Re: Vienna cardinal draws lines in Intelligent Design row

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Tue Nov 22 2005 - 10:43:58 EST

As already indicated, I am one of those who "find the doctrine of divine impassibility deeply unsatisfying." How much of open theism is an open question, one might say, but aspects of the position are attractive. The spurgeon website Janice cites complains about charicatures of classical theism, and I am sensitive to that myself b/c of other ways in which some modern theologians have (either deliberately or out of ignorance of intellectual history) rather badly misinterpreted aspects of classical theism, in order to move past them (the example of divine immanence is obvious, with many theologians since the 19th century having effectively declared that immanence contradicts transcendence and then have gone on to keep the former while abandoning the latter).

However it does seem to me, that the spurgeon site is not exactly trying to paint an evenhanded picture of open theism either. "Cheap shots," it seems to me, can be fired in both directions.

For myself, I keep coming back to what George MacDonald wrote: "The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like his." (This is the epigraph quotation for CS Lewis' Problem of Pain.) I believe this statement is both true and profound, and I can't reconcile it with divine impassibility. If Janice and others can, I am interested to hear about it. Either God (the Son) suffers (and God the Father with him, as Father of the Son), or God (the Son) does not.

Here is what the Spurgeon site says:
"Classic theism teaches that God is impassible*not subject to suffering, pain, or the ebb and flow of involuntary passions. In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, God is "without body, parts, or passions, immutable" (2.1)."

Here is what the Bible says:
He was *wounded* by our transgressions, *bruised* for our iniquities, the *chastisement* was upon him, thy rebuke *hath broken his heart*, surely he hath *borne our griefs and carried our sorrows*, behold and see if there be any sorrow *like unto his sorrow*. I know this all sounds like Handel's Messiah, which I have playing in my office this morning (although the advent portion is the one playing right now, not the Easter portion), but that's the whole point: Messiah has been *pierced* for our iniquities, regardless of what the WCF says.

Five years ago I was invited to give a talk at the conference on "ID and its Critics", the conference that led to the "Debating Design" book (no, my essay didn't make the cut, so it's still sitting on my hard drive). The paragraph above conveys the same message that I tried to convey there: that the character of God is most clearly seen in this very aspect of God, the *suffering servant* who feels our pain and triumphs over and through *God's own suffering* to a glorious resurrection in which and through which we ourselves now have concrete hope. I was responding to Philip Johnson's claim that people like me (a TE who believes that God is *not* flat-out obvious in the physical universe) effectively believe in a cosmic Santa Claus: we believe in a false hope that has no real basis. I recall putting up on the screen a slide copied from an issue of Harper's Weekly in the 19th century, the image of Santa astride the chimney-top, his sleigh resting on the snow-covered roof as!
 he is about to descend. Is this my picture of God? I asked. No--here is my picture of God, and I put up a slide of Mattias Grunewald's "Small Crucifixion," from or closely related to (I forget which) the grisly image of his Isenheim altarpiece. *There* is God, I said--talk about evidence, we have actually *seen* God and we rejected what we saw.

Yes, this whole issue relates pretty closely to ID after all. Open theism might not be true, but it's just too hard for me to reconcile the biblical picture of the suffering servant (which frankly I do take to be genuinely prophetic of the Incarnate God) with the WCF. I really do respect the WCF, incidentally--I used regularly to attend the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology at Tenth Presbyterian Church (where my wife and I attended at the time, and where I attended myself prior to our marriage). I *love* many aspects of Reformed theology, I just can't anthropomorphize all of those figures of speech (some of them, yes, but not all of them).

Merry Christmas--celebrate the Incarnation

Received on Tue Nov 22 10:46:17 2005

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