There is an historic doctrine of the church whose retrieval might be timely. The Impassability of God. Timely because more often than not I’ve found Christians of all stripes, many with a loosened grip on Scripture, its idioms, context and content, confused by the biblical writers use of anthropopathisms (the attribution of human emotions or the ascription of human feelings/passions to speak about God). Several recent conversations were brought to mind when I read Wesley Hill’s most recent article (linked to below) catalyzing an awareness that perhaps the confusion over the matter is more broad than simply my little corner of the world here in Charleston, SC; and that I might perhaps point to a few resources to flesh out the benefits of our reaffirmation of this doctrine. First though a quick overview.
The doctrine of divine impassability simply states that God is not capable of being acted upon or affected emotionally by anything in creation. The Anglican Church’s Thirty Nine Articles of Religion begin with the assertion that “there is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions”
For some – all in the above referenced conversations – the idea that God does not suffer, or is in any way affected by what we do or not do (that he is ‘without passions’) sounds bizarre. Doesn’t this make God some kind of iceberg? The idea that God only ever acts upon creation and is never acted upon is often dismissed instinctively as self-evidently wrong. Divine impassability is completely contrary our culturally formed and therapeutically informed intuition. To our understanding, it is impossible for God to be impassible, because then God could not in any way identify fully with humanity nor could He be loving in any genuine sense of the word.
It is the thread of divine impassibility that Nicholas P. Wolterstorff picks up in the article, Does God Suffer? (Modern Reformation). There he tells the reader that he rejected the doctrine of impassibility after the death of his own son. Shattered by grief, Wolterstorff concluded that God could not possibly be unmoved by human tragedy. Simultaneously, he admits that the denial of this doctrine is like a thread that, when pulled, unravels our entire understanding of God. “Once you pull on the thread of impassibility, a lot of other threads come along . . . . One also has to give up immutability (changelessness) and eternity. If God responds, then God is not metaphysically immutable; and if not metaphysically immutable, then not eternal” (p.47). I have appreciation for both his paternal instinct as well as his recognition of the necessary end of his argument – which is why I find a reassertion of this historic doctrine timely and necessary.
Is God an iceberg? Is God indifferent and remote from His creation? How are we to read the biblical texts where God is described as having emotions? Christian theology has consistently denied that God is cold and remote from his creation. A distinction, though, is necessary. God’s immutability is not inertia. The assertion that God does not change His mind in no way necessitates that He is absent thought. Likewise, the fact that God is not subject to involuntary passions does not mean He is absent true affections. The Infinite communicating to the finite took upon Himself flesh and blood. The very human authors of Holy Scripture, seeking to articulate this wonder, employed of necessity anthropopathic language. The use of such language was not intended to mean that God’s mind and God’s affections are like human thoughts and passions as there is never anything involuntary, irrational, or arbitrary about the divine affections.
Addressing this matter of impassibility, J. I. Packer wrote:
This means, not that God is impassive and unfeeling (a frequent misunderstanding), but that no created beings can inflict pain, suffering and distress on him at their own will. In so far as God enters into suffering and grief (which Scripture’s many anthropopathisms, plus the fact of the cross, show that he does), it is by his own deliberate decision; he is never his creatures’ hapless victim. The Christian mainstream has construed impassibility as meaning not that God is a stranger to joy and delight, but rather that his joy is permanent, clouded by no involuntary pain. (New Dictionary of Theology, edited by Ferguson and Wright, Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998, p.277)
It is instructive to note Packer’s emphasis: God’s affections are never passive and involuntary, but rather always active and deliberate. Packer writes elsewhere,
[Impassibility is] not impassivity, unconcern, and impersonal detachment in face of the creation; not insensitivity and indifference to the distresses of a fallen world; not inability or unwillingness to empathize with human pain and grief; but simply that God’s experiences do not come upon him as ours come upon us, for his are foreknown, willed and chosen by himself, and are not involuntary surprises forced on him from outside, apart from his own decision, in the way that ours regularly are. (God Who Is Rich in Mercy, edited by O’Brien and Peterson, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986, p. 16)
Does all of this really matter? If, as has been said, true wisdom consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves, it matters a great deal. Knowledge of God is the first necessity to know ourselves. At the very center of our faith is the steadfastness and faithfulness of God. The doctrine of Divine Impassability is, as Wolterstorff notes a thread. One thread in the tapestry of the Christian faith. Woven and interconnected to other doctrines. Some threads are more integral to the whole, and when pulled, threaten to distort the object of our faith and undermine the foundation of our hope. My concern is that pulling this thread – divesting God of His incommunicable attributes and undermining the steadfast constancy of His faithfulness takes us a long way down the road of recreating God in our image.
