Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Impassibility and "Classical Theism": On RB Affirmations and Denials

In the last chapter of the Reformed Baptist book on divine impassibility (Richard S Baines, Richard C. Barcellos et al, eds., Confessing the Impassible God), chapter 15, the authors of that chapter Ronald S. Baines and Charles J. Rennie wrote a series of 24 affirmations and denials on the topic. A majority of the affirmations and denials everyone who affirms divine impassibility would have no problem agreeing with, but a couple of them I would take issue with, as being philosophy based upon a certain theory of being - an over-fixation on being, instead of merely Scrpipture and good and necessary consequences from Scripture.

In the interest of showing the problems with those affirmations and denials, the objectionable statements would be listed as follows:

12. We affirm that love (and all other affections proper to God) is not an accidental or relational property that God has, but what he is. Therefore, an emotional change in God of any kind would necessarily entail a change in the essence and existence of God. We deny that God has any accidental or relational properties, that is, properties that are distinct from his essence.

15. We affirm that God, who is his essence and existence, has no cause; his existence is necessary and therefore unchangeable. We deny that God can be his own cause, and that he is capable of sovereignly affecting his own emotional change of state.

17. We affirm that all of God's affections are infinite in perfection. Therefore, if God were to undergo an emotional change, that change would be either for the better or for the worse. If for the better. then he must not have been infinite in perfection prior to the change, and therefore was not God. If for the worse, then he would no longer be infinite in perfection after the change, and therefore no longer God. We deny that it is an imperfection in God to be incapable of emotional change.

(pp. 396-7)

First, we look at number 12. The affirmation in number 12 is biblical. We also hold that there are no emotional change IN God in an ontological sense. But here is where we start to run into problems. For who says that any emotional change must be predicated of God in His being, ad intra? Does God only operate in the ad intra sphere and not also in the ad extra workings, which can be metaphorically called "in," like "in God in His actions"? Thus, the denial in number 12 is extremely problematic because it is unclear whether we are talking about "relational properties" of being or of action or anything else. Obviously, if the "relational properties" are ontological properties, then we should reject them, for God is immutable. But who says that these must be interpreted only in an ontological sense?

This bleeds over to number 15 of the affirmations and denials. Number 15's affirmation is well and proper. But in the denial, we are once again left with confusion. Of course, it is ridiculous to say that God is His own cause. God just IS, and doesn't begin to exist even from eternity. But to extrapolate from the ontological aseity of God to state that God could not "sovereignly affecting his own emotional change of state" assumes that any change in emotion must be ontological in nature. Perhaps those trying to modify divine impassibility are thinking in ontological terms, and thus the criticism is valid, but what if they are not thinking in ontological terms? Can God effect a change in emotions in his workings with us, ad extra? I do not see why not. Can this be termed as God "sovereignly affecting his own emotional change of state"? I do not see why not. Likewise, we should reject the denial in number 17, while the affirmation of number 17 suffers from the problem of defining what "perfection" is if one attempts such a Thomistic ontological argument.

God is impassible. But God does have affections, ad extra, that change. Those do not change because of the creature, or because of a change within God, but purely because God's affections follow the nature of His being. To the justified, He expresses love. To the wicked, He expresses wrath and hatred. The transition from wrath to love for the one turning from sin to faith in Christ is REAL. Of course, that is because the creature "changes," but the transition is not a mere mirage with the idea that wrath is not a real emotion from God because God has always loved the elect. And yes, wrath is an "improper" emotion of God, but that does not mean that God does not actually expresses real wrath even against the elect prior to their justification!

God is impassible, yet He expresses real emotions. If this book represents a "recovery" of Reformed orthodoxy, then it is a sad day indeed, for Reformed Orthodoxy does not need to remain wedded to Aristotelian or Platonic metaphysics, neither should it aspire to be so.


steve said...

The debate often suffers from equivocation over the meaning of the term. There are two different definitions in circulation: (i) God has no emotions; (ii) God can't be affected by the creation. The operative definition needs to be sorted out before we can properly evaluate the issue. For instance:


Daniel C said...

Hi Steve,

I think classical theists would hold that (ii) necessitates (i) i.e. God does not suffer. In this book at least, they argue from God as pure act to perfect being theology (ontological argument) and thus to "God does not have changeable emotional states of being."

They do hold that God has certain "emotions," although I have no idea what kind of emotion "love" is when it doesn't really interact with the creature, but more like a one-way expression of affection.