Jonathan Edwards on the “necessity” of the divine decree

Our acts are free, though triggered by intentions that are caused according to God’s sovereign determination of the relationship between prior states of affairs and our intentions to act. Moreover, we approve of our intentions that cannot be other than what they will be.

Like us, God approves of his intentions and cannot act contrary to them. Yet, unlike us, God is most free, at least because his acts proceed from intentions that are not the effect of preceding states of affairs. So, unlike us, God is ultimate sourcehood and can do anything he can possibly desire.

There is no time in eternity, but even if time were uncreated, there could not have been enough time to have sequentially chosen a decree according to an intention that was chosen according to a previous intention ad infinitum. No, the divine intention is eternal, and a chosen intention is unintelligible.

Unsatisfactory objections with no solution:

With respect to Richard Muller and others, the world from an Edwardsian perspective is not (from itself) necessary but given the eternal decree, it is not narrowly-logically necessary but causally necessary being secured by the divine intention. Notwithstanding, creation itself isn’t essential to God, for creation is not a property of God, and God existed without creation. Should we find it strange that God cannot exist without some eternal intention to create or not create? Can God have no intention, even an intention not to have an intention? Surely God must exist with an intention he never did not have. That’s just built into God being God! Notwithstanding, that which God’s free intention contemplates is not a cause that acts upon God or his intention.

Room for freedom:

In conditional (Classical Compatiblist) terms, God could have not created this world had he so willed. Or, rather than contemplate hypotheticals that change a fixed future by altering the past, we might contemplate a different future that would entail a different past: Had God not created this world, he would have intended not to create. Either way, God’s intentions and acts are most free and agreeable to God according to a “mesh” of undivided will.

What’s the alternative, (i) a non-eternal intention? (ii) An eternally chosen contingent-intention (according to an eternally chosen or unchosen intention)? (iii) An eternal yet metaphysically contingent intention? But how does (iii) not make creation and God’s eternal will contingent, which is bound to lead back to (ii).

Impassibility of the contrary?

If nothing outside God acts upon God resulting in an intention to create, then God’s ultimate freedom to create is intact. That said, what’s the problem with Edwards on the necessity of the divine decree? What does the charge against Edwards even mean, that God is not most free unless another eternal intention could have been formed in God contrary to the eternal intention God eternally approved of for himself? Again, what’s the alternative to such freedom? If libertarian freedom is a philosophical surd, then how can God be libertarian free and not free in an Edwardsian sense?

As we teach our children, God can do all his holy will. (WSC 13)

Impeccability of Christ & Broadly Logical Modality

The Sproulian view of the peccability of Christ ends in either in an abstraction of the human nature from the second Person or else it attributes human personhood to the Son. Either way the denial of the impeccability of Christ implicitly, yet unwittingly, denies Chalcedon. (At the 21 minute mark I interact with Sproul, though I don’t get into modality in the Sunday school class.)

It’s really as simple as modus tollens.

1. If it is possible that Jesus could sin, then it is possible that God could sin.

2. It is false that it is possible that God could sin.

3. Therefore, it is false that it is possible that Jesus could sin.

Given the validity of the form of the argument, which premise (1 or 2) is disputed by those who’d deny Christ’s impeccability? It’s hard to say given that the focus is typically on the possible sin of Christ’s humanity, and not on the possible sin of Christ in his humanity. Notwithstanding, in order to deny impeccability one must affirm that it’s possible for the Son to sin. Otherwise the debate is misunderstood.

Possible world semantics are also useful here. Consider, is there a possible world in which the incarnate Son of God sins? (The answer to the question is kind of built into the definition of God, but I won’t get ahead of myself.)

Modality considerations:

We would do well to distinguish (a) narrow or strict logical possibility from (b) broad logical possibility or metaphysical possibility. One might say that “God sins” is logically possible in a strict sense because the proposition does not immediately entail a logical contradiction. But that would not imply that it is broadly logically possible, metaphysically speaking, for God to sin.

