I want to give a Review of the SCRBPC 2015, which I was thankful to get the time off from my work to fully attend the Conference for this year. I have attended parts of the Conference for the last 2 years. In 2014 Dr. Carl Trueman was the guest speaker and the topic was on the Doctrine of Scripture and chapter 1 of the 1689 LBC, and in 2014 Dr. G. K. Beale was the guest speaker and the lectures focused on hermeneutics and biblical theology. The audio of all of the previous conferences is available for free on sermonaudio:
The topic for this years Southern California reformed Baptist Pastor’s Conference was on the Doctrine of God, focusing on chapter 2 of the 1689 LBC with guest speaker Dr. James Dolzeal. I want to thank all who worked hard and long to make this conference possible, Pastor Barcellos, Trinity reformed Baptist Church in La Mirada, CA for hosting the conference, those who helped with registration and Walter Ortiz and others who helped with the food preparation, as well as Dr. Dolzeal and Dr. Renihan for their preparation for the lectures and for Dr. Ron Baines and Sam Renihan providing pastoral and helpful teaching in the Q & A. If you have read Dr. Dolzeal’s published dissertation many of the lectures were based off of his dissertation with additional example and illustrations as well as pastoral application. I’ll post this year’s conference audio when it is available.
Here was the schedule of the conference:
Dr. Dolzeal’s dissertation was on the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity, which is a subcategory of God’s immutability. It explain that because God is not composed of parts he is not dependent on something outside of himself unlike creatures. This is an essential doctrine since it overlaps with key doctrines in theology proper such as the doctrine of the Trinity, Divine Impassibility, and Immutability in general.
Here is where you can purchase the dissertation on amazon, it is technical reading, but worthwhile to better understand God;s attributes and the comfort that God’s immutability gives to believers and for pastoral application and counseling:
The first lecture on Tuesday was given by Dr. James Renihan explaining how the Doctrine of God affects not only chapter 2 of the 1689 LBC, but how it affects all of the confessions articulated systematic theology. He argued that the confession shouldn’t be viewed as 32 disconnected chapters, but that they overlap and build upon each other to form a systematic theology reflecting biblical doctrines. He also discussed the import and of the following phrase in chapter 2.3 to explain the ramifications of the doctrine of God for believers, “which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him”. The study of theology proper is not merely ivory tower academics, but is the foundation for our hope in the Gospel that God’s promises stand firm and true because of God’s attributes which are perfect and unchanging unlike us as creatures whose promises can change and fail.
The second lecture by Dr. Dolzeal was an overview of the doctrine of God in modern evangelicalism explaining some of the reasons for the shift away from classical theism. He gave important background information for why many evangelicals today either explicitly deny or attempt to modify the doctrine of divine simplicity and impassibility, and in the process of modifying either doctrine they undermine God’s immutability.
Another conference attendee has already discussed some more of the content of Dr. Dolzeal’s explanation of DDS, so I am linking to his post rather than reiterating it here:
The second lectures on Monday focused on the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity delivered by Dr. Dolzeal. He explained that sadly this doctrine would have been a basic tenent of orthodox catholic (universal) Christian doctrine 300 years ago, but it is scarcely found in systematic theologies today and is often misunderstood and rejected in favor of modifications to classical theism.
After the first lecture by Dr. Dolzeal there was authentic Mexican tacos for dinner and a great time of fellowship to meet other conference attendees.
After Dr. Dolzeal’s second lecture on Monday there was a short Q & A session with Dr. Renihan and Dr. Dolzeal on the topics discussed in the 3 lectures on Monday.
Tuesday started early in the morning at 8:30 with Dr. Dolzeal’s third lecture finishing his explanation of the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity and its necessity for God’s immutability and how it relates to other attributes. He also surveyed some modern departures from the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity by prominent theologians such as John Frame, Kevin Vanhoozer, and Ronald Nash.
He mad an important point at the beginning of the lecture that there is a temptation to apply how creatures apply speech to then attribute that distinction to God, which would deny the Creator-creature distinction.
Dr. Dolzeal also made an important statement at the beginning of his third lecture regarding a proper hermenutic for studying theology proper, “our language is a mirror of reality,” as a result we must be cautious that we don’t apply our categories of creaturely attributes to God, thereby denying the Creator-creature distinction. God accommodates to us using creaturely language such as an outstretched arm to describe his strength in Exodus 15, but that doesn’t mean that God literally has physical arms.
He summarized 3 basic approaches for those who do not affirm the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity (DDS): Disregard (those who are not even aware of the doctrine), Denial (those who explicitly deny the doctrine), and distortion (those who sound like they affirm it, but modify its meaning).
There are 2 basic reasons for the shift away for DDS that Dr. Dolzeal explained:
- A change in categories of causality made DDS unnecessary
- David Hume’s Skepticism
The shift to retreat and abandon metaphysics and go to the Bible undercut the categories of causes and resulted in a denial of DDS since it made the language of the authors of the 1689 LBC obsolete by denying their view of causality making DDS unnecessary.
