God without Passions: a Primer – A Practical and Pastoral Study of Divine Impassibility by Samuel Renihan

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Check out Sam’s other book on this issue, God without Passions: a Reader.

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“It is important to know God and worship him as he has revealed himself to us. This book is offered to supply an important piece of God’s self-revelation that, though confessed and treasured by the church throughout the ages, has become unclear due to neglect. I have included study questions in order to highlight key elements of this topic for your own personal thought and to encourage discussion in group studies. It’s one thing to hear someone else answer questions. It’s another to answer them for yourself. May God use this book to enrich your understanding of him as he has revealed himself in Scripture and to increase your appreciation of the truths the church has confessed throughout history.

Perhaps you find the doctrine of divine impassibility to be one of those doctrines that is less clear or less known to you. This primer is designed to give a simple, clear, and practical presentation of the doctrine of divine impassibility for everyone from the pulpit to the pew. In fact, this material was originally presented as six sermons to Trinity Reformed Baptist Church where I am a pastor.” ~ Samuel Renihan, from the Preface

112 pages
Published 2015

Endorsements by Richard C. Barcellos, Paul Helm, Dennis E. Johnson, Stefan T. Lindblad, Fred A. Malone, D. Scott Meadows, and Joe Thorn.

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The doctrine of divine impassibility has been maligned, misunderstood, unhelpfully nuanced, and even rejected in our day. Why such differing opinions over a doctrine included in the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Second London Confession of Faith (1677/1689)? As this brief book will show, older theologians not only understood the doctrine (and agreed among themselves) but defended it as being taught in the Holy Scriptures. There was a day when this was not a controversial issue among Reformed thinkers. But why is it sorely misunderstood in our day? Though Samuel Renihan does not say it in these words, in God without Passions: a Primer his method of approaching the doctrine of divine impassibility is the answer to that question. The reason why divine impassibility is so misunderstood in our day has to do with how we approach the Scriptures, specifically how we interpret them. Though every chapter is worth reading and will provide much profit, if you are like me at all, chapter 1 will seal the deal. In that chapter Sam lists and discusses four hermeneutical principles necessary to use while seeking to interpret biblical texts about God that at first glance seem to be contradictory.

I commend this book to people in the pew, theological students, pastors, and seasoned theologians. It is well-written and easy to digest. Its method is sound. Its doctrine is confessionally and biblically faithful. Its last chapter shows how important and practical the doctrine of divine impassibility is. Though only a “Primer,” its contents will inform the mind and fill the soul with wonder and amazement. May you increase in the knowledge of God!

Richard C. Barcellos, Pastor
Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Palmdale, CA

The biblical presentation of God who does not change, whose character is eternal, is not a plaything, something merely for the ivory tower. He who is beyond time and change uses representations of himself that are human-like in order to adapt himself to our circumstances, and to be our guide in life. This means that in our thinking about God we are required to discipline our minds, and Samuel Renihan shows us how to do this.

Such thinking deeply affects our approach to the incarnation. Eternal God becomes incarnate not by changing himself, but by condescending. He stoops, taking on our nature. This is the full, rich, and mysterious incarnation, our two-natured Mediator. In commenting on 1 Peter 1:21 Calvin writes that in Christ “God in a manner makes himself little, that he might accommodate himself to our comprehension; and it is Christ alone who can tranquilize consciences, so that we may dare to come in confidence to God.”

In Christendom and the wider culture, “there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords,’ yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist . . .” (1 Cor. 8:5-6). The character of this God is to be proclaimed as the faith of the church. So it is a great boon to have a straightforward, clear, and reliable guide for the benefit of the people of God. “This is God, our God, forever and ever. He will guide us forever” (Psa. 48.14).

Paul Helm
Formerly Professor of the History and Philosophy of Religion
King’s College, London, UK

Samuel Renihan’s God without Passions: a Primer provides a clear, cogent, biblical, and pastoral presentation of truth about our all-sufficient, constantly-faithful God. Too often today the truth that the eternal, unchangeable Creator sustains his universe, redeems his people, and interacts with his creatures without becoming hostage to their ceaseless fluctuations is ignored, misunderstood, misrepresented, and rejected. Renihan demonstrates the biblical origins and historical foundations of this doctrine, and he shows its positive implications for our personal spiritual struggles and for the pastoral care of our fellow-strugglers.