For further reading:
Wesley Hill: The New “New Orthodoxy” : Only the Impassible God Can Help. The article appeared in First Things.
Mark Baddeley: The God of Love. This article, a longer article appeared in The Briefing (Matthias Media)
Beginning on January 20, 2015 the school of theology at St. Andrew’s, the Ridley Institute, will host multiple world renowned theologians, a Christianity Today Book of the Year Award Winner (2013), a former President of the Vineyard Churches and current ACNA church planting Bishop (and New Wine speaker), and many other well known (and not so well known!) pastors and teachers to lead us in a ten-week study of the Person and ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. Blending head, heart, and practice our sessions will address what the Bible teaches us about the Holy Spirit, how we can have a living relationship with Him today, and in what ways he equips us for ministry and mission in the church and for the world. With a particular intent to marry good teaching to good practice we will also have opportunities for ministry time.
- January 20: A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit – Lecturer: Erika Moore
- January 27: A Systematic and Historical Approach – Lecturer:Rob Sturdy
- February 3: The Holy Spirit and the Ministry of Jesus – Lecturer: Peter Walker
- February 10: The Holy Spirit and Regeneration – Lecturer: Gerald Bray
- February 17: The Sealing of the Spirit – Lecturer: Ashley Null
- February 24: Communion with the Holy Spirit – Lecturer: John Hall
- March 3: Practicing the Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Lecturer: Steve Wood
- March 10: True Spiritual Revival – Lecturer: Gerald McDermott
- March 17: The Holy Spirit and Evangelism – Lecturer: Todd Hunter
Some evenings will follow the typical Ridley format, with a teaching followed by small group and then question and answer. Other evenings participants will have the opportunity to participate in ministry time, seeking to apply the lessons learned in intentionally practical sessions. We do hope you’ll join us in person for this exciting series and would encourage you to share this series with friends and colleagues all over the world who can participate via our live-streaming service. For registration and more details visit theridleyinstitute.com.
*A portion of every registration goes towards equipping ministry partners with theological education in areas of the world where cost or opportunity prohibit clergy from receiving the training they need.
For more information or to register, please visit TheRidleyInstitute.com. For those that live outside of the Charleston area, this class is also available via live stream on the web.
In the family,
From the Washington Post:
A year ago, my boss announced that our large New York ad agency would be moving to an open office. After nine years as a senior writer, I was forced to trade in my private office for a seat at a long, shared table. It felt like my boss had ripped off my clothes and left me standing in my skivvies.
Our new, modern Tribeca office was beautifully airy, and yet remarkably oppressive. Nothing was private. On the first day, I took my seat at the table assigned to our creative department, next to a nice woman who I suspect was an air horn in a former life. All day, there was constant shuffling, yelling, and laughing, along with loud music piped through a PA system. As an excessive water drinker, I feared my co-workers were tallying my frequent bathroom trips. At day’s end, I bid adieu to the 12 pairs of eyes I felt judging my 5:04 p.m. departure time. I beelined to the Beats store to purchase their best noise-cancelling headphones in an unmistakably visible neon blue.
