“It must necessarily be,” said he, “be for the worse if he is changed. For we surely will not say that God is deficient in either beauty or excellence.” [emphasis mine]
Plato, “Plato Republic: Books 1-5,” trans. by Paul Shorey (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969) , 191, II.xx
Of all the philosophers’ descriptions of the immutability of god, this argument from Plato offers the most lasting legacy towards the notion of the static perfection of god. Simply put: an absolutely perfect being cannot change without changing from better to worse. If something perfect were to change, there is nowhere to go but down. Any change, then, would be for the worse.
Though a powerful argument for many, it is ultimately incoherent. Many perfect things change. A perfect river, a perfect song, and even a perfect child. In the case of a dynamic universe, a perfect God must change perfectly to adapt to the changing conditions in the physical universe and remain perfect.
Dynamic perfection is still perfection. Because modern theologians (in tandem with the Church Fathers) believe in static perfection, they must require that the universe itself is static. Nearly every modern theologian accepts the notion of static perfection of God. Though they may vary their words, the argument remains fundamentally the same. Louis Berkhof, a premier Reformed theologian, writes:
The Immutability of God is a necessary concomitant of His aseity. It is that perfection of God by which He is devoid of all change, not only in His Being, but also in His perfections, and in His purposes and promises. In virtue of this attribute He is exalted above all becoming, and is free from all accession or diminution and from all growth or decay in His Being or perfections. His knowledge and plans, His moral principles and volitions remain forever the same. Even reason teaches us that no change is possible in God, since a change is either for better or for worse. [emphasis mine]
Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941), p. 62-63
Similarly, another key Reformed theologian, Charles Hodge, writes:
God is absolutely immutable in his essence and attributes. He can neither increase nor decrease.
He is subject to no process of development, or of self-evolution. His knowledge and power can never be greater or less.
Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology: Volume 1(Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1940), p. 384
Such reasoning expands many theological traditions. Millard J. Erickson, a leading Armenian theologian, argues:
The other source from which the doctrine of God’s immutability derives is philosophy…. Since God is perfect, not deficient in any quality, he cannot possibly change for the better, being already the ultimate good. If he is to undergo change, it must be for the worse. [emphasis mine]
Millard J. Erickson, God the Father Almighty: A Contemporary Exploration of the Divine Attributes, (Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, MI, 1998), 39
Such reasoning fundamentally describes classical theology. It is their definition of God. As Bruce A. Ware, the leading opponent to Open Theology, argues:
Christians rightly sought to understand God in ways honoring to his supremacy and transcendence…it was often reasoned, if God can change, then this must indicate a change for the better or a change for the worse… and if for the worse, then he no longer can rightly be conceived of as God. [emphasis mine]
Bruce A. Ware, God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith, (Wheaton, Illinois, Good News Pubishers, 2004), 140
Bruce Ware is citing Gregory of Nyssa (an important Church Father of the fifth century renown for significant contributions in establishing the doctrine of the Trinity) and makes the assertion that similar statements are found in other Church Fathers: Athanasius, Arnobius, and Augustine. Indeed these Church Fathers all made similar statements. But unlike the church fathers who would freely quote the Platonic philosophers to demonstrate their case, Ware and modern theologians vociferously deny the original author of this statement. All these Church Fathers are quoting Plato. This is one of Plato’s most famous quotes, and any denial of such a link appears deliberate and calculated.
Rather than from original Platonic philosopher, who do modern theologians attribute the source of this quote?
Louis Berkhof – reason teaches us
Millard J. Erickson – immutability derives (from)… philosophy
Bruce Ware – Christians…reasoned
Only Millard J. Erickson admits the truth. Louis Berkhof equates Platonist philosophy with reason and disguises the real source of his argument. Bruce Ware has authored many books and articles vehemently opposing Open Theism. He knows the Platonic origins of the doctrine of immutability is a major Open Theist contention in the debate between Classical Theologians and Open Theists. He deliberately turns the argument on its head and leads his readers to believe the doctrine of static perfection originated from the Church Fathers.
One important note: Bruce Ware does not believe in the absolute immutability of God. He has modified this approach to assert that God does change in some ways which he calls the relational immutability of God. Recognizing the inability of Scripture to support the attribute of immutability, he now supports a modified immutability. He describes it thus:
Having affirmed God’s ontological and ethical immutability, we have not said all that the Bible says about the relation of God to change…what might be called the relational mutability of God, a change not of his essential nature, nor of his word or promise, but of his attitude and disposition toward his moral creatures in ways that are commensurate to changes that happen in them.
Bruce A. Ware, Perspectives on the Doctrine of God, (Nashville, Tennessee, B&H Publishing Group, 2008) 91
Ware’s new approach has much wider ramifications than he realizes. This redefinition of immutability contrary to 1400 years of church history is a new and radical departure from the coherent system developed by the church fathers. His radical redefinition undermines the logical relationship between the classical attributes of God. As will be demonstrated, these attributes of God are not in the Scriptures. The only basis for clinging to these attributes is the logical relationship between the attributes. Now that Bruce Ware has undermined that logical relationship his position is indefensible.
Common Biblical Passages used in defense of Immutability
So is God static or dynamic? Our guide to this answer must come from the Scriptures themselves. If immutability exists in the Scriptures, one would predict that there would be a wealth of evidence throughout the text which demonstrates this. Classical theologians, such as Ware, have a number of select verses in the Scriptures that they believe should be used to contextualize the rest of the Bible.
To be continued…