Reformed Baptist Fellowship

A Brief Statement on Divine Impassibility

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on January 17, 2015 at 6:05 pm

1689 Chapter 2

 

A standard definition of the doctrine of divine impassibility (DDI) asserts that God does not experience emotional changes either from within or effected by his relationship to creation. He is not changed from within or without; he remains unchanged and unchanging both prior to and subsequent to creation. The doctrine of divine impassibility is generally treated under the doctrine of immutability in the standard books on systematic theology. Immutability means that God is without change. The Scripture is clear on the doctrine of immutability (see Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17) and the logic regarding impassibility should be clear: if God is unchangeable, then He is impassible. If God did in fact experience inner emotional changes, He would be mutable. To suggest otherwise would be to affirm that God was less than perfect to begin with: if He changes it is either for the better or for the worse, neither of which is consistent with the biblical data concerning God.

What the Doctrine Does Not Mean

The doctrine of divine impassibility does not mean that God is without affections. The Bible is clear: God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). The Bible consistently teaches that God does relate to His creatures in terms of love, goodness, mercy, kindness, justice and wrath. An affirmation of divine impassibility does not mean a denial of true affections in God. However, these descriptions of God’s character are not to be understood as changing or fluctuating things. For example, the 2 London Confession of Faith of 1677/1689 affirms impassibility (God is “without passions”) and then goes on to describe God as “most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute…most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth…” The affirmation of impassibility does not result in removing affections from God; rather, the affirmation of impassibility upholds the fact that God is most loving because He cannot decrease nor increase; He is love! The doctrine of divine impassibility actually stresses the absolute-ness of affections in God.

Objections to the Doctrine

Some modern authors have challenged the classical doctrine of impassibility. While there are several reasons for this, two of the most persuasive ones seem to be (1) the biblical descriptions of change occurring in God and (2) the fact that Jesus Christ suffered.

In the first place, when Scripture speaks of change occurring in God, these passages do not describe actual inner emotional changes in God, but rather these passages are a means whereby God communicates “in the manner of men” so that He can effectively reveal His unchanging character to man. For instance, when Scripture speaks of God “repenting” (Genesis 6:6; Judges 2:18; 10:16; etc.), these are called anthropopathic statements. An anthropopathism is when the biblical author ascribes human emotion to God. While this may be a new word to many, most Christians are familiar with the word anthropomorphism. An anthropomorphism is used by the biblical authors when they ascribe human characteristics to God; i.e. when the Scripture says God has eyes, or a mighty right arm, or that He comes down to dwell on Mount Sinai (2 Chronicles 16:9; Isaiah 62:8; Exodus 19:20). Such descriptions are accommodations to man that are designed to communicate certain truths to man. In the same way, anthropopathisms are not descriptions of actual change in God, but are a means to communicate something concerning the character of the infinite God to man in language designed to be comprehended by man who is limited by his finite capacities.

Secondly, the sufferings that Jesus Christ went through were real. He was despised and rejected by men, He was betrayed by Judas, delivered into the hands of the Romans, and at the request of the unbelieving Jews, He was crucified. It is important to remember that Jesus Christ was unique: He is one glorious Person with two natures, human and divine. Christianity from the New Testament period on always predicated the suffering of Christ to His human nature. In other words, Christ as God did not suffer and die, but Christ as Man. There are not two Christs, but one Christ who has two natures. To confine the suffering and death of Christ to His humanity protects divine impassibility. Conversely, impassibility protects from the notion of a God who suffers and dies.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there is much more that can be said. The goal with this post is simply to provide a basic definition, explanation, and to highlight why the doctrine is essential. It is crucial to understand that it is the doctrine of impassibility that secures God’s relational character to His creatures; it alone provides the foundation for the confession’s declaration that God is “most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute…most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth…”

Jim Butler, Pastor
Free Grace Baptist Church of Chilliwack
.
  1. This was very well done. Thank you, Bro. Jim.

  2. An excellent, simple, and introductory statement on Divine Impassibility. Perhaps the clearest I’ve ever read. Thanks!

  3. Thank you Pastor Butler!

  4. I’m skeptical of this easy equivalence of anthropomorphisms such as ‘the Lord’s right hand’ or the ‘arm of the Lord’ with ‘anthropopathisms’ such as wrath and regret. Clearly the formerly are literary and metaphorical, but not therefore false. They are not misleading or deceptive, so long as they are understood correctly. But I think to say one anthro-ism functions like any other anthro-ism is just to beg the question. (You haven’t really defended that way of viewing these things, and anyway I don’t think it is so obvious.) And what does Paul mean when he speaks of grieving the holy spirit (Eph 4:30)? You seem to say that this is not false – you affirm that ‘God’ has affections – but also that it doesn’t represent change. So is ‘God’ eternally and unchangeably grieved? Is he perfectly and absolutely grieved? And also love? I think impassibility is traditionally articulated as follows: God has affections but they are not passive. That is, he is not affected from without. To be passible means to undergo from without. It isn’t specifically about emotions, but about passive (caused from without) reactions to external phenomena. Also: what is an ‘absolute affection?’ Are affections maximizable? I think it means affections which contain no passive potentiality. Honestly though, I can’t see how this definition isn’t an abstraction that leads to contentless parity among all divine affections: all divine affections reduce to creaturely talk about ‘God’ which is not actually theology.

    I’ll also point out that according to the communicatio idiomatum, what is predicated of one nature of Christ may not be attributed to the other nature; but whatever is attributed to either nature may be attributed to the person. And it is the divine person of the Son of God who assumes human nature. To put it another way: we will worship Christ in the flesh, and it was right and good to do so before his ascension. That means that holiness,even godliness, is attributable to the person in the flesh, not to the person despite the flesh. Are you saying that we should deny that the Son of God suffered? That the son of God underwent humiliation and exaltation? Aren’t these changes? I agree that there is no change in the divine essence. But I feel like, despite the difficulties in the way you’ve phrased things (1. are they affections or not? 2. what about the communicatio?), the approach you’re taking to impassibility is awfully stifling to theology.

  5. Fantastic piece. Should be read by all who question divine impassibility.

  6. “Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture, attributed to the person denominated by the other nature.” Thanks!

  7. I can affirm, with the author above, that God’s affective virtue is unchangeable. That is, he never becomes more or less loving, more or less gracious, more or less angry at sin, and so on. So God’s affections cannot substantively wax or wane.

    Yet it seems to me that God can change the way he relates towards changing states of affairs in time and that God’s changed relationships (ad extra) are expressions of real affections (e.g., love, anger, delight, zeal, compassion, etc.). Hence, God’s affectional posture toward mankind before the Fall was one of delight (Gen 1:31). However, God’s affectional posture toward mankind after the Fall was one of grief (Gen 6:5).

    While these different affections towards different states of affairs represent no substantial change in God’s intrinsic affective virtue, they do reflect real extramental (not just subjective) distinctions. In the words of Morton Smith (who subscribes to the Westminster Standards without exception),

    With the creation of the world [God] sustains new relations to it. With the entrance of sin, the new relations of wrath and displeasure are displayed, whereas in the Gospel God reveals grace and mercy to the sinner. Our best understanding of these apparent changes in God is that they are changes in relations, but are not changes in his nature or purposes. It may be shown that the same attribute of his nature, which on the one hand demands goodness be displayed to the good, demands wrath be shown to the sinner, and in turn pours out mercy on the objects of his grace (Systematic Theology, 1:132-22).

    Cornelius Van Til, late professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, agrees and writes, “We need at this point to be fearlessly anthropomorphic.” By this Van Til does not mean we should deny or explain away change predicated of God. Quite the opposite! In his words,

    We need not fear to say that God’s attitude has changed with respect to mankind. We know well enough that God in himself is changeless. But we hold that we are able to affirm that our words have meaning for no other reason than that we use them analogically (Common Grace and the Gospel (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1974), 73.)

    While these writers reject any notion of change predicated of God’s essence or nature, they seem to allow that God may change the way he relates to a world of change. Such change in the way God relates to a changing world is an entailment of His immutability, not a contradiction to it.

  8. Another thought.

    One of the sentences in the article on impassibility that stands out to me is this one: “It is the doctrine of impassibility that secures God’s relational character to His creatures.”

    That sounds comforting, but is it really true?

    Some philosophical theologians I’ve read argue that the classical view does not secure God’s relational character to his creatures. Ryan Mullins, for example, argues that classical theists in fact deny that God can properly relate to the creature. He cites Boethius who says, “Relation … cannot be predicated at all of God; for substance in him is not really substantial but supersubstantial” (The Trinity Is One God Not Three Gods IV). Then Mullins cites Aquinas who, following Aristotle’s notion of relations, writes,

    Now certain relations are said of God anew: for instance that He is Lord or governor of a thing which begins anew to exist. Wherefore, if a relation were predicated for God as really existing in Him, it would follow that something accrues to God anew, and consequently that He is changed either essentially or accidentally (Summa Contra Gentiles II.12).

    Since Aquinas denies that God can have accidental properties, he argues that the relations ascribed to him (e.g.s., Creator, Lord, Redeemer) “are not really in Him, and yet are predicated of Him, it remains that they are ascribed to Him only to our way of understanding” (Summa Contra Gentiles II.12-14).

    If this is true, thinks Mullins, then “relational predicates do not apply to God at all, but only exist in our minds.” Therefore,

    When [a Christian] sings, “Lord my Creator,” she is intending to actually refer to God. But on the picture that we have from Aquinas, this is not the case. When singing “Lord my Creator,” she is not referring to God. The phrase from the song does not apply to any extramental reality. Instead it is only stating something about the creature.