Despite its obvious problems, the open-office model has continued to encroach on workers across the country. Now, about 70 percent of U.S. offices have no or low partitions, according to the International Facility Management Association. Silicon Valley has been the leader in bringing down the dividers. Google, Yahoo, eBay, Goldman Sachs and American Express are all adherents. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg enlisted famed architect Frank Gehry to design the largest open floor plan in the world, housing nearly 3,000 engineers. And as a businessman, Michael Bloomberg was an early adopter of the open-space trend, saying it promoted transparency and fairness. He famously carried the model into city hall when he became mayor of New York, making “the Bullpen” a symbol of open communication and accessibility to the city’s chief.
These new floor plans are ideal for maximizing a company’s space while minimizing costs. Bosses love the ability to keep a closer eye on their employees, ensuring clandestine porn-watching, constant social media-browsing and unlimited personal cellphone use isn’t occupying billing hours. But employers are getting a false sense of improved productivity. A 2013 study found that many workers in open offices are frustrated by distractions that lead to poorer work performance. Nearly half of the surveyed workers in open offices said the lack of sound privacy was a significant problem for them and more than 30 percent complained about the lack of visual privacy. Meanwhile, “ease of interaction” with colleagues — the problem that open offices profess to fix — was cited as a problem by fewer than 10 percent of workers in any type of office setting. In fact, those with private offices were least likely to identify their ability to communicate with colleagues as an issue. In a previous study, researchers concluded that “the loss of productivity due to noise distraction … was doubled in open-plan offices compared to private offices.”
The New Yorker, in a review of research on this nouveau workplace design, determined that the benefits in building camaraderie simply mask the negative effects on work performance. While employees feel like they’re part of a laid-back, innovative enterprise, the environment ultimately damages workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. Furthermore, a sense of privacy boosts job performance, while the opposite can cause feelings of helplessness.
About four years ago, one of the few passersby who dropped into Butterfield’s enormous neo-Gothic barn of a church is St Augustine’s on a prime piece of real estate in Queen’s Gate, South Kensington, would have witnessed an extraordinary sight.
Hour after hour, standing at the altar, they would have seen an ex-offender with startling blue eyes, a shock of wavy brown hair and a face that has clearly ‘lived’ a little, practising the complex rituals and liturgy of a 34-page High Mass that owes more to 20th-century Rome than his own Church of England, until he knew every step by heart.
Rev Paul Cowley was awarded an MBE in the latest honours, for services to ex-offenders. His story and that of the church he now leads are living witnesses to the power of faith to transform.
Now 58, at 15 he was expelled from school and after living in a squat entered a life of crime which landed him behind bars. When he came out he found salvation in the Army after seeing a poster offering a ‘life of adventure’. In 16 years he rose to Staff Sergeant, did three tours in Northern Ireland and one in the Falklands and fought on the Army boxing team. After leaving he became a fitness trainer and ended up running one of London’s top fitness clubs. “The Army absolutely saved my life,” he says. “It brought out leadership skills and self-discipline and gave me a family, clothes and fed me.”
He was persuaded to do an Alpha course at HTB in 1994 and his life was turned around. “I came to Christ,” he says. “God did a real number on me.” The change came half way through the course. “I remember thinking, if all this stuff is true, I can change. I can be the person I want to be, a man of character, strength and integrity, a good husband, a good father. I remember thinking, God, if you can do all that, I am up for it. I finished the course, and things started to change.” He became involved in running home groups, and then in ex-offender work after HTB staff heard his testimony and asked him to visit Dartmoor, which led to setting up Alpha for prisons. Eight in ten prisons now run the course.
He was ordained in 2002 after a three year degree course at Oakhill and in 2010 was appointed pastor of HTB Queen’s Gate, under the oversight of HTB vicar Nicky Gumbel.
His work at St Augustine’s, rechristened St Augustine’s Queen’s Gate, includes Alpha for Prisons, Caring for Ex-Offenders, Alpha for Forces, and the William Wilberforce Trust which takes in a counter-human trafficking unit, a homeless drop in, debt counselling and courses dealing with money, dept, depression, and recovery. There is a staff of 42 including 30 in the refurbished offices at the church itself.
