Friday, October 28, 2005

Example of Intellectual Laziness: Paul Helm

Steve Hays recently reminded me of an example of exactly the sort of intellectual myopia that I mentioned in my last post: Paul Helm. Now, I happen to think that Helm is a smart guy, and when he's interacting with non-Christians, his arguments are often pretty solid. The problem is that this intellectual stricture he places on himself with regard to Scripture renders him utterly ineffective at defending his position against other Christians, because he can't answer serious intellectual objections. Every time he interacts with someone from a more versatile intellectual tradition, be it William Lane Craig's Wesleyan Quadrilateral or Eleonore Stump's scholastic Catholicism, his defense only amounts to preaching to the choir, never once understaking to actually answer the critiques. I mentioned the example some time ago of Craig's objections in Divine Foreknowledge (and specifically, that Helm's view, when it substitutes "Scripture" for argument, fails to answer even the objections that Helm imposes on others). He refuses to justify his idiosyncratic concept of authority, which basically limits his persuasive power to those who accept this concept of authority uncritically anyway, making outsiders of his tradition (like myself) wonder exactly what Helm's point is. He argues that he is merely making his position "defensible," which is something like refusing to carrying one's positive burdens to give a reason to believe one's position. I don't think that everyone has an option to detail reasons for their positions by and large, but in the case where one does undertake an argument, one must do a good deal more than simply demonstrate that the position is logically possible.

The particular weakness that I've seen among all of these guys (Warfield, Hodge, Helm, Frame, Poythress, Vanhoozer, et al.) is that their explanations are almost never sufficiently robust to answer the objections that led to the doctrine in the first place. This is particularly acute when they make the pretense of adopting some historical doctrine (e.g., the Trinity, attributes of God, etc.) when their manner of adoptions effectively eviscerates the historical workability of the doctrine. Helm gives a good example in his analysis of impassibility.

Helm begins:

The doctrine of God's impassibility has fallen on hard times. In the era of the Suffering God and of “Holocaust theology” scarcely anyone has a good word to say for it.[1] This in itself is a striking fact, given the Christian church's eras-long commitment to the doctrine. These days nearly everyone sees the eclipse of divine impassibility as an unqualified blessing. For them the idea is totally unscriptural, a case of “baptised paganism,” an object lesson in what happens when theology takes its lead not from divine revelation but from Neo-Platonism.

The modest aim here is to say a word or two in favour of the doctrine before it finally slips from the Christian consciousness. The words may even help, in some small way, to arrest its eclipse. I hope so. I shall try to show why impassibility is suffering, then to try to show a little of what impassibility, properly understood, means, to offer some scriptural support for it and finally to reflect a little on what divine impassibility commits us to.

All in all, this would present relatively little difficulty. The problem is that it completely bypasses why the theology on this point took the lead from Neo-Platonism in the first place, which was that Neo-Platonism raises valid objections. In effect, Helm here is conceding the validity of the objection that theology should take its lead from divine revelation and NOT from Neo-Platonism. But if that were, in fact, true, then the objection against divine impassibility would be valid, because the question it answers is most fundamentally a Neo-Platonic (and before that, Platonic, and before even that, Parmidean) question: how does one account for divine creation? So Helm has already started off wrong by attempting to convince people on a basis that demotivates the problem in the first place, which is exactly the kind of "preaching to the choir" that doesn't convincingly rebut objectors to his position.

There is, I believe, at least for Anglophones, often a basic confusion between three English words: impassivity,(the English form of impassitas), impassability, and impassibility. The Oxford Shorter Dictionary defines “impassive” as “deficient or void of mental feeling or emotion; unimpressionable, apathetic.” (And it also notes a “good sense,” “imperturbable.”) It goes without saying that Christians do not wish to worship and serve an apathetic God; a God who, like a human psychotic, is unconcerned by the needs of human beings. Nor even a God who, like a Stoic philosopher, is imperturbable no matter what happens. But then to suppose that the doctrine of divine impassibility commits one to such a view is based upon simple linguistic confusion, between impassivity and impassibility—of which more in a moment. But first, what about impassability? If the road is blocked by ice or mud then it is impassable. There is no way through. Such an idea, applied to God, makes matters worse. For if God is not only apathetic, if he is also impassable, then there is no way open to get through to him. He must forever remain in a state of apathy; perhaps, to make matters even worse, of blissful apathy.

