ToWayne Tantrums

Idolizing Greg Boyd


Many years ago, two men named Tom Belt and Dwayne Polk (I initially elected to keep these men anonymous, but have been told they would consider it “brave” of me to name them, so I’ll oblige them) became enamored with a theologian named Greg Boyd. It’s easy to understand their admiration. Boyd is a brilliant scholar and an accomplished minister. And since their admiration was not only for Boyd’s theology, but also how he was applying it in the local church, they both moved to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area where Boyd’s church, Woodland Hills, was and remains. One of them even joined the church’s staff for a time, but later left the staff.

Of particular interest for these two men, was Boyd’s criticism of both Classical theism and Process theism in his 1992 PhD dissertation “Trinity and Process.” In this thesis, Boyd describes God’s “unsurpassable aesthetic satisfaction”. (A phrase Tom and Dwayne have latched onto like it’s the Apostles’ Creed) This, Tom and Dwayne interpret as God’s “experience of imperturbable triune beatitude”. What this translates to is: God doesn’t experience any suffering or death in God’s self. Suffering or death cannot be attributed to God. God’s “bliss” in God’s self is never interrupted by suffering of any kind, not even sadness or pain over sin and injustice. Therefore, Tom and Dwayne abhor (for example) Moltmann’s theology of “God crucified.”

Homer_prancePart of their rejection of divine suffering is personal for these two. For different but similar reasons, each one finds it psychologically preferable to believe in a conception of God who does not suffer. Each finds it an indispensable part of their own personal psychological health. But another part of their rejection of divine suffering is their theological journey into Eastern Orthodox faith and belief. In this pursuit, they have adopted an interpretation of the patristic fathers’ theology that excludes divine suffering. Historical theology scholars continue to debate how much influence Greek philosophy exerted over the early theological development of Christian theology. And Open theists like Boyd (and many non-Open theists) have argued that Greek philosophy exerted undue influence on the development of early Christian theology, resulting in paradoxical statements about both “impassibility” and divine suffering. For Tom and Dwayne, there can be only one interpretation of patristic theology: Greek philosophy was right, and those streams of early Christian theology (or their interpretations of them) which embraced divine impassibility were right.

When Shattered Illusions Lead to Scapegoating

However, their project encountered a devastating blow a few years ago. Boyd, in his continued studies since 1992, came to repudiate his earlier rejections of divine suffering and began writing and preaching on God’s suffering and death on the Cross. Boyd was not saying anything new in Christian theology; he was merely teaching what Scripture reveals and other theologians interested in the liberation of the oppressed and God’s response to injustice have been saying for eons. Tom and Dwayne associated Boyd’s position with “Kenoticism” and were utterly heartbroken. Their idol had fallen. Or, as they put it, “stepped off the edge.”

Boyd steps off the edge — Part 1
Boyd steps off the edge — Part 2

Simpsons_wrathThis is the genesis of the current debate in which I’ve been implicated. I dared to defend Boyd’s position and have become the sole scapegoat of their wrath. They can’t take on Boyd, for obvious reasons, so they choose instead to vent their rage at me. They hurl insults at me because they continue to be disappointed in their theological hero who now thinks they are out to lunch.

Here’s their most recent attack against me.

In the process, these two have cut off direct communication with me and rejected any olive branch offerings of peace and reconciliation I’ve extended. Instead, they only mention me to insult me in their blog posts.

A few of the things this sad saga demonstrates are:

  1. The higher you place your theological heroes on a pedestal, the further they fall when they disappoint you. Don’t make idols of pastors or scholars; they’re human. God will shatter your illusions that any man (or woman) can fulfill the role only God should have in our lives.
  2. When you allow your psychological needs to drive your pursuit of theological truth, you will inevitably run aground of the biblical witness, reason, and even tradition. The truth is not subject to our desires for psychological comfort. Often the truth disrupts our comfort for our own good. When this happens, the emotionally mature accept the truth and adjust. The emotional immature plug their ears and bury their heads in the sand.
  3. It’s a tragedy when Christian men are willing to place their own egos before the call to peace and reconciliation. Tom and Dwayne profess faith in Christ yet have rejected all attempts at peace and reconciliation. Their profound sadness over the end of the their illusions about the perfection of Boyd’s theology has led to a breach of their ethical integrity.

Calling Out Crypto-Nestorianism Among Wannabe Orthodox Evangelicals

There are many aspects of Eastern Orthodox faith and belief that are quite beautiful and there are many aspects of American Evangelical faith and belief that are quite ugly. So, I don’t begrudge anyone who has grown dissatisfied with American Evangelicalism’s utilitarianism, individualism, or dualism (for example) and longs instead for something more mystical, more rooted in the heritage of the Church. In fact, I too have grown in my appreciation for what Robert Webber called “Ancient-Future Faith.”

Nevertheless, for a few, this lust for the exotic faith of the Eastern church has degenerated into self-righteous doctrinal certitude and arrogance that has left them blind to their own radically unfaithful views of Jesus’s life and work. In other words, in their manic attempt to strain out the gnat of Evangelical shallowness, they have swallowed the camel of Christological heresy. Namely, these Wannabe Orthodox Evangelicals (hereafter WOE) have rejected divine suffering and in its place have resurrected a long-dead heresy called Nestorianism, repackaging it as “orthodox” Christology.

Nestorianism was a heresy condemned by the Church in the fifth century. It was a vain attempt to preserve the purity of the divine nature from such foul and ungodly experiences as suffering or death—(you know, that stuff Jesus did to save us). The way it does this is by separating the “human nature” of Jesus from his “divine nature”. If something seems to a Nestorian to be unfitting of God (because of their own presuppositions as to what is “fitting” of God) then that only happened to the “human nature” of Jesus. So, for example, only Jesus’s “human nature” died on the Cross. WOEs clutch their pearls at the thought of the divine nature suffering or dying. By no means! Their god is hermetically sealed off from ‘bad things’ like that. Their god is safely untouched by “human” suffering and happily pollyannaish. Their god is above all such circumstances, like a pampered aristocrat who holds his nose while passing a smelly homeless person.

But this aversion to the messiness of the Incarnate life of the Son of God is not “orthodox,” as Robin Phillips demonstrates. In part 5 of a series of posts about his exodus from Calvinism, Phillips destroys both Calvinism and Nestorianism at the same time! But, for the purposes of exposing the error of WOEs, attention will be focused on his destruction of what he calls “crypto-Nestorianism” (a very apt name indeed!). He writes,

“According to standard Chalcedonian Christology, it was not a nature that suffered on the cross (whether divine or human) but an actual divine person: the Word; the second person of the Trinity; God himself incarnate in the flesh.” [1]

Here’s where the blindness of the WOEs is exposed. While they scramble to protect the “divine nature” from suffering and death, the biblical witness is screaming that the Son of God died for sins! The Word became flesh and laid down his life for us!

“Natures” don’t suffer and die; Persons do!

Since Phillips is focusing on Calvinism, he critiques R. C. Sproul. But, contrary to the WOEs objections, the same criticisms are equally applicable to them.

“Sproul maintains that the second person of the Trinity did not die on the cross. In his book The Truth of the Cross, Sproul condemns the statement “It was the second person of the Trinity Who died” and adds “We should shrink in horror from the idea that God actually died on the cross. The atonement was made by the human nature of Christ.”

But we should not shrink in horror from the idea that God actually died on the cross because God did actually die on the cross. Human nature itself cannot suffer; only persons can suffer, and in this case it was the person of the God-man who suffered and was buried and rose again on the third day. To be consistent with his extraction of the God-man from the cross, Sproul would also have to say that Mary was not really the God-bearer, but that she simply gave birth to a human nature that was then used by a divine person in a determining fashion.

This radical separation of nature and person acts as a convenient buffer for modern-day Calvinists to separate God from the pain of the world, so that the Person of the Word is not actually experiencing humiliation on the cross, only an abstract “human nature.” The scandal of the incarnation and crucifixion that created so much discomfort for the Gnostics is equally difficult for Calvinists today. The Gnostics tried to solve the problem with a Docetism that detached Christ from materiality while Calvinists in the tradition of Sproul try to resolve the problem by a crypto-Nestorianism that sequesters the Second Person of the Trinity from the human nature going through birth and death (as Sproul says, “death is something that is experienced only by the human nature…”). However, extricating the human nature of Christ from the divine person, so that the central acts of the incarnation can be predicated of the former without touching the latter, denies the Nicene Creed’s explicit affirmation that it was “very God of very God” who was crucified, suffered and buried. The Second Council of Constantinople was even more explicit in affirming that it was “true God and the Lord of Glory and one of the Holy Trinity” who was born and died on the cross.” [2]

Orthodox Christology proclaims loud and clear that the death of Jesus of Nazareth on the Cross is one and the same as the death of the Son of God, the Second Member of the Trinity. In the same way that Mary is the “God-bearer,” the Cross is where God died.

Here’s how one WOE responded:

“The question is whether these human experiences are attributable not only to this ‘person’ (all Orthodox agree they are) but also to this person’s divine nature, which the Orthodox do not do. If  the Son suffers humanly (in terms of his human nature), does it follow that he suffers in his divinity? If God dies in and as Christ, does the divine nature die? Does the unity of the person as subject of both natures require that we attribute to the divine nature all the experiences had by the Son in terms of his human nature (i.e., coming into existence, being nothing more than a zygote in gestation, being ignorant, suffering, dying, etc.)? No Orthodox would think so, and to accuse those who believe the person of the Son has divine experiences (in terms of his divine nature) transcendent of and so not reducible to his human experiences of asserting that ‘only his human nature and not his person’ is having these experiences is such a grievous misunderstanding of Orthodoxy it pretty much writes you out of the conversation.” [3]

This polemic is a smokescreen. Did you see the sleight of hand? It’s easy to miss. The same WOE had previously said this in the same post:

“As Robin rightly notes in his piece, ‘natures’ don’t have experiences independently of their subjects. It is ‘persons’ who suffer (or who are delighted, or what have you), not stand-alone ‘natures’.” [4]

There’s the contradiction.

Mary is “Theotokos” (“God-bearer”) because she birthed the Person of the Son of God, not because she birthed a “divine nature”. Neither did she birth merely a “human nature.” The birth that the Person of the Son of God experienced, was experienced by God—because the Son of God is God the Son. In the exact same way, contra-Nestorianism, the death that the Person of the Son of God experienced, was experienced by God—because the Son of God died and the Son of God is God the Son.

Or, as the Christian church has put it:

“X. If anyone does not confess that our Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified in the flesh is true God and the Lord of Glory and one of the Holy Trinity; let him be anathema.” [5]


  2. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.



Fighting the Virus of Classical Theism: Richard Rice and The Openness of God’s Bold Rejection of Divine Impassibility

Last month, I traveled to San Diego, CA for the annual conference of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature. More specifically, I attended the SBL/AAR annual conference to present a response paper in the second session of the Open and Relational Theologies group, which was commemorating 20 years since the publishing of The Openness of God by Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, Richard Rice, William Hasker, and David Basinger. Three of the original authors of the book (John Sanders, Richard Rice, and David Basinger) were there in attendance and presented reflections on the last 20 years.

Why commemorate The Openness of God (OOG) [1]? Because that book signaled a theological shift in U.S. American Evangelicalism, which has few parallels. It was a bold vision that made claims about God that were shocking to the evangelical theological establishment and still shock many evangelicals today.

The Openness of God and the Theological Virus of Classical Theism

So what did The Openness of God claim? I’ll let the authors of OOG explain:

“We decided to present [the Openness of God] in book form for several reasons. First, no doctrine is more central than the nature of God. It deeply affects our understanding of the incarnation, grace, creation, election, sovereignty and salvation. Moreover, the doctrine of God is full of implications for daily living. One’s view of God has direct impact on practices such as prayer, evangelism, seeking divine guidance and responding to suffering. […]

These inharmonious elements [the inconsistency between Christians’ beliefs about the nature of God and their religious practice] are the result of the coupling of biblical ideas about God with notions of the divine nature drawn from Greek thought. The inevitable encounter between biblical and classical thought in the early church generated many significant insights and helped Christianity evangelize pagan thought and culture. Along with the good, however, came a certain theological virus that infected the Christian doctrine of God, making it ill and creating the sorts of problems mentioned above. The virus so permeates Christian theology that some have come to take the illness for granted, attributing it to divine mystery, while others remain unaware of the infection altogether. This book, we hope, will be a needed antibiotic to aid the healing process, bringing about a healthier doctrine of God.” [2]

Several things to note here. First, the authors of OOG claim their presentation is a doctrine of God. Yes, it’s true that one of the most important aspects of Open theism [3] is the openness of the future, which could be thought of as a doctrine of creation. But the authors of OOG do not hesitate to claim that Open theism is also a different view of God’s nature itself. Make a note of this.