    See his “In Search of a Timeless God” (PhD Diss.; University of St. Andrews, 2013), 111-18.

    If Mullins is correct, it would seem that we must also interpret phrases like “God’s relational character to His creatures” as anthropomorphisms. God isn’t really or properly our Creator, Lord, and Redeemer. Such are just metaphors that say something about us, but nothing about Him. So when we exhort one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, we’re really not teaching ourselves and others truth about God but truth about ourselves, namely, we’re just singing about our dependence on the Ineffable One.

    Thoughts?

  9. One more thought. This one relates to the atonement.

    If, as the article above argues, God “is not changed from within or without” and if we are to take that to mean we may not predicate of God any change whatsoever whether intrinsic or extrinsic–not even relational change–how do we explain the propitiatory work of Jesus Christ?

    Doesn’t the atonement mean Jesus appeased God’s wrath and satisfied God’s justice? And if we say God’s wrath was averted by Christ’s vicarious sacrifice, aren’t we saying that in some sense God is affected or moved by the work of Christ? Or are we to say that the atonement of Christ only changed us or our circumstances?

  10. I the LORD do not change; therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed (oh, except for my emotions).

    Things God never said in parenthesis.

  11. Beware the Anthropopathite error that univocally attributes human passions to God!

  12. I don’t expect to encounter much agreement here, but let me point out that although autonomous speculation may do so, Scripture will never speak univocally, since its primary author is God. So even if Scripture appears to attribute things to God which are creaturely, we should remember that the Lord himself is the one who is using creaturely images to reveal himself, to impart true knowledge of himself. Those creaturely images are derivative and dependent . . . upon God. God can speak truthfully using the tools of human (created) language – which is nothing but created symbols – because he himself preceded all created things. The worry about univocism is a healthy one, but by the nature of the case revelation cannot commit univocism, since from Scripture’s point of view God is the first fact, the first thing known, the principium of all things, including creaturely knowledge. So when Scripture says He is lord or king or powerful or almighty or whatever, the implication is that these concepts and these realities were created in order to reveal God in the first place. So the analogy is the other way around! So if we say, ‘creaturely concepts cannot apply to God’, we’ve got things the wrong way around. We’re assuming that clear and certain knowledge of creaturely things comes BEFORE and INDEPENDENTLY of knowledge and confession of God. That means that we have knowledge of the world, and then, maybe, knowledge of God. But that isn’t Christian thinking! God is the primary, and all of creation is secondary and derivative of God.

    My point: the threat of univocism must be understood rightly. And in fact, many accusations of “univocism” are built upon a faulty notion of it, one which leads to mysticism, if one has the courage to follow it.

    When Scripture speaks of the ‘zeal’ of the Lord, we don’t have to explain this away. God’s image bearers also display zeal . . . by design. When we talk about ‘love’, what do we mean? Is this something completely different from the love of God, or the love which God is? Is it similar? Or should we not pretend to know what we mean when we say – echoing Scripture – that God is love? Rather, the entire creation is analogous. So, when used within the proper methodology or epistemological order – first the triune God and the authority of Scripture, then our knowledge of all other things – only then can we speak truly of God. And then we may say with Scripture that it was the zeal of the Lord that has done this (Isa 37:32).
    Oh, and I affirm divine impassibility.

  13. Let me say it another way. Man is image of God. That status among creatures is unique to man. But still, all of creation is in a similar way derivative of God and reveals him, clearly and unmistakably. This is just our doctrines of creation and general revelation (Ps 19, Rom 1, and so on). When all of this – general revelation – is pondered apart from special revelation, we have the situation described in Rom 3: no one seeks God, no one knows God, and the truth is perpetually and consistently suppressed by the sinner in all his activities (Rom 1). But when all this is viewed through special revelation (Scripture), it is viewed properly, as revelation of the God of the Bible. It is important to note that it is Scripture, functioning as our interpretive principle, that makes this possible; at no point does a subjective status of regeneration alone enable the individual image-bearer to interpret nature aright. This is because we are still mixed creatures, in the sense of Rom 7. At glorification Scripture will be unnecessary, as we will be fully regenerate and free from sin (non posse peccare). This is our interpretive mechanism, or epistemology, whatever you want to call it: all things interpreted rightly when viewed through Scripture. And this mechanism makes theology possible. Without affirmed that all things are created by the triune God and all things reveal him, which is a premise provided by special revelation, we will find, as philosophy as affirmed in numerous ways, that talk about ‘God’ reduces to autobiography, or fantasy, or psychology, or anthropology, or phenomenology of religion, etc. The firs fact of theology is that God has spoken; but notice that God has spoken in human language, language that we understand. He has imparted true knowledge of himself via created means: human concepts, created images, linguistic tools, etc. This is truly a great wonder, but without it there is no true religion and no true theology. So to simplify, the first fact of theology is GOD. This order gives us a proper notion of analogy, one which grounds and vindicates even the Lord’s own use of creaturely expressions to impart true knowledge of himself.

    So the question is whether these utterances which attribute creaturely things to God are true, or only ‘anthropo-whatever’. My view, as best as I can put it to date, is that we ought to recognize that this question is actually about all communication from God whatsoever, so that we aren’t really talking about only a few inconvenient passages which attribute passions to God, but about all of revelation and the vindication of theology. It’s an issue, an most pointed issue, of prolegomena.

  14. Nate: “So the question is whether these utterances which attribute creaturely things to God are true, or only ‘anthropo-whatever’.”

    DSM: The Anthropomorphite heretics (who deny anthropomorphisms) agreed with Nate completely on this.

    Nate: “Clearly the formerly [anthropomorphisms] are literary and metaphorical, but not therefore false. They are not misleading or deceptive, so long as they are understood correctly. But I think to say one anthro-ism functions like any other anthro-ism is just to beg the question.”

    DSM: The Anthropomorphites did not concede to “clearly” and could accuse Nate of “begging the question” on his orthodox anthropomorphism. Besides, wouldn’t the fairest presumption be that if Scripture speaks of God in anthropo-figurative terms with respect to human and creaturely body parts, that we could expect the same of human and creaturely comparisons in other respects? The burden of proof lies with those who deny this.

    Ironically, what Nate gives with one hand he takes away with the other. When he juxtaposes “true” with “anthropo-whatever” he falls into the hermeneutical error of the Anthropomorphites which he condemns. Thus he condemns his own position.

    Adapting Nate’s own words, I say: “Clearly the latter [anthropopathisms] are literary and metaphorical, but not therefore false. They are not misleading or deceptive, so long as they are understood correctly. And this is not begging the question at all, but following the analogia scriptura and analogia fide, governing our interpretation of particular texts by other texts and by the whole system of doctrine derived from Holy Scripture and consistent with sound reason.” This is not “going out on a limb” theologically, but only the prevalent understanding of our Reformed tradition. See the new book, “God Without Passions: A Reader,” edited by Samuel Renihan, for illustration and vindication of this point.

    http://www.rbap.net/our-books/god-without-passions-by-samuel-renihan/

    Here’s a quote to consider from an opposing theologian/philosopher, Ryan Mullins, apparently esteemed by some participating in this dialogue. In his essay “Something Much Too Radical to Believe: Towards a Refutation of Divine Simplicity”, he wrote:

    “What, if anything is lost by getting rid of divine simplicity? As far as I can tell what is lost is unnecessary incoherence within Christian theology. One might be concerned that this will require one to offer a completely new understanding of God. In fact, that is a major theme in contemporary Christian theology” (in footnote 81).

    http://www.academia.edu/572124/Something_Much_Too_Radical_To_Believe_Towards_a_Refutation_of_Divine_Simplicity

    DSM: Except for the remark about incoherence, I think Mr. Mullins is right. I wish that all the opponents of the divine simplicity would see and admit that.

    And for myself, I reject the “completely new understanding of God” being proposed by the modern opponents of divine simplicity.

  15. This is the same point I make in my 4th essay, namely, that in a broader sense, all language about God is anthropomorphic because all revelation about God is analogical.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  16. Dr. Bob as I recall, you would not allow for the use of Anthropopathisms – have you changed your view?

  17. Dr. Bob,
    Would you clarify your position? Are you therefore suggesting that God has accidental properties (i.e., relational properties or whatever you prefer to call them) and that these properties may change without the nature or essence (“affective virtue”) of God changing? Do you believe that it is also necessary to modify the classical and confessional doctrine of divine simplicity? Do you believe that God is absolutely and ontologically immutable or is he merely ethically immutable –– some variation of the view that limits the discussion to the constancy of his character (or “affectional virtue”)?

    PS, I think that you (Mullins?) have misunderstood what Aquinas (and others) have meant by the assertion that there is no “relation” in God. Also – Yes, all language about God is analogical, but not all language is anthropopathic or anthropomorphic. Either way, truth is communicated, but not the same way in every predication. Yes, it is a matter of prolegomena, but which one? A vague and broad sweeping notion of analogy, a kind of analogical proviso that can be made to function as a cloak for serious error, will not do.

    Respectfully,
    Chuck

  18. Who wrote this?

    “Impassibility is the most dubious of the divine attributes discussed in classic theism, because it suggests that God does not experience sorrow, sadness or pain.
    The theme of suffering strongly brings out God’s openness to the world. Not aloof and impassive, God does not just imagine what it would be like to suffer, he actually suffers because of his decision to love.
    … We could say that God is impassible in his nature but passible in his experience of the world. Change occurs in the world and affects God when he becomes aware of it.”

