Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A really awful argument for divine impassibility

This is a common negative argument in support of Divine Impassibility, from Paul Helm at  Triablogue. By negative, I mean it is not an argument why you should support it, but why you shouldn't oppose it. 

The post reads:

Is divine impassibility Scriptural? 
This, for Christians, is of course the chief question, and we have already begun to offer an answer to it. But it is currently taken for granted by many Christians that the question is easily answered. Many are quick to say that divine impassibility is not and could not be Scriptural. For does not Scripture assert that God suffers, that he is angry, that he expresses surprise, that he fears, and laughs, and repents? Did not Christ, the Son of God, suffer? How could such a God be impassible? Then quickly—all too quickly—it is concluded that the idea of divine impassibility is the result of imposition of Scripture rather than exposition of it, of eisegesis rather than exegesis. It's part of an attempted theological takeover by Greek ideas. But now, it is proudly claimed, we have learned to “take the Bible seriously!” 

There are a number of reasons why we should be cautious about this all too common reaction. One is historical. The anthropopathisms of the Bible are not new, nor newly discovered, any more than its anthropomorphisms are. They loom large. Those who affirmed divine impassibility—the theological mainstream from (say) Augustine to Jonathan Edwards—were aware of them. Yet the presence of these data in Scripture was not a sufficient reason for them to deny impassibility. Did they not take the Bible seriously? Why then did they come to the view that God is impassible? 

Secondly, this approach to Scripture, if carried out consistently, has rather embarrassing consequences. For Scripture also says that God has eyes, ears, a backside—anthropomorphic language, as we quickly say. And we say that God uses such language in Scripture not because he in fact has eyes, ears and a backside but because by the use of such terms he adapts himself vividly to our way of thinking. There is something in God that corresponds to this language, which it draws attention to, even though it is not literally descriptive of God. God sees—what does this mean? That he has eyes? And if he eyes, does he have eyelashes and eyebrows? How many eyes does he have? Does he have 20/20 vision? None of this is appropriate. Talking in this way about God would be absurd. In saying that God sees, Scripture means (something like) God has immediate, unimpaired knowledge of what he allegedly sees. A child will readily understand this.

Arggh. So much wrong here--independent of rather the doctrine is true or false. This is a lousy way to argue.

The first paragraph is a thinly veiled argument from intimidation. It sends the message that the simpleminded, non-thinking, superficial bible readers will be against the doctrine because they rely too heavily on a plain reading of scripture. They are unwilling to listen to the elites who have mined the depths and nuances of this doctrine (perhaps at the expense of a forgotten doctrine.) It is condescending, and not the last time the author stoops to that tactic. It argues for two types of people: those who do their homework and get it, and those who are incapable or lazy. (GRADE: C)

The second paragraph has components of an argument from authority. Augustine and Jonathan Edwards affirmed the doctrine. We should take it seriously. Well, John Calvin and Martin Luther affirmed the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. We should take that seriously too?

Okay, there is some validity to arguing that, short of the fallacy of arguing from authority, we should take notice when titans of Christian theology affirm (or refute)  a doctrine. Absolutely true. And we should pay attention to their scholarship. Fair enough. But we need to remember that they are neither individually nor collectively infallible. And we need to investigate what version of the doctrine (or any doctrine like this one, for which there is a spectrum) do they affirm? (GRADE: B)

The third paragraph is an epic FAIL. It is a caricature. It is the flimsiest of straw-men. Nobody, and I mean nobody, who argues against Impassibility denies that statements regarding God's emotions are anthropomorphic. For crying out loud, denying the doctrine of Impassibility does not demand that you  must take "God sees" to mean God has eyes. How unbelievably childish and condescending to write "And if he eyes, does he have eyelashes and eyebrows? How many eyes does he have? Does he have 20/20 vision? ". Grr. That really pisses me off.

Opponents of Impassibility (or at least the most extreme version) do not demand that when we read "So the anger of the LORD burned against them" (Numbers 12:9)  that it means that the Lord's burning anger was just like our burning anger. But they argue that it means something, and that God's disposition toward Aaron and Miriam was, in a controlled way, different at that time than at other times, and that this would not violate the Immutability of God. And that the most accurate anthropomorphism possible, since it was the one inspired by the Holy Spirit, was that God had a burning anger. Now maybe that's all wrong, but it is not cavalierly dismissed by the mocking tones of the last quoted paragraph above.  (GRADE: F)

No comments:

Post a Comment