Second, the authors of OOG contrast their doctrine of God with the “classical” and “traditional” view of God (p. 9). In fact, the authors mention the “inevitable encounter between biblical and classical thought in the early church.” They do not caricature Greek thought (as they are often accused); they acknowledge that this syncretism had some good intentions. They, however, are clear that those good intentions do not excuse the consequences, which they boldly call a “theological virus.” They believe Open theism is the “antibiotic.”

Third, it’s important to also note that the authors of OOG knew that their doctrine of God would have far-reaching implications, implications on other doctrines and even on practices. They say so explicitly.

OOG was a bold critique that earned the authors a great deal of criticism. Their most vocal critics were from among the New Calvinists who had secured then (and still have today) a great deal of political power in Evangelicalism. But they also received criticism from Classical Arminians as well. Both of these camps of Classical theists saw Open theism as a threat to their doctrine of God.

In the very first chapter of OOG, author Richard Rice begins to set out the “classical” and “traditional” view against which Open theism is contrasted. Against the caricature of Open theism most people conjure, it may be striking to some that Rice draws a bullseye around the doctrine of impassibility as a prominent feature of the virus, not just exhaustive definite foreknowledge. He writes,

“According to [the “traditional view of God”], God dwells in perfect bliss… essentially unaffected by creaturely events and experiences. He is untouched by the disappointment, sorrow or suffering of his creatures. Just as his sovereign will brooks no opposition, his serene tranquillity knows no interruption.” (p. 12)

According to Rice, Open theism stands in contrast to the view that God “dwells in perfect bliss,” “essentially unaffected’ by the suffering of creatures, with no “interruption” to his “serene tranquillity.” This is, in fact, the traditional doctrine of impassibility Rice is describing. And it is Open theism he is saying rejects it. He could not be more specific when he surveys the biblical data from an Open theist perspective:

“The biblical descriptions of divine repentance combine elements of emotion and decision to provide a shocking picture of the divine reality. They indicate that God is intimately involved in human affairs and that the course of creaturely events has profound effects on him. It stirs his feelings and influences his decisions. His is variously happy and sad, joyful and disappointed, disposed to bring blessing or judgment, depending on the behavior of human beings. […]

Such an interpretation conflicts, of course, with the popular and theologically entrenched idea that God lies utterly beyond the reach of creaturely experience, serenely untouched by our joys and sorrows, overseeing the inevitable fulfillment of his will irrespective of human actions.” (p. 34)

This view Rice calls the “popular and theologically entrenched idea” is synonymous with Classical theism and the “theological virus” for which Open theism is an “antibiotic.” The virus says God is “serene” no matter what happens to human beings. But the antibiotic says God is sorrowful over sin and injustice. The virus says God is “untouched” by human joys and sorrows, but the antibiotic says God’s feelings are “stirred”.

Rice addresses the inevitable push back from those infected with the virus. They will claim that these anthropomorphisms are “unworthy” of God. Surely we cannot take these descriptions “literally”.

“[I]t is difficult to see what, if anything, would remain of the idea of God in the wake of such sweeping denials. They would deprive it of any meaningful content. If human beings and God have nothing whatever in common, if we have utterly no mutual experience, then we have no way of talking and thinking about God and there is no possibility of a personal relationship with him.” (p. 35)

Evangelicals, in particular, are fond of talking about enjoying a “personal relationship with God.” But evangelical theology which abstracts God from human experience makes such a “relationship” impossible. Open theism seeks to cure this disease that prevents Christians from speaking honestly about a relationship with God.

But how can Open theists speak so authoritatively about God having human-like experiences? How can Open theists justify this univocal God-talk? Is it not impious to speak of God having human-like experiences? Many who are infected with the virus are convinced it is. They will condemn Open theists for denying God’s “transcendence,” God’s “glory,” or God’s “equanimity.”

The answer to all of these questions, of course, is Jesus.

Jesus, the Cross, and the Open View

OOG not only boldly asserted that Open theism serves as an antibiotic to the theological virus of Classical theism, it also boldly asserted that it was radically rooted in and truer to the revelation of God in Christ.

“The familiar word incarnation expresses the idea that Jesus is the definitive revelation of God. According to the central claim of Christian faith—”the Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14)—this particular human life was the most important means God has ever used to reveal himself. The fundamental claim here is not simply that God revealed himself in Jesus, but that God revealed himself in Jesus as nowhere else. In this specific human life, as never before or since, nor anywhere else in the sphere of creaturely existence, God expresses his innermost reality. Accordingly, from a Christian standpoint it is appropriate to say not only that Jesus is God, but that God is Jesus. For Christians, Jesus defines the reality of God.

The incarnation reveals many things about the character of God. The fact that God chose to express himself through the medium of a human life suggests that God’s experience has something in common with certain aspects of human experience. If human life in its fullness and complexity, with social, emotional and volitional dimensions, represents the supreme expression of God’s own nature among the creatures (Gen 1:26-27), it is reasonable to infer that the distinctive features of human experience are most reminiscent of the divine reality. It would therefore seem that God, like us, is personal existence. If so, then God enjoys relationships, has feelings, makes decisions, formulates plans and acts to fulfill them.” (p. 39)

What a bold proclamation indeed! Even many Christians will chafe at this claim. They will object to Jesus’s life, ministry, teachings, death, and resurrection begin the definitive and authoritative revelation of what God is like. They want to look other places, because if God is like Jesus, then suddenly their entire picture of God is upended. God’s “transcendence” cannot mean that God lives in some kind of “bliss.” And God’s “glory” cannot mean that God is untouched by human suffering. Where would one even come up with a doctrine of “equanimity”? So, they simply relativize Jesus. They brush him to the side. Surely there are better ways to think about God than through the lens of Jesus!

But Open theist author of OOG, Richard Rice, says no. He even has the audacity to suggest that Jesus’s parables have something to teach us about God’s character and nature!

“[Jesus’s] parables suggest that God’s feelings involve a broad spectrum of emotion, and they relate God’s experience to ours in a very interesting way. They show us, first, how like and then how unlike ours is [to] God’s experience. God’s love is like ours in its openness to pain and joy, but his capacity for these experiences is greater than anything of which we are capable. […]

So the open view of God draws some important parallels between divine and human experience, but it does not by any means equate the two. God is like us in being sensitive to the experiences of others, but radically different from us in the profound depth of his feelings. Like traditional theism, the open view of God affirms divine transcendence, the radical difference between God and all things human. But whereas traditional theism seeks to safeguard God’s transcendence by denying divine sensitivity, the open view of God does so by maintaining that his sensitivity and love are infinitely greater than our own.” (p. 42-43)

This emotional “sensitivity” to the experiences of human beings that Rice repeatedly mentions is in contrast to the prevailing theory of God (i.e. “Classical theism”) which holds that God is emotionally insensitive. But Rice clearly argues, if we get our picture of God from Jesus, this theory cannot be true. On Christ-centered grounds, Rice rejects the traditional doctrine of impassibility.

But someone will object that God’s emotional experience is only changed an “infinitesimal” amount since God is “infinite.” But Rice specifically says the opposite: God’s emotional life is profoundly moved by human experiences. God’s capacity for emotional sensitivity is greater, not less than human capacity.

The ultimate evidence for God’s emotional sensitivity and vulnerability for Rice is the Cross of Jesus Christ. For Rice, this is where God himself is depicted as suffering. God himself is acted upon and pained by human sin. God himself suffers and is crucified in Jesus Christ, God the Son.

“The idea of a suffering God is the antithesis of traditional divine attributes such as immutability and impassibility. It contradicts the notion that God is immune to transition, to anything resembling the vicissitudes of human experience. To quote Leech again, ‘The cross is a rejection of the apathetic God, the God who is incapable of suffering, and an assertion of the passionate God, the God in whose heart there is pain, the crucified God.’ Strange as it seems to some, this idea faithfully reflects the central affirmations of the New Testament concerning God’s relation to Jesus. Identifying God with Jesus leads ultimately to the conclusion that what Jesus experienced in the depths of his anguish was experienced by God himself. If the Word truly became flesh, if God was indeed in Christ, then the most significant experience Jesus endured was something God endured as well. The cross is nothing less than the suffering of God himself.

A careful look at the center of Christian faith, the life and death of Jesus, thus supports the idea that God is intimately involved in the creaturely world and experiences it in a dynamic way. His is aware of, involved in and deeply sensitive to human events. His inner life is not static or impassive at all. It surges with powerful emotions.” (p. 46)

Wow, what a claim! The Cross of Jesus, according to Rice, reveals truth about the “inner life” of God himself. This is sure to challenge Classical theism’s belief that God is “impassible.” But Rice is fully aware of that. He makes his direct claim: “[God’s] inner life is not static or impassive at all.”

What a bold vision of God Open theism is—and what a needful one in today’s world. I’m grateful for the courage the OOG authors demonstrated by putting forth this vision 20 years ago. I hope and pray that they will continue to stand by this vision, even amidst the fight against the virus of Classical theism which continues to threaten to infect Open theists. I hope and pray Open theists continue to resist the virus and don’t become its casualties.


1. Hereafter, The Openness of God will be abbreviated “OOG”.

2. Clark Pinnock, et al., The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (InterVarsity Press, 1994), p. 8-9.

3. “Open theism” along with “the Open View” are alternative labels for the “Openness of God.”


Meet the Eastern Orthodox Kenoticist Who Helped Pioneer Modern Passibilism: Cross-Centered, Trinitarian Theology

Paradox_Suffering_God_coverRecently, I’ve been reading this fantastically comprehensive treatment of divine impassibility by African theologian Amuluche Gregory Nnamani called The Paradox of a Suffering God. The first section of the book is simply historical analysis of apatheia (the Hellenistic axiom of divine impassibility) from ancient to present times. Nnamani covers everything from Greek philosophy, where the concept originates, to how the axiom mutates by the time of the Protestant Reformation.

Considering how adamantly some folks have argued that “kenoticism” is at odds with Chalcedonian “orthodoxy”, imagine my surprise when I learned that a Russian Orthodox theologian made a significant contribution to modern passibilism.

His name is Fr. Sergei Nikolaevich Bulgakov (Серге́й Никола́евич Булга́ков) and he lived from 1871 to 1944. According to Nnamani,

“Bulgakov understands kenosis essentially as self-giving, which he believes characterises the mutual act of love in the inner-Trinitarian life. God’s kenotic relationship to the world (in the creation and in the works of salvation) is constituted by virtue of an outflow, an extension of the inner Trinitarian selfless relation of love. Creation, which is also a divine kenotic act, like the Incarnation, is grounded in and occasioned by by the self-fulfilling kenotic act of the Trinitarian Persons and precisely in the nature of their self-sacrificial love, which is ever reaching for the other. In contrast to Hegel, he conceives the three Persons as becoming fulfilled in their mutual self-sacrificial love, so that God’s relationship to the world does not bear any sign of dependency.” [1]

Precisely countering the argument that kenoticism entails a “dependency” in God, Bulgakov teaches that the Godhead is “fulfilled” by mutual relationships of self-sacrificial love. Sound familiar?

But, it gets better! Bulgakov also sees the Cross as the center of God’s Trinitarian self-revelation. He he is in his own words:

“The Cross is God Himself in His revelation to the world, God’s power and glory… The Cross is the sacrificial essence of love, since love is sacrifice, self-surrender, self-abnegation, voluntary self-renunciation for the sake of the beloved. …there is no bliss in love except in sacrificial self-surrender which is rewarded by responsive fulfillment. The Cross is the exchange of love, indeed love itself is exchange. … The Holy Trinity is the eternal Cross as the sacrificial exchange of Three, the single life born of voluntary surrender, of a threefold self-surrender, of being dissolved in the divine ocean of sacrificial love. …Love itself, God, in the eternal Cross surrenders Himself for the sake of His love. The three points in which the lines of the tri-cross end are images of the three divine self-subsistent Hypostases, and the point of their intersection is the co-inherence of the three, the Trinity in unity in sacrificial exchange.” [2]


That’s good theology!

And, apparently, according to Nnamani, this Bulgakov is kind of a big deal.

