Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility

Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility

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Watch an interview with the editors and some of the contributors to this book here.

what Dr. Liam Goligher thinks of Confessing the Impassible God

Edited by Ronald S. Baines, Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, and James M. Renihan

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The book is structured as follows. The Introduction presses home the importance of the doctrine of divine impassibility. Readers will be challenged to recognize that tinkering with divine impassibility as classically understood has implications that always end up compromising other fundamental articles of the Christian faith.

The main argument is contained in seven parts. Part I (chapters 1-2) addresses vital issues of prolegomena. Prior to providing a positive explication of the doctrine, we outline our theological method. . . .

Part II (chapters 3-7) covers the Old and New Testaments. Though all potential passages of Scripture are not discussed, the most important texts on the subject of divine impassibility are addressed. The order of these chapters reflects our hermeneutical method . . .

Part III (chapters 8-9) surveys the history of the doctrine of divine impassibility. We seek to demonstrate that what was once a catholic doctrine has become muddied as scholars of various theological traditions have reformulated, modified, and in some instances rejected classical theism’s commitment to divine impassibility.

Part IV (chapters 10-12) offers a systematic-theological approach to the subject. It assumes Parts I-III and builds upon them. Careful discussion is provided on such issues as the relationship of divine impassibility to the essence and attributes of God, the divine affections, and the incarnation of the Son of God. . . .

Part V (chapter 13) offers an overview of the doctrine of divine impassibility as contained in the Second London Confession of Faith (1677/89). This confessional document asserts the same doctrine as the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) and the Savoy Declaration (1658) on the issue of divine impassibility.

Part VI (chapter 14) seeks to explicate the practical theology of divine impassibility. It draws out implications of the doctrine under the topics the saving knowledge of God, the Christian life, worship, and pastoral ministry.

Part VII (chapter 15) offers closing comments and a list of affirmations and denials in light of the entire study.

Additionally, we have included two appendices, containing book reviews of contemporary attempts to modify the classical doctrine of divine impassibility.

We offer this book, not as the end of discussion on this vital issue, but as a continuation of an older discussion that has been largely lost in our day. . . . We are of the firm opinion that the methodological, hermeneutical, and theological shifts that took place after the ascendancy of the Enlightenment steered theology in the wrong direction.

The editors wish to thank several readers who assisted us along the way. Their insights helped tighten the over-all argument and presentation of the book. We are especially grateful to Paul Helm for writing the Foreword. We asked Professor Helm to write it because we knew he would read carefully and provide a very informed and helpful perspective for prospective readers. Cameron Porter deserves special recognition for his stellar work on the cover and formatting the book for print.

It is our prayer that the following pages will contribute to fruitful thought and discussion concerning the doctrine of divine impassibility and other related doctrines of the Christian faith. ~ the Editors, from the Preface

462 pages
Published 2015

Foreword by Paul Helm.

Endorsements by Earl M. Blackburn, Walter J. Chantry, James E. Dolezal, J. V. Fesko, Ryan M. McGraw, Fred Sanders, David VanDrunen, Jeffrey C. Waddington, and Sam Waldron.

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This book can be said to present an interdisciplinary exposition and so a cumulative defense of divine impassibility and of the doctrine of God of which that is an aspect. Each line of argument strengthens and supports the other. Its foundation in Scripture, and the hermeneutics employed, show the doctrine to be not speculative or abstract but to have its foundation in the varied data of both Testaments of the Bible. The chapters on history show that divine impassibility is not a recent whimsy or the peculiar invention of a Christian sect, but the historic catholic faith. Those on the confession and the doctrine of God set out its Baptist pedigree, and the connectedness of impassibility with other distinctions made in the doctrine of God, and their overall coherence. Each line of enquiry sensitizes the palate to taste the others. There is a polemical strand throughout the book, contrasting this view with those of Open Theism and aberrant statements from contemporary Calvinists and others. But these arguments are used not to score points but to set forth and make even clearer the positive, historic teaching on divine impassibility, by contrasting it with other currently-held views.

