Thursday, March 05, 2015

Bob Gonzales on the Impassibility of God

Some of the blog's longtime readers will remember that several years ago I had posted an article recommending a series of articles by Bob Gonzales, the Academic Dean and a professor of the Reformed Baptist Seminary, concerning the doctrine of the impassibility of God. Such readers may also have noticed that some time ago I removed that post. Now, however, I wish to make it clear that the post was not removed because I no longer recommended Bob's writings on the subject, but rather because Bob himself had removed the articles from his own blog for a time, and I did not want to have a post linking to articles that were no longer available. However, since an updated series of the articles has once again been made available on Bob's blog, I and my blog partner, Jeff Johnson, wanted to post in support of them again here. We understand full well that the issue of God's impassibility has been a matter of significant debate recently, and we are saddened at the division that has arisen over it, since it is our belief that there has long been an openness among Reformed theologians toward suggested refinements in the expression of the doctrine. It is our hope that such an openness will continue and that Reformed theologians will be able to agree to disagree on the matter, especially since we respect many on both sides of the current debate among Reformed Baptists as well as Presbyterians.
Having thus made our basic perspective on the matter clear, we want to recommend Bob's articles on our blog once again. Bob is our friend, but, more importantly, he also happens to be on the right side of the issue in our judgment. In fact, we also share his sorrow over the unnecessary division that has arisen concerning the issue in some quarters in recent years. 
At any rate, the first article Bob published that touches on the matter was actually written in response to an article by James Renihan concerning whether or not we should speak either of God or of believers as "passionate." Here is the link:
In this article Bob concludes:
Are you passionate for that which is contrary to God’s revealed will? Then you do need to repent. Are you passionate for God, his worship, and the advance of his gospel? If so, please don’t repent! Instead, pray for more passion in order that you might be passionate as your heavenly Father is passionate.
Then there is a four part series of articles dealing more directly with the doctrine of divine impassibility. Here they are in order:
Bob states his ultimate conclusion thusly:
So we affirm that God is self-contained, independent, and wholly satisfied with himself. He possesses a kind of joy that cannot be marred. Yet, we also affirm that within the matrix of time and space, God expresses various cognitive-affective valuations such as grief, sorrow, anger, pleasure, love, hatred, jealousy, joy, and peace in ways that are perfectly consistent with his unchanging "being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth." Accordingly, God's transcendent qualities -- his sovereignty, immutability, and eternality -- remain intact. 
We highly recommend reading all five of these articles, and we would also encourage reading from the other side of the issue, such as God Without Passions: A Reader, edited by Samuel Renihan, who lays out his own view in the "Introduction to the Reader." We have friends on both sides of the debate, and, as indicated above, we believe that those on both sides of the debate are well within the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy, even if we come down on one side rather than the other.


  1. James, in all fairness, I think a link to Jim Renihan's blog that (you said) started this debate and (for some of us a) debacle should have been added with Bob Gonzales response link. Plus, there are over 250 pages of reports, which are confined to ARBCA churches and not yet made known to the wider spectrum, which exegetically answer Gonzales' arguments. These will be made available after the April General Assembly. Until then, I think judgment should be suspended on your part. I remain your friend. . .

    1. Earl, my name is Keith, not James. I suspect that you may have typed James by accident due to your thinking of James Renihan's article in your opening sentence. But, since you mistakenly wrote his name, I am not sure whether your comments were intended for me or for Jeff, so I will respond for myself. I want to begin by saying that, while I respect your point of view, it behooves me to point out a few things in response.

      First, I didn't actually say that James Renihan's blog "started the debate"; I simply highlighted Bob's response to his article as the first one in which he began to write online about the impassibility of God (at least as far as I know). But, now that you mention it, I suppose it did start the debate, at least, perhaps, for folks in ARBCA.

      Second, I guess I didn't think it necessary to post a link to Renihan's post, since Bob's response to it included a link in the first line, but I have taken your advice and added a link in the text of the article for good measure.

      Third, since I am not a part of ARBCA -- however much I respect the association -- I do not feel bound by either its dictums or its findings, nor do I think it necessary to read their reports before I know my own mind on the matter. After all, there has been much written on the matter over the centuries, not to mention what has been written in recent years, so it isn't like I am completely ignorant of the issues involved or haven't had my thinking challenged on the matter before. However, I do look forward to reading the reports with the hope that they may shed more light than heat on the matter, and I also hope to learn from them as I have learned from virtually everything I've read on the issue up to this point.

      Thanks for your input, and thanks for letting the blog's readers know about the upcoming publication of the ARBCA reports. I'm sure we all will look forward to reading them. May God grant His grace and wisdom to all involved.

  2. I am also eager to read the ARBCA report. I still have a list of books to work through myself. My hope and even prayer is that friendships and Christian unity will be maintained. Having friends on both sides of the issue is a blessing. As there are differences within Reformed Baptists on the covenants, I would think there should be room for differences upon a topic that is just as difficult, if not more difficult, to understand—God's relationship with time and how He feels about time related events (such as sin). Along with striving for doctrinal purity, we should seek to communicate lovingly and pertinently with each other. We should, in our love for each other, desire to understand each other—assuming the best of each other. This is not to say theological differences do not matter…I for one am thankful that disagreements, like this, can be used by God to lead us to go back to the Scriptures and study things out more fully.


    1. Thanks for the link, Rich. I would encourage our readers to familiarize themselves with both sides of this debate, since I think that there is legitimate room for some disagreement on the matter within Reformed circles.