An analogy might be useful here. A state of matter cannot be solid and not solid at the same time and in the same way. To affirm the contrary would entail logical impossibility in a strict sense, as it would violate the law of non-contradiction in an immediate inferential sense. (It’s critical to grasp at this point that one needn’t know what solid, gaseous, liquid and plasma states entail for it to be known that such a phase of matter (a form that is both solid and not solid…) is a strict (or narrow) logical impossibility. The logical contradiction in view is formal and according to the law of non-contradiction (aside from any semantic considerations). It merely pertains to: something cannot be x and ~x…

However, it would not immediately entail a logical contradiction for a phase to be simultaneously solid and gaseous; yet how is such a state of being relevantly possible? Well, it’s not. It can’t be actualized. We might say that such a form of matter is not strictly (or narrowly logically) impossible, but that’s merely because no formal law of logic is immediately violated by the term solid-gas. What’s lacking in the immediate or strictly logical inference of the possibility of a solid-gas is the meaning, or qualitative differences, of two distinct truths about forms of matter. Yet once we know the semantic implications of solid and gaseous states, then we may infer from additional premises that no solid can be simultaneously gaseous. Accordingly, we may then further deduce that a phase that is both solid and gaseous is more broadly logically (or metaphysically) impossible. Furthermore, a solid-gas is just as relevantly impossible as a solid that is not a solid!

Back to impeccability. Like a solid-gas, a God-man who can sin is a contradiction in terms. Such contemplations are broadly illogical due to the nature of things.

2 ways one might go:

Without grasping the relevant implications of divinity as it relates to the doctrine of Christ, one might assert the metaphysical possibility of Jesus sinning. Furthermore, it’s not immediately inferable that it’s logically impossible for all possible humans, including Jesus, to sin. Yet if one grasps Chalcedon and incorporates God’s nature into the deduction, one may more modestly concede the latter option, that it is narrowly logically possible for Jesus, a human being, to sin. Whereas the former option lacks the use of relevant information about God’s nature, the latter, although more sophisticated, would have little or nothing to do with the doctrine of Christ’s impeccability, which is a metaphysical, broadly logical consideration. (Moreover, I’ve never seen such a subtle distinction of modality articulated as the basis for one’s denial of the doctrine of the impeccability of Christ, which is not to say that some haven’t had such reflections without having the semantic categories to articulate such a position.)

Those who hold to a doctrine of peccability either are confusing modalities or else they’re latent Nestorians:

Christians who affirm a doctrine of peccability typically do so without any self-conscious reference to a modality maneuver. Notwithstanding, to assert peccability as true doctrine entails a misunderstanding of temptation that in turn undermines the two natures in one subsistence. It’s not as though they affirm only strict logical possibility over possible actuality. Rather, in affirming peccability, they affirm the actual (metaphysical, broadly logically) possibility of an unfaithful Christ (and consequently affirm strict logical possibility too). In doing so, they abstract the human nature from the divine person, which falls to the same type error as positing a solid gas. In confusion, they might additionally attribute distinct personhood to the human being, Christ (Nestorianism).

Further reflection:

Christians embrace the incarnation of the divine Son as a union of two distinct natures in one hypostasis. Yet given a doctrine of peccability, is it further supposed that the human nature could possibly have sinned apart from the Person having sinned? In other words, by sinning would the Second Person (God) have committed sin only in his humanity but not personally? It’s hard to tell whether people like Sproul think that the whole person of Christ could possibly sin in his humanity. After all, Sproul’s position entails an unorthodox abstraction that “Satan was not trying to get God to sin. He was trying to get the human nature of Christ to sin, so that he would not be qualified to be the Savior.”

Wrapping up:

Given the meaning or ontological import of Jesus is Son, we may safely maintain it is metaphysically or broadly logically impossible for Jesus to sin in any actualizeable (feasible) world, which is the only relevant scope of possibility in this regard. Since God cannot possibly actualize a world in which the Son sins, in what Christological sense might Christ possibly sin? Given God’s nature, an implication of Chalcedon is Jesus was indeed impeccable.

There are other missteps Sproul makes. I’ll briefly touch on a few.

“But if Christ’s divine nature prevented him from sinning, in what sense did he obey the law of God as the second Adam?”

False dichotomy: When God prevents us from sinning in the face of temptation, are we not truly obeying? Accordingly, operative grace does not undermine either obedience or true temptation.

Moreover, God’s free knowledge of the divine decree presupposes the causal divine determinism of ordinary providence. Consequently, Sproul’s question smacks of Incompatibilism for God cannot but ultimately and causally determine the incarnate Son’s willful intentions through the intentional ordering of states of affairs, about which God pre-interprets the particulars consistent with a Reformed understanding of concurrence.

“I may be wrong, but I think it is wrong to believe that Christ’s divine nature made it impossible for his human nature to sin. If that were the case, the temptation, the tests, and his assuming of the responsibility of the first Adam would have all been charades. This position protects the integrity of the authenticity of the human nature because it was the human nature that carried out the mission of the second Adam on our behalf. It was the human nature uniquely anointed beyond measure by the Holy Spirit.”