“…Bulgakov’s contribution to the interpretation of the kenotic motif, and in fact that other Russian kenoticists, is enormous. The Russian kenoticism has the value of conceiving the kenotic motif in a wider scope and also positively as a divine act of self-revelation. In this way it escapes the pitfalls of both the mediating and Hegelian kenoticisms; and by interpreting the inner-Trinitarian kenosis as a mutual self-giving, which is complete and self-fulfilling in itself, he effectively evades the weakness of Hegelian kenoticism, namely, of making God dependent on the world process. …by doing so, he leaves room for creation to remain a free act of God: and God retains His sovereignty.” [3]

I just thought some folks should know about Fr. Sergei Nikolaevich Bulgakov, the highly influential, Eastern Orthodox, kenoticist theologian.


God is Loving Savior, the Savingly Loved One, and Saving Love Itself: Reflections on Moltmann’s “Doxological Trinity”

Some Christians think God became a Savior only after the historical crucifixion of Messiah Jesus of Nazareth. For these Christians, God is not a Savior essentially, but incidentally. “Saving” is an activity God could do without; it’s not something God “has to do.” God is a Savior as a result of historical events, not because it is who God is in God’s very nature. If humanity has not sinned, Jesus Christ would not have been ‘necessary,’ and God would not be a Savior.

Depending on your theological perspective, this belief could either appear common sensical or absurd. If you’re coming from a Western, conservative, evangelical (Protestant) perspective, you likely find the belief that God became a Savior obvious. And it might be equally obvious that this is why Christians should worship God—because God has saved Christians by the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. This makes sense to Western Christians because of Western culture. It is the individualism of Western culture that distorts salvation history into God’s “plan of salvation” for humanity. And it is the consumerism of Western culture that makes God’s praise about the salvation humanity has received. God is does what God does because of us, and we worship God because of what we get from God.

Western Christians will argue that they hold this view for two important reasons. First, they claim that this view preserves and secures God’s “freedom.” They argue that were God a Savior in God’s very nature, God would not be “free” to not save humanity. They claim this would introduce “necessity” into the nature of God. Second, they claim that it safeguards salvation as a gracious gift from God. Were salvation not something which God have withheld from humanity, salvation would no longer be “grace” (a gift) freely given. Thus, they speculate that God does not need to provide salvation; God is self-sufficient in Godself.

However, in chapter 5 of The Trinity and the Kingdom, Jürgen Moltmann directly confronts this conception of God in a section called “The Doxological Trinity.” [1] He makes several arguments, which dismantle this view, rooted in Scripture, the tradition of the Church, and the doctrine of the Trinity.

I. God Does What God Is

“God is love.” – 1 John 4.16

Moltmann begins his critique with background on the historical, theological disjunction of the Godhead by the use of the speculative labels “immanent Trinity” and “economic Trinity” to distinguish between the saving activity of God in the world as opposed to who God is in Godself.

“Ever since the repulse of modalism through Tertullian, it has been usual to distinguish between the economic and the immanent Trinity. The economic Trinity designates the triune God in his dispensation of salvation, in which he is revealed. The economic trinity is therefore also called the revelatory Trinity. The immanent Trinity is the name given to the triune God as he is in himself. The immanent Trinity is also called the substantial Trinity.” (p.151)

This distinction in God effectively creates two “trinities”: one Trintiy who is self-sufficient, Pollyannish, indifferent to the world, and one Trinity who incarnates love in the Person of Jesus Christ. Why these two “trinities” have not met one another, who can know? But the distinction is justified by the assumption that we can only know what God is like in God’s “economic Trinity” while only learned theologians can tell us what God is like in God’s “immanent Trinity”. This theological division in the Godhead mirrors the political division between the scholastic clergy and the pious laity. Only the clerics can know the “secret” nature of God, while laypersons are given the breadcrumbs from the theologians’ table.

But Moltmann will have none of that!

“This distinction cannot mean that there are two different Trinities. It is rather a matter of the same triune God as he is in his saving revelation and as he is in himself. Is this distinction between God for us and God in himself a speculative one? And if it is speculative, is it necessary?”

Great question Jürgen! I have a feeling you’re going to tell us!

“This distinction between immanent and economic Trinity would be necessary if, in the concept of God, there were really only the alternative between liberty and necessity. But if God is love, then his liberty cannot consist of loving or of not loving. On the contrary, his love is his liberty and his liberty is his love. He is not compelled to love by any outward or inward necessity. Love is self-evident for God. So we have to say that the triune God loves the world with the very same love that he himself is.” (p. 151)

Some of the Christians conceptualize God as completely self-sufficient in Godself, to the point that creation is less than an afterthought. This is the classic “Pollyanna” god. The god who does not care about the suffering of the world, about injustice, or about evil. This god is content in his own self-love and bliss.

But does this conception of God correspond to the God revealed in Jesus Christ—the Jesus Christ who came into the world to destroy the works of the Devil, the Jesus Christ who healed and delivered humans from disease and demonization? Of course not! Everyone and anyone who has read the Gospels can clearly see that the Evangelists intend to teach that Jesus’s birth, ministry, teachings, life, death, resurrection, and ascension reveal a God with the same character and nature. The conception of a self-loving, blissful, Pollyanna god in the sky is not the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

“The notion of an immanent Trinity which God is simply by himself, without the love which communicates salvation, brings an arbitrary element into the concept of God which means a break-up the Christian concept. Consequently this idea safeguards God’s liberty nor the grace of salvation. It introduces a contradiction into the relationship between the immanent and the economic Trinity: the God who loves the world does not correspond to the God who suffices for himself. Before the unchangeable God, everything is equal and equally indifferent. For the loving God, nothing is a matter of indifference. Before an equivocal, an undecided God, nothing is significant. For the God who in his love is free, everything is infinitely important. But the immanent and the economic Trinity cannot be distinguished in such a way that the first nullifies what the second says. The two rather form a continuity and merge into one another.” (p. 151-152)

Moltmann exposes the inadequacy of the theological disjunction of the Godhead. It does not accomplish what its proponents believe it does. It does not safeguard grace or God’s freedom. Instead, it enslaves God in a prison of lovelessness. It shackles God inside indifference and apathy. God can only love Godself. God doesn’t have enough love for the world.

In place of the diminished God of this “immanent” and indifferent god, Moltmann places the united Trinity whose love is infinite and more than enough for the world. In the love of the united Trinity, everything is significant and infinitely loved. What a more glorious and praiseworthy vision of God!

II. God Saves Us By Giving Us Godself

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” – 2 Pet. 1.3-4

This united Trinity upon which Moltmann expounds is revealed in Salvation History as the Loving Savior, the Savingly Loved One, and Saving Love Itself. The united Trinity is also the God worshipped in the Church of Jesus Christ. Here, Moltmann turns to church history and historical theology. He addresses the theological disjunction of the Godhead from the standpoint of worship.

“The other and specific starting point for distinguishing between the economic and the immanent Trinity is to be found in doxology. The assertions of the immanent Trinity about eternal life and the eternal relations of the triune God in himself have their Sitz im Leben, their situation in life, in the praise and worship of the church:

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost!

Real theology, which means the knowledge of God, finds expression in thanks, praise and adoration. And it is what finds expression in doxology that is the real theology. There is no experience in doxology that is the real theology. There is no experience of salvation without the expression of that experience in thanks, praise and joy. An experience which does not find expression in this way is not a liberating experience. Only doxology releases the experience of salvation for a full experience of that salvation. In grateful, wondering and adoring perception, the triune God is not made man’s object; he is not appropriated and taken possession of. It is rather that the perceiving person participates in what he perceives, being transformed into the thing perceived through his wondering perception. Here we know only in so far as we love. Here we know in order to participate. Then to know God means to participate in the fullness of the divine life. That is why in the early church the doxological knowledge of God is called theologia in the real sense, being distinguished from the doctrine of salvation, the oeconomia Dei. The ‘economic Trinity’ is the object of kerygmatic and practical theology; the ‘immanent Trinity’ the content of doxological theology.” (p. 152)

Since the united Trinity is love, and love is essence of the saving activity of God in the world, it is clear that God’s salvation is God’s giving of Godself to humanity—the participation of humanity in God’s very nature of love. There is no greater gift God can give humanity than Godself. God is not a means to some other end. No! God in God’s Cruciform Love is the telos of Christian faith!

“In doxology the thanks of the receiver return from the goodly gift of the giver. But the giver is not thanked merely for the sake of of his good gift; he is also extolled because he himself is good. So God is not loved, worshipped and perceived merely because of the salvation that has been experienced, but for his own sake. That is to say, praise goes beyond thanksgiving. God is recognized, not only for his goodly works but in his goodness itself. And adoration, finally, goes beyond both thanksgiving and praise. It is totally absorbed into its counterpart, in the way that we are totally absorbed by astonishment and boundless wonder. God is ultimately worshipped and loved for himself, not merely for salvation’s sake.” (p. 153)

When we worship God, we gives praise and glory and honor to God not merely for the saving activity of God, but even more profoundly for who God is in Godself. God is the love in whom we live, move, and have our being as persons and as God’s children (Acts 17.28)! God is the ocean in which we swim! The Crucified Christ is the One by whom, for whom, and to whom all things have existence (Col. 1.15-20)! There is no greater experience of salvation than the exuberant, ecstatic shalom that overflows from being caught up in the triune love who is God.

III. God is Faithful to Godself

 “[God] cannot deny himself.” – 2 Tim. 2.13

Since God does what God is and God saves humanity by giving us Godself, God’s being is consistent with God’s saving activity. There is tautology in the Christian concept of salvation. God is love and God saves by giving humanity the saving love that God is.

This correspondence between who God is and what God does reinforces our trust in God. God is Truth and God is true to Godself in the communication of God’s self. This is why we can trust that God’s promises are true and God’s Word is Truth.

“It follows from this interlacing of the doctrine of salvation with doxology that we may not assume anything as existing in God himself which contradicts the history of salvation; and, conversely, may not assume anything in the experience of salvation which does not have its foundation in God. The principle that the doctrine of salvation and doxology do not contradict one another is founded on the fact that there are not two different Trinities. There is only one, single, divine Trinity and one, single divine history of salvation. The triune God can only appear in history as he is in himself, and in no other way. He is in himself as he appears in salvation history, for it is he himself who is manifested, and he is just what he is manifested as being. Is this a law which infringes God’s liberty? No, it is the quintessence of God’s truth. God can do anything, but ‘he cannot deny himself’ (II Tim. 2.13): ‘God is faithful.’ Consequently we cannot find any trinitarian relationships in salvation history which do not have their foundation in the nature of the triune God, corresponding to him himself. It is impossible to say, for example, that in history the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father ‘and from the Son’, but that within the Trinity he proceeds ‘from the Father alone’. God’s truth is his faithfulness. Consequently we can rely on his promises and on himself. A God who contradicted himself would be an unreliable God. He would have to be called a demon, not God. The true God is the God of truth, whose nature is eternal faithfulness and reliability. That is why the principle behind the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is:

Statements about the immanent Trinity must not contradict statements about the economic Trinity. Statements about the economic Trinity must correspond to doxological statements about the immanent Trinity.” (p. 153-154)

Therefore, in conclusion, there is no Polyannish, “unchangeable”, indifferent, god in the sky—that conception of God is either an idol or a demon. The only God who exists for the Christian is the God revealed in Jesus Christ—the God who is Cruciform Love.

God is Loving Savior because of who God is (self-sacrificing Love), not because of who humanity is (sinful). The Cross doesn’t make God a Savior; the Cross reveals that God Already Is (and Always Has Been) a Savior.

Glory and Honor and Praise, all Power and Majesty be to the God who is Cruciform Love—the God whose eternal nature is made known in King Jesus!



1. Jürgen Moltmann, _The Trinity and the Kingdom_ (Fortress Press, 1981), 151-154.


Justo González and the Politics of Impassibility, Part 5

We’ve finally arrived at the fifth and final installment of this series on the ‘politics of impassibility,’ looking deeply into an important book: Mañana [1] by world-renowned, Hispanic theologian and historian Justo González. Be sure to check out the rest of the series

In part four, we drew readers’ attention to the ninth and tenth chapters of Mañana: “On Being Human,” “And the Word Was Made Flesh” respectively. Part four focused on chapter nine and so we’ll now turn our focus to chapter ten.

