"Does God have passions and affections? No. He has perfections." This is a summary phrase which Samuel Renihan repeats in a variety of ways through his new work, "God Without Passions, A Primer: A Practical and Pastoral Study of Divine Impassibility" published by Reformed Baptist Academic Press (RBAP). This work is a concise, accessible, biblically accurate meal upon which to feast on the Doctrine of God. But one strength of this book (among many) is that many readers will think that they are getting a slender study on one aspect of the Doctrine of God, and be pleasantly surprised to find that they receive helpful instructions, or reminders in the larger categories of hermeneutics, systematic theology, historical theology and practical or pastoral theology. Renihan has provided in 107 pages a perfect resource for theologians and laymen alike. Ending each chapter with study guide questions, the work could be introduced into smaller group study formats, and is beneficial beyond just the shelf of the pastor of seminarian.
This work, which follows on Renihan's larger Reader on the subject, is divided into five chapters. In the first chapter, the focus is providing a foundation for the doctrine of divine impassibility. This term itself may be new to readers, and Renihan does a good job defining it. In this chapter, a discussion of both proper hermeneutical methods is given in addition to the larger foundation of God being the God who "does not change." In chapter two, he walks through "the human half of the equation" to give the reader insight into how "passions" and "affections" are used simply as constructs in common vernacular regarding human beings. Discussing the way of eminence and negation in chapter three, the work provides a helpful way to understand how we know what we know about God. Moving to the next chapter, Renihan, having readied the reader, gives discussion on God related to "perfections and incarnation". He closes in chapter five with a discussion of the personal and pastoral applications and/or implications of the doctrine of divine impassibility. The work is a needed resource in the church today.
In short-God does not have passions and affections like creatures, he has perfections, and this, as Renihan says, "has implications for the preaching of the gospel and all areas of life." (p. 95)
Another blessing in the book is Renihan's well-researched use of writers of previous eras. Some true gems appear in this collection. Who isn't helped by the Binning quote (1666) who wrote, when discussing God's use of language in the Scriptures which uses human pictures to help us understand an incomprehensible God, that "...the Lord accommodates himself unto our terms and notions; balbutit nobiscum he like a kind father stammers with the stammering children"? (p.27) Or the Charnock statement, when writing on the impassible God says, "Is the sun changed when it hardens one thing and softens another, according to the disposition of the several subjects? Or when the sun makes a flower more fragrant, and a dead carcass more noisome?" (p. 97). Also, there is Renihan's own description of God not being like an angry mob boss that we must pay off.
Well-written, biblically thorough, historically researched, and systematically careful, this theological work is worth the time and money. The thought may cross your mind, "I am charged with preaching the gospel, I don't have time for another book on theology..." All I can say is that another helpful part of this book is that, rightly-digested, it will make for better preaching of the gospel. My soul was nourished, and my eyes tear-filled, as I reflected on the gospel and the connections with divine impassibility on the last few pages of this book. The God of the gospel is an unchanging, sure and steadied God.
My wife and I, 'foodies' that we are, often like to share in meals where one dish, being so good, causes you to want to sample other components of the meal on the table--Bread that leads you to want to taste the salad, which in turn leaves you joyfully expectant of the medium-rare filet to come. This book, while a dish on divine impassibility, leads you into other dishes on the table which the Lord has banqueted for His people in His Word...
"The Lord our God is but one living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of Himself; infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot by comprehended by any but Himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions..."-The Baptist Confession 1677/89 2.1