Martin W. Bender
It’s taken me a while to get through this book. It deals with a subject I’ve not thought terribly deeply on and thus I’ve reread most of the book and probably have gone through the whole thing twice. I can understand the concern for upholding the Classical understanding of God when it is being challenged in both academic and popular writing. It’s certainly a little telling that I’ve not been challenged on the subject in over ninety hours of graduate study. This is an area (theology proper) that deserves more careful consideration from pastors like me as it ultimately effects the ministry I perform.
Closing Comments and Affirmations and Denials by Ronald S. Baines and Charles J. Rennie
Open and Process Theism and the influence they have in today’s theology are the primary cause of the rise of alternative interpretations of divine impassibility. Both these positions hold that God is not atemporal and eternal as he has been classically understood, rather that his nature possesses potentiality regarding creation. Criticism that an impassible God is somehow cold and distant springs from the idea that God’s experience of emotions is the same as man’s. This is a grave error. Man’s emotions are like God’s, but his are not like ours. Both Open and Process Theism fail to properly understand the Creator/creation distinctive and ultimately make God in the image of man: passible.
In this final chapter, there is a list of affirmations and denials that is most helpful. It lists all the positions discussed through the course of the book and succinctly reviews them. For those interested in reading the book, I recommend beginning with the affirmations and denials first to understand the perspective of the writers. I probably would have gotten through the book more quickly had I done so.
I must say; I agree with affirmation 24.
Appendix 1: Charles J. Rennie’s Review of God with Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God by K. Scott Oliphint
I’ve not read Oliphint’s book, but I have enjoyed the articles I’ve seen by him and the interviews I’ve listened to. I’m a little surprised he holds to an alternative view of impassibility. I agree with the review’s criticism that there needn’t be a new theological category created to answer Open and Process Theism as Classical Theism, as it’s been traditionally held, stands up better under criticism and has greater biblical support than today’s alternatives. When the Hellenization criticism is accepted of Classical Theism then it makes sense to attempt an answer that allows for covenant passions, but since that criticism is questionable at best there remains little reason to abandon the biblical and historically supported position.
Appendix 2: James E. Dolezal’s Review of God is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion by Rob Lister
Unlike Oliphint, I’ve not heard of Lister. That doesn’t mean a whole lot as I’m just beginning to seriously explore Reformed theologians. The review points to the greatest issue I have with passibility or altered views of impassibility, namely, that in any such view God cannot be rightly thought of as atemporally eternal. That might not be a big deal for many people, but once God’s atemporality is removed so too is his eternity, omniscience, omni anything, really. And that’s a problem because the Bible describes God in these ways. Any position that denies God’s perfection in all things must be dismissed as unbiblical and outside Christian thought.
As I put Confessing the Impassible God on the shelf, relegating it to reference use for the foreseeable future, I find myself moving ever closer to becoming confessional. My own theological journey departed from its projected course quite a while ago during post-work conversations at UPS, Bible studies at Arifjan, and in my own kitchen working on papers for school. I’ve gone from refusing to sign a membership card at my church to exploring the historic confessions and finding they are far more consistent theologically than anything I experienced in the non-denominational, anti-creedal world in which I was raised. As I continue to study I set my eye on a monster of text: Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. I can’t believe I’ve been a student of theology this long and still haven’t read what is commonly regarded as the most significant work of the Reformation. Well, it’s the 500th anniversary of old Martin Luther causing a ruckus next year… I better get this bad boy started.
Baines, Ronald S., Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, James M. Renihan eds. Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility. (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2015).