  19. Nate, you stated, in your argument regarding the communicatio idiomatum: “That the son of God underwent humiliation and exaltation? Aren’t these changes? I agree that there is no change in the divine essence…”

    It is difficult to track with your argument regarding Christology, and to ascertain whether or not you understand the communicatio properly. Would you disagree with Cyril and Calvin when they write?:

    “[The eternal Word] subjected himself to birth for us, and came forth man from a woman without casting off that which he was…although he assumed flesh and blood, he remained what he was, God in essence and in truth…For although visible and a child in swaddling clothes, and even in the bosom of his virgin mother, he filled all creation as God, and was a fellow-ruler with him who begat him, for the Godhead is without quantity and dimension, and cannot have limits.” (Cyril of Alexandria, The Epistle of Cyril to Nestorius with the Xii Anathematisms)

    “Another absurdity . . . namely, that if the Word of God became incarnate, [he] must have been confined within the narrow prison of an earthly body, is sheer impudence! For even if the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be born in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, to hang upon the cross, yet he continually filled the earth even as he had done from the beginning.” (Calvin, Institutes, 2.13.4)

  20. brothers, thanks for this thoughtful engagement. Apart from being immediately and superficially associated with various heretics – an unscholarly, unhelpful, juvenile tactic – I’m thankful for the helpful pushback.

    D. Scott,

    Thanks for your response. Difficult to respond to each detail. Let me try restating my hermeneutical point relative to anthropomorphism in Scripture. I honestly think that you can agree with it from your position. Dr. Bob said that in a broad sense all language about God is anthropomorphic. I agree with that. I believe that this is in part what we mean by ‘revelation’, and that therefore the anti-anthro-ism’ principle is untenable.

    So, think of ANY statement about God: he created the heavens and the earth, he loves his people, he is sovereign, he overlooks no sin; how can any of this be understood unless we recognize that it has been made understandable to us, and that we have to depend upon our own epistemic equipment to apprehend any part of it? And if that is true, we cannot embrace a hermeneutic principle which says that anything anthropomorphic must be explained away or whatever. We need to be more sophisticated hermeneutically.

    You stated that the anthropomorphite heretics agreed with me. I’m sure they agreed with me about many things – 75 is a great temperature, older men are wiser than younger men, golf is boring – and anyway, all I am trying to do there is raise question about this principle that anthropomorphism about God is a kind of baptized Feuerbachianism. (I’ll show you heresy!)

    I’m trying to say two things: (1) we have to be more careful hermeneutically: the “arm of the Lord” is not a priori the same kind of locution as “grieving the Holy Spirit” or “the wrath of God” or “the zeal of the Lord”. I think it’s dangerous to assume those statements are of a kind. And (2) I’m trying to point out that all knowledge of God is ‘accommodated’ or anthropomorphic, because WE CREATURES, we anthropoi, are the knowers. This anthropo-condescension is already in our doctrine of revelation and our doctrine of the knowledge of God.

    Look at it this way: HOW DO YOU KNOW about God, that he is immutable? How do you know that God is simple? If you say “because he is pure act,” you are begging the question/kicking the epistemological can down the road; if you say, “the history of metaphysics” or “the meanings of those terms,” then you are on theologically dubious ground. If you say, “exegesis,” then I am with you, and I say that this principle – all anthropomorphism is poetry or metaphor whatever – lacks exegetical support. But I am open to hearing the exegetical arguments for it. I am less interested in hearing about substance/accident composition, since this philosophy – as helpful as it may be – does not wield dogmatic authority in our theology.

    Cameron P.,

    Thanks for the response. Those quotes are helpful, but I don’t see what they are meant to prove. They are in perfect agreement with what I am affirming about the communicatio. Are you concerned that I am diminishing the divine nature somehow, or denying the extra calvinsiticum, as a Lutheran would? No worries, brother. Not in the slightest.

    Do you agree with Calvin, when he writes: “infants cannot be deprived of it [baptism] without open violation of the will of God” (Inst.4, 16, 8).

    Just kidding…

  21. Brothers,

    Sorry for the pause. Didn’t mean to ignore your questions, but I’m in the middle of a theological module on missions and have been tied up. When you have time, I’d appreciate your prayers for Dr James Adams (former missionary to Latin America and currently pastoring in Mesa, Arizona) and for Missionary Trevor Johnson (currently serving in Papua Indonesia). These men are lecturing through Thursday on a number of topics related to world missions. Tonight’s messages by Dr Adams were excellent, and tomorrow he’ll begin with the topic “Calvinism and Missions.” We hope to edit and make these lectures accessible to the public.

    Now I’ll try to address some of your questions and clarify my present understanding of some of the issues. It’s late, and I may have to return when I have more time.

  22. Re: Univocism

    Above Scott Meadows says, “Beware the Anthropopathite error that univocally attributes human passions to God!” Brother, we’re you directing that warning to me? Maybe not.

    In any case, I have consistently rejected the notion that language about God is univocal and have repeatedly affirmed that language about God is analogical (click here and see pages 5-6). If someone can show me where I’ve said otherwise, please let me know.

  23.  Re: Anthropopathisms, Anthropomorphisms, and Analogical Predication

    David asks me, “Do you now allow for anthropopathisms? Didn’t you formerly Disallow that?” Then Chuck remarks, “Yes, all language is analogical, but not all language is anthropopathic or anthropomorphic.”

    David, I don’t recall ever disallowing for the use of “anthropopathism” in theological discourse. I view an anthropopathism as a subset or species of analogical revelation, which is the kind of revelation I have insisted on. Can you help me by citing a place where I disallow any use of anthropopathisms in theological discourse?

    Chuck, I’m willing to acknowledge a distinction between anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms in the narrow sense (confined to physical parts and emotional capacities ascribed to God) as distinguished from analogical revelation in general. Nevertheless, I also believe it’s appropriate to speak of anthropomorphism in the broader sense as another way of denominating the analogical character of God’s revelation to humanity. In this broad sense, all revelation about God is “anthropomorphic.” Why?

    First, God uses “anthropos-language” as the vehicle for his covenantal self-disclosure (which is self-evident). As Nate Shannon noted above, God didn’t pick human language as an imperfect or defective tool and make do. Rather, God purposely designed human language to reveal himself to His image (Gen 1:26-27).

    Secondly, as Nate pointed out above, “anthropo-predicates” aren’t limited to human body parts or human emotions. For example, God describes himself to mankind as father, lord, helper, king, provider, shepherd, warrior, and so on. These are not human body parts or passions. But they’re all predicated of God because man, as God’s image, is God’s analogue.

    The very notion of analogical predication assumes neither exact sameness nor total discorrespondence. It assumes, rather, likeness or analogy. God is like mankind and mankind is like God because man is God’s image, his visible replica and representative on the earth.

    Hope this helps to clarify?

    It’s late and I’ve got to retire. When I have time, I’ll answer some of the other questions.

    Grace and peace.

  24. Dr. Bob,

    Thank you for your response thus far.

    So, all language about God is analogical. With all respect, so what? In this regard, the classical and confessional articulation of the doctrine of impassibility is in agreement. Of course it is significant how we define “analogical” beyond “neither exact sameness nor total discorrespondence.” This is correct, but it is so general that even an open theist could adhere to it (Gregory Boyd actually makes this claim). Moreover, if I could press David’s question further, are anthropopathisms merely a subset of analogical predication that happen to be about emotions, or are they a subset that, like anthropomorphisms, communicate truth about God metaphorically/figuratively? If merely the former, then David would be correct that you do not allow for the use of anthropopathisms in any traditional sense. However, the classical and confessional doctrine assumes the latter distinction.

  25. Re: God Not Changing

    Bill cites Malachi 3:6 – “I the LORD do not change; therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed”; then he adds “(oh, except for my emotions)” and remarks, “Things God never said in parenthesis.” On a related note, Chuck wants to know whether I believe God is ontologically immutable or just ethically immutable.

    Let me summarize how I’ve interpreted Malachi 3:6, and how I apply it to the questions of God’s immutability and his affections/emotions.

    Malachi 3:6 and God’s Immutability

    This passage occurs in a context in which the prophet portents the coming of Yahweh in salvation and judgment and urges his fellow Israelites to prepare themselves for that day by repenting of their sins. The verse consists of a subordinate clause and an independent clause: “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (ESV). I’ve italicized the key phrase (“I the Lord do not change”) that supports the doctrine of divine immutability. We must now inquire precisely what kind of immutability or unchangeableness the text assigns to God.

    Most commentators agree that, in the larger context, the reference is to God’s covenant promises. For this reason, the New English Translation renders it, “Since, I, the LORD, do not go back on my promises, you, sons of Jacob, have not perished.” Yet, we may rightly infer that the unchangeableness of God’s promises is predicated on the immutability of God’s own being and moral character. As C. F. Keil remarks, “The true members of the people of God … do not perish, because their existence rests upon the promise of the unchangeable God (cf. Rom. xi. 28, 29).” “God reasons from his own nature,” says Calvin, and “disclaims all inconsistency.”

    To this glorious truth I give a hearty “Amen!”

    So it would seem, Chuck, — to answer your question above — I affirm God’s ontological immutability as well as his ethical immutability. God cannot change for better or for worse, He cannot become more or less Deity. God is the epitome of perfect “God-ness,” which is the great truth highlighted in his use of the majestic or honorific plural Elohim.