The problem is that Helm is exactly wrong on this point. Divine impassibility (apatheia) in fact does commit one to exactly such a view; his last statement about the impassability of God ("there is no way open to get through to him... He must forever remain in a state of apathy; perhaps, to make matters even worse, of blissful apathy") could almost be a definition of divine transcendence. Where the Fathers would have found the error is in exactly the use of analogical predication to describe God, so as to say that he is "like a human psychotic" or "like a Stoic philosopher." It is that attempt at analogy to the unknowable that is the error of the objectors here. But because Helm has disconnected the doctrine from its purpose, he doesn't realize that, far from making matters worse, the apatheia of God actually guards divine transcendence. Helm effectively destroys the doctrine he is supposedly trying to protect, because he doesn't acknowledge divine unknowability hand in hand with divine impassibility.

Helm's goof on this point only becomes more explicit here:
Let's turn finally to impassibility. Unfortunately, among the senses the Oxford Dictionary gives of “impassible” is this: incapable of feeling or emotion; impassive. However the main sense is “incapable of suffering injury or detriment” along with “incapable of suffering; not subject to pain.” I believe it is possible to provide an understanding of “impassible” which does justice to Scripture and church teaching, but it is clear from this glance at the dictionary that it is an uphill struggle. A word, such as “impassible,” that continually needs guarding against confusion and misunderstanding is not a good tool for theological discourse.

There is a second reason having to do with language why impassibility is suffering an eclipse. “Impassibility” is a negative term. Even when properly understood, and then applied to God, it tells us what God is not, or what God cannot do, rather that what he is like and can do. Such a negative approach to thinking about God is nowadays regarded as being too vague and insubstantial for the modern Christian church. For the modern church is impatient with learning what God is not like, she wants to know what God is like, and in particular she desperately seeks reassurance that God is like us—that he is accessible to our imagination, and especially in need of reassurance that he is our emotional peer. This is one reason for the current stress on biblical narrative, on the anthropomorphic and anthropopathic language of Scripture, and on Christology “from below,” as is evidenced (in different ways) by the prevalent social trinitarianism, and by the appeal of “open theism.” Put in conventional theological terms, in the modern Christian mind the language of divine immanence swamps the language of divine transcendence. And impassibility is part of the language—part of the “grammar”—of divine transcendence. I shall return to this point shortly and develop it.

Note the cluelessness here. Helm erroneously asserts that the language of divine transcendence is simply the via negativa, knowing what God is NOT. Of course, a correct apophatic understanding of God, one that preserves the divine unknowability, means that one knows NOTHING about God in Himself, whether the statement is positive or negative. The so-called "alpha privatives" of patristic thought emphasize this lack of knowledge, but if they were taken to be definitive statements that convey knowledge, rather than lack of knowledge, about God, then they would be just as erroneous as any positive belief. Helm continues to violate divine transcendence left and right in his account of impassibility, which as noted before, simply destroys the historical basis for the doctrine.

This contemporary craving for a human-like God is heightened by modern approaches to suffering and evil. Bonhoeffer's phrase, “Only a suffering God can help,” is repeated like a mantra. There is of course a perfectly good sense to these words. God in Christ suffers in taking our sin, and so helping us in a way that nothing else can. But a suffering God who endures suffering in the same way that we suffer may help by comforting us, but he is helpless to deliver us from evil.

This is probably the closest Helm gets to the point, rooting the question in the hypostatic union, as he does again later. But he doesn't understand here that his violation of the unknowability of God is every bit as much of an affront to the divine transcendence as it is to suggest that He must suffer in His divinity. In other words, while touting the divine power to save from evil, Helm implicity denies it by imputing knowability to God.

The grammar of God

The key idea for any appreciation of the idea of divine impassibility, and of its reappropriation and defense, must be the Creator-creature distinction, and the biblical idea of divine fullness. In the case of emotions, we must focus on the idea of a divine life of unimaginable richness and constancy, not of fitfulness and spasm. In this connection it is unfair as well as unbalanced to separate the divine impassibility from all other divine characteristics and to single it out for special treatment. Divine impassibility is part of a web of ideas which constitute a “grammar,” a canonical way of talking about God, a way of articulating the reality of the divine fullness. In this respect, impassibility is an aspect of divine immutability (God cannot change or be changed), of divine simplicity (the sovereign God does not depend for this existence on 'parts' which are more fundamental than he is) of divine necessity (God exists non-dependently), and of divine eternity (God is not bound by time, with part of his life in the past, as all his creatures are). God’s immutability covers his will, his decrees, his promises and counsel, and of course, his emotional life. Its biblical basis is found in such passages as Jas. 1.17, Ps. 102.29, Is. 14.24, Rom. 11,.29, Heb. 6. 17: 13. 8, Is 46. 10, 2 Cor. 1 18-20.

