Non Sequitur

Although there has been much interchange between orthodox evangelical brethren (and I use “orthodox” as a courtesy) and those who hold to the doctrine of the church as expressed in highly valued church confessions (and rightly so – these confessions, for the most part (depending on the confession) hold the doctrines of Scripture), I have been surprised that there are those who disagree with the established doctrine of God and the Trinity.

After all, what could be more plain than that which all the Reformed confessions – well – confess, about the most important doctrine of our faith?

Let’s review:

WCF — Chapter II: Of God, and of the Holy Trinity SDFO — Chapter II: Of God and of the Holy Trinity LBCF/PCF — Chapter II: Of God and the Holy Trinity

1. There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his won glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgments; hating all sin; and who will by no means clear the guilty.

1. There is but one only living and true God; who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure Spirit, invisible, without body, parts or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

1. The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

2. God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them; he is the alone foundation of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom, are all things; and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth. In his sight all things are open and manifest; his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature; so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain. He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands. To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience he is pleased to require of them.

2. God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in, and of himself; and is alone, in, and unto himself, all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures, which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them: He is the alone fountain of all being. of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth. In his sight all things are open and manifest, his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain. He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands. To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service or obedience, as creatures, they owe unto the Creator, and whatever he is further pleased to require of them.

2. God, having all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself, is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creature which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them; he is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things, and he hath most sovereign dominion over all creatures, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth; in his sight all things are open and manifest, his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain; he is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands; to him is due from angels and men, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience, as creatures they owe unto the Creator, and whatever he is further pleased to require of them.

3. In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the HolyGhost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

3. In the unity of the God-head there be three Persons, of one substance, power and eternity. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the HolyGhost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. Which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence upon him.

3. In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the HolySpirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations;which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him.

If there is any disagreement with the Nicean understanding of our Triune God in these three statements of our faith, I do not find it.

By the way, the LBCF goes further than the others, but in no manner disagrees with them, nor would our brothers of those confessions find anything to disagree with in the 1689.

It appears that all historical, confessional believers are in agreement on these matters (excepting those who claim to subscribe to a Scriptural confession, but redefine it to their ends – but that is beyond the scope of this bit of blurb article)

The problem, therefore, is a lack of being anchored to what the apostolic doctrine, handed down by faithful men to other faithful men who have passed it down to other faithful men have consistently taught (2nd Timothy, anyone?).

Not all catholic doctrine is to be mindlessly adhered to – in fact, those on this site hold to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith – but that doctrine which we agree upon with our brethren has been well stated.

When it comes to the doctrine of God – Theology Proper – all the confessions hold to that which was first stated in Nicea, and confirmed again in Chalcedon. There has been no ambiguity regarding the most important doctrine of our faith for years, until the 20th and 21st centuries.

This article is not a scholarly treatment of the questions and arguments which have been put forward, but it does affirm that which has been passed down by faithful men of God to other faithful men of God, up to the present.

When it comes to Scripture, we are quick, as the body of Christ, to affirm there is no error in it, but when it comes to the Doctrine of God, although innovation of the same was handled in the early church, apparently, it is fair game, and we are left to wonder why such is the case.

Mystery surrounds our God, but not in the manner some have re-imagined. He is so clear in His communication to us – His Scripture – that it boggles the minds of we who hold to sound doctrine regarding His self revelation, which was challenged by heretics in the early church, and soundly defeated by good men of God. He stated that He is all that He is, uncreated. He stated that He does not change, and He stated that such is true of Him in all His Persons, undividedly.

He has further stated that the Son and the Spirit are co-eternal with the Father. These are unequivocal truths found in Scripture.

What has been contested is that which was defeated in the early church, namely, that God has any properties aside from His nature, and that in the Trinity, the Son, who is equally God, has been eternally subjugated to the Father.

Scripture, and the orthodox Reformed confessions, are ever agreed on these matters, as should all believing Christians always be.

God, before creation, was eternally, unchangeablely, blessed and happy within Himself. Being perfection, He had no  need of a perfunctory order where either the Son or the Spirit submitted to the Father. As the confessions state, soundly based upon the early creeds, which in turn were based on Scripture, God was complete within Himself. There was no need for subjugation of one divine person to another, nor should we expect such was true of our unchangeable God.

The eternal Son being ever subject to the eternal Father is a man-made construct, based on the understanding of God by equating the Triune Being to those whom He created.

Likewise, as has been said by very many Reformed theologians of the past (and many today) “all that is in God is God.” There is no room for “added properties”, whether they are called “creational properties,” or “covenantal properties.”

