Abandonment or modification of the classical doctrine of divine impassibility has played no small part in the evangelical drift toward modified process theism. Denying passions of God is not uncommonly thought odd, or worse, biblically repugnant. Indeed, even many who continue to confess that God is impassible in some sense insist that the doctrine must now be reconceived so as to cohere with an affirmation of passion and emotional change in God. But such a revision comes at the high cost of severing impassibility of its organic bond to other divine attributes such as simplicity, pure actuality, and immutability.
Samuel Renihan’s reader is a welcome contribution that sheds much light on precisely what our Reformed forebears intended by denying passions of God. These selections set forth impassibility in its proper theological context as an entailment of God’s simplicity, pure actuality, and immutability. The picture that emerges is not one of a distant and uncaring God, but of God as so absolutely perfect in being that he cannot be moved to any greater perfection of love, mercy, or hatred of sin. This volume should aid greatly in the rehabilitation of an informed confession of God without passions.
James E. Dolezal
Author of God without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness
Samuel Renihan has brought together a first-rate collection of mainly Reformed and Particular Baptist thinking on the doctrine of God, particularly his impassibility, which goes back to the church Fathers. This aspect of God’s nature is much misunderstood and caricatured at present, such a God being thought to be withdrawn, apathetic, even psychotic. But these extracts show that the reverse is the case. Impassibility indicates the fullness of God’s care for his creation. For he is not subject to fits, or spasms, or moods, or passions.
What is taught in these passages also provides an entrance into other features of God’s nature, such as his immutability, his independence, his eternity, and so on. We are forcefully reminded of the distance between the Creator and his creatures. The theological method is not speculative, but that of careful attention to the teaching of Scripture, particularly that concerning God as he is in himself, as distinct from how he is toward us. Such theological work exemplifies ‘ruled thinking,’ thinking marked not by invention but by discipline acquired by reflection on the revealed reality of God himself. Such a discipline of thought has to be acquired, and this admirable book will help us to learn it.
University of London
It has been said, “We keep re-inventing the wheel and it’s never round.” Re-imagining, re-visioning, re-constructing our doctrine of God–away from the alleged ‘abstractions’ of rigorous exegetical, theological, and philosophical detail–has turned out usually to be little more than a more superficial version of errors from the past. Today, a growing number of evangelicals (even conservative ones) are jettisoning the notions of God’s impassibility and kindred attributes. However, their arguments are usually evidence that they haven’t wrestled sufficiently with the sources of classical theology. In one collection, God Without Passions helps us do our homework and, to paraphrase the Apostle Paul, “leaves us without excuse.”
J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology
Westminster Seminary California
We talk about a great many subjects under the heading of “theology.” But when it comes down to it, theology is only theology because it reflects and speaks about God. Thus, misunderstanding who God is compromises the truth of theology from the start. In recent years many prominent Christians–from sophisticated philosophers and theologians to popular preachers–have suggested that God, like human beings, experiences time, suffers, and feels changing emotions. Perhaps, we think, there may be something to this. This reader, filled with the work of many of the greatest theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, offers an important reminder that these issues are not new. With care, learning, and insightful reflection on biblical texts, these theologians defend the classical Christian view that God is truly infinite, eternal, and unchanging–a God who cares intimately and affectionately for his people in the midst of their turbulent earthly pilgrimage, yet who always remains essentially other than his creatures. This volume provides a very welcome collection of Reformed riches on this perennially important matter.
Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology
and Christian Ethics
Westminster Seminary California
Christian teaching and theology must be derived always from the Scriptures alone. The Scriptures are the sole authority for what Christians should believe and teach as Christians. But this does not mean that there is nothing else that a Christian should do before he presumes to teach and preach the Bible. Exegetical theology precedes systematic theology authoritatively, but in other ways so also does historical theology. Of course, it does not precede it authoritatively, but it does and must precede it in an advisory capacity and as a counselor. The HCSB translates Proverbs 26:16 as follows: “In his own eyes, a slacker is wiser than seven men who can answer sensibly.” Similarly, though God alone in his Word has authority over how a Christian should conduct himself, that same Christian does well to consult the seven wise men. He does foolishly when he does not. In our teaching and preaching also we must not be slackers, we must consult the wise men of historical theology. We also must not be historical snobs and take the really incredible position that our day is the wisest of all theologically. Really? Yes, we have advantages, but we also have incredible disadvantages. One of them is our modern tendency to historical snobbery.
For all these reasons, and especially in the difficult matter of the doctrine of God and divine impassibility, we are indebted to Sam Renihan for not being a slacker himself and giving us the massive work compiled in this book. He has given us the views of the “seven wise men” with regard to divine impassibility. We do well to pay close attention.
Dean of Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary
Pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church of Owensboro, KY