This is Helm at his most perverse. He affirms the Creature-Creator distinction, and then proceeds to violate it completely by conceiving of the divine life as simply some sort of superbeing of "unimaginable richness and constancy," the "divine fullness." He just can't get around this idea of God has having analogically predicated attributes, which causes him to flail about in the issue of divine simplicity, impassibility, necessity, and eternity. Helm is completely off the beam in terms of the patristic understanding of divine simplicity and its relationship to unknowability, and his careless blundering over that line destroys any coherence his account might have.

But none of this means that God is devoid of (what we call) feelings. He loves his creation, he cares for his people, he hates unrighteousness, and so on—he is pure goodness. The trouble is that we are in something of a bind when we attempt to articulate this further. When we think of constancy, steadiness, and dependability at the human level we think of people possessing dispositions that are virtuous. So a person who dashes into the icy water to save the child expresses courage, a courageous disposition. He may never have to act in this way again. But in God these dispositions are never latent, for there is no “slack” in God, but he is utterly engaged. So what are we to make of the expressions of divine anger, or of compassion, in Scripture? We are to understand them in terms of the “big picture” or (in more academic language) a “pattern of judgment'”[2] about God, and thus to see them as expressions of the divine fullness accommodated to the real-time situations of his people, their characters and needs, and of God's purposes for them. For instance, to draw out their faith, (as with Hezekiah) or their obedience, (as with Moses) or their patience (as with Job).

So divine immutability does not signal total inaction or immobility, like the face of the Moon, a state incapable of personal relationship. Rather, it speaks of firmness, faithfulness, covenantal constancy, grounded in who God essentially is. Likewise divine impassibility is not impassivity, but constant goodness, variously expressed (according to God's will and to the specifics of human history) as (for example) love, or wrath, or mercy. Such expressions are rooted in the immutability of the divine nature, the fact that God is unchangeable in goodness and perfection, and cannot be deterred or deflected by outside forces. Of course God’s immutable relation to his creation is not perceived as such by it, but what is perceived is a function of the situation or condition of the creaturely recipient. Just as (we say) the Sun is now setting, now rising, so God is now wise, now just, now loving etc. depending on the human circumstances in which he is “encountered” and on God's purposes in these circumstances.

The philosophical stumbling continues. Had Helm actually rooted his concepts of goodness and love in the ontological categories that preserve divine transcendence, he might have gotten somewhere here. But his apparent ignorance of the problem prevents him from seeing that his entire account here is exactly describing God as a "Really Big Human." This hardly preserves the divine transcendence; in fact, it clearly negates it. Once again, Helm claims to affirm impassibility while denying it.

By contrast human emotion is affected by ignorance and moral weakness, by surprise, fear, partiality and physical distance. (This reminds us that a range of emotions is necessarily connected with human physical embodiment.) For instance, while all of us know that at this very moment there are hundreds of children dying in Darfur this fact fails to move us, whereas if children were dying in a similar fashion on our doorstep we would be moved to grief and compassion and action. These outbreaks of emotion would not be unrelated to our own self-interests, of course, and to what follows from the fact of our physical embodiment.

So emotion in humans is not an unmixed good. Emotion is better than no emotion, but its expression is often the result of selfishness and ignorance. With God it is otherwise. He has an emotional life— he cares and loves and judges and has compassion on his sinful world. But his life—unlike our own emotional lives—is not spasmodic and moody. God does not have a temper. He cannot be cowardly or vain. Rather his “emotional life” is an expression of his perfect goodness and knowledge. The life of God is not first passive and then reactive, as ours is, but it is wholly active.

Again, there are correct ways to cover these problems, but Helm doesn't do them. He's still convinced that he can preserve impassibility and transcendence, this time by appealing to the "disanalogy" between God and man (God's emotion is like us in this respect, but not like us in this other respect). The very assertion of analogical knowledge about God is why Helm can't coherently explain impassibility, because it opens up the very channel by which God is said to be, e.g., "like a Stoic philosopher." Only a view that affirms that God is utterly unlike us can defend God's transcendence. The concept of God's eternal activity here is a good one, one that was used to great effect in Christian history (see Michel Rene Barnes, The Power of God: Dunamis in Gregory of Nyssa's Trinitarian Theology; David Bradshaw, Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom), but one that Helm can't elucidate effectively because he fails to ground it in God's ontological transcendence.

