Pentecostals and Divine Suffering, Again: My Response to Castelo’s Response to Me

In a previous post I noted a response I published to Daniel Castelo regarding divine impassibility (especially concerning the possibility of God suffering). Castelo has since published a response to my article: Daniel Castelo, “Toward Pentecostal Prolegomena II: A Rejoinder to Andrew Gabriel,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 21 (2012): 168-180. (Due to copyright, I can’t post his article here.)

While I didn’t think it necessary to publish another response to Castelo, I thought I would still post a few comments here for those who may be interested.

Firstly, I think Castelo has changed my mind to some extent (oh the joy of theological conversation!). In my response article to him I argued that it might be best to drop the term “impassibility” due to the way that the term is often inappropriately understood. To a limited extent, this was because the term “impassibility” needs much qualification. However, Castelo has convinced me that because the term “passibility” also needs sufficient qualification (I already agreed with him regarding this), use of the term “impassibility” can continue “as a linguistic option” that “can serve the purpose of introducing conceptual boundaries and possibilities” (p. 178). Nevertheless, in some contexts, I still think the term “impassibility” will inevitably do more harm than good.

Secondly, and primarily, I want to emphasize that Castelo and I have realized that we actually agree on quite a bit. I do still see differences between how we are interpreting Thomas Aquinas as well Thomas Weinandy (at least in the implications of what they are saying). Nevertheless, those differences are not as important as the outcome of our interpretations and our own theological proposals. Significantly, Castelo and I agree:

  • God is consistent in his actions (one might say God is consistent in God’s changing relationships with us) (p. 172).
  • The God of “classical theism” (more on this term below) is certainly not “static,” as some critics have suggested (p. 173).
  • Human and divine affections differ (p. 174).
  • God does not have sinful passions (p. 174-175).
  • The theology of the early church does not represent a corruption of Christian thinking via a “fall” into Hellenization (p. 175-176).
  • “Passibilist language will always be a part of their [Pentecostals’] God-talk” (p. 177).
  • “A deity who is indifferent, uncaring [etc.] is unfaithful to the reality…Pentecostals have experienced” (p. 180).
  • “Much of what Gabriel states in his fifth chapter [of The Lord is the Spirit,regarding divine (im)passibility,] is compatible with what I have written in The Apathetic God” (observed in his review of my book The Lord is the Spirit, see below).
  • We share the concern that “divine attribution has generally not been pursued in a thoroughly trinitarian way” (also noted in his review of my book).

Thirdly, I also want to add a point of clarification regarding the extent to which Castelo is directly responding to me in his comments in his rejoinder article. As I read Castelo’s rejoinder, it became clear to me that although he does respond to me at points, he was primarily expressing his concerns that lead him to write his original article (as well as his first book). Accordingly he writes:

  • “The article hopes to make clearer my guiding assumptions and ends that drove the original article in question…” (p. 168).
  • “I will mostly focus in this article on clarifying my perspective…” (p. 168).

I note this just to say that most of his concerns are not specifically directed at me (as a further indicator, he mentions open theism a number of times in the article). Rather, I share many of his concerns. For example, one of his chief concerns is with how too many theologians use the term ‘classical theism’ as though the church’s theologians have been consistent in the way they have historically defined the divine attributes. Castelo himself realizes that I have not followed that route (p. 170).

One area of his rejoinder article that does directly apply to my work is his critique of the use of the category named “classical theism” (also noted in his review of my book). We both emphasize that the history of the Christian doctrine of God and understandings of certain attributes is diverse. However, because of this he “would even venture to say that the move of using one category to describe all this diversity is historically and theologically careless” (p. 170). Many other theologians have felt this way. I myself have pondered on more than one occasion if I should drop the term ‘classical theism’ on account of this. Nevertheless, unlike Castelo, I still feel there is value in the term. In my mind the existence of diversity (in any category) always struggles against a definition. Hence, (analogously) on account the clear historical and global diversity of Pentecostalism, some have argued that we can only speak of PentecostalismS (plural), but not of a general Pentecostalism (singular). In contrast, it seems to me that if we are going to speak of any category in the plural, there must be something that holds the plurality together, which allows us to label individual instances under that plural category. In other words, it seems to me that the existence of PentecostalismS presupposes that we can talk of a commonality among the diversity. To state it another way, the term PentecostalismS presupposes some idea of a PentecostaliM (singular) that allows us to identify when and where something counts as an instance of Pentecostalism(s) and not something else. With regards to “classical theism” Castelo still considers the possibility of speaking of “classical theismS” (p. 172). It seems to me that he allows for this because he himself recognizes “a shared conceptual tradition” (p. 171) in Western theologies of God’s attributes; in other words, he recognizes a “formal similarity” amidst the “material diversity” (p. 172). Beyond this, I would suggest that there is also enough material similarity in the history of the Christian doctrine of God to provide further support for using the term “classical theism.”

Finally, while I have here (and in my published response to Castelo) focused on questions concerning the divine attributes, I want to affirm one of Castelo’s main concerns and proposals regarding how “Pentecostals envision the theological task more generally,” particularly pertaining to the role of language in theology(p. 178). More specifically, I fully agree that “the Pentecostal experience implies…a recognition that words, concepts, and descriptions of experiences can only go so far” and that, therefore, Pentecostal theologians must “recognize the limits of language as they relate to the theological task” (p. 179).

I thank Castelo for the clarifications he has offered in his article. They have not only helped me to better understand his concerns, but they have also changed my mind in one respect.

On a side note, Castelo has also published a review of my book The Lord is the Spirit in the journal Pneuma vol. 34 (2012): pages 95-107.

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