    Malachi 3:6 and God’s Affections (or Emotions)

    So Malachi 3:6 is primarily referring to the immutability of God’s moral virtue. Yet, it’s not incorrect to infer from this the immutability of God’s essential nature. How does this apply to God’s affective or emotive capacity?

    To answer that question we need a working definition of affections and emotions. It’s not enough simply to call affections or emotions “attributes” — they certainly are that. But how should we understand them more precisely? I have elsewhere argued that affections/emotions are cognitive, volitional, and moral in nature. Moreover, they are what motivate a person to act or respond in different situations. Here’s how I put it:

    Emotions involve one’s perception of reality. Moreover, they are ethical in nature and, therefore, value based. Emotional capacity is the quality of being inclined toward or disinclined from some object, person, or state of affairs relative to one’s cognitive perception and moral judgment. Emotions or affections are not the same as moral virtues, but they often serve as the expressions of moral virtues. Furthermore, emotions or affections are often what motivate one’s actions or behavior (click here, page 4).

    Now I think this serves as a helpful definition of human affections or emotions. But can we apply this ANALOGICALLY to God?

    I think we can so long as we do so in a way that doesn’t attribute any imperfection to him. After all, divine emotion or affection is the archetype of human emotion or affection, which is the ectype. Human emotions or affections were not designed by God in order to cloud or confuse our understanding of what God is like. Rather, they were purposely designed to provide us with some ANALOGY of the way in which God, as a moral being, feels. More precisely, I’ve suggested that “God’s emotions are his cognitive and affective evaluations of the world and [they] characterize his responses to the good or to the evil” (click here, page 8).

    Fine and well. But Bill and Chuck want to know whether I think divine affections or emotions change, as in the case of human affections or emotions. I apologize for invoking a Van Tillian paradox here, but I would answer, “No” and “Yes.” Let me explain.

    God’s Affections Remain the Same in Himself

    God’s affections/emotions are utterly and unchangeably perfect. Because God’s affections/emotions are rooted in God’s moral character and belong to his divine essence, they’re not subject to the vicissitudes and fluctuations, the ebbs and flows that often characterize human affections/emotions. As Phil Johnson remarks, God is not subject “mood swings” (See his “God Without Mood Swings: Recovering the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility.”). And since God is impassible, he cannot “undergo” affections or emotions as a passive victim. His affections and emotions are not passive properties but active expressions of who God is.

    Furthermore, showing love to fallen humanity doesn’t make God more or less loving. Manifesting anger toward the sinner doesn’t increase or decrease his holy hatred for evil. Expressing compassion to the soul in need doesn’t augment or detract from the fullness of divine compassion. God’s affections, like his knowledge, holiness, goodness, truth, etc., are incapable of waxing and waning. In the words of Kevin DeYoung,

    To be immutable is not to be motionless. God is always active, always dynamic, always relational.,,, It is because God is so completely full of action that he cannot change. He is love to the maximum at every moment. He cannot change because he cannot possibly be more loving, or any more just, or any more good. God cares for us, but it is not a care subject to spasms or fluctuations of intensity. His kindness is not capable of being diminished or augmented (“Tis Mystery All, the Immortal Dies: Why the Gospel of Christ’s Suffering is More Glorious Because God Does Not Suffer” (2010): 9).

    In this sense, Bill, we may place God’s affections or emotions under the semantic umbrella of the theological point made in Malachi 3:6. And Chuck, whether or not my present understanding or depiction of the immutability of divine affections/emotions corresponds to Barth’s doctrine of “divine constancy,” I cannot tell. I’m sorry (embarrassed?) to say I’ve never read Barth’s treatment of theology proper so I have no idea what he teaches on divine immutability or what his “divine constancy” means over against the “classical language of impassibility.”

    God’s Affections Differ in Relation to Different Situations

    If the emotions Scripture writers ascribe to God are his cognitive-affective valuations of states of affairs, it shouldn’t surprise us when the Scripture writers attribute different affections to God in relationship to changing situations in the world. Thus, God’s cognitive-affective valuation of one state of affairs, such as the state of mankind before the fall, is different than God’s cognitive-affective valuation of another state of affairs, such as the state of mankind after the fall. In the first case, God assesses the pre-lapsarian world as “very good” (Gen 1:31). In the second case, God assesses the postlapsarian world as “very grievous” (Gen 6:6). Over the first state of affairs God expresses the affection of delight. Over the second state of affairs, God expresses the affection of displeasure. This is why Dr. Cornelius Van Till can say,

    We need not fear to say that God’s attitude has changed with respect to mankind. We know well enough that God in himself is changeless. But we hold that we are able to affirm that our words have meaning for no other reason than that we use them analogically (Common Grace and the Gospel, 73.)

    This is NOT a change in God’s ESSENCE. This is, I believe, a change in the way God RELATES to a changing world. God acts in time and space, and God’s acts are emotion-laden. Dr. Morton Smith seems to agree when he remarks,

    With the creation of the world [God] sustains new relations to it. With the entrance of sin, the new relations of wrath and displeasure are displayed, whereas in the Gospel God reveals grace and mercy to the sinner. Our best understanding of these apparent changes in God is that they are changes in relations, but are not changes in his nature or purposes. It may be shown that the same attribute of his nature, which on the one hand demands goodness be displayed to the good, demands wrath be shown to the sinner, and in turn pours out mercy on the objects of his grace (Systematic Theology, 1:132-22).

    Bill and Chuck, do you brothers agree with Cornelius Van Til and Morton Smith? Or do you believe Van Til and Smith are undermining the classical doctrine of impassibility by ascribing relational changes to God?

    Respectfully yours

  26. Re: God Not Changing

    Bill cites Malachi 3:6 – “I the LORD do not change; therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed”; then he adds “(oh, except for my emotions)” and remarks, “Things God never said in parenthesis.” On a related note, Chuck wants to know whether I believe God is ontologically immutable or just ethically immutable.

    Let me summarize how I’ve interpreted Malachi 3:6, and how I apply it to the questions of God’s immutability and his affections/emotions.

    Malachi 3:6 and God’s Immutability

    This passage occurs in a context in which the prophet portents the coming of Yahweh in salvation and judgment and urges his fellow Israelites to prepare themselves for that day by repenting of their sins. The verse consists of a subordinate clause and an independent clause: “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (ESV). I’ve italicized the key phrase (“I the Lord do not change”) that supports the doctrine of divine immutability. We must now inquire precisely what kind of immutability or unchangeableness the text assigns to God.

    Most commentators agree that, in the larger context, the reference is to God’s covenant promises. For this reason, the New English Translation renders it, “Since, I, the LORD, do not go back on my promises, you, sons of Jacob, have not perished.” Yet, we may rightly infer that the unchangeableness of God’s promises is predicated on the immutability of God’s own being and moral character. As C. F. Keil remarks, “The true members of the people of God … do not perish, because their existence rests upon the promise of the unchangeable God (cf. Rom. xi. 28, 29).” “God reasons from his own nature,” says Calvin, and “disclaims all inconsistency.”

    To this glorious truth I give a hearty “Amen!”

    So it would seem, Chuck, — to answer your question above — I affirm God’s ontological immutability as well as his ethical immutability. God cannot change for better or for worse, He cannot become more or less Deity. God is the epitome of perfect “God-ness,” which is the great truth highlighted in his use of the majestic or honorific plural Elohim.

    Malachi 3:6 and God’s Affections (or Emotions)

    So Malachi 3:6 is primarily referring to the immutability of God’s moral virtue. Yet, it’s not incorrect to infer from this the immutability of God’s essential nature. How does this apply to God’s affective or emotive capacity?

    To answer that question we need a working definition of affections and emotions. It’s not enough simply to call affections or emotions “attributes” — they certainly are that. But how should we understand them more precisely? I have elsewhere argued that affections/emotions are cognitive, volitional, and moral in nature. Moreover, they are what motivate a person to act or respond in different situations. Here’s how I put it:

    Emotions involve one’s perception of reality. Moreover, they are ethical in nature and, therefore, value based. Emotional capacity is the quality of being inclined toward or disinclined from some object, person, or state of affairs relative to one’s cognitive perception and moral judgment. Emotions or affections are not the same as moral virtues, but they often serve as the expressions of moral virtues. Furthermore, emotions or affections are often what motivate one’s actions or behavior (click here, page 4).

    Now I think this serves as a helpful definition of human affections or emotions. But can we apply this ANALOGICALLY to God?

    I think we can so long as we do so in a way that doesn’t attribute any imperfection to him. After all, divine emotion or affection is the archetype of human emotion or affection, which is the ectype. Human emotions or affections were not designed by God in order to cloud or confuse our understanding of what God is like. Rather, they were purposely designed to provide us with some ANALOGY of the way in which God, as a moral being, feels. More precisely, I’ve suggested that “God’s emotions are his cognitive and affective evaluations of the world and [they] characterize his responses to the good or to the evil” (click here, page 8).

    Fine and well. But Bill and Chuck want to know whether I think divine affections or emotions change, as in the case of human affections or emotions. I apologize for invoking a Van Tillian paradox here, but I would answer, “No” and “Yes.” Let me explain.

    God’s Affections Remain the Same in Himself

    God’s affections/emotions are utterly and unchangeably perfect. Because God’s affections/emotions are rooted in God’s moral character and belong to his divine essence, they’re not subject to the vicissitudes and fluctuations, the ebbs and flows that often characterize human affections/emotions. As Phil Johnson remarks, God is not subject “mood swings” (See his “God Without Mood Swings: Recovering the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility.”). And since God is impassible, he cannot “undergo” affections or emotions as a passive victim. His affections and emotions are not passive properties but active expressions of who God is.