The Constantinization of the Church Meets the Stubbornness of Jesus

González begins chapter ten with a look back at Nicea. As he did in previous chapters, he commends the bishops for their resistance to the Arian attempt to import the Greek concept of deity (i.e. immutability, impassibility, etc.) into Christian theology by unequivocally affirming the fully eternality and divinity of Jesus Christ. They proclaimed Jesus “very God” and “of the same substance with the Father” to silence any notion that God is ‘above’ the feelings and movement (i.e. passibility) of human life. Messiah Jesus of Nazareth, who was fully human and fully divine suffered, therefore it is true to say God suffered.

Nevertheless, González laments that the council did not go far enough in preventing the “Hellenization—and therefore the Constantinization—of God.” (p.139) By this González means that by utilizing the Greek concept of “essence” (ousia) to describe the divine nature, the bishops inadvertently imported a “basically static” conception of God into the history of the revelation of the dynamic, Living God of the Bible. This, he marks as an important misstep. He traces this error back to the beginnings of Christianity’s adoption of Greek philosophy and metaphysics:

“Although the Council of Nicea, in affirming the eternal divinity of the Word, avoided the extreme ‘Constantinization’ of God, it did not go so far as to state that immutability is not a characteristic properly to be applied to the Christian God. On the contrary, in speaking of the ‘essence’ (ousia) of God, it did imply that God could most properly be spoken of in terms of the Greek notion of substance, which is basically static. Therefore, the process begun two centuries earlier with Justin—and even before that with Philo—and of which the Trinitarian controversies were an expression, was not stopped by the Council.” (p.139)

Recall that González is keen to expose the socio-political ramifications of the Christological debates. So he immediately moves into charting the process by which Christian theology began to be de-Christianized.

“Such Constantinization was a relatively simple matter. After all, ‘No one has ever seen God.’ All that was necessary was to bring about a change in people’s minds as to who God is. In order to do this, the Greek notion of being was readily available. By showing the ‘rationality’ of this notion—on the basis that only the fixed and given is strictly rational—and the anthropomorphism of the images with which Scripture and early Christian theology described the living God, the exponents of the theology of the status quo were able to do away with a great deal of the biblical picture of an active, just, loving, and avenging God. At the same time, allegorical interpretation dehistoricized the Bible, and thus God’s activity in history was transmuted into perennial and supposedly ‘higher’ meanings. The pharaohs of the Roman Empire and of Western Civilization became the ‘new Israel,’ while secretly hoping that God would not upset the applecart of society, as had been done in Egypt of old.” (p.139)

A living God of the Bible, who acts in history, is filled with passion, love, and justice was despised by the Greek. A God who suffers on the Cross was “foolishness” to them, says Paul. (I Cor. 1.18—25) The only proper way of conceptualizing God was as unmoved by this creaturely world of movement, untouched by the passion that affects human beings, unsullied by the evil of matter. So, to the Scriptures had to be stripped of those unsightly anthropomorphisms which depicted God as being moved by compassion, anger, love, and justice. Such notions weren’t “rational” enough!

At the same time this is going on, the Scriptures are also being decoupled from their historical context in the life of the nation of Israel. Then the promises made to a beaten and battered tribe can be appropriated by one of the empires who beat and battered them! Pharaoh is transformed into Moses and Rome is transformed into Israel!

There’s just one small problem with that scheme: Jesus.

Messiah Jesus of Nazareth stubbornly stands in the way of Constaninization. His story—which is also the story of our redemption—clings unrelentingly to the historical context in which it took place: “…Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate…” Jesus’s story refuses to be transformed into an empire-building program.

“…there was one irreducible fact that refused to be Constantinized. This fact was Jesus, the carpenter from Galilee who was called the Christ. Although ‘no one has ever seen God,’ here was one whom people had not only seen but also heard and even touched (I John 1:1). Here was a historical figure whom one must take into account.

Great pains were taken to mitigate the scandal of God’s being revealed in the poor carpenter. His life and sayings were reinterpreted so as to make them more palatable to the rich and powerful. Innumerable legends were built around him, usually seeking to raise him to the level that many understood to be that of the divine—that is, to the level of a superemperor. Art depicted him as either the Almighty Ruler of the universe, sitting on his throne, or as the stolid hero who overcomes the suffering of the cross with superhuman resources and aristocratic poise.

Even after all this was said and done, there still remained the very real and very human figure of the carpenter crucified by the ruling powers, crying in his distress, and yet declared to be ‘very God.’ This was and is the stumbling block that no form of Constantinian theology can overcome.” (p.140)

Gnostic-Docetism: Another Way to Relativize Jesus

Fear is a major impediment to freedom. The children of Israel clung to the idols of Egypt out of fear of what it would mean to follow YHWH into the desert as a free people. Yes, freedom is risky—and following the Living God entails risk—but there is no better risk to take! The Greek conception of God, the essentially static, unmoved, unfeeling god is more secure for those too anxious to follow the untamed God.

“Freedom and dignity are always costly, as the Israelites discovered when they began missing the leeks, onions, and security of Egypt. To follow the living God means that one—an individual or an entire people—must abandon the security of all idols. It means taking the initial risk of believing in this God who is like no other god. And it means taking the further risk of challenging structures of injustice and oppression, trusting that the living God shares in the struggle.” (p.140)

If the Jesus who is rooted in history is not so easily Constantinized, then there is another way to relativize him: Gnostic-Docetism.

There is a false piety to placing God outside our experience. God is “too great” to suffer as we suffer. God is “too holy” to be moved by our suffering. The world of matter is beneath the Supreme Being, such a god cannot even be thought to muck about in it. This way of thinking leads to a Christ who only Seemed to be human, but was really only divine all along.

“Jesus did not really come in the flesh but only appeared to do so. This view of Jesus, called docetism, had great appeal for many Christians, for it seemed to exalt Jesus by declaring him to be a purely heavenly and divine creature.

Likewise, according to the docetists, our suffering and death, as well as all the injustice and evil that exists in the world, are not important. Our bodies are prisons holding our souls in this material world and clouding our vision of spiritual realities. But when all things are consummated, our bodies and indeed all matter will be destroyed, and there will be nothing but spiritual realities.” (p.141)

“…docetists seemed to be giving Jesus greater praise than did the more orthodox Christians, who insisted that Jesus was a human being, who needed to eat just as we need to eat and who was capable of suffering just as we suffer.” (p.142)

This is often the case with Christological heresy: it errors in an attempt to preserve Jesus from his own humanity. “Surely Jesus whom we worship as God cannot be thought to suffer, since God cannot suffer,” is the thought. That’s how the false god of Greek philosophy attempts to relativize the God of the Bible and the Jesus of the Gospels. But the real Jesus isn’t so easily pushed around.

“The most important stumbling block gnosticism found in its way was the person of Jesus Christ. The Gospels and Christian tradition made it quite clear that he was no ethereal phantom flouting in the clouds and speaking mysterious words. On the contrary, the Gospels spoke of him as being born at a particular time and place. They spoke of him as growing, eating, sleeping, weeping, perspiring, bleeding, and even dying. The Fourth Gospel affirmed that ‘the Word was made flesh.’ Indeed, the Christian message could be spoken of as that ‘which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands.’ (I John 1:1). The notion that the supreme revelation of God had taken place in such a person made it clear that spiritualist escapism was not the Christian way […]

Docetism, while seeming to glorify Jesus, in truth deprived him of what in the New Testament is his greatest glory: his incarnation and suffering on the cross. In the last analysis, what docetism denied was not only the reality of the incarnation and the suffering of Jesus but the very nature of a God whose greatest victory is achieved through suffering, and whose clearest revelation is in the cross.” (pp.142-143)

Gnostic-docetism attempts to preserve the immutable, impassible god of Greek philosophy—which projects those attributes upon the powers the be. God becomes emperor-like so that the emperor can become god-like. But is the solution to deny the eternal divinity of the Word?

Rugged Individualism and the Self-Made God

Christological heresies that deny the eternal divinity of the Word are called “adoptionism” because it is presumed is “declared that Jesus was ‘mere man’ who somehow had been adopted into divine sonship.” (p.144) But rather than being the cure to Constantinization, this heresy is also used to oppress the powerless. González connects adoptionism to the myth that ‘anyone can make it.’

“Those who belong to the higher classes have a vested interest in this myth, for it implies that their privilege is based on their effort and achievement. But those who belong to the lower classes and who have not been propagandized into alienation from their reality know that this is a myth, and that few that do make it are in fact allowed to move on in order to preserve the myth. […]

Adoptionism is seen as an alienating doctrine by those who realize that their society is in fact closed. One of us making it is important; but it does not end the basic structure of injustice, which is the real issue. The one who ‘makes it’ must be more than simply another one of us, more than the proof that oppression is not all that real after all. The one who ‘makes it’ must also be the expression of a reality beyond our closed reality. Jesus Christ must be more than the first among the redeemed, more than the local boy who makes good. He must also be the Redeemer, the power from outside who breaks into our closed reality and breaks its structures of oppression. He must be more than the ‘adopted son of God.’ He must be God adopting us as sons and daughters.” (pp.144-145)

It’s clear that adoptionism can be just as oppressive as docetism, but for different reasons. Both heresies fail to declare Jesus’s full divinity and full humanity simultaneously. Hence, Chalcedon.

The Chalcedonian Parameters

At Chalcedon, the church declared that “in Jesus Christ, and for us and our salvation, the divine and the human have been joined.” (p.145) But because of the infiltration of pagan, Gentile philosophy, “human” and “divine” held contradictory connotations:

“In effect, what the church had done in accepting the notion of God as impassible, immutable, infinite, omnipotent, and so forth, was to define God in terms of negation of all human limitations. We are finite; God is infinite. We are subject to change; God is impassible. Our power is limited; God is omnipotent. God is whatever humans are not, and vice versa. These mutually exclusive understandings of both divinity and humanity were known and defined a priori, quite apart from the incarnation. […] “The inescapable paradox of the incarnation, that this particular man is also the universal God, is turned into a contradiction when the terms of the union are stated on the basis of a supposed a priori knowledge of what it means to be human and what it means to be divine.” (pp.145-146)

Rather than starting from where Scripture points for God’s self-revelation (i.e. Jesus, particularly on the cross), some Christians started out (and still do to this day!) with a unbiblical notion divine and human as mutually exclusive categories. If the Incarnation and Cross of Jesus are a Christian’s starting place for God’s self-revelation, then the truth is that divinity and humanity aren’t contradictory and have been joined. God does suffer! Humanity can be glorified!

Chalcedon only set the parameters: Jesus is at once fully God, fully human. But at least two ‘schools’ emerged that worked out that formula slightly differently. They were the Alexandrian and the Antiochene. The Alexandrian ‘school’ had what’s been called a “unitive” Christology—meaning, they were sure to affirm both Christ’s divinity and humanity. However, their articulations often bordered on docetism. The Antiochene ‘school’ had what’s been called ‘disjunctive’ Christology. They “insisted on the full humanity of Jesus, and also on his full divinity, but feared that too close a union between the two would result in the humanity being swallowed up in the divinity.” (p.146)

While these schools are emerging, Arianism has not been fully eradicated. So, in an attempt to explain the joining of divine and human natures in Christ, Apollinaris (of the Alexandrian school) came up with a compromising articulation:

“Jesus was physically human, but that psychologically he was purely divine. […] According to [Apollinaris], the mutable body could be joined to the immutable Son, thus preserving both the union of the divinity and humanity and the immutability of the Son.” (p.147)

Building on González’s previous chapter on human nature (see part four of this series), he points out the error of Apollinaris’s view:

“Apollinaris’s view of the incarnation in fact denied that God had been joined to a true human being. A human being is not just a body in which a mind resides but is both a body and a mind. What Apollinaris proposed was a partial incarnation. The consequence of such a partial incarnation would be a partial salvation.” (p.147)

Then González quotes Gregory Nazianzen who said, “For that which [the Son] has not assumed He has not healed.” Thankfully, Apollinarianism as rejected at the Council of Constantinople in 381.

