Unconditional Election – taking Calvin apart word by word – immutable

We say, then, that Scripture clearly proves this much, that God by his eternal and immutable counsel determined once for all those whom it was his pleasure one day to admit to salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, it was his pleasure to doom to destruction. We maintain that this counsel, as regards the elect, is founded on his free mercy, without any respect to human worth, while those whom he dooms to destruction are excluded from access to life by a just and blameless, but at the same time incomprehensible judgment. In regard to the elect, we regard calling as the evidence of election, and justification as another symbol of its manifestation, until it is fully accomplished by the attainment of glory.

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion , trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2002), 571-572. (III, 21,7)

God by his eternal and immutable counsel-immutable

“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)[1]

Plato, Republic

One of the commonly accepted attributes of god in Western Civilization is the immutability of god. Although there are descriptions of immutability of as early as Parmenides (5th Century BC) Plato offers the most lasting legacy of this attribute. His concept is called the static perfection of god. Assuming god is perfect what would a change from this perfection be? Since god cannot be better than perfect a change would for the worse.

Although the argument seems convincing, it is ultimately flawed. What if circumstances in which God exists are changing. Then God would have to change or perfectly adapt to the changing circumstances. A god who does not change would be unable to adapt and not perfect.

As demonstrated above, logically, God does not have to possess static perfection to be perfect. He can change perfectly with changing conditions and still be perfect. Often Calvinist apologist will appeal to history as proof of static perfection. This is a genetic fallacy because Protestants agree the Scriptures and not history is the judge and arbitrator of theology.

Nearly every modern theologian accepts the notion of static perfection of God. Though they may vary the words, the argument remains fundamentally the same. Louis Berkhof , a premier reformed theologian, writes, “Even reason teaches us that no change is possible in God, since a change is either for better or for worse.” (emphasis mine)[2] Similarly, another star 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.[3] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology

Such reasoning expands many theological traditions. Millard J. Erickson, a leading Armenian theologian, argues:

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.[4]

Millard J. Erickson, God the Father Almighty: A Contemporary Exploration of the Divine Attributes

Such reasoning fundamentally describes classical theology. It is their definition of God. As Bruce A. Ware, the leading opponent to Open Theology, argues:

…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.[5]Bruce A. Ware, God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith,

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 delusional.

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 proposes the doctrine of static perfection is 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 thusly:

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.[6]

Bruce A. Ware, Perspectives on the Doctrine of God

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.

The Scriptural apologetical fight is over the “repent” verses. The Scripture says “God repents” or “God does not repent” at least 37 times. Six references are “God does not repent” and the remaining 31 verses claim “God repents.” (See appendix) If God repents than God has a change of mind. Usually this change as explained in Jeremiah 18 and Ezekial 18, is a change in response to human changes. E.g. God blesses a nation, that nation turns from God and God decides to punish that nation.

Usually the Calvinist claims that either the 6 or the 31 verses have to be treated as an anthromorphism, but technically this is a figure of speech called anthropapathism. God does not really repent it is a figure of speech. However, this verses do not have to be translated figuratively at all. God clearly repents but in some issues he refuses to change his mind. In these cases the context determines the issue on which God will not change his mind. This interpretation does not bring violence to the Scripture allowing one to accept the inerrancy of Scripture without denying the Biblical text.

  1. 1 Samuel 15:11

It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the Lord all night.

  1. 1 Samuel 15:29

And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.

  1. 1 Samuel 15:35

And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.

Here is the Hebrew word for repent, nacham in the niphil, used in the same context three times, twice saying God repents and once saying God does not repent. Obviously God change his mind about making Saul king but he does not change his mind about taking away the kingship from his family.

[1] Plato, “Plato Republic: Books 1-5,” trans. by Paul Shorey (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969) , 191, II.xx

[2]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 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941), p. 62-63

[3] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology: Volume 1(Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1940), p. 384

[4] 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

Millard J. Erickson, God the Father Almighty: A Contemporary Exploration of the Divine Attributes, (Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, MI, 1998), 39

[5]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.

Bruce A. Ware, God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith,(Wheaton, Illinois, Good News Pubishers, 2004), 140

[6] Bruce A. Ware, Perspectives on the Doctrine of God, (Nashville, Tennessee, B&H Publishing Group, 2008) 91

 

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