    Furthermore, showing love to fallen humanity doesn’t make God more or less loving. Manifesting anger toward the sinner doesn’t increase or decrease his holy hatred for evil. Expressing compassion to the soul in need doesn’t augment or detract from the fullness of divine compassion. God’s affections, like his knowledge, holiness, goodness, truth, etc., are incapable of waxing and waning. In the words of Kevin DeYoung,

    To be immutable is not to be motionless. God is always active, always dynamic, always relational.,,, It is because God is so completely full of action that he cannot change. He is love to the maximum at every moment. He cannot change because he cannot possibly be more loving, or any more just, or any more good. God cares for us, but it is not a care subject to spasms or fluctuations of intensity. His kindness is not capable of being diminished or augmented (“Tis Mystery All, the Immortal Dies: Why the Gospel of Christ’s Suffering is More Glorious Because God Does Not Suffer” (2010): 9).

    In this sense, Bill, we may place God’s affections or emotions under the semantic umbrella of the theological point made in Malachi 3:6. And Chuck, whether or not my present understanding or depiction of the immutability of divine affections/emotions corresponds to Barth’s doctrine of “divine constancy,” I cannot tell. I’m sorry (embarrassed?) to say I’ve never read Barth’s treatment of theology proper so I have no idea what he teaches on divine immutability or what his “divine constancy” means over against the “classical language of impassibility.”

    God’s Affections Differ in Relation to Different Situations

    If the emotions Scripture writers ascribe to God are his cognitive-affective valuations of states of affairs, it shouldn’t surprise us when the Scripture writers attribute different affections to God in relationship to changing situations in the world. Thus, God’s cognitive-affective valuation of one state of affairs, such as the state of mankind before the fall, is different than God’s cognitive-affective valuation of another state of affairs, such as the state of mankind after the fall. In the first case, God assesses the pre-lapsarian world as “very good” (Gen 1:31). In the second case, God assesses the postlapsarian world as “very grievous” (Gen 6:6). Over the first state of affairs God expresses the affection of delight. Over the second state of affairs, God expresses the affection of displeasure. This is why Dr. Cornelius Van Till can say,

    We need not fear to say that God’s attitude has changed with respect to mankind. We know well enough that God in himself is changeless. But we hold that we are able to affirm that our words have meaning for no other reason than that we use them analogically (Common Grace and the Gospel, 73.)

    This is NOT a change in God’s ESSENCE. This is, I believe, a change in the way God RELATES to a changing world. God acts in time and space, and God’s acts are emotion-laden. Dr. Morton Smith seems to agree when he remarks,

    With the creation of the world [God] sustains new relations to it. With the entrance of sin, the new relations of wrath and displeasure are displayed, whereas in the Gospel God reveals grace and mercy to the sinner. Our best understanding of these apparent changes in God is that they are changes in relations, but are not changes in his nature or purposes. It may be shown that the same attribute of his nature, which on the one hand demands goodness be displayed to the good, demands wrath be shown to the sinner, and in turn pours out mercy on the objects of his grace (Systematic Theology, 1:132-22).

    Bill and Chuck, do you brothers agree with Cornelius Van Til and Morton Smith? Or do you believe Van Til and Smith are undermining the classical doctrine of impassibility by ascribing relational changes to God?

    Respectfully yours

  27. Re: Analogical Language and Anthropomorphisms (again)

    Chuck doesn’t appear satisfied with my construal of analogical language and anthropomorphisms. “Even an open theist could adhere to it,” Chuck avers, offering Gregory Boyd as an example. Moreover, Chuck wants to know whether I view “anthropopathisms merely [as] a subset of analogical predication that happen to be about emotions” or whether I would classify them “a subset that, like anthropomorphisms, communicate truth about God metaphorically/figuratively.”

    I’m not sure I understand the distinction Chuck is making.

    Isn’t the statement “YHWH is my shepherd” an anthropomorphic metaphor? God isn’t a literal human shepherd-king (“shepherd” in the ANE is a royal metaphor). Nevertheless, God provides for us and protects us in ways analogous to the ways in which a human shepherd cares for his flock. Certainly, there are points of discorrespondence. But there are also points of correspondence.

    Similarly, in keeping with the language of analogy we may say “God is my Father” is a metaphor as we may say “God is compassionate” is a metaphor. Putting the two together, we can say with the Psalmist, “As a father pities his child, so the Lord pities those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13). Is this statement metaphorical? Yes, because it’s an analogical predication, not a univocal predication.

    Now I have no idea how my construal of analogical language and anthropo-predicates above puts me in the same category as an Open Theist like Gregory Boyd. Boyd may concede that anthropo-predicates are not strictly literal or univocal. But Boyd denies God’s absolute sovereignty and exhaustive omniscience. As a result, he feels free to place nearly all the emphasis on correspondence and to minimize discorrespondence when he interprets affective/emotive predicates ascribed to God.

    I hold dear the biblical truths of God’s absolute sovereignty and exhaustive omniscience. These are non-negotiables for me, and I confess them without qualification. For this reason I find Open Theism to be serious error and repugnant. That is why I have critiqued Open Theism as an unbiblical approach to divine impassibility and emotivity (click here).

    Is my view identical (univocal) with the classical view of impassibility? I’ve already denied that God is passive (passible) with respect to his affections/emotions, and I’ve confessed God’s essential immutability above. Yet I also affirm that God acts in time. With Michael Helm, I believe we may view God’s acts as “responses,” i.e., as in “God answers prayer.” Moreover, with Robert Dabney I’m willing to say that events in time and space “occasion” God’s responses. Finally, with Paul Helm I think God’s works are “impassioned, full of feeling.” That is, “the wrath of the Lord” doesn’t merely refer to the phenomenal effects of divine judgment but also to the divine aversion to sin that motivates the judgment.

    Brother, I hope this helps to clarify. Grace and peace

  28. I meant to say “Michael Horton” into the next to the last sentence. Yet Paul Helm also thinks we may view God’s acts in time as “responses.”

  29. May there be much joy in the presence of the angels as a result of those lectures, Dr. Bob! 🙂

  30. Bob, I agree that we perceive finite acts of God in time, space and matter which give us a glimpse into that immeasurable, immutable, eternal essence that He is as revelations of that unchanging essence that we may understand Him competently, but not in the sense that such “relational” moments in our finitude are able to be in any manner measurable of God; rather, they are measurable by our response to His decreed revelation of Himself at specific time, space and matter points.

    The measurement lies on our end; in Himself, there in nothing quantifiable in God, unless one can quantify infinity.

    To say that Malachi 3:6 speaks to only covenantal relations is to beg the use of a phrase that is not intended to convey only that relationship. It speaks to God in His intrinsic nature, to which nothing can be added or subtracted, either relationally (from His perspective, if I may be so bold as to imagine that one could actually see from such). Because He does not change by one jot or tittle of that which He has always been and will always remain, we (sons of Jacob intending the whole of those comprehended in the CoG) are not consumed.

    If He could change in any manner, that would not be a true statement, and since His promises are predicated upon His never changing, whether relationally ad extra or ad intra, we are not consumed.

    You will have to forgive me, as I have not the theological acumen of the giants I am speaking among, or the vocabulary, so I try to make my words as plain as I can.

    I would have to read more of those whom you quote in order to say whether I agree with them or not on these matters (and it is doubtful that I will any time soon, so I will not be able to answer whether I agree with them without such a chunk of context to evaluate the entirety of what they have to say about Theology Proper).

    Finally, in this short and inadequate response, I do believe we may view God’s acts in time, space and matter as responses, but that is, again, measured from our finite perspective of that which He decreed out of His immutable essence to give us a finite understanding of that which He never ceases to be, either relationally or otherwise.

    Language about God may, of necessity, all be analogical (language being a finite creation of His to communicate that which is infinite of Him in a manner which we can comprehend), but it is only analogical if we understand that it relates eternal, infinite, immutable, unchangeable aspects of our Creator which we would not otherwise understand, and the definition of God in our confession (as in all the orthodox creeds and confessions) necessarily precedes that of His decree, by which He communicates to, or “relates,” to use your language (which I admit to be good language, although probably not in the manner you do), for that which He decrees from who He unchangeably is, is that which is communicated to us in finite measure so that we can have some comprehension of who He is and how He not only relates to us, but how we are to relate to Him, and one another.
    Where the analogy breaks down is when we seek to make it fit from the imago dei, given to us in finite measure of representation of He who is unlike any, but has made us to be able to show, in similitude, infinitesimally that which He infinitely is.

    Anyhow, I will leave it to you big boys to communicate these things to one another. This is my feeble attempt at an answer. Pardon any redundancies I’ve stumbled over.

    Grace and peace to you as well – Bill H

  31. Bob,

    I agree that it would be inaccurate and unfair to place you or your view in the same category of an Open Theist like Gregory Boyd. That is precisely why I did not do that. I did, however, mention that Boyd claims also to hold to a general notion of analogy in order to demonstrate that it is what we mean by analogy, and how it is employed, that matters. The significance is easily demonstrated in that Boyd is an Open Theist with whom we could surely both agree to differ.

    You said with regard to analogical predication: “I’m not sure I understand the distinction Chuck is making.” I agree. Perhaps I could ask the question differently. Do you acknowledge the distinction between so-called proper and improper predication when it comes to divine affections/passions? If I understand you correctly, all language predicated of God is analogical, and therefore every human emotion has it’s archetype in God. But it can still be asked how the thing predicated exists in God. Proper predication, traditionally understood, speaks of something that formally exists in God, so that the “what-ness” or nature of the thing predicated exists in both God and man (e.g., love). Thus love stands in relation to the divine nature in manner proportionately similar to how loves stands in relation to the human nature.