The next heresy to form because of disjunctive Christology was Nestorianism. Since Nestorius held the same mutually exclusive categorical conceptions of divinity and humanity that the pagan, Gentile philosophers taught he objected to the use of the term “theotokos” (bearer of God) for Mary, Jesus’s mother. Nestorius could not reconcile Jesus’s human and divine natures, so he sought to preserve them both by keeping them separate—so separate in fact that his view was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Instead, the church adopted the doctrine of communicatio idiomatum “…the doctrine that in the incarnation the union of divinity and humanity is such that what is predicated on one can be also be predicated on the other.” (p.148) Nestorianism is a heresy because, “the constant distinction between the two ‘natures,’ without a real union between the two, denied the reality of the incarnation.” González shows why Nestorianism is a particularly unbiblical heresy:

“Nestorianism has never been a temptation for Hispanic Christians. The reason for this is that we feel the need to assert that the broken, oppressed, and crucified Jesus is God. A disjunction between divinity and humanity in Christ that denies this would destroy the greatest appeal of Jesus for Hispanics and other groups who must live in suffering. […] The suffering Christ is important to Hispanics because he is the sign that God suffers with us. An emaciated Christ is the sign that God is with those who hunger. A flagellated Christ is the sign that God is with those who must bear the stripes of an unjust society. […] Nestorianism denies that God took these up. For this reason, the Nestorian Christ can never be the Lord of our devotion.” (pp.148-149)

There is only One in heaven worthy to be receive power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and praise: the Lamb Who Was Slain! (Revelation 5) If Jesus did not truly suffer as both God and human, he is not worthy to be worshiped as the Savior or Redeemer.

“If in Jesus the human is swallowed up in the divine, to such a point that he no longer functions as a human being, his sufferings are sham and are not like ours. He did not bear our sufferings, and therefore we cannot find vindication for those who now suffer. The Crucified One must be truly crucified. […] He must be divine, for otherwise his suffering has no power to redeem, and he must also be human, for otherwise his suffering has nothing to do with ours. And the two must be joined in such a way that his true humanity is neither destroyed nor swallowed up in his divinity.” (p.149)

Toward a Biblical Christology

González does not leave readers with all the many ways Christology has run aground the biblical witness and relied upon the appearance of human wisdom for truth about the nature of God. No, he closes out the chapter by constructing a way forward that relies upon God’s self-revelation in Christ for the truth about divine and human natures. It turns out, the Bible is hand in this regard:

“…we do not know who God is, nor what it means to be fully human, apart from divine revelation. We must not approach divine revelation with a preconceived notion of God and accept in that revelation only that which agrees with such a notion. In the Older Testament we have the revelation of who God is—or, more precisely, of how God acts—as well as of what it means to be human. This revelation, and in whom the true meaning  of full humanity is also revealed. Therefore, we must not approach the person of Jesus Christ with an a priori notion of what it means to be divine—in this case drawn mostly from the Greek metaphysical tradition—or with an a priori notion of what it means to be human. The proper starting point for Christology is neither theology nor anthropology—nor a combination of the two—but Jesus himself as Scripture witness to him.” (p.151)

“God’s very being is love, for-otherness. This is the Trinitarian God. This is the God revealed in Jesus Christ. What Jesus has done is precisely to open for us the way of love, to free us so that we too can begin to be for others. In being for others we are most truly human. And in being most truly human we are most Godlike. Indeed, God did become human so that we could become divine!” (p.155)


  1. Justo González, Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective (Abingdon, 1990) []

Justo González and the Politics of Impassibility, Part 4

This is the fourth part of our series on Justo González and the politics of impassibility. (If you’re just tuning in, be sure to check out parts one, two, and three.)

Two the best chapters in Mañana [1], are chapter 9: “On Being Human,” and chapter 10: “And the Word Was Made Flesh”. In these two brief chapters, González accomplishes something most theology scholars could devote dozens of books to and not address nearly as thoroughly. In the span of 30 pages, González takes readers through a seminary degree’s worth of insights into human nature, church history, Scripture, and Christology. But that weren’t enough, he continues to integrate the socio-political nature of faith into his discussion.

In this fourth part, I’ll attempt to synthesize González’s thought on human nature from chapter 9, the implications it has on Christian theology, the church, as well as the socio-political ramifications. Let’s dive in!

What is Human Being?

All Christian doctrines can be misused to oppress people. But the doctrine of humanity has been particularly useful in this regard. González clearly and concisely shows just how this can be accomplished. The first step is to dissect the human being into “parts,” rather than considering a person a united whole.

“The Bible is not interested in the body and the soul, or in the body, the soul, and the spirit, as constitutive parts of the human creature. The Bible is not interested in how many parts there are to us or to how they relate to each other, but rather in the divine purposes for our lives, and how we can be obedient to such purposes. As José Ortega y Gasset would say, ‘A human being is not a thing, but a drama.’

“…the Bible nowhere says that the soul is immortal. On the contrary, Jesus speaks of one who can ‘kill the soul’ (Matt. 10:28). In most cases, the Bible uses the term ‘soul’ as another way of speaking of one’s entire being, without any attempt to distinguish it from the body or to enter into discussions as to how many parts constitute a human being.”

“…the soul and the body are not two different parts of a person but rather the same person as seen from different perspectives. A human being is not a soul that has taken up a body, nor a body to which has been added a soul, but a single being who is at the same time both body and soul.”

“The Bible does not speak of human beings as divided into two ‘parts’ or ‘substances.’ It speaks rather of a single entity that is properly understood neither in purely materialistic terms nor in purely spiritual terms. The entire human being is body, and the same human being is soul. A disembodied soul is not a human being, just as a ‘dis-souled’ body is no longer a human being.” – p.126-127

At this point, it might not be clear to some how one’s view of the human being has any bearing on Christology, let alone politics. That is because of the pervasiveness of the myth of abstract theology. One’s view of the human being supposed to be neutral. González will dispel that myth and connect the dots.

“…the common understanding of the human being as consisting of two (or three) parts is not a sociopolitically neutral notion. On the contrary, it has been used and is still used to justify oppression. Once one divides human nature into two parts, one physical and the other psychical, it is a simply matter to move on to the affirmation that the higher element in our life is the psychical. At least by implication, the physical is then downgraded and seen, if not as evil, at least as less significant or less human. Thus from the division of the human creature into two substances follows the hierarchization of those substances.” – p.128

Just as soon as people start dividing up the human nature into “parts,” the discussion naturally flows into an ordering of priority. In the history of Western philosophy, the “soul” or “mind” has always been valued above the body in the exact same way Plato envisioned the abstract forms being greater than their physical manifestations. The hierarchization of soul/mind over the physical body is classic, Greek dualism, and it has dramatically influenced Christian theology and politics.

For example, González cites Pope Innocent III’s use of this dualism to assert the ecclesiastical priority of authority over the state:

“As God the creator of the universe established two great lights in the heavens, the greater to preside over the day, and the smaller to preside over the night, thus did he also establish two great authorities in the heaven of the universal church… the greater, that it might preside over souls as if they were days, and the lesser, that it might preside over bodies as if they were nights. These are the pontifical authority and the royal power.” – p.128

It’s difficult not to hear the echoes of “Plato’s Cave” in Innocent’s description. The bodies over which the royal power has jurisdiction are less real than the souls over which the Church rules. Thus the mind-body hierarchization is carried over and applied politically.

But González also notes that this dualism not limited to Christian theology and politics.

“…quite apart from issues of church and state, this hierarchical understanding of the relation between soul and body contributes to a similarly hierarchal understanding of society.” – p.128

The hierarchization of human nature also contributes to a hierarchization of human achievements and activities. The prioritization of the mind-soul to the body means those with education, those who enjoy the “vocation of leisure” (as philosophy was known in Plato’s era of Athens), those who study and teach in universities, are superior to those who toil in fields or perform manual labor. This harkens back to the “impassibility” that the philosophers in Athens exhibited toward the slaves who built the city and toiled while they reclined to philosophize on abstract ideas.

“On this basis [mind-body dualism], men who have been doing their theology in universities and libraries have tended to look down upon the women who cook their food and the minorities who collect their garbage.”

“The hierarchical ordering of the soul and body is then joined to the racist and sexist notion that women and people of darker skin are best suited for physical pursuits, whereas white males are best suited for the intellectual life. The obvious conclusion is that the present ordering of society—and of the ‘traditional’ household—is grounded on human nature and ought not to be questioned. But it is clear that it can and should be questioned.” – p.129


González draws upon the Genesis narrative of creation to correct dualism and also construct a positive account of human being. In this section, he confronts hierarchical relationships between men and women as well as between humanity and the creation.

One of the most profound insights González shares in this section is that essential and complete human nature is “being-for-others.” Humanity was created to be in relationships with ‘others’. It was not good that “man” be alone. Instead, God created humanity in a system of relations in which humanity has a vocation of “dominion.” This “being-for-others” nature is critical to understanding humanity’s vocation of dominion because it is directly related to humanity’s creation in the image and likeness of God.

“…the very verse that speaks of human dominion over creation puts that dominion in a certain context: ‘Let us make the human in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion…’ The dominion is after the likeness of God’s dominion. And God’s dominion, as we have already seen, is dominion in love. God does not rule the earth and humankind as a tyrant. God’s very nature is being-for-others, love.” – p.131

Sin as For-Other-ness Breaking

From there, González goes on to show the effect of sin on human being.

“In Genesis 1:26-27, it is both the male and the female that are to have dominion. But in Genesis 3, after the fall, the man claims dominion over the woman by giving her a name not his own. In this naming, they are alienated from each other. They are no longer ish and ishshah. Now she is Eve, named by Adam. Their intended for-otherness, based on their being ‘fit’ for each other, ‘as in front of’ each other, is now disrupted. Thus is the society of dominance born, in which we are alienated from one another. In such a society, it is not only the ‘other’ that is lost. We are all lost because we have lost our for-otherness, and God has rightly said ‘it is not good’ for us to be for ourselves.” – p.134

Criminalization, Sexualization, and Privatization

González points to at least three ways sin has been distorted by culture and therefore the fundamental disordering of human nature has been misunderstood. First, sin has been associated with crime. When political and ecclesial authorities conspire to amass power, they conflate sin with crime. In this way the religious condemnation of sin supports the political status quo.

“The almighty God is turned into an ally of the mighty in our society, thus creating an almost invincible alliance. But sin is not always crime, and crime is not always sin. This has been very clear to Christians who have been a minority within any given society. In the early church, to be killed for refusing to obey the law that required the emperor be worshiped was no sin but was rather the crown of Christian faithfulness. Moses and his followers broke the law of Egypt, from whose standpoint they were criminals. Early Christians, by having a common table at which master and slave ate together, broke the law of Rome. Martin Luther King, Jr., broke the laws of many states.

All these people should unashamedly be called criminals. They broke the law. When caught—and some of them wished to be caught—they were legally condemned. We may now say that the laws by which they were condemned were unfair. But it was the law, and they broke it. They were outlaws for God. In this they followed the same path as that convicted outlaw and executed criminal, Jesus of Nazareth.” – p.134

Sin has also been reduced to sexual misconduct. This can serve as nothing more than a smokescreen that protects the powerful who exploit the poor and a reasserting of mind-body dualism.

“Although theologians repeatedly tell us that sin is much more than improper sexual activity, in our common parlance ‘sin’ is almost equated with that subject. And yet if we were to read the entire Bible, listing on the one hand those texts that seek to regulate sexual practice and on the other hand those that seek to limit and regulate property rights, we would find that the latter outweigh the former. The God of the Bible is concerned with the misuse of property at least as much as with the misuse of sex. Yet we hear very little in the church about the misuse of property. What we hear is vague, such as the notion of ‘stewardship.’ But we are not told that the ‘maximization of profit’ is condemned by God because it violates the rights of the poor (see, for instance, Deut. 24:17-22; Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22) This selective preaching and teaching is not mere coincidence. Nor is it because sexual sins are more common. It is rather because we have learned to interpret “sin” like so many other elements in biblical doctrine, in a manner that is less offensive to the powerful.” – p.135-136

This sexualization of sin also relates back to the mind-body dualism:

“The philosophical tradition in which that hierarchical understanding developed held that the goal of wisdom was to have the mind be totally in control of the body and its passions.” – p.136

In this we can hear the echo of the pagan, idol god—the passionless, “impassible” god is thought to be the highest imaginable perfection. Thus, the Christians who adopted this foreign god as their own, began being molded in its image:

“Since in sexual activity the body takes control over the mind, such activity came to be seen as the opposite of the life of wisdom and virtue. When such views were introduced in the Christian church, they became one of the main impulses leading many Christians to a life of celibacy.” – p. 136

Who better to represent the impassible god who is free from “passions” than a celibate priest who is thought to be from the “passions” of sexualized sin?

But this sexualization of sin also contributed to a view of sin that divorced it from matters of economics.