Man cannot understand the relations within the Triune God by imposing those relations of the created creature which are made known to man by natural revelation – it simply will not work. God, as He has revealed Himself in Special Revelation – i.e., Scripture – is not subject to the changes and vagaries of man’s existence. God is unique, and man is created.

These innovations by contemporary theologians trying to explain God’s relationality and the Son’s subjection to the Father according to human philosophies, and/or seeking to exegete the Scripture as if it contradicted itself (which is contrary to orthodox Reformed hermeneutics) in order to match those philosophies (which really results in eisegesis), are simply misplaced. When Scripture states that God does not change, and another passage in Scripture seems to say that He did change, in contradiction to the fact that God does not change, the primary passages which define God’s being, substance and character take precedence over those passages defining things about God in human language, for this – human language – is accommodated to our finite understanding in order to communicate to us things which are true of God in a manner which we would normally associate with other finite beings, not to inform us that God did, indeed, change. Thus, we may view His anger as abating, His love as increasing or decreasing, and such things, when in fact, these are simple finite expressions of His infinite, unchanging existence and being. Since this is a brief article, we will not go more into this now. (There are other articles on this site which speak to this a bit more, as well as books recommended which speak to these things extensively.)

Returning to the main thrust of this article, to say God changes and does not change, and that the Son has the same relation to the Father from everlasting as He took on as the God-man through the incarnation, as the title of this article says, simply does not follow from Scripture. Non Sequitur.

 

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God Exists Outside of Creation

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Our Title is somewhat misleading, but this will become apparent within the context of our article (note that the article is from the manuscript of a sermon that was preached at our church).

Note also, these articles from sermons are largely based in what I have learned by reading various classical works regarding Classical Theism, as well as various contemporary works treating of this most foundational doctrine. Of all these works, the one I recommend to our readers of this blog would be Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility, available here: (Reformed Baptist Academic Press) – to my mind, this is at least the most important theological book to come out in the last 50 years, if not longer. Continue reading “God Exists Outside of Creation”

Does God Change?

It is of note, and the most great importance, to observe that none of the Reformers or Puritans conceived of God as having to “take on covenantal/relational properties” which were in addition to His “essential essence.” Such thoughts of God as He is, and in how He defines His being and existence in His Scripture, were not only unknown to the orthodox of the church in all ages, but especially unknown to the orthodox of the church in that most orthodox time of theological exposition of the Scriptures by very learned men of God, the Reformation and post-Reformation Scholastic period.

They dealt with those who posited God as being able to experience emotions as the consequence of His relating to men, and classified them as heretics (primarily the Socinians, among others).

To them, and all orthodox and Reformed since the inception of the church, to think God changes (responds or relates to properties in His creatures) was a most horrifying thought. They knew that our sure hope, faith and practice was grounded in He who changes not, and the idea that He might change, to them (rightly so), filled them with consternation, for if God changes, in one degree at any time, that which He has sworn by and of Himself (there being none greater to swear byHebrews 6:13-18) is therefore liable to the vagaries of change. He who is immutable thus displays mutability in relation to His creatures, and so their sure hope of He who changes not is lost.

This thought was so foreign to the orthodox in the church of all ages, up to the 17th century, that all those who proposed such changes in God were rightly labeled heretics.

We, however, having lost this witness of God about Himself which the church knew in the majority of its existence, are now tolerant of those who suggest that God has an “essential essence” which does not, and cannot change, and a “relational, or covenantal” essence which He has somehow willed to change in His dealings with His creatures.

There are those who teach, not only at orthodox evangelical institutions (the termorthodoxis used broadly, here), but at accepted orthodox Reformed institutions (again, abroadunderstanding of the termorthodoxis here implied), that God responds to the situation of His creatures.

Brethren, these things ought not to be! Our orthodox forefathers had it right!

We are so eager to maintain the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), that we have (too many of us) forgotten that unity is also of the  “unity of the faith,” meaning the body of that confessional doctrine so delivered to us by our Lord through His apostles (Ephesians 4:13a; Jude 1:3b).

Doctrine is the teaching of the Scriptures which informs our theology. This doctrine is unified – as God is One, and cannot be separated into component parts, so is His doctrine which was “once for all delivered unto the saints.”

Where we begin to separate the doctrine of God from the simplicity and aseity of our God, as if He must take on properties outside of Himself in order to relate to us, at that point, I must insist, we are turning from orthodoxy into heresy. Our fathers in the faith condemned these sort of departures from the Doctrine of God as heresy: Why do we hesitate to do the same?

This matter IS that important.

To God alone be the glory – Bill Hier

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.

Cali