    Improper predication, which is still analogical, speaks of something that figuratively exists in God, though it may formally exist in man. This is traditionally understood as anthropopathisms and anthropomorphisms, or figurative/metaphorical predication. For instance, you gave the example, “The Lord is my shepherd.” The what-ness (i.e, essence) of shepherd-ness is not in God formally, as it may be in a man, and yet there is something that corresponds to the likeness of a shepherd that is in God figuratively. “The hand of the Lord,” is another obvious example, and surely you would not say that God is the archetypal hand in any formal sense. And yet, figuratively, it still reveals something about God. Therefore, the question I proposed was whether or not you would affirm that those predications which speak of changing and suffering emotions in God are improper––figurative or metaphorical. This would mean for example, that “affliction” (Isa. 63) is not in God formally, but only figuratively. He is for his people in their affliction like a father is for his son in his affliction, yet without undergoing the essence of being afflicted. This is significantly more nuance than simply saying that God suffers affliction, but his affliction is analogical and thus not just like ours. How is it analogical? Should we speak of affliction, grief, etc. in the same way that we speak of God’s love, joy, etc.?

    My interest here is for the sake of clarification. The original post by Pastor Butler was sufficiently simple and straight forward, but your original comment seemed to be an attempt to provide a nuance and disagreement. You wrote, “Yet it seems to me that. . .” and my questions are asked in the interest of identifying the particular points of disagreement.

    So far I understand you to be saying that God’s affections are essential and not accidental (although you haven’t clarified this point yet; is this so?). Whatever definition you prefer for “affections,” would you affirm that whatsoever is in God is God, including his affections? Assuming divine simplicity, therefore, His affections must be infinite, eternal, and unchanging. His anger and love, for example, are infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. But, if I understand what you are saying, when a sinner is converted, God no longer relates to the sinner out of His anger but out of His love, and therefore changes the way he relates to that individual. However, is this a change of relation in God or just in the way He relates to the creature? Or, to state it another way, is this a change of relation in God, or merely a divinely effected change in the creature’s relation to the God who IS infinite love. Again, the difference is not insignificant.

    You have acknowledged in the past that your view differs from the classical view. Have you changed your view in the last year? Care to clarify other particular points of disagreement?

  32. Chuck,

    I’ll try to get to your questions above when I’m a little more free. The module on Missions is still running, and I’m pretty busy. In the meantime, maybe you could clarify a few things about your perspective on God’s affections. Just trying to make sure I understand your position and your questions to me.

    Above you place affections like “affliction” and “grief” in the category of “improper” while placing “love” and “joy” in the category of proper. In what category do you place God’s “anger” and “hatred”? Also, in light of Dr Shannon’s comments above, in which category does divine “zeal” belong?

  33. Chuck,

    One more thing. Above I cited Cornelius Van Til and Morton Smith in support of the notion that God changes the way he relates to changing states of affairs in the world. Do you think their construal of changes ascribed to God in Scripture is correct? Or do you believe their affirmation of relational change undermines the classic view of divine immutability and impassibility?

  34. Bill,

    Thanks for your gracious reply and humble thoughts. Let me assure you, brother, I don’t consider myself a theological giant. There is much terminology and theological nuance in these kinds of discussions that I’m still trying to grasp and am sure I’ll never grasp this side of glory. Indeed, I’m convinced we’ll never fully comprehend God and his ways–not even in glory.

    Grace and peace.

  35. Marie,

    Thanks for your prayers for the module. Learning from men who’ve been on the “front lines” and “in the trenches” of missionary endeavor is stimulating and challenging. So many multitudes who need the gospel. May the Lord raise up laborers!

  36. Bob,

    I read the post on your blog titled “Chuck” and actually wrote a response. Unfortunately, when you removed the post my response disappeared with it.

    In response to your question, I would consider “anger” and “hatred” as improper predication, justice and holiness as proper. “Zeal” is something I have not considered. I’d have to give more consideration to the question, “What is zeal?”

    In response to your question about Van Til and Morton Smith. As you said with respect to Barth, I have no opinion about the views of these men. I have not read Van Til on this subject as much as I would like and I have not read Morton Smith’s Systematic Theology at all. Nor am I familiar with the context from which your quotations were taken.

    You quoted Van Til, saying, “We need not fear to say that God’s attitude has changed with respect to mankind. We know well enough that God in himself is changeless. But we hold that we are able to affirm that our words have meaning for no other reason than that we use them analogically.” I would want to ask Prof. Van Til what he means by “we use them analogically.” Like Van TIl proposes, I do not have a problem with fearlessly speaking the language of faith (i.e., of Scripture), but we are nonetheless left with the question, “What does the Scripture intend when it speaks of a change in God?” Is it analogical? Yes. But what does he mean by that? I am not familiar enough with his view to know how he would flesh it out.

    You quoted Morton Smith, saying, “Our best understanding of these apparent changes in God is that they are changes in relations, but are not changes in his nature or purposes.” With the same qualifications, not having read Prof. Smith, I would want to ask him to flesh out what he means by “changes in relations.” Millard Erickson wrote an article a while back outlining the several ways in which some have attempted to speak of change in relation to God. After eliminating several options as unbiblical, he proposed that it may be legitimate to speak of changes of relation. Then he went on to clarify that although it often appears as though, or the Scripture speaks as though, there is a change of relation in God, it is rather a divinely effected change in the creature’s relation to God, and not in God himself. Would Prof. Smith make the same qualification? Again, I am not familiar enough with his view to know how he would flesh it out.

    All that being said, I am not interesting in how they would flesh it out. I am interested in how you would flesh it out. I concede that it is hypothetically possible, and perhaps ironic, that either or both of these men could, at this particular point, be outside the bounds of their own confessional standards. It is possible though it is not of great interest or concern to me.

    I will answer as straight forward as possible any question you have regarding my own view of impassibility. However, I would like to point out that I did not comment on this post in order to add anything new to the post. I am happy with it as it stands. If it helps you to know my view in order to clarify your own, that’s fine. And please do not grow annoyed with having to repeat yourself to me (“repeatedly”). I am listening, but I am not always clear on what you are or are not saying. Perhaps if you say it again, but differently, and as straight forward as possible, then I will get it.

    D.V.

  37. Chuck,

    The so-called “Post” on my blog wasn’t really a Post. I often use my WP Editor to format comments I post on other blogs so I can italicize, use block quotes, and so forth. I started typing a response to you and accidentally clicked “publish” instead of “save draft.” Thankfully, I caught the mistake soon and quickly removed it. I’m sorry that may have caused you the inconvenience of having to repeat yourself here.

    Re: Smith’s and Van Til’s affirmation of relational change

    I appreciate your hesitancy to condemn Morton Smith’s and Cornelius Van Til’s ascription of relational change to God until you’re sure you understand it. Would that we all would treat each other that way!

    I think I understand what Smith and Van Til are saying, and I believe it is what I have been trying to say (maybe not always as well as they do) when I’ve spoken or written of God changing the way he relates to changing states of affairs in creation. When the Scripture describes God as pleased with mankind before the fall (Gen 1:31) and displeased with mankind after the fall (Gen 6:6), the Bible is ascribing two different attitudes. Hence, the manifestation of God’s cognitive-affective valuation has changed.

    BTW, you once encouraged me to read more of Thomas Aquinas. I’ve taken your counsel. I would encourage you to read more of Cornelius Van Til. I find most of his critiques of Aquinas’ epistemology and apologetic method helpful.

    Re: Analogical vs. Anthropopathic, Proper vs. Improper

    Speaking of Thomas Aquinas. It appears that you agree with Aquinas that neither hatred nor anger are properly in God (SCG, I, 89.14; 90.1-8). That would appear to be the “classical view.” However, it appears that not all our Puritan and Particular Baptist forefathers agreed. Benjamin Keach, for example, appears to part company with Thomas on the two aforementioned attributes when he remarks,

    [These], when attributed to God, are by some referred to this head [i.e., as anthropopathic metaphors]. Where we are to note, that these words are not ascribed to God by way anthropopathy, for God most truly, properly, and for infinite reasons, is justly angry with sinners, takes vengeance on them, or afflicts them, Jer. ix.9, Nahum i. 2, &c. He truly hates sinners and hypocrites, Psal. v. vi., Isa i. 14, &c., …, yet there is an Anthropopathy in certain words and phrases by which these affections are wont to be expressed. Thus breath or to breathe, do sometimes note the anger of God, by a metaphor taken from men, who in the vehement commotion of anger, do draw their breath more strongly than ordinary, Exod. xv. 8; Job iv. 9; Isa. xxx. 28; Ezek. xxi. 31, &c. (Tropologia, 50)

    So is Keach no longer a classical impassibilist because he describes anger and hatred as properly in God, whereas Aquinas does not?

    Now to be more precise, Keach does acknowledge that anger can be ascribed to God in ways that are “less proper” or “more metaphorical” than other instances. This leads me to conclude that whether or not an affection/emotion ascribed to God is proper (more literal/formal) or improper (more metaphorical) depends on how one defines the affection/emotion being predicated of God in the first place.