What is it to be “uniquely anointed beyond measure by the Holy Spirit” other than to attribute something additional to the Second Adam that was not granted to our first father by the Holy Spirit? Moreover, how might Sproul capitalize on the Spirit’s anointing in a way that distinguishes it in any relevant sense from the ordinary empowering of the human will that might have come to Christ’s humanity from the Son’s ubiquitous divine nature, which is shared with the Father and the Spirit? How many divine beings are there after all? Moreover, the incarnation entails a perichoresis in the sense that the omnipresent divine nature of Christ penetrates his human nature, as it does ours yet to a lesser degree, though always without a transfer of properties. The penetration is also one directional and never from the human nature to the divine nature.

Lastly, regarding the human nature and Christ’s mission, was it the human nature that kept itself from sinking under the infinite wrath of God? Moreover, did the human nature alone give worth and efficacy to the sufferings of Christ? No to both. A human person could not have possibly redeemed! Accordingly, Sproul is not only wrong for abstracting the humanity of Christ from Christ, he’s also mistaken in thinking that the divine nature of the Son contributes nothing to our salvation. (See my post on strict vs. pactum justice.)

We are saved by a divine Person, not by an abstracted impersonal nature or even a human person. Accordingly, Sproul simply is incorrect that “the human nature carried out the [redemptive] mission.” Rather, it was requisite that a person carry out the mission, and that the person be God incarnate, as Sproul’s confessional Standards rightly teach:

Westminster Larger Catechism:

Q. 38. Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God?

A. It was requisite that the Mediator should be God, that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God, and the power of death; give worth and efficacy to his sufferings, obedience and intercession; and to satisfy God’s justice, procure his favor, purchase a peculiar people, give his Spirit to them…

(As with the false doctrine of Christ’s peccability, so it is with Molinism. As I argue here, Molinism posits true narrow-sense possibilities that cannot be actualized even though there are an “infinite number” of these “logical” possibilities. And here, I made a passing remark about impeccability in a post primarily pertaining to Dabney’s unhappy employment of Middle Knowledge. That passing remark was a seed thought to the current post.)

Trinitarian Heterodoxy Eclipses Marriage (once again)

A pair of books were recently released entitled: Let The Men Be Men & Let The Women Be Women. As the subtitles disclose, the respective books pertain to God’s Design For Manhood And Marriage & God’s Design For Womanhood and Marriage.

My wife was reading to me a portion from Chapter 2 of one of the books, wherein a passing reference to the Trinity was made. The author said he’d develop the reference more in Chapter 10. Naturally, I took a quick peak at chapter 10 because some otherwise good material on wives and husbands has been disregarded over the years due to missteps having to do with Trinity analogies. One particular egalitarian Anglican-theologian who’s well versed in Trinitarian theology has capitalized on such missteps. Others have as well. Neither Baptists nor Presbyterians should want to throw the baby out with the bath water (pun intended).

In the hope that such books are a success in bringing clarity to the complementarian discussion, I thought I’d make a few comments on some direct quotes from the book on women.

My thoughts as they relate to the doctrine of God, I think, would be shared by most Reformed Presbyterian theologians and pastors. We might recall that they are the ones (along with an Anglican or two) who went after Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, and others for their Trinity analogies to marriage in the summer of 2016. What I have found doubly unfortunate is that some biblical teaching on marriage has been dismissed, if not even scorned in the process, due to mistaken Theology Proper.

More than in Reformed Baptist circles, there are thin complementarians in the Reformed Presbyterian community. Many of these men have their Trinitarian theology down pat. So, any Trinity misstep by otherwise good men of God provides occasion for some to dismiss biblical complementarianism. This is understandable, which should cause certain Reformed Baptists to be more careful, if not solely for the sake of putting forth a biblical view of God, and secondly so that others might give attention to sound marriage doctrine.

From chapter 10:

The Trinity As A Model Of Submission

“The Trinity” is a term that defines the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – one essence and attributes, yet three in distinct work and purpose. (Emphasis mine)

We don’t want to eclipse Divine Simplicity and the inseparable operations of the Trinity. (We might recall, that was a big deal in the Trinity debate in the summer of 2016.)

Each divine Person is operative in all God’s works. Which is to say, the works of the Trinity are indivisible. Indeed, it was the Son who died on the cross, but God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (by the Spirit). In redemption there is one distinct work and purpose, carried out through the inseparable operations of Persons when Christ, by the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without blemish to God.

