The Strange Case of Dr. Bruce Ware and His Minions

The classical impassibilist insight that God is both impassible and impassioned…

The central hub of the issue is the question of divine emotion, of which suffering is a subset.[1]

 

Rob Lister, God is Impassible and Impassioned :Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion

Despite Rob Lister’s examination of the Church Fathers on impassibility, the consensus among the early Church Fathers was the absolute impassibility of God.  What Mr. Lister overlooks is the idea that any reference to the passibility of God in the Church Fathers is tempered by their views on anthropomorphism and the immutability of God.  Most of the Church Fathers believed references like “God is angry” was an accommodation to dimwitted men.  God did not really change, the change was only apparent.  God appeared angry but he never really was angry.  Men interpreted the involvement of God as anger.  When Augustine refers to the anger of God he is seeing this anger through the lens of immutability.  In addition Augustine would often use a string of contradictory terms about God as preparation for the nondiscursive mystic ascent to God.   (See https://craigcfisher.wordpress.com, Augustine, First a Mystic, then a Catholic, then an Allegorist, Part I Mystic)

Impassible means incapable of feeling pain or emotion.  Impassioned means filled with great pain or emotion.  For those who do not have their rational minds dulled by years of theological programming this seems like a contradiction.  A person who holds two contradictory views opposed to one another is called a double minded person.

James 1:8

he is a double-minded (διψυχος)  man, unstable in all his ways.

It is not a complement to hold to two or more contradictory positions.  Aristotle would refer to this as the “law of noncontradiction.”  Modern theologians use terms such as “compatibilism” when their theology conflicts with the Scripture.  Rob Lister will refer to this as “balance.”  It is like one person on a teeter-totter trying to run between the up or down of each position.  The imagination of the runner, is that he can run fast enough to balance the board.  Unfortunately religious truth is rather discriminatory, a concept is either true or false.

First some definitions of terms will be useful.  A classical theologian is an early Church Father, in this presentation, an early Church Father who agrees with Augustine and Aquinas.  A Reformed theologian agrees with the Westminster Confessions and the teachings of John Calvin.  Bruce Ware calls himself a “Modified Calvinist.” There may be many other concepts and doctrines upon which Mr. Ware and his minions agree with Calvinism but he entirely out the line of the Reformed Tradition and the Classical Tradition regarding the attributes of God known as immutability and impassibility.

Mr. Ware’s and Mr. Lister’s definitions of immutability and impassibility are new and outside the traditions of the historical church.  Clearly in Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: 4 Views, Mr. Ware desires to present himself in the Reformed and Classical traditions.   However, Paul Helm, the true Reformed theologian will have none of this deception.

Finally insofar as the modified Christian perspective represents a clear and distinctive position, it seems to be somewhat  unstable as between the traditional and Arminianism.  Ultimately it must find its resting place in one of the other of these two positions.[2]

Paul Helm presenting his position in “Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: 4 Views”

Not only is modified Calvinism outside the traditional position but the modification made by them are unstable.  By “unstable” he means incoherent and illogical.  There is a tight logical coherence between the classical attributes of God.  Any deviations from the definitions of these classical attributes will weaken their coherence.

It is not necessary to take the opinion of a true Calvinist to assess modified Calvinism.  In an article entitled “An Evangelical Reformation of the Doctrine of the Immutability of God” Bruce

Ware will explain his new definition of immutability, the purpose of his paper is:

A restatement of the doctrine of divine immutability…to answer the harsh attacks…against the Thomas’ development of the doctrine.

Bruce A. Ware, An Evangelical Reformation of the Doctrine of the Immutability of God,(JETS 29/4(December 1986)431-446

First what is a reformation?  Reformation is a compound word from “ formulate” which means to  devise or develop a method or system.  The prefix re is from the Latin meaning “again.”  Again a new system will be formulated.  A Reformation is a new plan or system not a classical system.  If Mr. Ware intended only a slight modification, he should have entitled his article “a slight modification.”  However, he entitle the article a “Reformation” with its intended scope related to the Protestant Reformation.

Mr. Ware is not content with Aquinas’ defense of his own position, in fact, in his opinion, Aquinas’ defense is so weak, the doctrine has to be redefined.  It seems difficult to disagree with him on this account.  However, it is very hypocritical to accuse Mr. Sanders and Mr. Pinnock of departing from the classical theological attributes, condemn their teaching and seek to remove them from the Evangelical Theological.

