Review of Greg Nichols’ Lectures in Systematic Theology, Vol. 2

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I love systematic theology. In fact, I have a whole bookshelf dedicated to systematic theology. Some of my favorites are De Doctrina Christiana by Augustine and Peter Lombard’s Sentences. I can hardly resist them. Aquinas, Barth, Bavinck, Berkhof, Brakel, Brown, Dabney, Dagg, Erickson, Frame, Gill, Hodge, Horton, Turretin, Reymond, Vos, Warfield, and the like fill my selves. And, with my love for systematic theology, I am excited to add Greg Nichols’ set to my collection.

With so many systematic theologies, one may wonder why there is a need for a new one. One could argue that Nichols has something unique to offer as a Reformed Baptist. This is true. Since Reformed Baptists have so few representatives in the systematic theology department, we can be thankful for the release of this new multi-volume set.

Yet, I would argue that there is something even more unique about Nichols’ systematic theology—it’s a systematic theology and a topical Bible in one. I don’t know of anything else like it.

Of all my systematic theologies, I love Calvin’s Institutes the most. However, moving forward in my day-to-day studies and sermon preparation I can see myself referencing Nichols’ Systematic Theology as much, if not more, than any of the others. The reason it will never be too far out of reach is because it provides an exhaustive catalog of verses that are systematically arranged.

The value of these Scriptural references are not merely that they are so easy accessible, for we have Nave’s Topical Bible for that. Rather, the value is that they show the reader that Scripture alone is the authority of systematic theology. Nichols subjugates every branch (loci) of theology to the full Biblical witness (and not just two or three isolated proof texts). What does the Bible say about the nature of God? What does the Bible say about creation, providence, and sin? We simply cannot answer these questions by going to a single chapter of a single book of the Bible. Rather, we must search Genesis to Revelation to uncover God’s complete answer to these questions. And Nichols has spent years doing just that, and, now, with the release of these books, we have all his vast research of the Scriptures at our finger tips. For instance, page 59, on The Scope of Divine Providence, Nichols neatly gathers the important verses on the meticulous government of God over every little detail of history:

Scripture stresses that God’s preservation of reality and government of history are meticulous. His providence includes even the minutest creature and even the most seemingly insignificant event in nature and in the lives of men. He personally counts the hairs on every head and controls the flight of every bird. Truly, such mental capacity and capability to accomplish things are incomprehensible. Consider a sample of the biblical witness to the scope of divine providence. I simply tabulate these ten passages in the order of their occurrence in Scripture:

  1. God governs every illness and death: Deut. 32:39: See now that I, even I, am he: And there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal; And there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
  2. God governs every rejection of good advice by lost men: 1 Sam. 2:24-25: Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: you make Jehovah’s people to transgress. If one man sin against another, God shall judge him; but if a man sin against Jehovah, who shall entreat for him? Notwithstanding, they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because Jehovah was minded to slay them; 2 Sam. 17:14: And Absalom and all the men of Israel said: The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel. For Jehovah had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that Jehovah might bring evil upon Absalom.
  3. God governs chance, every random event: 1 Kings 22:28, 34: And Micaiah said, If you return at all in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me. And he said, Hearken, O people, every one of you . . . And a certain man drew a bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness; Prov. 16:33: The lot is cast into the lap; But the whole disposing thereof is of Jehovah
  4. God governs every household event and childbirth: Ps. 127:1-3: Except Jehovah build the house, they labor in vain that build it: Except Jehovah keep the city, the watchman wakes but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to take rest late, to eat the bread of toil; For so he gives unto his beloved sleep. Lo, children are a heritage of Jehovah; and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
  5. God governs every romance and marriage: Prov. 19:14: House and riches are an inheritance from fathers; But a prudent wife is from Jehovah.
  6. God governs every war and conflict: Prov. 21:31: The horse is prepared against the day of battle; but victory is of Jehovah.
  7. God governs every race and competition: Eccles. 9:11: I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all.
  8. God governs the appointment of every government official: Dan. 4:32: until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever he will.
  9. God governs every event in the inanimate universe: Matt. 5:45: that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.
  10. God governs the salvation or damnation of every person: Rom. 9:16-19: So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that has mercy. For the scripture says unto Pharaoh: For this very purpose did I raise you up, that I might show in you my power, and that my name might be published abroad in all the earth. So then he has mercy on whom he will, and whom he will be hardens. You will say then unto me: Why does he still find fault? For who withstands his will?

But this is more than just a Scripture reference tool that is systematically arranged, it is a true systematic theology that is based on Biblical exegesis. It is vital that our theology be derived and governed by the exegesis of Scripture, and by the exegesis of Scripture alone. Sadly, some systematics are more influenced by Greek philosophy than by God’s Word. It is abundantly evident, however, that Nichols has no interest in syncretizing Athens with Jerusalem. In fact, according to Nichols, “We must subject every pronouncement of dogmatic theology to the scrutiny of Scripture…Scripture is the final judge of man’s dogma. The final question is always, ‘What say the Scriptures?’” (257). Natural and speculative theology do not lead man to the Trinitarian God of the Bible, nor even to a cohesive system of thought. Aristotle is of no help when it comes to understanding special revelation. We should interpret natural revelation through the lens of special revelation, and not the other way around. Thus, without the assistance of natural and speculative theology, Nichols shows how the truths contained within the canon of Scripture are sufficient in themselves to bring us to a cohesive system of thought and a full understanding of all the branches of theology. Like John Calvin, Nichols believes that divine revelation can by systematized without the help of natural theology.

For these reasons, not to mention how easy it is to use and to quickly reference, I highly treasure Nichols’ systematic theology.

But what I have said up to this point is true for every volume of Nichols’ systematic theology. In regards to volume two in particular, if you want to know what the Bible says about man, then I highly recommend you getting this volume—The Doctrine of Man. Volume two of Nichols’ systematic theology is as exhaustive and clear a treatment of this important question as you will find.

Nichols divides the doctrine of man into five subheadings: (1.) Formation of the Original Creation, (2.) Conservation of the Original Creation, (3.) Culmination of the Original Creation, (4.) Devastation of the Original Creation, (5.) Benevolence to the Ruined Original Creation.

What is unique is that Nichols treats creation and providence within this volume—and this makes sense, seeing that man is the culmination of creation and the special interest of divine providence. Within these subheadings, everything from marriage and earthly governments, to the Sabbath is given its due attention. It is fun opening a book that makes you excited about reading the first chapters while placing an equal eagerness on reading to the end.

My favorite section is Nichols’ treatment of Man’s Psychosomatic Constitution (pages 98-102). Nichols explains the four major positions, such as (1.) ontological dualism, (2.) trichotomy, (3.) holism, and (4.) duality in unity. He not only provides us with a chart to help distinguish the different views from each other, but he also explains the origin, basic beliefs, and ethical consequences of each view. Nichols concludes that duality in unity is the biblical view:

Scripture teaches that human nature displays diversity, cohesion, and unity. Man’s constitution is psychosomatic. It consists of two distinct entities, body and soul, which are separable in death. Yet it possesses organic unity, not radical dichotomy. I use, “duality in unity,” to express this diversity, cohesion, and unity. Thus, the other three views contain a mixture of truth and error. Greek dualism captures the truth that man’s constitution consists of two diverse elements, a material entity called body and non-material entity called soul or spirit. Trichotomy captures the truth that cohesive power unites these two elements. Holism captures the truth that man’s constitution is a unit, an organic whole. At creation God established an intricate bond that, in the absence of sin, would never have dissolved. Thus, if we reject any of these truths, or press one to an extreme at the expense of the others, we will fall from the razor’s edge of truth into error.

