

    degibraltar,

    I’m not interested in Horton, Oliphint, or Lister’s person or work in the church or as those who hold posts as academic institutions. I’m interested in their theology because it is so widely accepted by the Reformed literary world yet so wildly not Reformed. I don’t think they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

    It is indeed disconcerting to find so many contemporary reformed theologians agreeing to depart so radically from Reformed theology in reference to such a principial doctrine, the doctrine of God. Instead of judging these men heretics, I’d rather just say that their theology isn’t Reformed and, on the basis of arguments, false.

    BOB

    • degibraltar says:

      BOB (RDL)

      You asserted that Rob Lister and the other men I named above had departed not only from Reformed theology but also from orthodoxy vis-a-vis the doctrine of God. Teachers in Christ’s church who depart from orthodoxy are normally called “false teachers.” However, you apparently meant “unorthodox” in a much milder sense. Fair enough. I appreciate the clarification and apologize for suggesting you intended something more serious. Even so, I would encourage you to make such qualifications and nuances more transparent at the outset since the reputation of good men are at stake.

      Respectfully yours

  21. degibraltar says:

    For those who have bothered to read this far down the thread, I would encourage you to listen to the podcast with Dr Scott Oliphint concerning his book God With Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God, which you can access here. In my opinion, Dr Oliphint ably defends his view of divine impassibility and simplicity in that podcast. Some may even wish to wade through the 80 comments to gain a greater appreciation of the debate.

    I’m signing out of this discussion. Que Dios esté con vosotros.

  22. All,

    This is posted with a degree of reluctance. I don’t want to get into a word or personality war. The questions I asked of degibraltar were honest and direct questions. They were not forced or out of context. The discussion naturally led to the questions. Degibraltar quoted an author (Dr. Oliphint) favorably and I began probing with questions – mostly straight-forward ones that could have been answered with a yes or a no. But, for whatever reason, degibraltar not only chose not to answer most of them, he ended up doing something that *looks like* a bait and switch (I could be wrong.). Here’s the way I see it. He entered into the conversation, which is an invitation for others to do the same with him. So far so good. Others entered the discussion. So far so good. He answered very few questions. That’s his decision. OK. He started quoting other men and throwing out various names. That’s ok with me, to a point. But then he posted two quotes of anonymous authors, both of whom I knew the identity of at a first read. This gave *the appearance of* a shift, going from theology to persons. After I answered, it seems to me, the discussion did shift from its previous point(s) to degibraltar counseling me about qualifying and nuancing what I say. (BTW, he did answer two questions I posed about statements made by Bavinck but I think he confused Bavinck’s ontological [God’s eternal being] statement with an epistemological [our temporal knowing] passage, though as I have said more than once in this thread, I could be wrong.) Fair enough on the qualifying and nuancing suggestion, I suppose, though I think the specific comments that disturbed him were made by RDL. RDL (Bob) can answer for himself. Then we are told degibraltar is signing out of this discussion and just before that he advised me to send my unanswered questions to various others.

    Now I must say that I have backed out of discussions before. There is nothing wrong with that, per se. But the way degibraltar has left makes it almost impossible for me to reply without giving the appearance of either needing to have the last word or something else not so desirable (thus, my reluctance to reply). Add to that the fact that degibraltar has not made his identity known to us (unless his name is degibralatar) and I am in a really tough spot. He obviously knows who I am. What if he is a member of my church? Is he a pastor? What do I do? Say nothing? Let it go? Those are certainly options.

    I think the best thing (now that I have chosen to reply) is to let things be as they are in the comments section above and allow readers to make their own conclusions about this discussion.

    I do want to say that I intended no malice. My goal was to probe, ask, understand, discuss, challenge (yes, challenge degibraltar and others, if necessary), and be challenged to think God’s thoughts after Him, in so far as He has revealed Himself to us. Maybe I failed at points, which would not be the first, nor the last time. Pax!

  23. Matt Foreman says:

    Rich, Would you say that Michael Horton, Scott Oliphint, and others – were they Reformed Baptist – should be considered outside the pale of confessional subscription? Do you consider Sam’s statements (whether or not he still holds them) to be outside of acceptable subscription? Or is this an area you would be willing to grant leeway and still associate together?

  24. Nathanael says:

    So, a bit off topic, would I be correct in thinking that we should draw a pretty hard distinction between the voluntarism/actualism of Barth (God self-determining his own nature) and the voluntarism of fine folks like John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and Gregory of Rimini (which has more to do with the way God acts in and rules over creation)? Did I get that right?

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I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve. (Romans 16:17-18)

 

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