Sanders’ view was opposed by a competing presentation by Bruce Ware, associate dean and professor of theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky. Ware pleaded with ETS members to recognize that the denial of God’s complete knowledge is a dangerous doctrine that will damage the churches.

Roger Moore, “Open Theism Closed,” SBC LIFE (Dec 2013/Feb 2014 )

(published by the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, Nashville, Tennessee)

It is remarkable the Calvinists and the Arminian  factions are so united against Open Theism.  The Synod of Dort was called in 1619 against the teachings of Jacob Arminius.  The Synod rejected the Arminian views and countered with TULIP, the five points of Calvinism: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible  grace, and the perseverance of the saints.

The statesman Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, who had championed the Arminians called Remonstrants was beheaded on 13 May 1619.  Justice was swift, he was beheaded  four days after the final meeting of the Synod.  Another champion of the cause was given a life sentence but he escaped before his imprisonment.  Apparently it takes about three hundred years before a dangerous doctrine becomes accepted policy. 2014 Issue

The dangerous doctrine of Bruce Ware (modified immutability and possibility and omniscience) will damage the churches.  He accuses the classical theologians of not accepting the truth about Scripture but apparently their offense will not damage the churches.  The Open View that agrees with Bruce Ware on the God having true emotions and relational mutability is dangerous?  The Reformed Church’s view of the attributes of God, will be analyzed below.

Brief History of the Doctrine of Immutability

A Pre-Socratic philosopher, Xenophanes will argue that men recreated gods in their own images.  If horses could talk they would make their gods in the image of horses.  Another pre-Socratic philosopher, Parmenides would propose a god completely unlike the gods of the Greek pantheon.  This god was immutable, especially in his emotions.   Plato followed up on this idea.  The emotional gods of the Greeks had participated in all kind of gross immorality.  Their passions were out of control.

Aristotle would agree with Plato.  His god did not have the bodily emotions of the Greek gods, but he would define his god with no bodily encumbrances.  He proposed ten categories of being, the last nine were predicates of a substance.  The true god did not have any of the  limitations of substance, hence the other nine categories did not apply to the true god.

Augustine described his understanding of the categories in the genius level.  He called the last nine categories accidents.  Quantity, Quality, Relation, Time, Location, Position, Having, Acting and Passivity are the nine categories called accidents.  Something which does not change or is affected by any of these accidents is immutable.  If something is not affected by outside influences then that something is impassible, the negative of the last category.    Aquinas would agree with Augustine by saying God has no accidents.

The classical theologians concept of the attributes of  God are the negative forms of the accidents.  God has no quantity, He is one.  God has no qualities, He is not limited, He is infinite.  God has no relation to creation, he is asetic.  God is not in time, He is eternal.  God is not in any place, he is omnipresent.  God has nothing He can lose, He is immutable.  God has no potentiality he is pure act.  God cannot be affected by outside influences, He is immutable.

Not only are these attributes the negative images of the classical god, they are related logically.  God is eternal, if he could change, he would be able to lose something and be destroyed.  God cannot lose anything, he is immutable.  God is perfect, he has no limits, therefore God knows everything(omniscience) is everywhere (omnipresence), and has all power.(omnipotent)  Since god is immutable his knowledge cannot increase, he knows all future events (prescience).  Since god is immutable he is not affected by outside influences.  (Impassible)

The New Reformulated, Restated, Unhistorical, Modified Immutability of Bruce Ware

What does Bruce Ware offer in contrast to the coherent classical formulation of the attributes of God. He offers a compromise between the Open View of God and the Classical View.  Marx and Hegel observed the interaction between opposing groups, the antithesis and the thesis.  After the struggle, the result is not one side winning over the other,  but a synthesis which is a combination  of each point of view. (dialectic)  The more Mr. Ware struggles against Open Theism the closer he moves to the Open View.  This moves him farther and farther from the Classical View.

He suggests God is really related to the world and is both immutable and mutable.

  1. 1.      Ontological immutability.  First, the God of the Bible is unchangeable in the supreme excellence of his intrinsic nature…this is, the changelessness of God’s eternal and self-sufficient being…
  2. 2.      Ethical immutability.  The God of the Bible is also unchangeable in his unconditional promises and moral obligations to which he has freely pledged himself. ..It involves the free commitment of God in relation to his moral creatures…the examination of Mal 3:6 and Jas 1:17 above has shown that in Biblical thought God’s ethical consistency is based on his unchanging nature…Stated differently, although God’s ethical commitments to his creatures are not determined by his divine being they fully accord with and truly express that same eternal nature…

Ware, Bruce.  “An Evangelical Reformulation of the Doctrine of The Immutability of God.” Journal of the Evangelical Society 29, no. 4 (1986): 431-446.