Is divine impassibility Scriptural?

This, for Christians, is of course the chief question, and we have already begun to offer an answer to it. But it is currently taken for granted by many Christians that the question is easily answered. Many are quick to say that divine impassibility is not and could not be Scriptural. For does not Scripture assert that God suffers, that he is angry, that he expresses surprise, that he fears, and laughs, and repents? Did not Christ, the Son of God, suffer? How could such a God be impassible? Then quickly—all too quickly—it is concluded that the idea of divine impassibility is the result of imposition of Scripture rather than exposition of it, of eisegesis rather than exegesis. It's part of an attempted theological takeover by Greek ideas. But now, it is proudly claimed, we have learned to “take the Bible seriously!”

There are a number of reasons why we should be cautious about this all too common reaction. One is historical. The anthropopathisms of the Bible are not new, nor newly discovered, any more than its anthropomorphisms are. They loom large. Those who affirmed divine impassibility—the theological mainstream from (say) Augustine to Jonathan Edwards—were aware of them. Yet the presence of these data in Scripture was not a sufficient reason for them to deny impassibility. Did they not take the Bible seriously? Why then did they come to the view that God is impassible?

Helm asks the question, but at least with respect to St. Augustine, he can't answer it. Augustine's On Christian Doctrine preserves the role of transcendence in rejecting literal interpretations that would violate it. Helm's idea of "Scripturality" here violates the basis by which one rejects interpretations of Scripture based on outside criteria (including the ontological demand of God's transcendence). Readers will recall that I pointed this out with respect to Nicholas Wolterstorff's Divine Discourse, in that he conceded the necessity of external criteria for interpreting Scripture, but failed to arrive at reasons for those criteria, by contrast with Sts. Athanasius, Augustine, Cyril, et al. Helm doesn't realize that if you blow it on God's ontological transcendence (as Helm does), then you won't be able to apply criteria like St. Augustine's for distinguishing between permissible and impermissible interpretations properly.

Secondly, this approach to Scripture, if carried out consistently, has rather embarrassing consequences. For Scripture also says that God has eyes, ears, a backside—anthropomorphic language, as we quickly say. And we say that God uses such language in Scripture not because he in fact has eyes, ears and a backside but because by the use of such terms he adapts himself vividly to our way of thinking. There is something in God that corresponds to this language, which it draws attention to, even though it is not literally descriptive of God. God sees—what does this mean? That he has eyes? And if he eyes, does he have eyelashes and eyebrows? How many eyes does he have? Does he have 20/20 vision? None of this is appropriate. Talking in this way about God would be absurd. In saying that God sees, Scripture means (something like) God has immediate, unimpaired knowledge of what he allegedly sees. A child will readily understand this.

Why not something similar with the language about God's emotions? Are we really to believe that God gets angry, that he is overcome with anger? That he is incapacitated by suffering? That he is paralysed with fear? Can we allow that such expressions of anger or suffering carry the connotations of surprise and ignorance and apprehension and impatience and selfish vengefulness that human emotion typically does?

So once again, Helm resorts to analogy and disanalogy as his criteria, violating the transcendence of God and defeating the ground for which he makes these distinctions. This culminates in the following manifesto, which summarizes Helm's errors more succinctly than I ever could:

What does affirming divine impassibility commit us to?

As already noted, in the thinking of the classical Christian theologians, the Fathers, the medievals, Reformers such as Calvin, the Reformed Scholastics, Jonathan Edwards, impassibility is an aspect or consequence of divine immutability. Immutability is in turn rooted in divine simplicity. But divine simplicity has been frequently misunderstood, or caricatured.
For though God is simple, without parts, without division, there is nevertheless a complexity in the mind of God, but this complexity does not depend on something other than himself. The classical Christian tradition readily recognises this. So—to take one historical example—in discussing the question “Does God know things other than himself?”
[3] Aquinas asserts that God's essence contains the likeness of things other than himself, and since there are many kinds of things other than himself there are presumably many likeness of things contained in the divine essence. However, Aquinas wishes to deny that God knows things other than himself by learning about them, because then the divine intellect would depend on them, and (Aquinas thinks) God's sovereignty or aseity or Creatorhood would be compromised.