Trinity is not a term that seeks to define God by “relationship” within the Godhead, if by relationship we mean personal distinctions of authority and submission. The historical Christian creeds discriminate not by eternal relationships (or economic functions) but by personal properties. Accordingly, any orthodox reference to “relationship” must be interpreted as personal properties ad intra that cash out as eternal modes of being. Any eternal relationship may only be conceived of in terms of relations of eternal origin, not subject to temporal-sequence or personal roles. Historically, the church has defined Trinity in terms of the eternal origins of existence: unbegogtenness of the Father; eternal generation of the Son; and procession of the Holy Spirit.

God uses that aspect of the trinity to teach us how marriage is to work. This is the truth of 1 Corinthians 11:3 “I want you to understand the Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.”As Paul is about to discuss the role of women he makes a statement about the trinity is the reason for different roles in marriage…

Wives and husbands share in a human nature yet with distinct and separate wills, making submission not only feasible but functional. Whereas we cannot find a suitable analogy of authority and submission in the ontological Trinity because the ontological Trinity is of one divine essence and thereby of numerically one will (since will is indexed to essence, hence Christ’s two wills). Yet if submission entails a plurality of wills, then there can be no submission in the ontological Trinity by the nature of the case, for one will cannot submit to itself.

Perhaps there is authority and submission application to be made from 1 Corinthians 11:3. I hope more scholarship goes into this text. But what I first find key in the text is the reference to Christ, referring to the Son as the mediatory God-man. In other words, we may not draw application from the Trinity per se, but rather we must place the focus on the incarnate Christ as mediator who submits in His human will to the Divine will of the Father.

Within the economic Trinity there is submission but it’s misleading merely to observe that a divine Person submits to a divine Person and to extend that submission analogy to the equality of persons in marriage. The reason being, it is a divine Person as a human being who submits to a divine Being who is not a human being! In other words, Christ Jesus submitted only in his human will to the divine will, just as we are to submit our human wills to God. Although the divine Persons are equal, the wills in view are not. So, the analogy breaks down once we tease out the relevant will of submission in the economic Trinity. I’ll elaborate…

In marriage we are talking about two distinct human wills – among equal beings – that are to be brought into harmony through submission. Yet in Christ’s submission to the Father, although the persons are equal, the relevant beings are not. Therefore, that a human being, who is a divine Person, submits as a divine Person to another divine Person (who is solely a divine being) lacks analogous force with respect to a human being who must submit to another human being in marriage. In sum, within the economic Trinity there is no ordering of equal wills but rather an ordering of a human will under the one undivided will of God. The taxis of persons as it relates to submission in the economic Trinity is established not by Persons per se but by another property, the plurality of natures of the Second Person.

(The Presbyterians seemed to grant a marriage submission analogy from the economic Trinity, which I just argued was in error.)

The principle and practice of submission has been around as long as God has existed.(Emphasis mine)

“As long as God has existed” draws application not from the economic Trinity but rather the immanent Trinity. The sentiment literally implies submission exists in the eternal and one undivided will of God prior to the hypostatic union, but the Scripture proof-text refers not to the eternal Son but to the incarnate Christ. Apart from the human will, the Second Person cannot submit his will to the Father given that it’s the identical will. (God is a simple being, not composite.)

It won’t do to appeal to the ordering or taxis of the eternal and undivided will of God. For no amount of ordering of the one undivided will of God can result in a willful coming under lest we equivocate in our analogy. Even if we recognize an ordering of the Son’s will to become man, while the Father willed that he himself not become the mediator, it’s at best a misnomer to consider a will of concomitance in terms of authority and submission. For the Son delights in the plan of God for it is the very eternal plan of the undivided Trinity. He can do no other. It’s His will!

In closing:

Given that the divine Persons of the ontological Trinity are differentiated by their eternal properties of paternity, filiation and spiration, the ontological Trinity analogy should be forsaken altogether and any analogies and application should be limited to Christ in his humility per 1 Corinthians 11:3, yet I’ve just challenged how far we might be able to take even that analogy.

Within the economic Trinity there is a Divine Person with a non-divine will that makes Jesus’ submission to God possible, but the notion of Trinity seems to complicate matters because we are then left to speak in terms limited to the economic Trinity and only one of the Persons of the economic Trinity, Christ Jesus, as his human will comes under the one divine will, which is the Son’s. Accordingly, authority and submission is not a Trinity consideration per se but a limited consideration of the union of two natures in one hypostasis.