I remember the pun that Dr. Dolzeal gave when explaining DDS during the conference, “Because God is not composed of parts, He doesn’t fall apart on us”. DDS preserves God’s immutability and comforts believers that our hope anchored in the Gospel accomplished through Christ is a sure hope that will not change tomorrow.
Dr. Dolzeal’s lectures were not solely focused on historical and systematic theology because he also directed us back to Scripture showing the biblical support for DDS and Divine Impassibility. I remember his reference to Acts 15:15-16, a prooftext of the 1689 LBC for 2.3 on Divine Impassibility. Paul and Branabas are considered to be Greek gods by a crowd at Lystra (Act 15:11-12). In verse 15 it states in the NASB that “we are also men of the same nature as you…”. The Greek word translated “same nature” is homoipathes, which BDAG defines as, “pertaining to experiencing similarity in feelings or circumstances, with the same nature” (BDAG, 706). In other words Paul and Barnabas rejected that they were Greek gods precisely because they are like men, and by implication they are arguing that a God with the same nature and feelings as His creatures is not worthy of worship. This was one of the strongest arguments that Dr. Dolzeal made from scripture, which is not a novel argument since the authors of the 1689 LBC cited it as a prooftext over 300 years ago.
The second lecture by Dr. Dolzeal on Tuesday was on the Topic of Divine Eternality. he addressed how DDS relates to Divine Eternality. As well as why Divine Eternality must be affirmed for God to be immutable. Dr. Dolzeal argued that God is atemporal and therefore unchanging as well as the eternal creator of the world. he gave two basic arguments for the Divine Eternality of God:
- God is not moving through moments of time
- No new state of being can come upon or slip away from God because he is so perfect
“God is eternity, He is not in eternity,” Dr. Dolzeal
Dr. Dolzeal challenged the arguments advanced by some that God being described as Creator required that God is in some way time bound or that God took on or added non-essential attributes when he created the world. he focused on responding to Nicholas Wolterstorf and William lane Craig in particular.
After the elcture on Divine Eternality and before the Argentinian Barbeque for lunch there was a Q & A discussion on the topic of Divine Impassibility with Dr. Dolzeal, Dr. James Renihan, Dr. Ron Baines, and Pastor Sam Renihan. The Q & A was a balanced and profitable discussion of Divine Impassibility explaining what the doctrine is and responding to several common misconceptions. It was a good balance of some technical questions as well as pastoral applications of Divine Impassibility.
The last lecture by Dr. Dolzeal explained how DDS relates to the doctrine of the Trinity and how it preserved an orthodox Trinitarian theology by precluding tritheism because God is not composed of parts, so the Trinity cannot be teaching that there are three Gods. he also made application to how it preserves the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. he explained that it doesn’t imply that Christ began to exist at a certain moment in time as with physical generation or begetting, rather it affirms the immutability of Christ that he has eternally been the Son of God, and because of DDS Christ did not pass through states in which he changed from being some force or unnamed entity with the Trinity to later become the Son of God. DDS preserves an orthodox Christology as well as Trinitarian theology.
Tuesday night ended with a Q & A with Dr. Dolzeal and Dr. Renihan primarily focusing on the last lecture of trinitarian theology and DDS. The questions were helpful for further addressing the importance of DDS for an orthodox Nicene Trinitarian theology and an orthodox Christology.
Next year’s topic will be on chapter 3 of the 1689 LBC, Of God’s Decree. I would encourage believers to come to the conference to grow in your understanding of scripture and for fellowship with other believers as well as good food as an added bonus and incentive to come to SCRBP 2016.
For more resources related to Divine Impassibility checkout rbap for current titles and upcoming publications. God without Passions a Primer by Sam Renihan is an easy place to start, and the book includes study questions and makes it accessible to explain the importance of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility to lay people in the church. Sam Renihan’s other book by rbap, God without Passions a Reader, has a good introduction on the hermeneutical issues involved with Divine Impassibility and then lets you read the source texts of reformed theologians and pastors for multiple theological backgrounds: Presbyterian, congregationalist, Anglican, and reformed baptist from the year 1523 with early reformed such as Henry Bullinger and John Calvin, to 1700 with an additional chapter with various confessions which all affirm the doctrine of divine impassibility. This book aids Christians to see how the key passages for Divine Impassibility were understood in the past by reformed theologians and pastors, and how they dealt with challenging passages with seem to indicate that God repented or changed.
Confessing the Impassible God, will be a larger work on Divine Impassibility coming out soon by RBAP:
I also do want to briefly mention the missionary opportunity of John Divitio who is looking for financial support to move to South Africa to help with the African Pastor’s Conference (APC) to help provided reformed theological resources to pastors in South Africa. It is an important endeavor to counteract a lot of the heretical and erroneous prosperity Gospel imported to Africa via TBN and other similar movements which have unfortunately gained a stronghold in Africa and impeded the spread of the Gospel and growth of faithful churches in Africa. You can contact John Divito’s website for the African Pastor’s Conference for more information on the ministry opportunity, prayer updates, and to help financially: