Confessing the Impassible God part I

As I read Confessing the Impassible God something struck me.  It wasn’t just the importance, weight, or substance of the topic or the far reaching implications of the doctrine of Impassability.  What initially drew me in was the structure of the book itself.   The content of each chapter, as well as each part, has the strength and coherency to stand alone and be read and understood independently.  However when you take these collection of essays together you end up with a robust picture of this doctrine.  This picture in turn guides and directs pathways to possible further and in more detail study.  CIG capitalizes on each individual author’s expertise, their personal and professional study, and their ability to articulate their research in a digestible manner for the average layman.  The synthesis of these component essays shows a seamless and logical move from one chapter to the next; from one part to the next, each building on the summation of the previous with the cumulative effect of seeing the up close detailed beauty of this doctrine without losing sight of the grand macro view painted concerning this aspect of theology proper.   The editors, in the preface, outline the structure, content and movement of the book.  From the preface alone the books development becomes apparent.  

Why is a proper view of the doctrine of Impassibility so important?

What is the theological methodology and hermeneutic employed?

What is a proper exegesis of the most relevant texts?

What is the history of the church’s definition of classical theism?

How does Impassibility fit in systematic theology?

What are the implications and effects on an understanding of other truths outlined in the confession?

What are some of the practical outworkings of this doctrine in our daily Christian lives and worship?

What can confidently be affirmed and denied about Impassibility?

How are objections to the definition of classical theism dealt with polemically?

From the multifaceted approach what is clear is the unanimity of the editors, with each other and as they show, with the bulk of historical Christianity.

The foreword written by Dr. Paul Helm, the preface written by the editors, and the introduction written by Dr. James Renihan all make mention of the theological method and hermeneutics  used in defining the  doctrinal position of classic theism.  The significance to this is then shown that Confessing the Impassible God starts Part I:  Theological and Hermeneutical Prolegomena, dedicating the first 2 chapters to presenting the critical elements to developing and understanding the doctrine of impassibility from a biblically driven perspective.

From the foreword by Dr Paul Helm p26

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 the both Testaments of the Bible.

From the preface by the editors p29-30

Prior to providing a positive explication of the doctrine, we outline our theological method.  Chapter 1 discusses the theological grammar of the doctrine of divine impassibility. Important concepts such as biblical metaphysics, act and potency, and the analogy of being are discussed. These are basic and crucial concepts to understand at the outset. Chapter 2 offers an introduction to the hermeneutical method employed throughout. These two chapters together reflect our commitment to the traditional language of classical theism and the hermeneutics of the Reformed tradition as articulated in the English Reformed Confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As readers will become aware in reading the subsequent sections, the issue of method is crucial and foundational in this discussion.

From the introduction by Dr James Renihan p 44

Our theological method is quite simple and straightforward. We provide a prolegomenon to the doctrine of divine impassibility (chapter 1) to introduce readers to some of the technical issues that will be addressed in subsequent chapters. Along with this is an introductory chapter on hermeneutics.

The theological method presented in these first 2 chapters is a gold mine of information, resources to be used in uncovering and detailing doctrine from scripture in the way that scripture prescribes.  The glossary at the end of the book is a helpful tool when first approaching the first chapter.  Part 1 of this book provides all of the necessary blocks needed to sort through all of the relevant issues when dealing with the impassibility of God.  Described in these chapters are the basic concepts and terminology used in discussing God and His perfection, the methods used to employ these concepts, a biblical apologetic for the concepts and methods, and a basic set of hermeneutical principles that scripture teaches us to use when interpreting it.  Sprinkled throughout the book are common objections to each point whether dealing with concept, methodology, hermeneutic, exegesis, application or conclusion.  In chapter 1 Charles Rennie does a great job of posing these objections and comprehensively answering them.  The polemical approach to refuting and dismantling oppositional claims then presenting a biblical defense is not only effectively persuasive, but balanced.  The basis of the positive claims are rooted in and find their authority from the text of scripture.  The case he lays out is logical, clear, user friendly and drawn from a combination of  both descriptive and prescriptive passages.  He answers the basic questions of how the finite creature is to truly apprehend and discuss the infinite God, more specifically how God teach us this is to happen. The footnotes in this chapter add much to the explanation as well as citing his reference material, a good jumping off point for further independent study.  In chapter 2 Ronald Baines explains the hermeneutical foundation of scriptural interpretation.  In answering the objection that it is a grid imposed on scripture to achieve a specific interpretation, he argues that these principles express the exegetical and theological continuity as well as the intertextuality of the text.  Standing with the interpretive methods used by Moses and the prophets, the Apostles and Jesus Christ Himself, Dr Baines puts forth the ideas of interpretation intimated by the post reformation writers in the 2 London Baptist Confession of Faith.

LBCF 1.1

The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased

LBCF 1.4

The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.

LBCF 1.6

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture:

LBCF 1.7

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.

LBCF 1.9

The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture

(which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.


The foundational content, method, and hermeneutic expressed in Part 1 of this book prove themselves to be of the utmost importance, a most valuable resource tool to use and apply when studying the scriptures.  The doctrine of impassibility, and its foundational content, has far reaching implications to the rest of our understanding of God as wells as all the other doctrines glean from scripture.  This content, the method and hermeneutic described in Part 1 are used to draw from scripture what God has said about any doctrine and its interrelation and continuity.  An appropriate understanding and consistent use of this method and hermeneutic applied to any and all study of scripture leans to proper handling and dividing of God’s word.  The analogy of teaching a man to fish aptly applies to this.  To suggest dedicating the primary portion of attention, energy, effort and time in the first 2 chapters in Confessing the Impassible God would be understating the value and impact of what can be learned and applied to the remaining life time of daily bible reading.


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