Again, Reformed Presbyterians need this teaching on marriage. I believe we may learn much from our Calvinistic Baptist brothers and sisters. To that end, my hope is Trinity analogies would be reconsidered in new light, as I wish there to be no dismantling of any reasonable core thesis on marriage.

Simplicity, Attributes and Divine Wrath

God is a simple being or he is not. If God is not a simple being, then he is a composite of parts, in which case God’s attributes would be what he has rather than is, making his attributes abstract properties that self-exist without ultimate reference to God. God would be subject to change and evaluation against platonistic forms without origin. Yet if God alone self-exists, then God is a simple being. As such, God is identical to what is in God.

There are at least four traps or ditches we must avoid when considering divine simplicity:

  • One is to say that each attribute is identical to each other because God is his attributes.
  • Another trap to avoid is the denial of divine simplicity on the basis that “God is love” obviously means something different than “God is holy.”
  • A third trap to avoid is trying to resolve the conundrum presented by the first two ditches by positing a kind of penetration or infusion of attributes using propositions like, God’s holiness is loving holiness. (Although helpful and in a sense unavoidable to a point, the infusion of attributes eventually breaks down when we consider, for instance, omniscience and spirituality, or more strikingly love and wrath. Attempts to qualify attributes with other attributes do not save divine simplicity but instead, if taken too far, end in its denial.)
  • And finally, a fourth trap to avoid, which is an advancement of the first, is saying that x-attribute is identical to y-attribute in God’s mind even though the transitivity of attributes is unintelligible to human minds. That particular mystery card reduces each attribute to meaningless predicates when played. Attributes become vacuous terms. The law of identity was never intended for such use.

Like creation ex nihilo divine simplicity is derived negatively, not positively. (Creation ex nihilo is deduced by the negation of eternal matter and pantheism.) Given that divine simplicity is entailed by God’s sole eternality, God is not comprised of parts. Accordingly, God’s revelation of his particular attributes is an accommodation to our creatureliness. It’s ectypal and analogical, not archetypal and univocal.

Theology and the creator-creature distinction:

When we consider God’s attributes we must be mindful that we are limited to drawing theological distinctions that pertain to the one undivided and divine essence that eternally exists in three modes of subsistence or persons. Given our finitude we cannot help but draw such theological distinctions, but we should be mindful that such doctrinal nuance, although proper in its place, does not belong to any division in God.

God is unequivocally knowable yet incomprehensible. Notwithstanding, the God who is simple we only know analogically, discretely and in part. Because our understanding of God is analogically theological and not original or intuitive, we shouldn’t expect our compartmentalized creaturely understanding of God is love and God is holy to imply that at the univocal or analogical level love = holy.

As a simple being, God is one divine, undivided and incomprehensible essence – yet revealed to us through created things (e.g., language) because God’s simplicity is too complex to take in all at once due to the creator-creature distinction. Accordingly, God’s self-disclosure comes to us as particular attributes, in an accommodation to our creatureliness. Indeed, we’d have to share in the divine essence to know God originally or intuitively as a simple being. It may be said that we can apprehend God, but we can never comprehend God. To comprehend God is to know God exhaustively, as God knows God.

Theologizing of special revelation:

With that as a backdrop, we may consider that many of God’s revealed attributes are further distinguished by their relation to creation, which are sometimes called relative attributes (or secondary attributes, which is not the happiest of terms). Although all God’s attributes are eternal and ultimately one, at least some of God’s revealed perfections are inconceivable to us apart from considering them in relation to something other than God. For instance, God is long-suffering, but what is it to be pure patience in timeless eternity without objects of pity? That an attribute such as long-suffering is revealed in the context of created-time and patience toward pitiful creatures does not imply that God is not eternally long-suffering in his being. The same can be said of God’s holiness, for what is holiness without created things? God cannot be separate from himself; yet God is eternally holy. That is to say, God does not become holy through creation, or long-suffering through the occasion of sin and redemption. Is omnipresence a spatial consideration dependent upon creation or is it an eternal reality that is expressed or not expressed apart from creation?

We are limited in our creaturely understanding, but we can be certain God’s Trinitarian self-love includes love of his relative attributes, such as his patience towards sinners he’d instantiate, and his creativity apart from having yet created. God loves himself for who he is, not what he does (or what we might imagine he “was” eternally “doing”).

(We understand this in a limited sense by analogy. One reason I love my wife is because she is a self-sacrificing servant of God, family and neighbor. My love for her isn’t released by her acts or temporal acts of serving. I love Lisa as the servant she is even when she is not serving or even being served. I love her for who she is, not what she does.)

