Divine Impassibility: Section 1

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Introduction and Importance

Our Confession unequivocally affirms that God is “without . . . passions”(2LCF 2.1). This is an affirmation of the classical doctrine of divine impassibility (DDI) consonant with the unified voice of historic confessional Reformed theology, particularly as articulated in the Westminster Confession of Faith (2.1), the Savoy Declaration (2.1), and the 42/39 Articles of the Church of England (Art. 1). The DDI asserts that God does not experience emotional changes either from within or effected by his relationship to creation. He is not changed from within or without; he remains unchanged and unchanging both prior and subsequent to creation.

In light of present-day attempts to modify the DDI, it is incumbent upon ARBCA to publish its position on this vital issue. This will ensure greater understanding and unity among its member churches. The position adopted by ARBCA will be used to inform and examine those churches seeking membership, to establish a standard in controversy (should it arise in member churches), to serve as a standard for materials published by ARBCA, and to examine home and foreign missionaries supported by ARBCA churches.

The DDI has come under attack within the last century in various theological traditions. Many who would be classified as mainstream evangelicals have jettisoned this doctrine. There are a number of evangelicals who wish to retain some form of divine impassibility while at the same time attempting to affirm that God is also passible. Instead of affirming divine impassibility as an attribute of God that is a necessary consequent of divine immutability, they postulate a God who displays a full array of emotions which are subject to change according to his sovereign will. Rather than saying God does not suffer or undergo any emotional change whatsoever, some wish to affirm that God undergoes change in relation to the created order, just not involuntarily. From this perspective, while God expresses an array of divine emotions, he is affirmed to be in some sense impassible.

This Position Paper contends that only the classical DDI is compatible with the doctrine of God revealed in Scripture and articulated in the 2LCF. It is presented as follows: 1. the importance of the DDI; 2. biblical and exegetical foundations of the DDI; 3. an overview of a systematic theology of the DDI; 4. an overview of the 2LCF on the DDI; and 5. affirmations and denials pertaining to the DDI.

1. Why is this matter important?

The 2LCF regards the DDI as a necessary and intricate element of the doctrine of God. One cannot dismiss, discount, or modify the confessional DDI without reformulating the doctrine of God. Bavinck says:

Those who predicate any change whatsoever of God, whether with respect to his essence, knowledge, or will, diminish all his attributes: independence, simplicity, eternity, omniscience, and omnipotence. This robs God of his divine nature, and religion of its firm foundation and assured comfort. (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:158)

This doctrine is important because it is the teaching of Holy Scripture and is affirmed by our Confession. It is essential for ARBCA due to our formal commitments as an Association. The ARBCA Policy Manual 3.7.1 reads:

Strict/Full subscription is the acceptance, from the heart, of the Confession as an integrated whole, together with each Article (herein after Chapter) within it. It is the conscientious affirmation of: 1) each doctrine as stated in the Confession, 2) the integrity of that system of doctrine, historically defined by the Reformed faith, and 3) our Baptist distinctives, particularly enunciated therein.

Our formal commitments make it obligatory for us to confess the DDI as stated in our Confession.

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