Just saw that Cottonwood Outfitters, the outfitter who guided my MT hunt, put up their year end video and footage of my bull elk is included.
The first 58 seconds are pretty cool. Great footage of bull elks on the high prairie bugling. The first one is just the bull. There follows couple of still shots (the one with the two hunters standing next to a tree is meant to show a “rub.” Notice how high the rub goes on the tree compared to the two hunters) and then in the next one some bulls can be heard bugling off screen and then the onscreen bull is seen replying.
At the 6.01 mark is video from my elk hunt. You’ll see a herd of cows moving across the face of a hillside followed by Ted Ford posing next to the cow he harvested (I took that picture). From 6.18-6.49 is video of the bull I harvested along with a picture of me with my bull followed by a picture of Ted and me with my mule deer. At the 7.12 mark is footage of Edmund Frampton’s shot on his mulie (300 yards) and then a photo with his mulie. At the 7.26 mark is a photo of Donnie Buhrmaster with his mulie.
The guys at Cottonwood are great guys. Can’t say enough about them.
From Mollie Hemingway over at The Federalist:
Here are six other Grahams you’d probably rather see run for the highest office in the land before Lindsey Graham.
Heather Graham: She was great as Rollergirl in Boogie Nights but also as Daisy in the satire Bowfinger. She’s a children’s rights activist and a sex symbol.
Franklin Graham: This evangelist and missionary is president of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief organization. He’s also Billy Graham’s son.
Alexander Graham Bell: Technically not eligible to run for president on account of only being a naturalized citizen and also on account of being dead, he invented the telephone. He was an out and proud eugenicist, but so is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, so he might be able to pick up her supporters.
The telegram: A message or communication sent by telegraph may be outdated, yes, but it is still far more useful than Lindsey Graham.
J.R.R. Tolkien once said that “believable fairy-stories must be intensely practical. You must have a map, no matter how rough.” But in Peter Jackson’s new and final Hobbit film, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which opened Wednesday, there is no map. There’s not even a plan. We veer far not just from Middle-earth, but from all plausibility.
But you can’t blame Tolkien for this. Jackson got us here; he’s the one who must be stopped.
It’s not that I’m anti-Peter Jackson. I followed the Lord of the Rings trilogy through Middle-earth like a drooling orc-puppy. I like my fantasy to be exciting, and to take me places I have never been to, and for its protagonists to do cool, heroic stuff. Jackson’s first Tolkien threesome hit all these sweet spots, and made me care about his characters to boot; they were well-rounded people (and hobbits, and elves, and dwarves) whose exploits and feats were still believable.
That’s simply not the case with his Hobbit movies.
Wait, you say. This is fantasy. It’s a story about dwarves, elves, dragons, wizards, pipe weed, and magic rings. Anything can happen, right? Well, not quite. For fantasy to work, it has to be based on reality. And ultimately, these Hobbit films do not feel real.
The issues go back to An Unexpected Journey, the opening film of the trilogy. This film was widely derided for its gratuitous use of action sequences—and rightfully so. There’s wizard Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) driving a rabbit-pulled sled in order to distract orcs so Gandalf (Ian McKellen), the Dwarves, and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) can escape them. There’s the physics-bending episode in the Goblin King’s cave, in which our adventurers are chased along a series of computer-generated catwalks; their fight with the goblins is a horrific ballet of Three Stooges-caliber pratfalls. But when Bilbo tumbled what looked like 350 feet into Gollum’s cave, and survived? That was the moment when I knew that the film was truly a goner.
In film two, The Desolation of Smaug, many of us grimaced at a river-and-barrel sequence more at home in a Disney theme park than a Tolkien movie. The dwarves’ absurd attempt to create a tidal wave of hot gold to pour over an irate Smaug the Dragon was the molten-metal topping to the hubris that is Mount Jackson. Not to mention the silly elf-dwarf romance—which Peter Jackson recently admitted was a “cold-blooded decision” to appeal to “a lot of young girls seeing this film.”