So God knows “many things” and we may think of God's “feelings” as simply his attitudes to what he knows. What he knows—the details of everything that comes to pass—is present to the divine mind, even though that mind is itself simple, without parts or divisions, immutable and impassible. What could be more complex than the universe, with its unparalleled variety? God the Father takes pleasure, no doubt in the goodness of the various aspects of the creation, and in the Incarnation, being well pleased with his beloved Son. And we find in Scripture that among the many things that God knows that he has delight in are: a just weight (Prov. 11.1); the upright in their way (Prov. 11.20); those that deal truly (Prov. 12.22); the prayer of the upright (Prov. 15.8) and so on; among those things which he has ordained which he hates are a proud look (Prov. 6.16), Esau (Mal. 1.3), all workers of iniquity (Psalm 5.3) and so on.

How are we to understand these attitudes of God? I suggest that it is improper to strongly model these on human feelings, to think of these as passions. Although undoubtedly as God has accommodated himself to our human condition in this way he represents himself as passionate, God cannot really be passionate because of the suggestion, in the use of the word “passion,” that the one who is passionate is overtaken or derailed or blinded by the passion. The passion is an irrational response. Though even here we must be careful, for a person may speak with full control of himself, yet in an impassioned way. His passion may be a way of speaking of the strength of his commitment. Because of it he may speak and act with greater care than otherwise. This is unlikely with us, but if God is to be said to be passionate then this is how it must be with him. So perhaps we would not be far astray if we thought of God not as 'having passions' but as utterly impassioned in all that he does.

Does God have feelings, then? We may, influenced by our touchy-feely culture, think that the answer is obvious. Of course he has. But here again some caution is called for. For we use the term “feeling” to cover not merely mental states, feelings of sympathy or compassion, or of betrayal or alienation, but also feeling arising from changes in our bodies, or event the fact of being embodied. We feel tired, we have aches and pains, scratches and itches, sexual pleasure, we experience cold and heat. Is this how it is the God? Clearly not. And our mental states, our feelings or emotions, are frequently the result of selfishness and ignorance. If in saying that God feels, or even that God has emotions, we are simply (and carefully) speaking of God's impassioned attitudes of delighting in, and hating, and loving in the manner sketched above, then clearly the answer is yes.

Here, Helm's self-destruction becomes most painfully clear. He appeals to the authority of the Reformers and St. Thomas, but badly misconstrues St. Thomas's analogia entis (in fact, in exactly the way rejected by Fr. Barbour in the article I posted earlier), endorses a nonsensical concept of the divine ideas that has been rejected by every orthodox Christian throughout history, and once again appeals to the bogus analogy/disanalogy dichotomy that makes God into a Really Big Person. If you want an clear example of where lots of Protestants have completely blown it on philosophy, Helm has provided you here with the best argument you could be given. The incoherence of his account of divine simplicity is mind-boggling; one truly wonders how someone as smart as Helm could ever buy into something this nonsensical. But the answer is right here; he has this concept of Scriptural authority that erodes his capacity to be critical about what he accepts as Scriptural, so he is willing to accept the unjustified absurdities of a Jonathan Edwards at face value. The fact that this contributes to his botched Christology becomes evident here:

But what of the Incarnation? For many, anxieties about divine impassibility are at their highest in the case of Jesus. They say: Jesus is God, and Jesus suffered, therefore God suffered. The conclusion seems inescapable. But is it? Is it then equally valid that: Jesus sat on the side of the well, Jesus is God, therefore God sat on the side of the well......Are we not at such points as these faced with the mystery of the incarnation, of the union of the human nature with the person of the Son of God? But must we not say, to avoid absurdity, something like: Jesus Christ, being God incarnate, the Mediator, sat on the side of the well, and suffered for our salvation?

How are we to understand the emotional life of our Lord? Are episodes in the life of our Lord—his reaction to the Temple money-changers, or to the death of Lazarus, for example—cases of God's emotion made flesh? In a way they are, but not in any way which involves the transmutation of the divine emotion into something else. It is God expressing his impassioned love (along with much else he expresses) through the vehicle of assumed human nature. So the emotional life of our Lord is what you get when the second person of the impassible God assumes is embodied in human nature. It is an inevitable expression of the divine character in a way conditioned by the necessities of being united to what is human and so localised in time and space.