Though Nichols holds to a slightly different covenantal framework than me, I, nevertheless, profited from reading his position on the covenants and how they function in God’s plan of redemption. Nichols is wise in placing the doctrines of the covenants in his treatment of the doctrine of man, for it is impossible to understand the nature, purpose, and fall of man independently of God’s covenantal framework.

With this said, Nichols’ treatment of sin and the fall of man is also helpful. He does not shy away from addressing the difficult question on how man’s volitional freedom corresponds with God’s sovereignty (pages 277-281). Nichols does not seek to resolve the tension, but delicately upholds both truths without compromise:

When a sovereign God controls sinners, he controls, not wooden dummies, but free moral agents. Scripture asserts unambiguously the sovereignty of God over fallen men: “The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord, and he turns it whithersoever he will” (Prov. 21:1). Free agency does not cancel God’s sovereignty. God predestines, controls, and determines everything that happens in this world, including everything that fallen men do: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Again, Isaiah is very bold: “Ho, Assyrian, rod of mine anger, the rod in whose hand is my indignation … Shall the axe boast itself against him that hews therewith? … Howbeit, he means not so, but it is in his heart to destroy and to cut off people not a few.” (Isa. 10:7). Therefore, God says that when he has purged the Israelites with him, he will judge him. God held him accountable for his actions even though he was the instrument of God’s chastening judgment. He did God’s purpose even though he wasn’t aware he was doing it. He’s not a puppet: “Howbeit he means not so.” Nevertheless, God accomplished his purposes through him: “Ho, Assyrian, rod of mine anger.” The only plausible meaning of this text is that sinful man is a free moral agent accountable to a sovereign God.

Here is one of the great mysteries of Scripture, a great stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to the pride of fallen man. Somehow, an omnipotent God controls fallen men who ultimately act upon their own free moral choices.

Much more could be said about volume 2 of Nichols’ Systematic Theology, but I hope what little I have said will spur you to get your own copy. I am certain that you will be thankful that you did, as it has definitely been beneficial for me.

A Portrait of God by Daniel Chamberlin

Daniel Chamberlin’s book A Portrait of God is now available at Free Grace Press. Here is the description of the book on the website:

Stephen Charnock’s Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God is a classic, but is over 500 pages. Daniel Chamberlin has done the church a service by summarizing the essential thoughts of Charnock on the doctrine of God for the 21st Century reader.

This is a great tool for groups to work through together, as each chapter is nicely divided up into bit size portions.

Jeff has highly recommended it to me, and I look forward to reading it myself. Please let us know what you think here at the Reformed Baptist Blog after you’ve had a chance to read it yourselves. If you are interested in digging deeper into Charnock’s work, you can get the free eBook of his Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God here. I think you will quickly appreciate why an introductory, summary work such as A Portrait of God can be so helpful, especially if you are trying to acquaint others with such theology.

Download A. H. Strong’s Systematic Theology For Free

For any interested readers, here is a link to download or read online Augustus Hopkins Strong’s Systematic Theology: A Compendium Designed for the Use of Theological Students for free. For those of you not familiar with A. H. Strong, here is a description from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (where the same work is also available for free):

Augustus Hopkins Strong was born in Rochester, NY on August 3, 1836. He was brought to Christ while attending Yale College, from which he graduated in 1857. He began his theological studies at Rochester Theological Seminary and completed his D.D. in Germany.

After serving Baptist churches in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and Cleveland, Strong was elected president of Rochester Theological Seminary in 1872. He was an active promoter of Baptist missions throughout his life, and from 1907 to 1910 he served as the first president of the Northern Baptist Convention (now the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.).

In his forty years at Rochester Seminary Strong taught a theology that combined traditional Reformed emphases, distinctive Baptist convictions on the ordinances and the organization of churches, and a relative openness to modern ideas. He published his multivolume Systematic Theology in 1886. This influential work was revised several times by Strong himself and continues in print to this day. Although Strong was consistently orthodox, he did use the results of modem critical scholarship more than, for example, his near Presbyterian contemporary Charles Hodge. Also, unlike Hodge, Strong was comfortable with the idea that God may have created the world through the processes of evolution. In the 1907 edition of his theology, Strong summarized his views on modern thought: “Neither evolution nor the higher criticism has any terrors to one who regards them as part of Christ’s creating and education process.”

