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Publication Date: 2012
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Modern theologians are focused on the doctrine of divine impassibility, exploring the significance of Gods emotional experience and most especially the question of divine suffering. Professor Rob Lister speaks into the issue, outlining the history of the doctrine in the views of influential figures such as Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther, while carefully examining modernitys growing rejection of impassibility and the subsequent evangelical response. With an eye toward holistic synthesis, this book proposes a theological model based upon fresh insights into the historical, biblical, and theological dimensions of this important doctrine.
-Gregg R. Allison,
Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Although the concept of divine passibilism, appropriate in some ways for a deeply sentimentalized culture, is all the rage in modern theology, for most of the history of the church, God was viewed as being impassible. Why was this so, and how did the Bible shape this perspective of God? And can we construct a model in this regard that does justice to what the Scriptures and church history say about God, and that also engages with modern sensibilities? This study by Rob Lister is extremely helpful in answering these questions: it is preeminently scriptural, takes the Rezeptionsgeschichte of this doctrine very seriously, and satisfactorily answers current concerns.
-Michael A. G. Haykin, Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Director, The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies
Rob Lister boldly goes where few evangelicals have gone before in this very helpful study of how best to make sense of what Scripture says about Gods emotions. Lister does away with caricatures of the Patristic tradition as having sold out to Greek philosophy, surveys contemporary evangelical positions on divine impassibility, and provides a constructive hermeneutical method and theological model for doing justice both to the impassibilist tradition and to biblical language about divine emotions. As G. K. Chesterton observes, an inch is everything when youre balancing, and to Listers credit he completes his routine without falling off the balance beam that is systematic theology.
-Kevin J. Vanhoozer,
Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Understanding how an infinite God relates to finite creatures is at the heart of most theological difficulties. How can God be holy and sovereign and personal and relational? That God is transcendent and immanent is central to understanding the God of the Bible. In this book, Rob Lister has given us tremendous help in navigating these deep theological waters. His theological method is a fantastic and much needed model of biblically grounded synthetic analysis that incorporates keen exegetical insights that are well informed by historical theology. Lister offers a biblically balanced understanding of Gods emotional life so that his sovereign majesty and covenant intimacy are preserved. The implications of this study for understanding God, humanity, Christ, relationships, and emotions in general are far-reaching and vital. I pray that the conclusions and theological method of this excellent work are deeply and widely influential for the glory of God.
Professor of Biblical Studies and Theology, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University; pastor, Grace Evangelical Free Church, La Mirada, California
In this well-organized and well-written volume, Rob Lister challenges the view that the church fathers version of divine impassibility precluded Gods showing emotion. He swims upstream against modern passibilism, and he opposes those evangelicals who reject impassibility in the name of affirming divine passion. I was impressed with Listers accuracy and kindness whenever he takes exception to others views. The work is largely positive and constructive rather than negative and reactive. Lister argues passionately for the view that God is both impassible and impassioned, even as he is both transcendent and immanent. Listers work demonstrates multiple areas of competencehistorical, biblical, theological, and philosophicaland is nuanced, holding that Gods passion transcends human passion both ontologically and ethically. I am, therefore, pleased to commend it to readers for serious consideration.
-Robert A. Peterson,
Professor of Systematic Theology, Covenant Theological Seminary
Whether God is subject to suffering is hardly a recent question, but it is an issue that contemporary Christians have been constrained to ponder carefully in order to provide scripturally measured and biblically tempered answers in a generation that prefers to conceive of and worship a God forged after human likeness. Despite the profundity of this issue and the inherent difficulty of giving adequate expression to whether God is passible or impassible, Rob Lister provides accessibility and clarity to this issue in a scripturally governed, admirably balanced, and manifestly humble manner. He engages theologians ancient and modern as his theological conversation partners while he guides readers through the many pitfalls and hazards that threaten to entangle us primarily in two antithetical but equally defective views of God: either to cast him in our image and likeness or to project onto him an aloofness that renders him cold, even grotesque. Lister rightly insists that in order to provide biblically rooted answers to the questions he addresses it is crucial to acknowledge and embrace the chasm that distinguishes the Creator from his creatures. Yet, equally crucial is the fact that the Creator made humanity, the creature, in his image and after his likeness, for this is Gods revelatory nexus by which God makes himself known to us both as impassible and as impassioned.
Professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Theology, Northwestern College; coauthor, The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance
This is an excellent study in systematic theology that exemplifies detailed research in biblical theology and historical theology, and draws these into a coherent systematic construction with relevance for contemporary life. I found Listers hermeneutical and theological analyses of passibilist and impassibilist arguments to be instructive and sharp. The project is well conceived and follows an explicit methodology with systematic guardrails from Scripture to frame the difficult biblical and theological details. Lister has ably handled difficult questions that impinge on Gods impassibility and passionate involvement with his creations: Gods relation to time and eternity, incarnate suffering, biblical accounts of Gods repentance, theodicy, and Gods immanence and transcendence. Despite the difficulties, Lister provides careful definitional distinctions and clarity of communication in a surprisingly light writing style that is uncommon to academic theology.
Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University; author, Tempted for Us