    This is why I don’t always find the proper vs. improper, analogical vs. anthropomorphic distinction (dichotomy?) particularly helpful. I prefer to view all “anthropo-predicates” of God as forms or species of analogical language. Interestingly, Richard Muller at times seems to use the terminology synonymously. For example, he writes,

    Thus, the divine affections and virtues are predicated of God analogically, metaphorically, or by anthropopatheia and are, therefore, only ‘improperly’ or analogically predicated of God (PRRD, 3:559).

    In some cases, the similarity or correspondence of one affection ascribed to God in this place, e.g., “God is love” (1 John 4:8), may be greater than the similarity or correspondence of another affection ascribed in that place, e.g., “God is grieved” (Gen 6:6). Both are anthropopathism and both are examples of analogical language about God (revelation). In both cases one must attempt to remove any human imperfections when applying the predicates to God.

    How would I conceive of divine grief, removing any human imperfections? First, and most obviously, God’s grief is not physiological in nature. As I wrote elsewhere, “God’s grief and anger are not accompanied with literal tears, heaving breast, or clenched fists.” Second, God’s grief isn’t an emotion he experiences passively or involuntarily. God is absolutely sovereign and omniscient, so nothing takes him by surprise. Third, God’s grief is, of course, pure and impeccable.

    I see divine grief over human sin and misery as closely related to divine anger and compassion. So I agree with Calvin when he sees the grief ascribed to God in Genesis 6:6 as “God’s hatred and detestation of sin.” The point of the anthropopathy, Calvin argues elsewhere, is to teach us that when we give way to perversion and sin against God’s kindness, “he must be all the more offended” and “even more angered.” (Is God interpreting one metaphor with another?) I agree with Keach when he says, “Sadness and grief of mind is attributed to God, by which his displeasure, and the withdrawings of his grace and favour are signified.”

    Sorrow and distress ascribed to God may also contain elements of compassion and empathy (in forms fitting to God). So God is said to be afflicted (distressed) over the afflictions (distresses) of his people (Isa 63:9). Such “suffering” ascribed to God, says Calvin, signifies “all the affection, love, and (συμπαθεία) compassion which a father can have” but in a way that far exceeds human affection, love, and compassion in quality and quantity. I agree.

    So, it seems to me, grief ascribed to God is more than just a metaphor for divine retributive action (Gen 6:6) or simply an assurance that “God is for us” (Isa 63:9). It is that. But it is more. At root grief ascribed to God reflects real feelings (i.e., dispositions, attitudes, affections). These exist in God fully and perfectly. They are incapable of gain or loss. They are not experiences that God undergoes passively.

    So I affirm that God is “without passions,” that is, impassible. That’s why I’ve never taken exception to the Confession at this point. Nevertheless, I don’t believe an affirmation of divine impassibility is equivalent to saying God has no emotions. In the words of Michael Horton,

    God is genuinely affected, although in any given case this is to be understood in an analogical rather than a univocal sense. Is he moved to compassion? Yes, but not as we are (Horton, Lord and Servant, 43).

    Grace and peace.

  38. Bob,

    As far as I can tell, you have said a lot, but you have not provided a clear answer to any of my questions. intentionally or unintentionally you have hid behind Van Til, Morton Smith, and others, seeking at best to clarify their views, but not your own. Regarding much of what I have asked, a simply yes or no would suffice, but you prefer “yes” and “no.” Intentionally or not, this “feels” deceptive, and the categories you introduce leave more questions than answers (e.g., What are “cognitive and affectional evaluations” as something that changes in God? Are they accidental properties or essential attributes? If the latter, then how can they change and God not change? If accidental then God is not Simple. If neither, then what? What are “real feelings” Etc., etc.).

    I’m not interested in debating the views of others or their confessional integrity. At the end of the day, this is not about confessional integrity, Aristotle, Aquinas, etc.. It is about Truth and our confessing the Truth honestly and clearly. I do not have much hope that you will answer any of the questions I have asked thus far, and because neither of us have the time or desire to go back and forth, let me ask you one simple question.

    Is it possible for there to be any kind of change whatsoever “in God”? You have said “yes” and “no,” which seems suspect (unhelpful at the very least). Regardless of your interpretation of Van Til, it has been the opinion of the church throughout the ages that the Scripture gives an UNQUALIFIED “No.” A qualified “no” is still a “yes.” It is a yes or no question.

    Respectfully,
    Chuck

  39. Dear Chuck,

    You’re right about one thing: neither of us have the time or desire to go back and forth. So let me try to be as clear and concise as possible. And Chuck, if, as you suggest above, my answers “feel” deceptive, I’d kindly suggest, “Don’t go by your feelings.”

    First, you want a simple “yes” or “no” to the question “Does God change?” As I’ve belabored the point in my essays (which you may need to reread) and here, I can’t answer that question with a simple “yes” or “no” anymore than I can answer questions like “Is God One or Three?” or “Is Jesus God or Man?” with a simple “yes” or “no.” You may not like theological tensions or paradoxes. But if one is to remain true to the totality of biblical revelation, he’ll have to learn to accept them at some point. It’s a part of confessing God and His ways as “incomprehensible.”

    For more on this, allow me to commend James Anderson (Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at RTS) Paradox in Christian Theology: An Analysis of Its Presence, Character, and Epistemic Status (Wipf & Stock, 2007).

    Second, I have never said “God does not change in sense A” and “God does change in sense A.” The biblical data reveal a God who is immutable and yet who appears to do X at T1 and Y at T2. The unchangeable God assesses humanity as “very good” (Gen 1:31) at T1 and as “very bad” at T2 (Gen 6:5-6). Moreover, the Bible doesn’t merely ascribe the change to man. It describes two different cognitive-affective valuations (which I attempt to define biblically here, pp. 3-4, 7-8). To wit, God is pleased with mankind before the fall and God is displeased with mankind after he fall. That’s why I agree with Van Til when he writes,

    “We need not fear to say that God’s attitude has changed with respect to mankind. We know well enough that God in himself is changeless. But we hold that we are able to affirm that our words have meaning for no other reason than that we use them analogically…. We need not hesitate to affirm, then, that in the beginning God loved mankind in general. That was before mankind had sinned against God. A little later God hated mankind in general. That was after mankind had sinned against God. Is there any doubt that the elect, as well as the reprobate, were under the wrath of God?… So the elect and the reprobate are under a common wrath. If there is any meaning in this—and who denies it?—there may and must, with equal right, be said to be an earlier [divine] attitude of common favor. Indeed the reality of the ‘common wrath’ depends upon the fact of the earlier ‘common grace.’ But after the common, in each case, comes the conditional. History is a process of differentiation. Accordingly, the idea of that which is common between the elect and the reprobate is always a limiting concept” (Emphasis his; Common Grace and the Gospel, 73-74.)

    Van Til’s construal seems very much in line with Morton Smith’s observation, “With the creation of the world [God] sustains new relations to it. With the entrance of sin, the new relations of wrath and displeasure are displayed” (Systematic Theology, 1:132-33).

    Now I find it curious that you don’t seem to care what the Reformed theologians I cite believe, but you want me to care a lot about the Reformed (and Roman Catholic) theologians you cite. Morton Smith affirms the Confession, he ascribes relational change to God, and you don’t care. Bob Gonzales affirms the Confession, he ascribes relational change to God, and now you’re gravely concerned.

    So I have said over and over and over … We may not predicate change of God in sense A, but we may predicate change of God in sense B. Namely, God’s essence, moral character, decrees, and affections are utterly perfect, complete, and immutable. Nevertheless, God changes the way He relates to different states of affairs in time. That’s not my theological system; that’s how Scripture itself portrays God. And if there’s an apparent tension or paradox, I can live with that. After all, it’s a part of confessing God and His ways as “incomprehensible.”

    Third, you want a simple “yes” or “no” answer to the questions “Does God have accidental properties or essential properties?” and “Are God’s affections accidental or essential properties?” I’m sorry to disappoint you again, but in trying to affirm the whole counsel of God, I’ll have to answer, “Yes, in one sense” and “No, in another sense.”

    For example, my commitment to a self-contained and independent God leads me to conclude that God did not have to create this world, allow the fall, or redeem the human race. That is, God doesn’t need the creation to be God.

    Now if God is free and could have done otherwise, would he have been Creator, Lord, and Redeemer? Are those accidental or relative or contingent properties? Or are they essential or absolute or necessary properties? I have no problem saying “both … and” with the proper qualifications.

    On the one hand, if creation and redemption are in some sense contingent realities that aren’t absolutely necessary for God to be God, then the properties of Creator and Redeemer may be viewed as accidental or contingent or, as I would prefer, covenantal. On the other hand, all the qualities, capacities, attributes, etc., requisite for God to be Creator and Redeemer are in him essentially and absolutely. Only the God who is “a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth” could be the Creator and Redeemer of this world.

    When God created the world, a new relation obtained, not a new God. Similarly, when God the Son assumed flesh, a new relation obtained, not a new God. Moreover, when Jesus redeemed me from a state of being under God’s wrath to being a child of his grace, a new relation obtained, not a new God.

    I’m very sorry you don’t seem to like theological tensions or paradoxes. It doesn’t surprise me, therefore, that you and the members of ARBCA’s theology committee are pushing a theological agenda that would require ARBCA pastors and member churches to deny the well-meant offer of the gospel. So, according to the TC, when God says, “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (Deut 5:29), God doesn’t really mean what he says. Why? God cannot in any sense desire what he doesn’t decree, says the TC, because such a notion is, allegedly, incompatible with divine unity and simplicity.