Wrath is an attribute no less than long-suffering and holiness. It’s a perfection of God without which God would not exist. If it is not, then what is it?

I’ll now try to address some common rejoinders to wrath as an attribute:

1. To say wrath is not a divine perfection because there are no objects of wrath toward which wrath may be expressed within the self-existing ontological Trinity proves too much. It presupposes a criterion that would undermine other divine perfections such as holiness, mercy, creativity, patience etc.

It also confuses God as timeless pure act with a notion of God’s timeless doing. That there’s no potential with God does not mean God’s existence entails an eternal expression of his divine attributes – for our only conception of expression entails time-sequence, which in turn entails creation! So, that God does not “express” wrath in the ontological Trinity in a way that we can understand does not undermine wrath as a divine perfection, for neither can we begin to conceive how love is expressed in a timeless eternity! So, just as relative attributes are only understood in relation to things outside of God, what are classified as absolute attributes (e.g., Love) cannot be conceived other than analogically and relatively.

Since time is created, and eternal expressions of love in the ontological Trinity are human contemplations of the eternal in temporal terms, it’s special pleading to dismiss wrath as an eternal perfection while simultaneously affirming love as an eternal perfection. To do so on the basis of analogical contemplations of time-function intra-Trinitarian expressions of non-temporal Trinitarian existence is philosophically arbitrary and inconsistent. It also ends in Social Trinitarianism by introducing time into the eternal life of God.

2. Others have pointed to the the impassibility of God as a reason to reject wrath as a divine attribute. That also proves too much. If wrath is akin to human passion, then God cannot release wrath (or take on a mode of wrath) whether it’s an attribute or not. Therefore, since it is possible for God to exhibit wrath it must be passionless wrath, which leaves no place for an orthodox-evangelical to deny wrath as a divine attribute strictly on the basis of God being without passions. The line of reasoning that dismisses wrath as an attribute this way confuses the spontaneous reactions of humans with the determinately measured responses of God. It implies God can be acted upon.

3. Others have suggested wrath is merely an outworking of God’s holiness and justice. The problem with such a construct is that if God exercises wrath, he must exercise wrath (lest he deny himself). Where there’s occasion for wrath, there’s an eventuality to it. In other words, wrath is not purely a free act of the will but has a necessary aspect to it, in that it must be freely discharged against transgressors (or in vicarious substitution). Furthermore, if the dispensing of wrath has this necessary quality to it, then given a freely divinely-determined state of affairs that contemplates sin, how is wrath itself not a necessary property of God? To suggest God necessarily expresses wrath because of his holiness and justice is ambiguous. It’s either to divide the one essence of a necessary being, or else rightly affirm the one essence while distinguishing how particular revealed attributes relate theologically.

Given that it is necessary that God respond to sin in his wrath, we either have to reduce wrath to a covenant property that God necessarily takes on or becomes, which is heresy, or else we we should conclude that wrath naturally flows from himself in relation to other attributes such as holiness and justice. So, either we end up denying God’s immutability by implying God necessarily becomes the consuming fire he actually is, or else we must infer wrath to be no less an attribute than those attributes from which wrath would naturally arise alongside in full expression in the ultimately one attribute of God, which is himself. To say that God necessarily becomes wrathful, or merely has wrath (because he is holy and just) leads to mutability and parts in God. Whereas to say that God doesn’t become wrathful but rather is wrathful and, also, takes aim with his eternal wrath in the context of sin because he is holy and just is to affirm, under good regulation, logical (not temporal) relations with respect to three analogically understood attributes. In sum, God either has, becomes or is.

(In anticipation of those still pointing to wrath not being eternally expressed in the ontological Trinity, see rejoinder #1 above, which addresses the arbitrariness and inconsistency of the special pleading for the eternal perfection of love while dismissing wrath as an eternal perfection.)

4. Some have wanted to label particular attributes essential, and others non-essential. That’s a philosophical howler because divine attributes are properties without which God doesn’t exist. Accordingly, non-essential divine attributes is an oxymoron. (God has no accidental perfections.) So-called non-essential attributes are either attributes or they are not. If they are attributes, then they are not only essential but necessary.

(Maleness is an essential property I possess. In all possible worlds in which I exist, I am male. It’s not a necessary property because I do not exist in every possible world. What can be contemplated as God’s essential properties, if they are divine properties at all, are necessary properties because God is a necessary being.)

The employment of “contingent attributes” functions similarly. God being a necessary being has no contingent properties.