Yet late in his life Strong spoke out strongly against those who used modem thought to compromise belief in Christ’s divinity or his saving work. In the 1907 revision, Strong proposed the counter to modernism that he maintained until he died: Christ as “the one and only Revealer of God, in nature, in humanity, in history, in science, in Scripture.”

Although, sadly, Strong never abandoned his Theistic Evolution, he is definitely worth checking out. Just keep a discerning eye as you read him. At many points, he reads like a Baptist version of Charles Hodge, but at other points, as the above description maintains, he goes too far into modern critical thinking. For those who use e-Sword, his Systematic Theology is also available for free as an e-Sword module here.

Simplicity and Trinity

Note: The following is taken from chapter 20 of the upcoming book The Absurdity of Unbelief, which may be pre-ordered here.

It is true that God is a simple being that is not composed of non-divineparts. For instance, if the attribute of power was not essential to God’s nature, then power would cease to be divine, which would cause God to be dependent on something outside of Himself for Him to be omnipotent. Because God cannot be dependent on anything other than Himself, He cannot be composed of any non-divine parts.
 God’s simplicity implies that His nature consists of His attributes, and His attributes do not exist independently or outside of God. This also implies that each attribute is inseparably necessary and essential to the other attributes of God. That is, it is logically impossible to separate or remove any of the attributes of God without destroying God in the process. Each of God’s attributes properly describe each of the other attributes of God in the same way that they each describe God. Because God is love, God’s love is sovereign, eternal, and omniscient in the same way that God is sovereign, eternal, and omniscient. Finally, this implies that each and every attribute of God (in-and-of-itself) consists of the fullness of God. In this way, God is a simplebeing without non-divine parts. He is what He is.
God being simple, however, does not mean that He is without any formal differentiations within Himself. [1] Saying that God cannot be a collection of non-divineparts (i.e., parts that are not in-and-of-themselves fully God) is not the same as saying that God cannot subsists in different divine persons that are (in-and-of-themselves) fully God (i.e., autotheos).
For instance, because each of the three persons of the Godhead are (in-and-of-themselves) fully God, formal differentiations and relations are inherent and necessary in God. According to Oliphint, “These personal distinctions and relations are all identical with him; they are not ‘added’ to him from the ‘outside.’”[2] In other words, the differentiations within God are essential to who God is.
Formal differentiations within the Trinity imply that God is not only able to distinguish between things outside Himself but that He is able to distinguish between different things inside Himself. For example, God the Father knows that He is neither the Son nor the Spirit, the Son knows that He is neither the Father nor the Spirit, and the Spirit knows that He is neither the Father nor the Son.[3]
Moreover, the formal differentiationsbetween the three persons of the Trinity are not merely conceptual distinctions within the mind of God; rather, they are an essential part of His ontology. Jay Wesley Richards, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, reminds us that “the Father and the Son could not change places.”[4]Richards went on to elucidate:
There is some fact about the Father that makes him the Father and not the Son, and some fact about the Son that makes him the Son and not the Father, even if we can refer to these separate facts by means of single asymmetrical relation. Moreover, the relation of the Father to the Son is not the same as the relation of the Father to the Spirit. Therefore, if one wishes to retain the trinitarian distinction, one must deny that every essential divine property or relation is strongly equivalent.[5]
Consequently, there can be and there are essential and eternal distinctions within the very being of God.[6] This implies that God’s simplicity must be understood in light of the diversity found in the Trinity.[7] Specifically, God’s simplicity does not cancel out His multiplicity. “To avoid the blank identity of pantheism,” Van Til claimed, “we must insist on an identity that is exhaustively correlative to the differentiations within the Godhead.”[8]
If there were no formal differentiations within God, as with Allah, the Aristotelian Unmoved Mover, and the god behind pantheism, then God would become pure unity without any diversity at all. In fact, as pointed out in the last chapter, non-trinitarian theism, in all of its forms, is reducible to monistic pantheism.
