Bonhoeffer uses a similar phrase 'worldly Christianity'. It's J Gresham Machen that I want to line up most closely with. See his Christianity and culture here. Having done commentaries on Proverbs (Heavenly Wisdom) and Song of Songs (Heavenly Love), a matching title for Ecclesiastes would be Heavenly Worldliness. For my stance on worldliness, see 3 posts here.

Banner Conference 2015 07/08

After such a good day yesterday it was hard to imagine it being bettered and yet already we have had two excellent messages from Stuart Olyott and Kevin DeYoung. First, Stuart Olyott took us to 2 Corinthians 4, neatly summing up its message under there monosyallabic heads - Wow! Owe! and Now. He spoke of the glory of the Christian ministry, its demands and how we keep going. Kevin gave a us a pretty full and convincing defence of the impassability of God.
In a great paper he argued the traditional view, closing with these five reasons why impassibility is good news.
1. We have an unchanging God who is not in the same mess we are in. This is the truth that process theology misses. Process theologians ... argue that God is immanent, so enmeshed in our world that he is bound up in all our brokenness, so that his effort to rescue us is an effort to rescue himself. God is the process of delivering himself just as we are being delivered. This sort of God is a far cry from the God who reigns in heaven, receives unceasing worship from the saints and angels, needs nothing from human hands, and always delights in his own glory and goodness.
2. This unchanging God – who is ontologically outside of our mess – is nevertheless intimately involved in our mess, which makes his presence all the more meaningful. When my son is working on Legos and getting frustrated because the boat is not coming together properly, I don‘t have to help him. I‘m not screaming my head off because the flat, 2x2 red piece is missing. But because I love him, I stop what I‘m doing (sometimes), get down on the ground, dig through the bucket and find the piece for him. Now he may not recognize it, but my love is more loving because I do not need to find the Lego piece to ease my emotional burdens.
3. God‘s love is freely given, thoroughly unmotivated by any need or deficiency in him. God does not feel inner angst, agony, or distress. He does not love in order to relieve the suffering he feels on account of our suffering. He chooses to love because he is love. In the Triune Godhead there is a constant fullness of mercy, joy, and goodness to which we cannot add and from which we cannot subtract. God always acts out of overflow, never out of want.
4. With divine impassibility, the incarnation is not a revelation of the eternal suffering of God, but rather the deepest expression of God‘s gracious character, whereby he chose, in love, to suffer as one of us. Our comfort in the midst of suffering is not that the Father suffered with the Son, nor that God continues to suffer with us. Our profound consolation is that, moved by love, God the Son, in perfect cooperation and agreement with the God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, laid aside his immunity to pain so that he might suffer for us, as one of us.
The incarnation of the Son of God and his subsequent passion is more glorious, more mysterious, and more loving because God in the person of Christ was experiencing, by his own free choice, what God in himself had never experienced, and would never again experience, namely, human suffering.
5. Finally, impassibility is good news because only an impassible God who suffered as a man can truly sympathize with us. What good would it do to have a God who as God was overcome or distracted by pain? What we need is a God who knows what it is like to be a man.
Here‘s the irony: if God suffers as God, we actually lock him out of our experience instead of bringing him into it. What we need is the sure knowledge that the Son of God knows exactly what we are feeling.
So do not look to an angst-ridden, pain-stricken, eternally grieving God for comfort. Look to the cross. Carl Henry was right:
It is into the why of Calvary that we can now focus every other me of human existence. Christ is our sympathetic high priest, but he had to become this high priest. He had to be made perfect through suffering. He was not qualified to be our Redeemer or Sympathizer until he took on flesh to share in suffering with his brothers and sisters. And never forget: Christ did not suffer simply to identify with us, but to rescue us. We need someone to do more than feel our pain. We needed someone to triumph over it by conquering all that causes pain: sin, death, and the devil.
Our hope in death is that the Immortal died. And our comfort in suffering is that in the Incarnation the Impassible was made passible for us.
(See a previous version of his message in pdf form here).

2 comments:

David Gallie said...

Doesn't impassibility mean that God cannot suffer pain?

If so, are we to believe He feels no sorrow at the ruined universe; that He felt nothing when His Son bore the curse? Surely, anger, grief and love are emotions?

Gary Brady said...

That is a common view. The truth is that God us beyond such emotions. However, with the incarnation of the Son he is fully able to sympathise with us. Kevin DeYoung's paper is well worth reading.