Open Theists agree with both the ontological and ethical sides of immutability.  They do not disagree that there are aspects of God’s substance which must be immutable.  What they object to are the Parmenides’ insistence on the ontological immutability of God transferring over to the character and personality of God. Parmenides believed true being could not change.  It would not be wrong to call this true being god.  His true being was a very impersonal god. This impersonal god was the forerunner of the god of Plato Here Bruce Ware is severing the ontological connections from the personal attributes.  Open Theists agree and applaud.

Next Open Theists have long insisted that Mal 3:6 and James 1:17 reflect the immutable nature of God’s character not his substance.  In accord with the Open Theist interpretation of these verses Bruce Ware agrees with Open Theism as opposed to Classical Theologians.

Ethical immutability.  The God of the Bible is also unchangeable in his unconditional promises and moral obligations to which he has freely pledged himself. ..It involves the free commitment of God in relation to his moral creatures…the examination of Mal 3:6 and Jas 1:17 above has shown that in Biblical thought God’s ethical consistency is based on his unchanging nature…Stated differently, although God’s ethical commitments to his creatures are not determined by his divine being they fully accord with and truly express that same eternal nature…

Ware, Bruce.  “An Evangelical Reformulation of the Doctrine of The Immutability of God.” Journal of the Evangelical Society 29, no. 4 (1986): 431-446.

What is even better is the insistence that the moral character of God is not based on his substance but on his free commitment to his creatures.  God is free in his choice.  He has the option or the potential to do something different.  Bruce has caved in to at least two crucial arguments of Open Theism.

Not only is this a refutation of God as Pure Act or Actuality it is a refutation of the third accident of relation.  Platonists say God is not in any real relationship with his creatures.  All things come from god but he is not affected by anything else.  Calvin will express this concept of Aseity or Impassibility in his analysis of prayer.

Is God affected by our prayers?  Calvinists believe God ordained all things, so he knows what exists by his predestination.  This is mixed in with his famous quote about double predestination, God saves some and damns all others.

The predestination by which God adopts some to the hope of life, and adjudges others to eternal death, no man who would be thought pious ventures simply to deny; but it is greatly caviled at, especially by those who make prescience its cause. We, indeed, ascribe both prescience and predestination to God; but we say, that it is absurd to make the latter subordinate to the former…. By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man…

Calvin, John, Institutes of Christian Religion,trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008-11), 609-610 (Book III, Chapter 21, Section 5)

The third of the nine Aristotelian accidents is relation.  This is a claim that God has a real relation to his creation.  Calvin vigorously defends the lack of relationship between God and His creation.  If God responds to our prayers He is mutable and responsive to His creation.  Calvin would deny mutability and responsiveness.

In the Institutes he explores these questions.  The question is “why should one prayer if God does not pay attention to our prayers?”  God has determined all that happens so what is the point of prayer.  His answer “God is not influenced by our prayers, but our prayers help us.”

The But some one will say, Does he not know without a monitor both what our difficulties are, and what is meet for our interest, so that it seems in some measure superfluous to solicit him by our prayers, as if he were winking, or even sleeping, until aroused by the sound of our voice?

Those who argue thus attend not to the end for which the Lord taught us to pray. It was not so much for his sake as for ours.

Calvin, John, Institutes of Christian Religion,trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008-11),  (Book III, Chapter 20, Section 3)

The early church fathers would not be supportive of Bruce Ware.  Augustine the Father of the Inquisition would imprison Bruce Ware for weakening the attribute of the immutability of God.  As the Father of Mysticism he would ask why Bruce would question his vision of the immutable God in the ascent.  As one of the Fathers of Allegory he would ask why Bruce is committed to the literal interpretation of Scripture.

Thomas Aquinas would smile and sit down with Bruce and say “My son, don’t you understand the concept of simplicity?”  If God had emotions, he would be composite and not simple.  This would threaten the eternality of God.  God has no accidents like being in a relationship with his creation.

Moreover, Bruce Ware agrees with Open Theism that Scripture conflicts with the Classical View that God has no emotions.

Having affirmed God’s ontological and ethical immutability, we have not said all that the Bible says about the relation of God to change.  If we listen attentively to God as revealed in Scripture, it is clear that he changes in some very important respects…this is just an example of what might be called relational mutability…a change…of his attitude and disposition toward his moral creatures in ways commensurate to change that happen in them.