5. Although rare, some have denied wrath is an attribute while wanting to affirm wrath as a divine perfection. Attributes and perfections are terms that pertain to God’s nature, his very essence. Accordingly, we mustn’t try to parse divine attributes from divine perfections or properties, for there is no relevant difference between these terms:

God reveals Himself not only in His names, but also in His attributes, that is, in the perfections of the divine Being.

Louis Berkhof

The perfections of God are called his attributes, because they are ascribed to him as the essential properties of his nature.

Robert Shaw

To the divine essence, which in itself is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, belong certain perfections revealed to us in the constitution of our nature and in the word of God. These divine perfections are called attributes as essential to the nature of a divine Being, and necessarily involved in our idea of God.

Charles Hodge

There are indeed precise theological distinctions we can make regarding divine attributes – like communicable and incommunicable, absolute and relative – but we may not invent a taxonomy that undermines sound philosophical theology.

Wrapping up:

Scripture is clear that God can only swear by himself because there is none greater by whom he might swear (Genesis 22:16; Hebrews 6:13). Added to this we can know that for God to swear by his holiness and in his wrath, God is swearing by himself since what is in God is God (Psalm 89:35; 95:11).

Lastly, if God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29), then wrath is indeed a divine attribute. (Apply modus ponens.)

Let’s hear from some others:

Some [relative] attributes are related purely to sin: wrath is the prime example…However, the relative attributes, as well as the absolute ones, are characteristics without which God would not be God.

Robert Letham

A third element in the idea of holiness is the element of wrath. [The biblical writers] spoke of God’s wrath, obviously considering it one of God’s perfections.

James M. Boice

Though divine wrath presupposes the existence of sin, it expresses what is always true of God’s will: he abhors evil. Divine wrath is indeed a divine perfection.

Scott R. Swain

D.A. Carson calls wrath an secondary attribute, but then walks it back when denying that God is wrath, which of course denies that wrath is an attribute at all. Carson then tries to draw a distinction between God is love and God is not wrath. Carson is initially correct, then contradicts himself per rejoinder #4 above.

Kevin DeYoung recognizes such inconsistency, noting such attempts as “distinctions without a difference.” DeYoung draws attention to the folly of saying God is love but that God only has wrath.

Ligon Duncan quoting J.I. Packer favorably could not be more clear that he believes wrath is a divine attribute.

This SS class addresses: Attributes; Impassibility; Simplicity; Univocal; Analogical.

Impassibility, Incarnation and 2 ditches

The impassibility of God pertains to the question of whether God can suffer or be acted upon by any created thing. For God to change would require that God become something other than he is. God would either have to become perfect (at least for a while), fall from perfection and remain imperfect, or vacillate between perfection and imperfection. It would, also, be possible that God would never reach and maintain divine potentiality.

God doesn’t have potentiality. His attributes cannot develop or diminish. It is impossible for God to become more or less of what his attributes contemplate. God cannot reach his potential or forgo it. Rather, God exists eternally in his divine potential. That’s why theologians speak of God’s actuality. God is pure act. For instance, God is maximally loving in and of himself. God is forever unchanging in his love. Better yet, God’s love is unchanging. Or even better still, Love is unchanging (because God is simple and love is a divine attribute. God is love).

God’s unchanging character (his immutability) does not undermine his affections. Rather, God’s immutability establishes his affections. It is because God is impassible that he shows forth his pure affections. Because God is unchanging in his mercy, he expresses or releases the actuality of his mercy toward those who by grace seek it through his Son. God’s maximum mercy doesn’t get turned on. Rather, it gets willfully directed and from our perspective released at divinely appointed times.

Unhappy alternatives

Some have suggested that God decreed that he be acted upon. Others have mused that God willingly takes on properties that allow him to change in relation to his covenant promises. Both positions are attempts to affirm divine impassibility while trying to avoid attributing too many biblical texts to anthropomorphic language. Notwithstanding, both theories are outside the pale of orthodox Christianity since in both cases God’s nature would be mutable even if by decretive condescension.

When God takes aim with his affections, he does so consciously and without change. He is merely responding (not reacting) to changes outside himself – changes he has ordained in others. God does not change, but the ordained states of affairs do change according to God’s will and providence, to which God responds appropriately according to his unchanging attributes. Accordingly, God’s immutable attributes ground his dynamic responses in relationship to his ever changing creation.

