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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Does God Have Emotions or Feelings?

In this day and time the compromises of so-called "Reformed" scholars are many.  Recently I was searching online to find a consensus opinion among Evangelical Calvinists.  I was surprised to find someone no less popular in Presbyterian circles than Ligon Duncan promoting the heresy of patripassianism and giving explicit approval of the theology of Jurgen Moltmann, a known liberal.  (See:  J. Ligon Duncan III,  "Divine Impassibility and Passibility in Nineteenth-Century Confessional Theologians", Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, pp. 6, 15).  Of course, Evangelicals do not wish to be labeled as fundamentalists so they rush to endorse the latest fad in liberal theology--so long as it does not explicitly or obviously contradict one of the "essentials" of the Christian faith. Duncan admits that the confessional view and the view of  more classical Calvinists is opposed to any idea of change, mutability or emotions in God:

Chapter two of  the Confession represents a comprehensive revision and expansion of the first of the Thirty-Nine Articles (1562-3), the initial sentence of which reads:

'There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom and goodness; the Maker, and the preserver of all things both visible and invisible.'
Hence, the crucial phrase 'without body, parts, or passions' was directly borrowed by the Assembly of Divines from the earlier document and resituated in a longer list of attributes. Older commentators on the Thirty-Nine Articles uniformly argued that this phrase meant that God was without emotions and incapable of suffering.  (Duncan, p. 1).  [The reference to the Thirty-Nine Articles is from Article I].
What is particularly striking here is that Duncan must go to the 19th century to prove his  view that God changes according to some aspect of feeling in God's being.  What is even more amazing is that anyone who dares to assert that the Bible is univocally and propositionally God's fully inspired, infallible and inerrant word is "prying into the secret being of God", while these speculators and promoters of contradiction and paradox get to tell the rest of us what God "feels".


Since all truth is God's truth there is some value in examining the theological reflections and higher criticism of the liberals and the neo-orthodox theologians.  However, the rationalism of the liberals, according to the Van Tilians, is an attempt to pry into the secret being of God.  On the other hand, the neo-orthodox have no obligation to logic or reason or even the law of contradiction.  Unfortunately, Cornelius Van Til and his followers rejected logic in regards to doing theology and called it "rationalism."  As you can see, Ligon Duncan takes great pains in his article to show that "nineteenth-century confessional Presbyterian theologians" argue in line with the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion that God is immutable and without passions.  But he also goes to great pains to show that they conceded that God must have feelings of some sort.  Some of his quotes are extensive.

R. L. Dabney, for example, goes to great lengths to establish the impassibility of God before he makes what can only be considered a contradictory assertion:

Is all this so anthropopathic as not even to mean that God's active principles here have an objective?  Why not let the Scriptures mean what they so plainly strive to declare?  But some seem so afraid of recognizing in God any susceptibility of a passive nature that they virtually set Scripture aside, and paint a God whose whole activities of intelligence and will are so exclusively from himself that even the relation of objective occasion to him is made unreal, and no other is allowed than a species of coincidence or preestablished harmony.  (Quoted by Duncan, p. 10).
Interestingly it is only after the doctrines of Abraham  Kuyper and Herman Bavinck had popularized the doctrines of "common grace" and the "free offer of the gospel" that we find any significant compromises of the doctrine of God's absolute independence from his creation.  Ironically, these same proponents of anthropopathisms have accused those who are strictly confessional on this issue of "rationalism" and "prying into God's secret being".  I wonder how they "know" that God has feelings?  Dabney does not prove his assertion from Scripture.  Instead he appeals to what can only be called an emotivist and ad hominem argument.  After all, anyone who agrees with the confession must be motivated by "fear" rather than the propositional truth statements of Scripture or the Westminster Confession or the Anglican Articles of Religion.


Phil Johnson, the Calvinistic Baptist, concurs.  He likewise says that God is impassible but then takes it all back because God is not an "iceberg".  (See:  God Without Mood Swings:  Recovering the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility).  Johnson's favorite method of argument is ad hominem since anyone who would dare to stand on the plain teaching of the Confession or the Anglican Articles is obviously a "hyper-Calvinist".  Would it not be possible to have genuine disagreement based on theology and propositional truth claims made by the Scriptures and by the Reformed symbols?  I guess not.

Calvin himself was unequivocal about the doctrine of impassibility, by the way:

13. What then is meant by the term repentance? The very same that is meant by the other forms of expression, by which God is described to us humanly. Because our weakness cannot reach his height, any description which we receive of him must be lowered to our capacity in order to be intelligible. And the mode of lowering is to represent him not as he really is, but as we conceive of him. Though he is incapable of every feeling of perturbation, he declares that he is angry with the wicked. Wherefore, as when we hear that God is angry, we ought not to imagine that there is any emotion in him, but ought rather to consider the mode of speech accommodated to our sense, God appearing to us like one inflamed and irritated whenever he exercises Judgment, so we ought not to imagine any thing more under the term repentance than a change of action, men being wont to testify their dissatisfaction by such a change. Hence, because every change whatever among men is intended as a correction of what displeases, and the correction proceeds from repentance, the same term applied to God simply means that his procedure is changed. In the meantime, there is no inversion of his counsel or will, no change of his affection. What from eternity he had foreseen, approved, decreed, he prosecutes with unvarying uniformity, how sudden soever to the eye of man the variation may seem to be.  (Institutes I, xvii, 13–14).

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).
The proponents of a reading of Calvin that indicates that God "desires" the salvation of the reprobate is misplaced.  Nowhere does Calvin ever say such a thing.  In fact, God never changes.  He has determined his decrees before the creation of the universe.  Although Calvin does say that the preaching of God's word and gospel is a general call to all, he never once says that God desires to save the reprobate.  Calvin, rather, says that God wants to save "all mankind".   We know that God does call the elect from every nation, class, gender, socio-economic status and other classifications of people.  But this is not the same as saying that God literally desires the salvation of every individual without exception.  That would be a blatant contradiction.

Furthermore, most of these proponents of emotions in God appeal to the incarnation as a proof that God has feelings.  They also assert, like Duncan above, that God literally "suffers" on the cross in some sense.  But these are the same people who insist that we cannot "pry into the secret things" of God.  (Deuteronomy 29:29).  Since the confessions uphold that God is without body parts or passions one finds it hard to believe that these modern revisionists would attack those who believe the plain teaching of Scripture and the Confessions as "rationalists" and "hyper-Calvinists".  

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