“Such privatization of sin contradicts the very nature of our humanity. It is ‘not good’ for us to be alone. An individual alone is not the person God intended. We are created for-otherness. It is only when that for-otherness takes place that we are the human beings God intends. This for-otherness is for God as well as for creation and for other human beings. We stand amid God’s creation, as part of it and responsible to it and to others as the concrete expression of our responsibility toward God. As in Ortega y Gasset’s famous dictum, ‘Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia’ (I am I and my circumstance). Sin is the violation of that for-otherness. Sin is the violation of God’s image in us, which is precisely the image of God’s for-otherness.” – p.136-137

What it means to be human is to be a united person of soul and body given a vocation of dominion that reflects God’s very image and likeness: God’s for-otherness. The dividing of the human being into parts precipitates dualism which leads to political oppression. Sin has been associated with society’s crimes, sexualized, and privatized. But each of these distortions misses the fundamental nature of human being. We were created to to reflect God’s for-otherness. Economics is an indispensable and inseparable aspect of human for-otherness.

In part 5, we see how González relates these insights to the Word Made Flesh. Stay tuned.

  1. Justo González, Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective (Abingdon, 1990) []

Justo González and the Politics of Impassibility, Part 3

Were in part three of a series considering the thoughts of celebrated historical theologian Justo González on the doctrine of “impassibility” from his fantastic book Mañana. Be sure to also check out parts one and two.

The Patripassian Truth

After Nicea ruled definitively against Arianism, rejecting the immutable and impassible god of the philosophers in favor of the God revealed in the Crucified Son of God, who is ‘of one substance with the Father,’ another heresy arose which came to be known as Patripassianism. The name is unfortunate because instead of being named for the heretical portion of its view, it is named for its only truth.

Patri-passian is from the Latin Patri- for “father” and -passian for “suffering” or “passion.” But this is not what was worthy of condemnation in the view. Patripassianism is a heresy because it is a form of Modalism. [1] González distinguishes between what Patripassians got right, and what they got wrong:

“Although Patripassianism took different forms, in general it held that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were three ‘modes’ or ‘faces’ of the same God. This God had appeared as Father in the Old Testament, as Son in Jesus Christ, and now as Spirit in the life of the church. Its opponents called this doctrine Patripassianism, because it implied that the Father had suffered the passion of Christ. They often argued against it on the basis that it made God passible, thus inadvertently playing into the hands of the Arians. What these opponents of Patripassianism did not seem to realize was that the reason this doctrine was so attractive to so many in the church was that it showed clearly that God was one of their number. God was not like the emperor and his nobles, who had an easy life in their lofty positions. God had toiled and suffered even as they must toil and suffer every day. On this point, it would seem that the Patripassians had an insight into the nature of the biblical God that the more powerful leaders of the church had begun to lose.

On the other hand, this does not mean that the eventual rejection of Patripassianism by the church at large was a mistake. In clearly asserting the suffering of God, Patripassianism was right. But in denying the distinction between the Father and Son it lost the dialectic of power and powerlessness, of suffering and hope, which is central to the Christian doctrine of redemption. Indeed, what makes the suffering of Christ a sign of hope is that, even in the midst of his suffering, next to him stands the Father who is to raise him from the dead. What makes his powerlessness so powerful is precisely that while God is being crucified in the Son, the same God is also upholding the entire universe—and even those who crucify Jesus—in the Father.” [2]

Patripassianism, because it was a form of Modalism, also makes Christ’s humanity temporary event in the life of God.

“The other point at which Patripassianism was questionable was in that it made the incarnation only a passing stage. God was made human but did not remain so. Over against this, the church held that the incarnation was not a passing moment in the life of God. God did not take on humanity for thirty-three years in order simply to discard it as a used garment. The incarnation did not end with the crucifixion and resurrection. On the contrary, what the doctrine of ascension meant was that God is still human, that even now one of us, a carpenter, an outlaw, a convicted and executed criminal, sits ‘at the right hand’ of the Father.” [3]

González shows that the passibility and mutability of God is logically inherent in the still-incarnate Son of God in heaven. Were God not able to change or experience “passions” (suffering), then Jesus could not be the exalted Lord in heaven who still possesses a glorified human body. Patripassianism was heretical in its idea that the Father and Son are not distinguished, and in the resulting inference that the incarnation was only a temporary condition for God, but it was not heretical in its insistence that God is mutable and passible—that God experiences change and suffering. In this, González emphasizes the connection to the very truth of the Gospel.

Sacralizing the Status Quo

In every generation, there are inevitably some who think it is possible to consider the doctrine exclusively in the abstract. Today, it is particularly common for middle class, white males in North American evangelicalism to approach theology this way. From their privileged position in Western society, doctrine is merely intellectual curiosity with little ramifications for everyday life. Like Plato in Athenian society, they have deceived themselves into thinking that their theological conclusions are “pure reason,” uninfluenced by their socio-political context. This, of course, is merely self-deception.

It’s exceedingly easy for those in privileged positions in a society to deceive themselves into thinking that they are neutral. Which is precisely why González begins Mañana by exposing the myth of objectivity: Every person is biased. And when those doing theology are ignorant of their own biases, they will inevitably sacralize the status quo.

While Nicea took decisive action to stop Arianism from canonizing the Impassible God derived from Platonism, and while the Nicene faith also rejected the Modalistic heresies which made Jesus’s humanity a passing phenomenon, they themselves were not impervious to their socio-political context:

“…the profound insight of this Nicene faith was often overshadowed by the fact that Christians had now become a powerful body and would soon be literally a majority. Since the church—or at least its leaders—now had power, it tended to identify its God with the God of the powerful—that is, with the Impassible One who by virtue of seemingly neutral inactivity sacralized the status quo. To this day, the church may be separated from the state, but it certainly is not always separated from the structures of privilege and injustice that the state often embodies.

…there is no doubt that faith in a ‘prime unmoved mover’ or a ‘Supreme Being’ may well be the means of sacralizing oppression. But faith in the living God of the Bible, in the Crucified One who is ‘of one substance with the Father,’ has enormous liberating and subversive power. It is faith in a God who joins the dispossessed in their struggle and marches with them to victory, liberation, and new life.

In [the U.S.] the God whose supreme revelation takes place in a carpenter from Galilee is seen primarily not in the stained-glass windows of the rich suburban church but in the Chicano lettuce or grape picker who is denied the right to unionize; in the suffering of the Puerto Rican in a Chicago tenement house; in the pain of those who are constantly told, in a thousand different ways, that their culture and language are inferior, and that they must conform to the language and culture of the majority—which is no more than a veiled way of saying that they must be reconciled with the fact that they will always be inferior. God hears and understands. This we know because the One who is ‘God from God, light from light, very God from very God’ was crucified, died, and was buried, and the third day rose from the dead and ascended unto heaven, where he sits in power, and from whence he shall come to judge the powerful and the powerless.” [4]

In part four of this series, we’ll look at what it means to be human, what the human nature of Messiah Jesus, and how the Hellenization of Christian theology led to its Constantinianization. Stay tuned.

  1. Modalism is a heresy because it proposes that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are ‘modes’ of the One God rather than distinct, simultaneous ‘persons’. For more on the modalism of Patripassianism, see: Patripassianism []
  2. Justo González, Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective (Abingdon, 1990), p.109. []
  3. Ibid., p.109-110.
  4. p.110-111.

Justo González and the Politics of Impassibility, Part 2

In part one of this series on the politics of impassibilty, we surveyed the argument made by Hispanic theologian Justo González for the rejection of the false god of the pagan, Gentile philosophers—which is actually an idol—in favor of the self-disclosing God of the Bible, supremely revealed in Messiah Jesus of Nazareth. We demonstrated that there is a socio-political dimension to the theological conclusions at which one arrives. The doctrine of impassibility comes from an Athenian society built on the backs of slave labor. Impassibility was the natural outflow the Athenian aristocracy’s indifference to the suffering of the lower classes. They projected their value of personal impassibility onto their conception of God.

“The interests of a dominant social class work much more subtly, pervading the mentality of those who form part of it, and even of those who are subject to it, to such a point that those interests are eventually confused with pure rationality.” – p.97

“It has often been remarked that Plato’s understanding of the ideal state and its order was essentially aristocracy, although an aristocracy of the intellect rather than of wealth. What has not be remarked as often is that the same is true of his metaphysics.” – p.97

In part two, we’ll look at how González early Christianity made the turn from triune God of the Bible, revealed in Jesus to the idolatry of the philosophers God-conception.

‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’

In Acts 19, Paul was in Ephesus where he’s been preaching and teaching the Gospel of Jesus. This caused a disturbance because a local businessperson realized that Paul’s message would affect his bottom line. His business was tied up in the worship of false gods: idols. Paul’s message confronted the Ephesian idolatry, therefore, Paul had to go!

“Idols have a socioeconomic function.” – p.99

González can draw a straight line from the economic interests of a society to its idols:

“What is significant in this entire episode is the manner in which Demetrius links the interests of his hearers—and indeed of the entire city of Ephesus, which profited from the worship of Artemis—with piety. His concern is based on both economic and religious considerations. But the final result is an outburst of religious indignation, so that it appears that the only reason why the Ephesian crowd opposes Paul’s preaching is that their religion has been attacked. It would have been difficult to start a riot with people crying, “Paul is threatening our business.” But that is in effect the motivation behind the seemingly more religious cry, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Idolatry is used to serve the interests of those who profit from it.

The same is true in our day. The ‘God‘ who passes for the biblical God is used to protect the interests of North American investments overseas. THat is the reason why so many people are incensed when they hear that Christians in the Third World are opposed to such interests, which to them is opposing God. The idol, joined with the military-industrial-academic complex, supports the building of bigger and more devastating bombs, all in the name of the survival of Western civilization, which has come to be equated with Christianity. Like Demetrius of old, those who protect the vested interests of the privileged call us to be more “religious.” But the truth is that they are calling us to the idol that supports the status quo. To such calls we should reply, ‘Let the dead gods bury their dead.’ Let the ‘God‘ of the privileged follow the path of Artemis, Huitzilophochtli, and the crocodiles of the Nile.” – p.99-100

Just as we saw that the doctrine of impassibilty served to uphold the indifference of Athenian aristocracy, the worship of a different idol (this time Artemis) served to uphold the economic interests of the Ephesian craftsman. And it should be pointed out that Athenian indifference to the suffering of their lower classes also has an economic dimension, since the labor of their slaves and lower class non-citizens built the foundations of their society. Therefore, underlying all idolatry are vested political and economic interests that often claim to be “pure reason” when the idol’s proponents are blind to their own social location and privilege.

The Pagan, Gentile Origins of the Arian Controversy

The generation of Christians that flowed from the initial apostolic Jesus movement inherited the evangelistic task, but were charged to extend the Gospel into all the world, which meant they would have to learn to communicate the Gospel to the Greco-Roman world. Without persecution as a major concern, the evangelistic task morphed into “apologetics.”

“Throughout the second century, and well into the third, there was no systematic persecution of Christians. It was illegal to be Christian; but those who followed the new faith were not sought out by the authorities. Persecution and martyrdom depended on local circumstances, and particularly the good will of neighbors.”

“…during the entire second century, Christians were in a precarious position. They were not constantly persecuted. Sometimes they were persecuted in some areas of the Empire, and not in others. Since the general policy of the Empire was that outlined by Trajan—Christians were not to be sought, but, if brought before the authorities, they must be forced to recant or be punished—the good will of their neighbors was very important. If any believed the evil rumors about them, they would be accused, and persecution would break out. For this reason it was very important to show that those rumors were untrue, and to give pages a better and more favorable understanding of Christianity. This was the task of the apologists…” [1]

Some of the rumors that spread about Christians were based on misunderstandings of the Christian gathering, which for obvious reasons, was secretive. The “love feasts” that Christians enjoyed together, combined with Christians calling each other “brother” and “sister,” led to the rumor that Christian worship was an “orgiastic” event where Christians “vented their lusts in indiscriminate and even incestuous unions.” [2]

The early apologists were rightly concerned to refute such perverse rumors. However, their quest for legitimacy and respectability didn’t stop there. They also wanted their conception of God to be considered philosophically tenable by the intellectuals of their day.

“Much more difficult to refute was the criticism of a number of cultured pagans who had taken the trouble to learn about Christianity and claimed that it was intellectually wanting. Although it attacked Christianity on numerous counts, this criticism boiled down to a main point: Christians were an ignorant lot whose doctrines, although preached under a cloak of wisdom, were foolish and even self-contradictory. This seems to have been a common attitude among the cultured aristocracy, for whom Christians were a despicable rabble.” [3]

The Greco-Roman context was pervaded by the belief in an impassible Supreme Being. How was the Church supposed to preach the Gospel of the Crucified God? The apologetic challenge was immense!

