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The Right Terms: Immutability & Truth

I am currently walking through Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology with our Hispanic Pastor. We meet every week to tackle a chapter. I picked Grudem because he is a little easier to consume than say Shedd or even Berkhof, but covers the bases. I generally like Grudem but have this critique after today’s reading.

We are currently reading about the Incommunicable Attributes of God. Grudem lists the following attributes as incommunicable: Independence, Unchangeableness, Omnipresence, Eternity, Unity. The traditional terms used for Independence and Unchangeable are Aseity and Immutability. Grudem changes them (although to his credit he at least references them) to more modern, understandable and common terms. Who says “aseity” or “immutable”?

I don’t have a problem with the change from aseity to independence. I have some trouble with the term “unchangeableness”.

First, it is a weird word. It is a word, it is just an odd word. Unchangeable, unchanging are normal words, adding “ness” to it seems like we just didn’t want to come up with the right word so just add something.

Second and more importantly, it is a negative term. I find that using negative terms to describe God’s attributes is distracting to the main purpose of the enterprise. God does not lack change, as if change were a value when it comes to God. Now, immutable is better, but only because it is more obscure and the negative part stresses that God does not “mutate”. It is better though because even though it is in fact negative the connotation that is associated with the term is “fixity”, or “stability” that comes from being unmovable. Attributes were often referred to in the past as God’s “perfections,” that is when we talked about God’s attributes we were describing his complete expression of a particular characteristic.

It seems that however we approach the immutability of God, it inevitably has to deal with the testimony of the Bible: “I am the Lord, I change not” (Malachi 3:6). Nevertheless, it seems that a positive presentation of God’s consistency would be a better direction for our understanding of God. For instance, when we talk about a human, a resistance to change is not a positive characteristic. I understand that God is not human, but nonetheless we still view unchangeable as stiff, unbending. It is not flattering, nor is it a quality we strive to achieve.

Here is Pink’s (Arthur, not the singer) defintion of immutability:

“This is one of the Divine perfections which is not sufficiently pondered. It is one of the excellencies of the Creator which distinguishes Him from all His creatures. God is perpetually the same: subject to no change in His being, attributes, or determinations. Therefore God is compared to a rock (Deut 32:4, etc.) which remains immovable, when the entire ocean surrounding it is continually in a fluctuating state; even so, though all creatures are subject to change, God is immutable. Because God has no beginning and no ending, He can know no change. He is everlastingly “the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (Jas. 1:17).”

Read Pink’s section on Immutability from The Attributes of God.

Now for those of you who have read this far, let’s rattle a cage.

Another theological term that needs to be challenged, a much more prominent and controversial term is inerrancy.  Now it is not the best term to communicate the nature of God’s word.  A much better term is the term “true”. Now before you go all heretic on me, let me affirm my belief in the veracity, truth and yes even the inerrancy of the Bible.  But as I pointed out above, I think it is always better to use an affirmative term to describe perfections in God, and in His word.

Inerrancy starts a fight.  One of the most embarrassing attempts to explain discrepancies in the Bible is Harold Lindsell’s attempt to explain the apparent contradiction between gospel accounts of the denial of Jesus by Peter.  One account says before the cock crows and the other says before the cock crows twice.  So which is it?  Does the cock crow once or twice?  Lindsell says both; Peter denies Christ 3 times after the cock crows and another 3 times before the cock crows twice for a total of 6 times.  All of this cogitation because of the defense of the word inerrancy;  without error.

Discrepancy in detail does not necessitate a contradiction.  In the case of Peter’s denial, one account chooses to be specific, the other chooses to generalize.  But the term inerrant cause me to seek for this kind of insignificant discrepancy.  It pulls me away from more natural readings of the text and puts me on a wild error chase, questioning and challenging rather than questioning and understanding.  No longer does the author get the benefit of presenting his message, but we now put him on the dock defending himself at every turn, all the while the intent of the author gets lost in the argument of defense.

When we affirm and declare the positive, the important truth detail in the denial of Peter is the denial of Peter.  We stop fixating about the detail of  how many times a chicken makes noise and concentrate on the main point of the passage, the centrality of the  denial of Peter and the connection to the cock crowing, which reminds him of the word and person of Christ.  The crowing is a vehicle to drive us back to Jesus, the truth.

Truth and veracity are much better terms to describe what we believe about the Scriptures:  they are God breathed and as such reflect the character of God, that is truth.  “Sanctify them in truth; Your word is truth.”

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The TempleBlog started as my personal blog in October of 2006 with my first post: John Stott – it was a listing of John Stott quotes.

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