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God Is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion

God Is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion

by Rob Lister, Bruce A. Ware (Foreword by)

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The doctrine of divine impassibility has sparked much controversy among modern theologians. After reviewing relevant historical, biblical, and theological issues, Lister proposes an understanding of God as fundamentally impassible and yet profoundly impassioned.


The doctrine of divine impassibility has sparked much controversy among modern theologians. After reviewing relevant historical, biblical, and theological issues, Lister proposes an understanding of God as fundamentally impassible and yet profoundly impassioned.

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What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
“Though a young and upcoming evangelical scholar, Rob Lister has made a very significant contribution to one of the most difficult theological doctrines, the impassibility of God. By combining historical theology, interaction with contemporary nonevangelical theories, a retroductive theological method, circumspect metaphysical reflection on divine revelation, biblical theology, and systematic theology (especially theology proper and christology), Lister offers a convincing case that God is both impassible and impassioned. This book sets the standard on this topic and is a model of evangelical scholarship at its finest!”
Gregg R. Allison, Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Although the concept of divine passibilism, appropriate in some ways for a deeply sentimentalized culture, is all the rage in modern theology, for most of the history of the church, God was viewed as being impassible. Why was this so, and how did the Bible shape this perspective of God? And can we construct a model in this regard that does justice to what the Scriptures and church history say about God, and that also engages with modern sensibilities? This study by Rob Lister is extremely helpful in answering these questions: it is preeminently scriptural, takes the Rezeptionsgeschichte of this doctrine very seriously, and satisfactorily answers current concerns.”
Michael A. G. Haykin, Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Rob Lister boldly goes where few evangelicals have gone before in this very helpful study of how best to make sense of what Scripture says about God’s emotions. Lister does away with caricatures of the Patristic tradition as having sold out to Greek philosophy, surveys contemporary evangelical positions on divine impassibility, and provides a constructive hermeneutical method and theological model for doing justice both to the impassibilist tradition and to biblical language about divine emotions. As G. K. Chesterton observes, ‘an inch is everything when you’re balancing,’ and to Lister’s credit he completes his routine without falling off the balance beam that is systematic theology.”
Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; author, Biblical Authority after Babel and Faith Speaking Understanding

“Understanding how an infinite God relates to finite creatures is at the heart of most theological difficulties. How can God be holy and sovereign and personal and relational? That God is transcendent and immanent is central to understanding the God of the Bible. In this book, Rob Lister has given us tremendous help in navigating these deep theological waters. His theological method is a fantastic and much needed model of biblically grounded synthetic analysis that incorporates keen exegetical insights that are well informed by historical theology. Lister offers a biblically balanced understanding of God’s emotional life so that his sovereign majesty and covenant intimacy are preserved. The implications of this study for understanding God, humanity, Christ, relationships, and emotions in general are far-reaching and vital. I pray that the conclusions and theological method of this excellent work are deeply and widely influential for the glory of God.”
Erik Thoennes, Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, Chair, Biblical and Theological Studies Theology Department, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University; Pastor, Grace Evangelical Free Church, La Mirada, California

“In this well-organized and well-written volume, Rob Lister challenges the view that the church fathers’ version of divine impassibility precluded God’s showing emotion. He swims upstream against modern passibilism, and he opposes those evangelicals who reject impassibility in the name of affirming divine passion. I was impressed with Lister’s accuracy and kindness whenever he takes exception to others’ views. The work is largely positive and constructive rather than negative and reactive. Lister argues ‘passionately’ for the view that God is both impassible and impassioned, even as he is both transcendent and immanent. Lister’s work demonstrates multiple areas of competence—historical, biblical, theological, and philosophical—and is nuanced, holding that ‘God’s passion transcends human passion both ontologically and ethically.’ I am, therefore, pleased to commend it to readers for serious consideration.”
Robert A. Peterson, coeditor, Theology in Community series

“Whether God is subject to suffering is hardly a recent question, but it is an issue that contemporary Christians have been constrained to ponder carefully in order to provide scripturally measured and biblically tempered answers in a generation that prefers to conceive of and worship a God forged after human likeness. Despite the profundity of this issue and the inherent difficulty of giving adequate expression to whether God is passible or impassible, Rob Lister provides accessibility and clarity to this issue in a scripturally governed, admirably balanced, and manifestly humble manner. He engages theologians ancient and modern as his theological conversation partners while he guides readers through the many pitfalls and hazards that threaten to entangle us primarily in two antithetical but equally defective views of God: either to cast him in our image and likeness or to project onto him an aloofness that renders him cold, even grotesque. Lister rightly insists that in order to provide biblically rooted answers to the questions he addresses it is crucial to acknowledge and embrace the chasm that distinguishes the Creator from his creatures. Yet, equally crucial is the fact that the Creator made humanity, the creature, in his image and after his likeness, for this is God’s revelatory nexus by which God makes himself known to us both as impassible and as impassioned.”
Ardel B. Caneday, Professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Theology, Northwestern College; coauthor, The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance

“This is an excellent study in systematic theology that exemplifies detailed research in biblical theology and historical theology, and draws these into a coherent systematic construction with relevance for contemporary life. I found Lister’s hermeneutical and theological analyses of passibilist and impassibilist arguments to be instructive and sharp. The project is well conceived and follows an explicit methodology with systematic guardrails from Scripture to frame the difficult biblical and theological details. Lister has ably handled difficult questions that impinge on God’s impassibility and passionate involvement with his creations: God’s relation to time and eternity, incarnate suffering, biblical accounts of God’s repentance, theodicy, and God’s immanence and transcendence. Despite the difficulties, Lister provides careful definitional distinctions and clarity of communication in a surprisingly light writing style that is uncommon to academic theology.”
John E. McKinley, Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University; author, Tempted for Us

Meet the Author

Rob Lister (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is associate professor of biblical and theological studies at the Talbot School of Theology. His primary research interests include theology proper, christology, and sanctification—all of which are fused together at the hub of his book on divine impassibility. He and his wife, LuWinn, have four children.

Bruce A. Ware (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written numerous journal articles, book chapters, book reviews, and has authored God's Lesser Glory, God's Greater Glory, and Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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