Without impassibility, no incarnation

For man to be saved he needs a mediator who would learn obedience through suffering. Redeemable creatures need a high priest who can be tempted in all ways like them but without sin. Yet God cannot learn obedience nor be tempted. Yet if God were passible, he could have ordained that he be tempted and suffer apart from the incarnation of the Son.1 Therefore, if God is passible, the hypostatic union is unnecessary. A body for the Son would not have been prepared for him. There would have been no need for Messiah. Yet it is precisely because God is impassible that the cup of wrath could not pass from Jesus as he petitioned. In other words, it would have been possible for the cup to have passed if God could suffer. Therefore, Jesus’ petition in his high priestly prayer affirms God’s impassibility, hence the need for a suffering Messiah.2

In discussions over impassibility we must stay clear of two ditches – deism and process theology, divine apathy and divine vulnerability. However, we must be sure that in our avoidance of the one, we don’t stumble into the other.

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1I’m speaking in a reductio ad absurdum fashion, since obviously if the incarnation were not necessary to save because God is passible, then our reconciliation would be to a God who is less than eternally perfect. Christianity unravels.

2Redemption required the Son of God to empty himself, not by subtraction but addition. In the incarnation the Son remained God. And although he remained a divine person, he added to himself our humanity yet without confusion, change, division or separation. One person was now two inseparable beings. Through the incarnation God the Son could now suffer in his humanity.

In predicating to the Son his actions, we must distinguish which nature is the source. The Son thirsts in his humanity whereas he calms the storm in his divinity. Divine acts can be done by the Son through his human nature but not by his human nature. All acts, whether divine or human, can be predicated to the Son, but not all acts of the Son can be predicated to either nature.

Incomprehensible Yet Knowable

Although we cannot define God, we can describe God. Our descriptions of God will be proportional to what God desires us to know. Yet being finite, there are of course limits to what we can know of God. With respect to mode or manner, God cannot have us know him as he knows himself. We’d have to share the divine essence to know God originally or intuitively. We can apprehend God, but we can never comprehend God. To comprehend God is to know God exhaustively, as God knows God.

We know God partially and imperfectly, yet we can know God sufficiently. Although we do not know God univocally, as there is no identity between God’s self-knowledge and our knowledge of the Divine, we are not left to equivocal knowledge either. There is true correspondence at the point of the analogical. Notwithstanding, the perfect revelation of God is revelation of the original. God’s revelatory self-disclosure is an accommodation to created beings. The reality behind the revelation is greater. God’s revelation of himself is not himself. God transcends his revelation.

Although God is incomprehensible, God is not “wholly hidden.” What should humble us should not lead us to despair. Although God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and our thoughts can never attain to the heights of God’s thoughts, the things God has revealed belong to us and to our children forever. (Isaiah 55:8,9; Deuteronomy 29:29)

God is knowable. If nothing else, we know God is incomprehensible(!), but by grace and pure condescension we know much more. For God has spoken to us in Christ, who is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. (Heb. 1:2,3)

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

John 14:9

Univocal Of The Analogical (part ii)

When ectypal knowledge obtains, the object of it must be true. If the object is true, then God must believe it (since God believes all truth). God believes it as it truly is, an analogy of the archetypal knowledge, which only God has (knowledge of the archetypal).

Assume all our thoughts of God are analogical. Although we cannot know God as God knows himself, we can know God as he has revealed himself to us in “baby talk.” Per my original post, the controversy of the 40s missed a distinction. If I may simplify, Clark thought that if we don’t know the content of a proposition as God believes it (not exhaustively yet at least minimally for knowledge to obtain), then we can’t have knowledge. Whereas Van Til maintained that we cannot know a proposition even minimally as God believes it lest we become like God. 

It appeared that Clark was saying that the intersection was at the archetypal level. Van Til (CVT) was correct in denying that interpretation. Yet in saying all our knowledge is analogical (CVT), it left the impression that we can’t know anything given that if we are to know anything our minds must obviously intersect God’s (Clark). (Many Van Tillians often deny this, which leads to skepticism. What is knowledge after all? Many Van Tillians compound the error by allowing for apparent contradiction in an extreme sense of logical contradiction and equivocation. These sorts do Van Til’s thought harm.) 

The solution is, God knows the original and the analogy. Did either side acknowledge that?! The creator-creature distinction does not imply that there is no similitude between God’s thoughts and man’s thoughts, but rather that the point of resemblance is at a point of true analogy, not at a point of univocation. I think both sides missed it. To my knowledge CVT did not acknowledge that God knows the objects of our ectypal knowledge whereas Clark dismissed analogical knowledge altogether.