One early church theologian came up with a solution: he built upon the work of Philo and the prologue of the Fourth Gospel to use the Greek “logos” to connect the history of a Jewish Messiah to Plato’s world of abstract forms. His was called Justin Martyr.

“The doctrine of the absolute immutability of God led necessarily to the question of how such a God can relate to a mutable world. In a way, this was not a new problem, for already Plato had had difficulties in relating his world of ideas to the present world of transitory existence. The theory of ‘participation’ he developed was an attempt, although not quite successful, to bridge that gap. At a later time, those who sought to employ Platonism to interpret the Judeo-Christian tradition had similar difficulties. The clearest case is probably Justin Martyr, the second-century apologist whose work did so much to bring together Christian doctrine and Greek philosophy. Justin, like Plato before him, agreed that the Supreme Being, God, must be immutable. How, then, does that immutable God relate to this mutable world? Justin found his answer by drawing on the doctrine of the ‘logos,’ of ancient lineage among Greek philosophers. The logos then becomes the link between God and the world, between the mutable and the immutable. This was the basic framework within which Arianism, and much of the theology that refuted it, developed.” [4]

With this new tool in hand, the logos-bridge between the pagan—Gentile philosophy of Athens and the Hebrew God of the Bible—Justin was able to claim that Socrates and Plato were Christians too, since they reasoned ‘according to the logos.’

“We have been taught that Christ is the firstborn of God, and we have proclaimed that he is the Logos, in whom every race of people have shared. And those who live according to the Logos are Christians, even though they may have been counted as atheists—such as Socrates and Heraclitus, and others like them, among the Greeks. Whatever all people have said well [kalos] belongs to us Christians.” [5]

But not all early church theologians were as quick to baptize the contributions of pagan, Gentile philosophers. Tertullian had some less than positive things to say about the role of Greek philosophy on Christian theology:

“For philosophy provides the material of worldly wisdom, in boldness asserting itself to be the interpreter of the divine nature and dispensation. The heresies themselves receive their weapons from philosophy. It was from this source that Valentinus, who was a disciple of Plato, got his idea about the ‘aeons’ and the ‘trinity of humanity.’ And it was from there that the god of Marcion (much to be preferred, on account of his tranquility) came; Marcion came from the Stoics. To say that the soul is subject to deal is to go the way of Epicurus. And the denial of the resurrection of the body is found throughout the writings of all the philosophers. To say that matter is equal with God is to follow the doctrine of Zeno; to speak of a god of fire is to draw on Heraclitus. It is the same subjects which preoccupy both the heretics and the philosophers. Where does evil come from, and why? Where does human nature come from, and how? […] What is there in common between Athens and Jerusalem? between the Academy and the church? Our system of beliefs [institutio] comes from the Porch of Solomon, who himself taught that it was necessary to seek God in the simplicity of the heart. So much worst for those who talk of a ‘Stoic,’ ‘Platonic’ or ‘dialectic’ Christianity! We have no need for curiosity after Jesus Christ, nor for inquiry [inquisitio] after the gospel. When we believe, we desire to believe nothing further. For we need believe nothing more than ‘there is nothing else which we are obliged to believe.’ ” [6]

Heresy crept into the church’s teaching on God and Christ by way of their good intentions to present a “favorable” understanding to their Greco-Roman context. By affirming the immutable and impassible god of the philosophers, apologists such as Justin compromised the biblical portrait of a relational, dynamic, passionate God.

“The problems that would later appear in Arianism were already present in Justin’s theology, for they are derived from the same framework in which the difference between God and the world is seen in terms of the contrast between mutability and immutability. Once the matter was posed in this manner, Justin had no other option than to declare that the logos was the intermediary between God and the world and was therefore a being whose status was somewhere between the immutable God and this transitory world. […]

It was out of this context that Arianism arose. The traditional view that Arianism was an attempt to reaffirm Jewish monotheism and that it arose out of Judaizing tendencies, is now rejected by most scholars. I would add that such a notion, which appeared while the controversy was still raging, was the result of antisemitic bias, which sought to sin the origin of this and other heresies on Jews and Judaizers. The fact of the matter is that both Arius and his opponents were much influenced by Greek philosophy. [7]

In light of the attempts made by apologists like Justin to bridge the gap between the mutable world and his immutable conception of God, along with his attempt to bridge the gap between the god of the philosophers and the God of the Bible, Arianism arose as the most consistent theological position. Since God was immutable and impassible, the Supreme Being could not be thought to become “incarnate” in a human being. That would require change and being acted upon by external realities. Therefore, Arianism swoops in with a solution—it was the mutable Logos that became incarnate, not the immutable god.

But, the bishops of Nicea were too immersed in Scripture and too committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to go along with that mischaracterization of the divine nature. So they created a less logically consistent model that was more biblically faithful.

“Even though perhaps unwittingly, the Council refused to accept uncritically the supposed immutability and impassibility of God, and the doctrine that it promulgated would forever remind the church of the difference between the active, living God of the Scripture and the fixed ‘first cause’ or ‘Supreme Being’ of the philosophers and of much of Christian theology. What the bishops said at Nicea was that this One who ‘for us and for our salvation came down and became incarnate, becoming man, suffered and rose again on the third day,’ this One is ‘God from God, light from light, true God from true God, … of one substance with the Father.’ How then can the divine substance be conceived of in fixed, static terms? For generations, Christians would be discomfited by this statement, which they took to be authoritative and which yet spoke of the Godhead in terms hardly compatible with the notion of God that theology itself had come to regard as normative.

The inconsistency of the Nicene position has often been pointed out and was one of the main arguments of the Arian party against the decisions of the Council. Indeed, the bishops gathered at Nicea were trapped within the ontologist and static notions of God that had become dominant, but they refused to carry that notion of God to its ultimate consequences. Rather, they introduced an insurmountable obstacle in the way of any who would attempt to draw such consequences: The Son of God, the One whom we have seen, touched and handled in Jesus Christ, is ‘of one substance with the Father.’ Thus the gospel of the minority God was preserved even as enormous forces were reshaping the very notion of God in order to adjust it to the new status enjoyed by Christians.” [8]

Imperial Power Versus the Passible God

What’s all this got to do with politics? Good question! I’m glad you asked.

All people mirror their conceptions of God; we ‘become what we behold.’ And the powerful desire a powerful conception of God, so that they can remain in power. Those who are indifferent to the suffering of others desire a conception of God that is indifferent to the suffering of others. If Arian has succeeded and the church had adopted the conception of God as an immutable and impassible Monarch, who sends a mutable and passible emissary in the logos, then the church would have abandoned the Gospel of God’s love personally embodied in Jesus Christ. The church would have compromised the biblical portrait of God passionately pursuing God’s people and giving God’s own life to save them. The church would have justified all the powers who oppress and exploit the weak, all the powers who rule by force and coercion.

“The decision made at Nicea had political consequences that went far beyond the obvious. …The not so obvious was that its decision and the doctrine that it promulgated had—like every doctrine—political overtones. What was in fact affirmed by the Council was that the ‘very God of very God’ had become incarnate in a Jewish carpenter who was then condemned to death by the Roman Empire and the powerful of his time. This was the God whom the emperor had espoused. And all the while Constantine, and several Christian leaders around him, were trying to make it appear that the emperer was godlike and that God was emperorlike. […] If a carpenter condemned to death as an outlaw, someone who had nowhere to lay his head, was declared to be ‘very God of very God,’ such a declaration would put in doubt the very view of God and of hierarchy on which imperial power rests.”

“During the time of Constantius, it became evident that most church leaders were opposed to Arianism, and yet the emperor saw fit to favor that doctrine to the point of forcing several bishops to sign Arian—or quasi-Arian—declarations of faith. In this he was showing keen political intuition, for the Arian impassible God, clearly different from the passible and second-rate Son or Word of God, was more supportive of imperial authority than the living God of Scripture, even in the mitigated Nicene form.” [9]

In this, part two, of our series on Justo González and the politics of impassibility, we’ve seen how the good-intentioned quest for a respectable Christian apology led to the compromising of the biblical portrait of God for the idolatrous conception of God from the pagan, Gentile philosophers. Apologists like Justin Martyr inadvertently paved the way for the heresy of Arianism (among others) that led to the Council of Nicea’s condemnation of such views. Rather than supporting the immutable, impassible god of the philosophers, the bishops at Nicea proclaimed that the God of the Bible was passible and mutable and had become incarnate in the Jewish Messiah Jesus of Nazareth, was crucified, died, was buried, and rose again! Such a biblical view was threatening to the power structure of their day. The imperial power hierarchy relied upon a vision of divinity that was protected from all such change and passions. It needed an impassible god to remain indifferent to the oppression it caused.

In part three, well see explore the triune God’s suffering on the Cross, the trinity, and perhaps more. Until next time, Praise the Passible God of the Bible Revealed in Jesus Christ Crucified!


  1. Justo González, The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Reformation (Kindle Locations 1221-1236). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition []
  2. Ibid., Kindle Location 1252 of 9497.
  3. Ibid., Kindle Locations 1265-1268.
  4. Justo González, Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective (Abingdon, 1990), p.103. []
  5. “Justin Martyr on Philosophy and Theology” in Alister E. McGrath The Christian Theology Reader (Blackwell, 2007), p.3.
  6. Ibid., “Tertullian on the Relation of Philosophy and Heresy”, p.6.
  7. González, Mañana, p.105.
  8. Ibid., p.106-107.
  9. Ibid., p.108-109

Justo González and the Politics of Impassibility, Part 1

Doing Theology in Spanish

Theology has everyday implications for life. Christian faith is more than just the abstract ideas one holds in one’s head; faith is the lived reality one embodies in the world. In fact, in parts of the world today, theology remains a matter of life and death, the difference between privilege and oppression.

Few are better than Justo González at connecting the dots between what a person thinks about God and Christ, and how a person lives as a result. In his book Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective, González starts by confronting the myth of objectivity. He knows that every human being who explores the mystery of God, and every person reads the Bible, has a context and a culture that impact their perspective. He himself is no exception.

“…every theological perspective, no matter how seemingly objective, betrays a bias of which the theologian is not usually aware.” – p.21

“…if there is one thing that can be said with absolute certainty about the God of Scripture, it is that God cannot be known through rational objectivity.” – p.21

“…theology cannot be done in the abstract. There is no such thing as a ‘general’ theology. There is indeed a Christian community that is held together by bonds of a common faith. But within that community we each bring our own history and perspective to bear on the message of the gospel, hoping to help the entire community to discover dimensions that have gone unseen and expecting to be corrected when necessary.”- p.22

So, what impact exactly does being Hispanic have on González’s Christian theology?

“…my experience of being a minority in the ethnic sense opened my eyes and ears to the oppression that is very much a part of our society, and to hear the voice of the oppressed who are crying out, often in the name of Christianity.” – p.25

As a Hispanic American, a minority group who has been alienated and marginalized, González relates to the biblical narrative and Christian theology in a different way from those in the majority culture. Those portions of Scripture which are written from the perspective of oppressed peoples have more meaning for him, given his social location. It would behoove those in majority culture to pay close attention to the insights gained by those who are most intimately acquainted with the conditions under which the Scriptures were written.