Bruce Ware,  ed., Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: 4 Views (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2008), 91.

What does the Reformed View teach about God’s emotions?  The Westminster Confession states:

There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, (chapter 2, section 1, cf. Belgic Confession, § 1).

God has no passions and emotions are certainly passions.  What does Calvin say about emotions and passions?

Though he is incapable of every feeling of perturbation, he declares the he is angry with the wicked.  Wherefore, as when we hear that God is angry  we ought not to imaging that there is any emotion in him, but ought rather to consider the mode of speech accommodated to our sense, God appearing to us like one inflamed and irritated whenever he exercises judgment , so we ought not to imagine anything more under the term repentance than a change of action…

Calvin, John, Institutes of Christian Religion,trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008-11), 133 (Book I, Chapter 17, Section 13)

Calvin is echoing Augustine’s views on divine accommodation. God does not really get angry but humans view him as angry.  Anger does not happen in God because “there is not emotion in him.”  This is the Greek philosophic view, the Reformed view, the Calvinist view and the predominant view of the Church Fathers.

Bruce Ware actually reads Scriptures, disagrees with the classical theologians on the Non-scriptural interpretation of God’s emotions.

Arnobius and Augustine, on one side, argued that passions indicate disturbances and weakness and hence are not properly found in God…On the issue of emotions and anthropomorphism, two comments will be made.  First, by utilizing the criterion developed above for genuine anthropomorphic expression, it seems here that there is no basis for calling such emotions mere anthropomorphisms…But in all of Scriptures references to emotions as these relate to God, there does not appear to be any instance in which it is said that that in reality God transcends these emotional qualities.

Ware, Bruce.  “An Evangelical Reformulation of the Doctrine of The Immutability of God.” Journal of the Evangelical Society 29, no. 4 (1986): 431-446.

Bruce is denying Static Perfection.  He also disagrees with a long line of Platonist philosophers and early Church Fathers on static perfection necessitating the need for immutability in God.  He still cannot bring himself to admit to the obvious Platonic connection (Plato’s Republic) in this argument for immutability.  However, he no longer accepts this argument as a sufficient defense of immutability.

…the long tradition of Church theologians who have stressed that it is impossible for god to change for better or for worse….

The Scriptures affirm one predominant sense of God’s changeability under which specific manifestations of it are evident, and this may be called God’s “relational mutability.’…

Bruce A. Ware, An Evangelical Reformation of the Doctrine of the Immutability of God,(JETS 29/4(December 1986)431-446

As a long time Open Theist, congratulations Bruce, welcome to the fold!  Let’s get ahold of Sanders and Pinnock, and stand around in a group hug.  Not “you too, Brutus!” but as more proper to these circumstances let us say with Bruce:  “I, too, Brutus!”

Well, all good things come to an end.  Bruce has only one minor relational mutability to admit.  In the realm of “relational immutability” what is more relational than having a real conversation with a person.  If that person is created in the image of God, in Genesis chapter one, then what is more characteristic of God than creativity?  Contrary to his own definitions, he still believes God knowledge of his creatures is immutable. (omniscience)

The question of God’s repentance…the numerous instances in which God is said to repent…the theologians of the Church have regularly treated all such assertions…as anthropomorphisms.  That is, such statements are understood not as literal assertions about God but as human and metaphorical ways of expressing certain truths that extend beyond human experience.  God, then, does not actually repent…a true change of mind can occur when one learns something of which one is ignorant…Thus, it is here affirmed with the long tradition of Church history that since the conditions involved in a true change of mind cannot be present in God, the Scriptural assertions of God’s repentance may best be understood as anthropomorphic expressions for his changed action…

Bruce A. Ware, An Evangelical Reformation of the Doctrine of the Immutability of God,(JETS 29/4(December 1986)431-446

Bruce believes God’s immutability logically does not allow God to have additional knowledge based on the free actions of his creation.  Bruce tries to develop criterion to distinguish metaphor from literal in the New Testament.  Scripture must be interpreted metaphorically or through anthropomorphism if there are other Scriptures conclusively contradicting them.  He asserts omniscience is taught in the Scriptures.  As will be demonstrated later, there is no verse or group of verses that teach God knows all events in the future. These verses will be examined.  Bruce prepare for a reformation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Rob Lister, God is Impassible and Impassioned :Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion (Wheaton, Illinois:Crossway, 2013) 172

 

[2] Bruce Ware,  ed., Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: 4 Views (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2008), 8.

 

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Strange Case of Dr. Bruce Ware and His Minions

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s