Still Impassible: Confessing God Without Passions -- By: James E. Dolezal

Journal: Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies
Volume: JIRBS 01:0 (NA 2013)
Article: Still Impassible: Confessing God Without Passions
Author: James E. Dolezal

Still Impassible:
Confessing God Without Passions

James E. Dolezal*

James E. Dolezal, Ph.D., is part-time professor of theology and church history at Cairn University, Langhorne, PA, and author of God without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God's Absoluteness (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2011).

Few expressions in the Second London Confession of Faith are more perplexing to modern readers than the statement that God is “without passions.”1 On the face of it, this language seems difficult to square with the many biblical depictions of God as compassionate, loving, angry, merciful, and so forth. For many, this is reason enough to abandon the older language of the Reformed confessions. Others suspect that our forebears in the faith might have had a rather different notion than we do of what “passion” means, but are still not quite sure what to make of this terminology. It is the aim of this article to both elucidate and defend the confession of God without passions.

Divine impassibility is the doctrine that underlies the denial of passions in God. It teaches, quite simply, that God cannot undergo emotional changes. In its narrower sense, it emphasizes that God cannot suffer. This doctrine was the orthodox Christian consensus for nearly two millennia.2 Yet, in the nineteenth century this widespread consensus began to erode.3 In recent years, the doctrine

has begun to mount a modest comeback among both conservative Roman Catholic scholars and traditional Protestants. This is in part a reaction to the extreme divine passibilism promulgated by scholars such a Jürgen Moltmann. For Moltmann and his ilk of modern passibilists, only a suffering and vulnerable God can rescue us from our plight of sin and sorrow. Many perceive that this undermines traditional convictions about God’s immutability and sovereignty.4 But not every critic of extreme passibilism favors rehabilitating the denial of passions in God. In the past few decades, it has become increasingly fashionable to speak of impassibility as if it simply means God controls all the changes in his emotions rather than the more austere understanding that he undergoes no emotive change whatsoever. In this way, one is enabled to say that God is both impassible and possesses passions. This explanation is especially popular among certain modern evangelical Calvinists. We shall attend to the peculiar difficulties of this new perspective after considering the claims of the classic...

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