“The minority report of the prophets is best understood by those who are not usually included in the chronicles of the kings or of high society. The exile is best understood by those who live in societies that are not theirs, and who ‘by the rivers of Babylon’ are called upon to sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land. The enormity of the self-marginalization of God in Galilee is best understood by modern-day outsiders in modern-day Galilees—ghettos, barrios, and the misdeveloped countries. The post-Constantinian era, by forcing poverty and weakness upon the church, calls it to a renewed commitment to the paradoxical ‘good news’ of the cross. At this point one is reminded of Luther’s contrast between a ‘theology of glory’ and a ‘theology of the cross.’ A theology of glory attempts to see God in power, in wisdom, in hapiness and prestige. It is a theology that sounds good. But it is not proper theology. A theology of the cross, on the contrary, sees God in suffering, in weakness, and in folly. A Constantinian theology will necessarily be a theology of glory. It is theology written in endowed chairs and preached from prestigious pulpits. The new theology, even when it finds its way to such chairs and pulpits, is aware that they represent a dying age, and that the coming one, although painful, will provide the church with greater opportunities for faithfulness.” – p.50

González also confronts many of the sources of error which have led to the myth of objectivity and have obscured the biblical portrait of God. As not only a postcolonial theologian, but also a historical theologian, González is able to draw upon his extensive research into the historical and cultural contexts of theological development in Church history, to shed greater light on how Christian theology has gotten off track. In Mañana, he boldly asserts that the Church needs a “new reformation”—one characterized by an uncompromising Christocentrism and special attention to the socio-political ramifications of Christian theology:

“Too much traditional theology has bought into the Eleatic-Platonic understanding of truth as that which is changeless and universal, and then has sought such truths in the Bible. The new reformation believes that our understanding of the nature of truth must be such that a particular man Jesus, at a particular time and place, can say, ‘I am the truth.’ Biblical truth, the truth in which the people of God are called to live, the new reformers say, is concrete, historical, truth. It does not exist in the world of pure ideals but rather is closely bound with bread and wine, with justice and peace, with a coming Reign of God—a Reign not over pure ideals or over disembodied souls but over a new society and a renewed history.” – p.50

For González, theology must be “embodied.” This is a critical piece in his overall work. Theology is meant to be lived out, and if one’s theology has been corrupted by unbiblical concepts, and if one has been deceived by the myth of objectivity, then the theology one is living out will be sub-Christian. Christian theology, being a theology centered around divine revelation in a historical person, must do the same: integrate divine revelation into the lives of historical persons—persons who live in culture and class, time and space—embodied persons.

“The understanding of the Bible as a book that deals essentially with ‘spiritual salvation’ after death can be proven to be the result of the introduction of Christianity into the Greco-Roman world, with its preconceived notions of the nature of religion. But this is more than a historical accident, for it also carries with it a political agenda. That political agenda, simply put, is to make God apolitical. If God is primarily interested in the salvation of souls, and not in bodies and in how we distribute the things necessary for physical life, God is not interested in politics—for politics is, after all, the process whereby a society decides how its material resources are to be allocated. And if God is apolitical, it follows that believers ought to be equally apolitical, or at least that they ought not to mix faith and politics.

The problem is that if it is true that human beings are political animals, then everything that we do has a political context and political consequences. Thus the ‘apolitical‘ Christianity that many advocate is in truth a Christianity that supports the politics that exist, that is, the power of those who are presently powerful.” – p.83

Only a Biblical Theological Method Can Rightly be Called Christian

For González, any conception of God that does not take into account the concrete reality of Jesus’s life, death, resurrection—as well as the concrete reality of the culture and contexts in whicyh Christians live—is an idol. Only the God revealed in Messiah Jesus of Nazareth is the One True God. This especially applies to the false gods of pagan Gentiles. The ‘god’ of the Gentile philosophers is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Rather, the God of Israel has revealed Godself in a man. Therefore, we should not despise the biblical anthropomorphisms, since God was pleased to create humanity in God’s image, and to become a particular man in a particular body in a particular time and place.

“Acceptance of anthropomorphic language about God, however, is much more than a mere inconvenience to which we must submit, given the limitations of our mind and language. Beyond that general human reason for anthropomorphic language, there is a specifically Christian reason for the unashamed use of it: our central confession that God’s supreme self-disclosure has come to us in a human being, Jesus of Nazareth. The incarnation must be the basis not only of our doctrine of redemption but also and above all our doctrine of God.” – p.91

This insistence on the biblical language confronts head-on the language of theology that has been adopted from extra-biblical sources. González will not shy away from calling such language error:

“Clearly, the Bible never attempts to speak of God in Godself. On the contrary, the Bible always speaks of God in relation to a creation and a people. God is not depicted in Scripture as ‘the prime unmoved mover,’ as ‘pure actuality,’ or as ‘absolutely simple.’ When the Bible speaks of God, it speaks of creation and redemption. When it refers to God’s will, it does so in terms of a call to human obedience. When it speaks of God’s ‘heart,’ it deals not with the inner workings of the Godhead but with God’s purposes and feelings—yes, feelings, why not?—for humans.

Nowhere does the Bible say that God is impassible. On the contrary, there are repeated references to the divine anger, love, and even repentance! God walks in the garden. God wrestles with Jacob and haggles with Abraham. God is like a stern judge who will be moved by the impertinence of a widow. God is love. Thus if there is any sense in which the God of the Bible can be described as ‘immutable,’ this has nothing to do with impassibility or ontological immobility, but rather with the assurance that God’s ‘steadfast love endureth forever.’ ”

If one is constrained to use the language of Scripture to describe the self-disclosing God, it is impossible to come up with the classical categories for God which González dismisses. Instead, González is content to stick close to the Bible and to demand that God dictates the terms by which God chooses to be revealed.

This will necessarily confound theologians who afraid such a theological method will lead to a depiction of God that is less than their predefined pictures of power and glory. These theologians know that the God of the Bible suffers and is oppressed, and such a portrayal of God is embarrassing. González confronts this fear as well:

“…the God of the Bible is also the object, and even the victim of history. God does not rule the world with an iron fist, as Pharaoh ruled over Egypt or Pinochet ruled Chile. God does not destroy all opposition with a bolt from heaven. Nor is opposition something God has created—like a military dictator who sets up an opposition party in order to claim that his rule is democratic. Although all things are created by God, God’s free creatures have set up an empire of evil that denies and challenges the divine power. Evil is real and powerful. It cannot be dismissed or explained away as a necessary step in a great cosmic plan. God will indeed use it to achieve the divine goals, and perhaps those goals will so use evil itself that Christians who sing the traditional Easter Eve hymn are justified in saying, referring to the sin that has opened the way for redemption in Jesus Christ, ‘O blessed sin.’ But in spite of this, God does not will evil. God does not will injustice. Furthermore, inasmuch as God suffers with the oppressed, God suffers oppression and injustice. This fact, well attested throughout Scripture, finds its clearest expression in Jesus Christ, in whom God is carried to and fro by human beings whose victim God becomes. If being a minority means being subjected and victimized by forces one does not control, God is a minority!

Does this, then, deny the power of God? Certainly not. The Crucified is also the Risen One, who shall come again in glory to judge the quick and the dead. What it denies is an easy jump from creation to resurrection, with no cross. The cross, standing between creation and final consummation, is not an accident. It is not something that could just as well not have happened. It is, on the contrary, the supreme instance of the manner in which God’s power operates. God’s final victory does not ignore human suffering but takes it up and vindicates it. Ours is not a victorious, uncrucified God, victorious like an undefeated football team. Ours is the God who achieves victory through suffering, and liberation through oppression. Ours is a God who, having known oppression, shares with the oppressed in their suffering. And it is precisely by virtue of that divine sharing that the oppressed can also share in God’s victory (Heb. 2:14-18).” – p.93

The Decent into Idolatry: When Christian Theology Fails

So, if the Bible reveals a God who suffers and has shared in humanities experiences of injustice and oppression, how did Christians come to talk about God as “impassible”? González details the Christian decent into idolatry as a path to hell paved with good intentions. At first is was “respectability” that Christians sought:

“The idols of the nations are dead, for they have no power or freedom to act. The ‘prime unmoved mover’ of the philosophers, the ‘impassible,’ ‘omnipotent,’ ‘infinite’ God is no more alive than the idols—of which, in fact, it is one. Therefore, the ‘death’ of such a God ought not to cause any chagrin but rather rejoicing among Christians who seek to ground their faith on the biblical witness.

It is a well known fact that the omnipotent, impassible god whom we have just called an idol resulted from the encounter between early Christians and the Greco-Roman world in which they were called to witness. Forced to give account of their faith in the One God, and often accused of atheism because they had no visible gods, Christians had recourse to what the earlier philosophical tradition had said regarding the Supreme Being. Against those who accused them of impiety, the witness of Socrates and Plato was a powerful argument. If the best minds of the Greek tradition had asserted that above and beyond all beings there was a Supreme Being, this put Christians in very respectable company and confounded their detractors.” – p.96

“The problem, however, is that such apologetic bridges tend to bear traffic in both directions. While the earlier christian apologists saw at least some of the crucial differences between Christian doctrine and Greek philosophy, as time passed some—eventually most—Christian theologians came to the conclusion that Scripture is best interpreted in the light of Greek philosophy—more specifically, Platonic philosophy.” – p.96

“By the fourth century, when the Arian controversy broke out, practically all theologians agreed on this point and conceived of God as essentially immutable and impassible. Indeed, an argument could be made that the Arian controversy was the result of the incompatibility between such a notion of God on the one hand, and the doctrine of incarnation on the other… That such is the origin of much of what we call the ‘traditional’ attributes of God, few will doubt.” – pp.96-97

As we can see, the desire for a “respectable” conception of God—one that the early Christians could use as an apologetic in their Greco-Roman context—led to the abandonment of biblical language about God and ultimately to idolatry when nothing biblical about God remained in their conception.

God became an idol when Christians stopped being willing to be mocked and scorned for the Gospel and started wanting to have their theology taken seriously by pagans. God became an idol when Christians compromised the beauty and foolishness of the self-disclosing God of the Bible in exchanged for a better defense of their beliefs. What would St. Paul say?

The Social Context that Creates an “Impassible” god

While it’s easy to see why most early Christian theologians abandoned the God of the Bible for the god of the philosophers. González points to a mostly overlooked aspect of the development of such an idolatrous conception of God: the socio-political character of Greece in the so-called “Golden Age.” In the modern U.S., it’s a wonder that in a nation so deeply affected by the institution of slavery, the social location of the Athenian aristocracy isn’t the subject of more theological critiques. It would seem reasonable that Christian theologians doing theology in the U.S. would be especially attuned to the social contexts in which theology emerges considering just how blatantly Christians in the South used the Bible to justify their owning of other human beings. González is going to connect the dots between the “impassible” god of the philosophers and their social location:

“What we often do not see is the connection between [the impassible conception] of God and the vested interests of the ruling classes. Indeed, the philosophy Christians espoused in this development had appeared in the golden days of Athens, and the philosophers who had produced it prided themselves in that philosophy was ‘the occupation of the idle,’ and that they stood high above ‘the many’ (hoi poloi). Athenian society, like many other democracies, based its wealth in the labor of some—among them a high number of slaves—while others lived in relative leisure. To say that philosophy is the occupation of the idle was therefore to say that it was the occupation of the leisurely, of those who did not need to work because the ordering of society was such that others did the work while they had the leisure to philosophize.

It is not surprising that such philosophers conceived of changelessness as the supreme perfection, without which nothing can really be said to be in the strict sense. This was not the result of purely rational considerations, as they claimed and sincerely believed. It was rather the result of the ‘rational’ considerations of a reason molded by the leisurely social class in which it took shape. To that class, as to any privileged class, social change—particularly change involving discontinuity—was abhorrent. The static ideal of the social order, transmuted into metaphysics, thus resulting in the ideal of being as changeless perfection. […]

Therefore, when Christians, in their eagerness to communicate their faith to the Greco-Roman world, began interpreting their God in Platonic terms, what they introduced into theology was not a sociopolitically neutral idea. What they introduced was an aristocratic idea of God, one which from that point on would serve to support the privilege of the higher classes by sacralizing changelessness as a divine characteristic. Yahweh, whose mighty arm intervened in history in behalf of the oppressed slaves of Egypt and of widows, orphans, and aliens was set aside in favor of the Supreme Being, the Impassible One, who saw neither the suffering of the children in exile nor the injustices of human societies, and who certainly did not intervene in behalf of the poor and the oppressed. It would be possible to follow the entire history of Christianity to see how this God functioned in favor of the privileged precisely by condemning change and sacralizing the status quo.”

We can now clearly see how the myth of objectivity contributes to what González calls an “innocent reading” of the Bible that is really only a guise for the biases of the reader—who is a person in a culture and context. This “innocent reading” in turn allows readers to set aside the biblical language for descriptions of God from pagan philosophy, which appears neutral. We’ve then seen how the quest for a “respectable” conception of God led the early theologians to abandon the God of the Bible for an “impassible” god that is in fact only another dead idol—not the Living God of the Bible. From there, we’ve seen how the “impassible” god concept arose as a means of preserving power for the aristocratic ruling class, and has remained prominent in Christian theology ever since for the same reason.

In part two, González will show us how a relational, trinitarian metaphysic destroys the impassible god idol and retrieves the suffering God of Love revealed in the Person of Messiah Jesus of Nazareth.