    I’m sorry but I must demur and side rather with Sam Waldron who remarks, “The Scriptures teach that God desires the good even of those who never come to experience the good wished for them by God (Deut. 5:29; 32:29; Ps. 81:13-16; Isa. 48:18)” (A Modern Commentary on the 1689 Baptist Confession, 122). Or, as Geerhardus Vos avers,

    “We certainly have a right to say that the love which God originally bears toward man as created in His image survives in the form of compassion under the reign of sin. This being so, when the sinner comes in contact with the gospel of grace, it is natural for God to desire that he should accept its offer and be saved. We must even assume that over against the sin of rejection of the gospel this love continues to assert itself, in that it evokes from the divine heart sincere sorrow over man’s unbelief.” (Emphasis added; “The Scriptural Doctrine of the Love of God,” Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, 443.)

    I could name many other Reformed theologians, old and new, who have affirmed that God may desire what he doesn’t decree. I have also argued for this point here and here.

    So if your view of divine simplicity and impassibility requires me to deny the well-meant offer of the gospel, then so much the worse for your view of divine simplicity and impassibility. Here I concur with C. H. Spurgeon when he writes,

    “My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater. I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God.”

    Chuck, I entreat you by the mercies of God! Cannot you, a “High Calvinist,” tolerate guys like me who are “Moderate Calvinists”? You’re welcome to view yourself as more theologically astute and your system as more theologically consistent. I sincerely don’t mind being thought of us less the man or my Calvinism as underdeveloped. But why must you and your friends insist on making your brand of Scho-las-ti-cism a kind of theological “shibboleth” that divides Reformed brothers in Christ?

    According to the historian Phillip Schaff, John Calvin “deeply deplored the divisions of Protestantism. To heal them he was willing to cross ten oceans.” Would you and the members of ARBCA’s theology committee be willing to do the same?

    Humbly yours …

  40. Bob responds on his blog: First, you want a simple “yes” or “no” to the question “Does God change?” As I’ve belabored the point in my essays (which you may need to reread) and here, I can’t answer that question with a simple “yes” or “no” anymore than I can answer questions like “Is God One or Three?” or “Is Jesus God or Man?” with a simple “yes” or “no.” You may not like theological tensions or paradoxes.

    My response: I love biblical mystery, but contradiction is a different thing. You cannot violate the laws of logic with impunity. “Is God One or Three?” is a mystery to which we answer “Yes,” not “no.” However, to answer “yes” to the question “Does God not change in himself AND change in himself?” would be a contradiction. God cannot be “A” and not “A” at the same time and in the same sense. “In himself” indicates that we are talking about the same sense in both cases. If you were speaking out God’s changing works (“the way he relates”?) or changing revelation of himself, that would be a different sense. But you have explicitly denied that this is the sense you intend. That much is clear. A qualified no is still a yes AND a contradiction (not a paradox!). Thank you for clarifying your position.

    Bob responds on his blog: Third, you want a simple “yes” or “no” answer to the questions “Does God have accidental properties or essential properties?” and “Are God’s affections accidental or essential properties?” I’m sorry to disappoint you again, but in trying to affirm the whole counsel of God, I’ll have to answer, “Yes, in one sense” and “No, in another sense.”
    For example, my commitment to a self-contained and independent God leads me to conclude that God did not have to create this world, allow the fall, or redeem the human race. That is, God doesn’t need the creation to be God.
    Now if God is free and could have done otherwise, would he have been Creator, Lord, and Redeemer? Are those accidental or relative or contingent properties? Or are they essential or absolute or necessary properties? I have no problem saying “both … and” with the proper qualifications.

    My response: Again, thank you for clarifying. A qualified no is still a yes. But what is more, you have demonstrated that you believe that the relative properties of God are called such because they are in some sense ontologically relative in God himself. The Christian tradition has historically called them “relative,” not because they are relative in God, but because they are understood and named as such by us. They are names give to God by us that speak of absolute realities in God, but as names they are relative to us insofar as they define the nature of our relationship to God –– that is, the relationship of a creature to its Creator. It is a name that signifies a change of relation in us (in relation to God), but not in God himself. Conversely, you confess that God’s relative attributes are ontologically relative in God, and thus are some kind of accidental property. This is a misunderstanding (at best) or denial (at worst) of divine simplicity. Thank you for clarifying your position.

    Bob responds on his blog: It doesn’t surprise me, therefore, that you and the members of ARBCA’s theology committee are pushing a theological agenda that would require ARBCA pastors and member churches to deny the well-meant offer of the gospel. So, according to the TC, when God says, “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (Deut 5:29), God doesn’t really mean what he says. Why? God cannot in any sense desire what he doesn’t decree, says the TC, because such a notion is, allegedly, incompatible with divine unity and simplicity.

    My response: Absolutely absurd –– a slanderous accusation without provocation. You have erected a straw man. I (we) fully affirm the free/well-meant offer of the gospel and God’s love for creation in general and humanity in particular.

    Bob responds on his blog: According to the historian Phillip Schaff, John Calvin “deeply deplored the divisions of Protestantism. To heal them he was willing to cross ten oceans.” Would you and the members of ARBCA’s theology committee be willing to do the same?

    My response: It is interesting to me that you would brand yourself the victim and intimate that I or ARBCA have thus far sown discord (this is intimated even more strongly in you recent Tweets). I did not go digging around in your theological closet (nor did the TC; the church to which you belonged sought the TC’s assessment of your view). You aired your dirty laundry on the internet, repeatedly, knowing that it was controversial. You were approached, in many different venues, by many, yet persisted. You know very well that I have personally and privately sought to interact with you. You know that I have offered (even purchased a ticket) to fly across the country to speak with you in person (there is not an ocean between us!). You canceled that meeting. I have sought peace, but your persistence in this matter has proven to instigate division. Brother, I am still interested in peace, and we could still part ways in love and peace, but the peace of our ARBCA in particular is build upon a common Confession of Faith. In the interest of that peace, I will not compromise Truth.

  41. I would only add to Chuck’s response two things:

    1. It is not accurate to label as ‘scholastic’ the view that Jim articulated and that Chuck and others (myself included) have sought to explain and defend, for at least two reasons. First, the doctrines of divine immutability and impassibility here labeled ‘scholastic’ (i.e., doctrines which deny any and all change in God — even change with respect to his relation to creation) are doctrines confessed prior to the development of scholasticism in the medieval era. Yes, every ‘scholastic’ affirmed these doctrines — but not only ‘scholastics’ affirmed these doctrines. Athanasius, for example, was not a scholastic; but he held to divine immutability and impassibility without any qualification. The terms that better describe the position herein labeled ‘scholastic’ are classical or orthodox. I realize that some might decry those labels as too narrow, sectarian, even divisive. But those are the most accurate terms. These doctrines have been stock and trade among orthodox theologians for centuries. Second, though Dr. Gonzales (and others who make similar claims) has offered no definition of scholasticism, it is clear that he perceives the term to refer to a definite theological system, or to some definite theological content. An older line of scholarship claimed this very thing, regarding scholasticism as a rationalist system pre-occupied with metaphysics, one that was opposed to the more fluid and dynamic categories of biblical thought (one can find this charge all over the place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; two notable examples are Karl Barth and Brian Armstrong). Based upon the reading of primary source material (i.e., the theologians themselves!), historians of the last 40 years or so have demonstrated rather convincingly that such a definition of scholasticism is an anachronism. Scholasticism refers to method, not content. It refers, more specifically, to the method employed for teaching theology in the schools. As such it is primarily a pedagogical, not theological term. For more on this, I suggest reading Willem J. van Asselt, ed., Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011), or R. A. Muller, After Calvin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). The volume edited by van Asselt is perhaps the most accessible. Scholastic is not the right label for this doctrine or cluster of doctrines. The shoe does not fit. To persist in labeling the doctrine this way is contrary to all historical evidence, and in the context of this particular debate is prejudicial (since it suggests that the basis for the doctrine is reason rather than revelation, which is another false charge).

    2. It is not accurate to suggest that those — like Jim, Chuck, me, and the ARBCA TC — who are attempting to uphold the classical and confessional doctrine of God are the cause of this division in ARBCA. The ARBCA TC did not go looking for this debate (I know, I am a member of the TC, and have been for the entirety of this debate). Within the context of the Association, in keeping with our constitution, Dr. Gonzales’s public statements on the doctrine of God were brought to our attention. We were asked by others to evaluate this teaching (more than once). We did so seeking to uphold the teaching of Scripture, as summarized by our Confession, in keeping with the theological wisdom of the past. We are not the one’s seeking to move the boundaries of confessional orthodoxy on the doctrine of God. Moreover, though I haven’t read the quote from Schaff in its context, my hunch is that he is referring to Calvin’s desire to see unity among confessional Protestants — or at least the Reformed — regarding the Lord’s Supper. It that is the case, it seems specious to me to employ such a quote in the context of this debate re: the doctrine of God. Indeed, to imply that Calvin would have sought unity with those predicating change in God — even in his relation to creation — is counter-factual. That teaching was alive and well in Calvin’s day, among certain Polish theologians. He did not seek unity with them; instead, he demonstrated their errors, calling them to recant and repent. That is all we have done. Dr. Gonzales disagrees with our assessment and with our interpretation of Scripture. He is certainly free to do so; but it is not accurate to charge us with causing division for merely attempting to uphold the agreed upon standard of subscription for ARBCA churches.

    If anyone wishes to respond to these two points, just know that I cannot respond further. I am currently on sabbatical from my pastoral responsibilities in order to complete a long standing project. I am certainly willing to interact further, but sadly I am not able.

    Blessings in Christ,
    Stefan Lindblad

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: