GOD IS IMPASSIBLE AND IMPASSIONED: TOWARD A THEOLOGY OF DIVINE EMOTION. By Rob Lister. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. Pp. 333. $22.99.
Lister joins the ranks of those who are challenging the contemporary theological tendency to reject the doctrine of divine impassibility. Lister directs his work primarily at an evangelical audience, choosing not to engage contextual theologies (such as feminist and liberation theologies). He begins with a helpful evaluation of how the doctrine of impassibility developed in the early church, through the middle ages and Reformation periods, followed by a survey of the widespread rejection of the doctrine in contemporary theology, as well as its varied reception by evangelical theologians. Lister then moves to a defense of divine impassibility. He focuses on hermeneutical considerations and then interpreting biblical texts that speak of divine invulnerability and divine emotion. Lister also considers issues of theodicy and christological implications from the incarnation. He does not engage possible pneumatological issues, such as the suffering of the Spirit (a common theme in contemporary pneumatology). Lister’s understanding of impassibility is well-nuanced: “impassibility” does not mean that God is devoid of emotion; rather, it means that “cannot be manipulated, overwhelmed, or surprised into an emotional interaction that he does not desire to have or allow to happen.” In spite of this nuance, one might wonder if a qualified doctrine of impassibility is preferable to a qualified doctrine of “passibility,” especially given the current negative connotations of the word “impassible.”
(As a fulfilment of copyright, I am required to say that this review will be published in Religious Studies Review)