Incarnation, Immutability, and the Case for Classical Theism -- By: Richard A. Muller

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 45:1 (Spring 1983)
Article: Incarnation, Immutability, and the Case for Classical Theism
Author: Richard A. Muller

Incarnation, Immutability, and the Case for Classical Theism

Richard A. Muller

Contemporary evangelical theology has, in the heart of its piety, a need to express the profound involvement of God with his creation and, preeminently, with believers in and through Christ Jesus. In an age of oppressive secularism and militant atheism, we need perhaps more than ever to express the biblical truth of the Immanuel, the “God with us.” I sense the problem with particular force in my daily work of teaching historical theology to young Christians strong in faith but as yet untutored in historical and systematic theology. The moment of worry occurs in the early weeks of patristic theology when the concept of divine immutability and its corollary, the divine impassibility, appear as aspects of early Christian monotheism. It seems to many students that the concepts themselves militate against the closeness of God to us in Christ, against the Incarnation itself as the place and time of God’s entrance into our world and our condition. Nor is this worry just a symptom of untutored piety: it has been expressed, in a recent essay by Clark Pinnock, in the form of a fundamental complaint against the theological and philosophical synthesis that stood unshaken from the time of the early fathers, through the middle ages and the Reformation, into the period of Protestant scholasticism, and down to the beginning of the nineteenth century.1

In the nineteenth century, under the impact of Immanuel Kant’s critique of traditional rationalistic metaphysics, a new perspective on philosophy was developed by Hegel, Fichte, and Schelling according to which the older ontology of immutable being was replaced by an idealist ontology of the gradual self-realization of the absolute idea, in short, an ontology of becoming or of the becoming of being.2 The impact of this alternative ontology upon theology was enormous, particularly in Germany. Theologians like Dorner, Thomasius, Biedermann, and Gess all concluded that change, becoming, could be predicated of God.3 Exegetes and biblical theologians like Godet and Reuss viewed the Johannine prologue and the great Pauline teaching of kenosis (Phil 2:7) as direct references to an ontological becoming in and of God.4 Recently, the idealist paradigm and the kenotic theology have found eloquent advocacy in the theology of Jürgen Moltmann.5

There is, however, another, more pointed criticism of the traditi...

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