When Jesus was angry then - no doubt - this is expressive of God's impassioned anger. But the predicate anger is not univocal in each case. It is rather like the different ways in which a French horn and a cello sound out middle C; their sounds have the same value, but they sound somewhat different. The predicates “Jesus is angry,” “God is angry” express emotion which has moral parity, but its human expression is conditioned in a way in which the unincarnate divine reality is not.

When I read this, I was quite simply stunned. Helm's monotheletism is unapologetic here; he is actually saying that Christ's human will is an expression of God's divine will. And talk about confusion of the natures! Not only has Helm failed to answer the question of whether the Incarnation violates the impassibility of the natures, he has stated the analogical predication in such a way that it actually undermines the very salvific quality that the hypostatic union provides. This notion of likeness between the natures is, if anything, a repudiation of the union of impassible divinity and passible man, which would deny our salvation itself if true. It is the unlikeness of the natures really brought together in the hypostatic union that opens up the possibility of salvation; that could not be more clear in Christian history. This is exactly what I mean in saying that much of Evangelical theology actually negates the basis for salvation, which renders many of their Scriptural interpretations incompetent for the reasons I stated above. By patristic lights, Helm is not even Christian in his thinking.

It reminds me of this Evangelical claim that I encountered recently, regarding my buddy Quint Tertullian:
Now, with regard to this rule of faith - that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend - it is, you must know, that which prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen 'in diverse manners' by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; then having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises amongst ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics." (13)

There's nothing in Tertullian's description that Evangelicals reject.

On the face of what Quint says, the bolded statement is probably true, but when you get into the actual argument and what Quint considers essential for the doxological statements he makes there, this guy couldn't be more wrong. The problem is that they don't value study of the Fathers enough to get to that point, even smart guys like Helm. Because of the Bibliocentric mentality, the absurdly high priority given to Scriptural revelation above other forms, there is progressive atrophy of their ability to critically evaluate Scripture against other forms of inquiry and to fully study whether their beliefs are tenable when compared to patristic sources. Their laziness causes them to take too much for granted, more's the pity for their efforts to actually defend their position.

Anyway, Helm concludes:
Perhaps we need a new word, or a new family of words, to express the constancy and fullness of God's emotional life, his feelings.[4] But perhaps more than this, we need to allow ourselves the time to re-think our way into the older way of thinking about God. Part of this process will involve resisting the pattern of thought which says; either God is simple and impassible, uncaring and unfeeling or he is an all-too-human God who reacts with human-like passion to what he learns about his creation. There is a “third way,” to recall God's settled attitudes to what he has ordained to come to pass, the varied ways in which the fullness and goodness of God is refracted in the varied life of his creation, and to see this fullness and goodness supremely refracted in the Incarnation, under the all too familiar conditions of time and space.

FN 4 I once suggested the term of art 'themotion' ( in 'The Impossibility of Divine Passibility' in The Power and Weakness of God, ed. Nigel B Cameron (Edinburgh, Rutherford House, 1990), but obviously it has not caught on!

The irony here is that there's a perfectly good patristic term for this (apokatastasis, ever-moving rest), and the reason "themotion" hasn't caught on is that it is vastly inferior. Helm's "third way" here is monothelitism, natural enough for a Calvinist but not acceptable for a Christian. The patristic (and correct) solution was to deny the basis of the analogy/disanalogy altogether, rather than trying, as Helm does here, to make a silk purse our of a sow's ear.

But this is a really good example of how Evangelical ignorance about (and discontinuity with) history leads to vastly inadequate theological explanations, at odds with Christian dogma. You'll see similar errors based on false analogy in the description of God's "complex emotional life," in writers such as John Piper and D.A. Carson. If you want a better Protestant take on impassibility, I recommend Gerald Bray's article on the subject. I certainly don't unqualifiedly endorse Bray's positions on patristics (particularly on Nicaea), but this article seems to avoid attempting to rationalize impassibility based on analogical predication. In any event, this little summary should be a tremendous caveat against taking what those in the John Frame "Old Princeton School" without several grains of salt. On the plus side, I have come across some Protestant authors of late who appear to be doing a far better job of honest historical analysis (Donald MacLeod, mentioned recently by Dr. Paul Owen, seems particularly promising), and I hope to be able to provide some better alternative to my Protestant readers in the near future.