I am honored to have been asked to write this Foreword, and delighted with what I have read. Confessing the Impassible God is heartily recommended.

Paul Helm
Former Professor of the History and Philosophy of Religion
King’s College
London

The essays in this volume constitute a wonderful blend of biblical, historical, contemplative, and practical theology all in defense of the doctrine of divine impassibility. The defense mounted is not primarily against the usual cast of detractors—Open Theists and process theologians—but against those evangelicals who imagine that abandoning or reconceiving impassibility can be done with little or no detriment to the edifice of a classical theology proper. The authors are convinced that once one begins to chip away at this crucial piece of the foundation the whole house of orthodox Christian conviction about God and his attributes begins to falter. And they are right.

The trend nowadays is not to deny that God undergoes emotive changes, as the older construal of impassibility maintained, but merely to insist that God controls changes in his emotive state by the sovereign act of his will. It is commendable that the authors resist this realignment of impassibility along Barthian actualist lines. What they offer instead is a recovery of the doctrine that helpfully reintegrates it within the galaxy of other equally indispensable classical doctrines such as God’s incomprehensibility, simplicity, immutability, eternity, and perfection of being. The result is a richly rewarding study that magnifies our unchanging God.

James E. Dolezal
Assistant Professor of Theology
Cairn University

Truth sometimes sounds stranger than fiction, which is why Confessing the Impassible God is a welcomed, rigorous defense of the traditional and confessional doctrine of divine impassibility. Many in the church have either rejected this vital biblical teaching or have forgotten it because the sands of the hourglass have buried it. The contributors provide a significant exegetical, theological, historical, and practical engagement of the issues, which makes this eminently useful for pastors, scholars, seminarians, and even people in the pews.

J.V. Fesko
Academic Dean
Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology
Westminster Seminary California

A spirited reclaiming of the doctrine of divine impassibility, this coherent, well-edited, multi-author project is unique in several commendable aspects. It is decisively Baptist, but advances its argument in ways that recent generations have stopped expecting from Baptist theologians. These authors are committed to the final authority of Scripture in doctrinal matters, but mastery of their tradition’s confessional resources gives them uncommon access to depths of theological understanding. In particular, they have chased the doctrine that God is “without passions” all the way down metaphysically, relating it meaningfully to the theology of the divine being as pure act, and steadfastly refusing mere voluntarism, the persistent Scotist reductionist temptation to make everything depend on God’s will rather than his nature. Evangelical projects of retrieval are becoming more common as theologians appropriate patristic and medieval resources. Confessing the Impassible God stands out for its commitment to a retrieval of the middle distance, the Baptist confessions of early modernity as the nearby trailhead to the great tradition of Christian theology. Good fences make good neighbors, and I think that, paradoxically, the decisively Baptist focus of this project is what will make it useful beyond its own Reformed Baptist confessional borders.

Fred Sanders
Professor of Theology
Torrey Honors Institute
Biola University

There was a time when it was my opinion that the Doctrine of God or Theology Proper was settled. It seemed to me that, except for the debates over God’s eternal decree between Reformed and Arminian Christians, the Doctrine of God was of little polemic interest. If that was ever really the case, it is surely not the case now. The onslaught of Process and Open Theism, the claims that the classical Christian doctrine of God was seriously infected with Greek philosophical ideas, and the consequent and widespread proposals to modify the traditional Theology Proper of classical Christian theism are provoking widening discussion. Confessing the Impassible God provides an important, deep, and thoughtful response to the proposed revisions to the doctrine of divine impassibility—one of the hot-spots in the polemic furor among Reformed evangelicals over the Doctrine of God. I am grateful for the theologically careful and historically informed hermeneutics and exegesis of the present volume. I am grateful especially for the reminder that this book contains of the importance of recognizing the revelation of Scripture as analogical, and sometimes anthropopathic, and the importance of recognizing this in our teaching. Confessing the Impassible God deserves close study and appreciative discussion among Reformed Christians.

Sam Waldron
Dean of Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary
Pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Owensboro, KY