Dennis E. Johnson
Professor of Practical Theology
Westminster Seminary California

In addition to penning extensive theological systems and confessional documents, the theologians of the Reformation and post-Reformation era devoted their energy to writing shorter treatises for the instruction of the church. They did so convinced that theology was itself practical (not that it needed to be made practical), as it not only nourished faith but promoted the worship and adoration of our infinite God and Savior. Sam Renihan’s God without Passions: a Primer is clearly born of the same conviction and directed toward the same goal. Drawing upon an impressive range of historical Reformed sources, this work not only retrieves a doctrine that has been unceremoniously left for dead by many, but with theological precision and pastoral warmth teaches us that divine impassibility is a vital biblical truth, one we neglect, modify, or reject to our own theological and spiritual detriment. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, both to those who are unfamiliar with this doctrine and to   those who have wrongly   assumed   that   divine impassibility is but a vestige of an unbiblical and impractical theological system for which we have no need. Read carefully and your knowledge of the living God will be deepened, your faith increased, your hope enlivened, and your love warmed.

Stefan T. Lindblad, Pastor
Trinity Reformed Baptist Church
Kirkland, WA
Ph.D. Candidate, Calvin Theological Seminary

I really like this book. In the studies and debates for the last few years about God’s impassibility, this book would have helped us greatly. When a debate over doctrine begins among theological friends, sometimes the terminology chosen is unfamiliar and provocative, sometimes interpersonal relations affect our reactions to theological statements, sometimes opinions are formed too early to foster real openness in discussion, and sometimes the frustration of the complexity of the subject moves one to settle upon unstudied opinions or side with friends. What Sam Renihan has done in God without Passions: a Primer is to provide clarity in terminology and foundational principles for discussing the issue. Especially, he provides a long-needed reminder of the biblical hermeneutics necessary to discuss accurately such a difficult topic. Further, Renihan’s insight that God does not have affections or passions but, rather, perfections, is the biblical and theological key often missing in the debate whether God “feels” love, mercy, anger, etc. This has been the wrong question and focus in the debate. The idea of God “feeling” or being “affected” according to man’s changing condition is “God with passions.” “God without passions” is his always active and unchanging love, compassion, justice, etc., which always affects all men, and all according to his predestined will. God does not “feel” love in reaction to man; rather, he loves actively all the time in his acts toward men. It is God’s unchanging essence and attributes which governs his actions in this creation. He is always active but never reactive. The so-called reactive actions of God such as God repenting, grieving, etc., are for us to understand what he is like in his always active attributes. Therefore, he is “without passions.” Finally, I commend Sam Renihan in his clear, consistent outline and explanations which are easy to follow on such a complex topic. However, his final chapter on “Personal Applications and Pastoral Implications” catches my attention as the kind of Pastoral Theology we need more of today. I will be using this book with my people.

Fred A. Malone, Pastor
First Baptist Church
Clinton, Louisiana
Author of The Baptism of Disciples Alone

In this little book, Samuel Renihan has put crucial truth about God on the table for “everyman,” including some matters so deep that they challenge faithful pastors to reflect on whether our understanding is truly sound and biblical. Yet for all that, Sam’s capable treatment is clear, warm, and conversational.

To use an analogy, God without Passions: a Primer is like a wholesome, satisfying meal, nourishing our souls. It should be eaten leisurely, for pleasure and for health, and with gratitude to the impassible God who provides it. The last chapter explaining the practical uses of this theology is a delectable dessert, but let me suggest its use also as an appetizer. If you wonder whether this topic will benefit you as a Christian, then read the last chapter first. Then when you’ve read the preceding chapters, read it again for maximum impact. With God’s blessing, you will never be the same.

Though some of these ideas may seem novel to some readers, they are the sweet fruit of profound study and reflection upon the biblical text, widely enjoyed by the Church through the centuries. The modern Christian’s typical unfamiliarity with them is an alarming evidence of widespread doctrinal malnourishment.

Let me invite and urge you to put aside any distracting junk food, breathe a prayer of thanksgiving for this feast, and sit down to savor it. The Lord strengthen your inner man by this rich fare!

​D. Scott Meadows, Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed) of Exeter
New Hampshire
Author of God’s Astounding Grace

God Without Passions: a Primer is the most important theological book most Christians don’t know they need to read. The theological terrain of divine impassibility is dangerous, often leading to a view of God that is either temperamental or altogether unfeeling. But pastor Sam Renihan leads us safely through to the open pastures of God’s true character where certainty and safety abound. This is not an intellectual exercise, nor is this a theological issue divorced from one’s faith and experience of God. Rather, these pages help the Christian to find confidence in God’s mercy and love—not as mere affections, but as divine perfections. The difference between the two is the difference between a small god and the eternal, triune God of heaven and earth. This is an accessible book, biblically persuasive, and a theologically tight work that is sure to benefit the church at large, and strengthen the faith of those who read it with an aim of understanding, depending on, and worshipping the God who is love.

Joe Thorn, Pastor
Redeemer Fellowship
St. Charles, IL
Author of Experiencing the Trinity

 

About the author

Samuel Renihan (M.Div., Westminster Seminary California) is a pastor at Trinity Reformed Baptist Church, La Mirada, CA, and a doctoral candidate at the Free University of Amsterdam. He is editor of God without Passions: a Reader.