The Solution for Divine Revelation 
Furthermore, if there are no differentiations within God, then there cannot be any differentiations within the mind of God. Consequently, without God being able to distinguish between His various thoughts and attributes, then, as in monistic pantheism, God would be utterly unknowable even to Himself.
And if God cannot know Himself, what hope do we have of knowing God? If God cannot distinguish His knowledge from any of His acts of power, it would be impossible for Him to reveal Himself to man. For instance, what does it mean to say that God is love if God’s love is identical to God’s omniscience? What would God’s omniscience mean if it was one and the same with God’s hatred? Terms describing God would cease to mean anything if they can mean everything. Thus, if God’s knowledge of Himself was restricted to a single attribute, then our knowledge of Him would be no knowledge at all.[9]Without distinctions within God, says Calvin, “only the bare and empty name of God flits about in our brains, to the exclusion of the true God.”[10]
Commenting on this, the Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield (1851-1921) remarked: “According to Calvin, then, it would seem, there can be no such thing as a monadistic God; the idea of multiformity enters into the very notion of God.”[11]In this, Calvin understood that for God to reveal Himself to man, He must be tripersonal. Only a God whose diversity is equally ultimate with His simplicity is a God that can be known.
Jonathan Edwards also rooted divine revelation in the doctrine of the Trinity. According to Edwards, God is a communicativebeing. Expounding upon Edwards’ view, William Schweitzer writes: “In asserting that God is a communicative being, Edwards is referring to a logically and temporally prior theology whereby God is inherently communicative ad intra (i.e., internally) among the persons of the Godhead.”[12] That is, although the economic Trinity communicates to man and angles ad extra (i.e., externally), God’s essential communicativeness is not dependent upon man or angels or anything else outside of Himself. This is because, ontologically speaking, the Father communicates to the Son, and the Son and the Father communicate to the Spirit. In this, communication is essential to the very nature of God.
Therefore, the economic Trinity is able to communicate ad extra (i.e., externally) to man, only because the ontological Trinity communicates ad intra (i.e.., internally) with Himself.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit love, enjoy, and glorify each other by revealing themselves to one another, communicating to one another, and sharing themselves with one another. And it is only because they are inherently able to communicate and share themselves with each other like this that they are intrinsically able to communicate and share themselves with us, who are made in the image of God.
In other words, divine communication is possible because God is triune. As all three persons of the Godhead are involved in the process of communication: The Father reveals the Son (Matt. 16:17), the Son reveals the Father (John 14:6), and the Spirit reveals the Father and the Son (1 Cor. 1:30). Each person finds pleasure in revealing the glory of the other persons. Hence, we can know God because God is triune – something that could not be said about a monistic deity.
The Solution for Thoughts & Emotions
Also, a multi-personal God is required for a God who can differentiate between His different attributes, thoughts, emotions, and acts. Only a multi-personal God can have a will of decree and a will of command that allows Him to be both impassibly at peace in regard to the grand scheme of things and emotionally grieved in regard to particular sinful acts as they transpire in history. Like a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle that can either be fully constructed into a single picture or broken apart into its individual pieces, God is able to see all of history at one glance and also examine each singular event separately.
When He considers the complete historical picture, He is eternally happy. He is impassibly satisfied with the outworking of His will of decree because all things are working together for His glory as planned. And God is able to examine single pieces of the puzzle, independently from the whole, and be grieved accordingly. He can be angry with those who transgress His will of command because in those temporal moments He ceases to be glorified.
God’s essence does not change, but this does not mean that He does not have particular opinions/judgments about things that do change. The English puritan Stephen Charnock (1628-1680) understood that a display of changing emotions is not only consistent with the immutability of God but is required:
God is not changed, when of loving to any creatures he becomes angry with them, or of angry he becomes appeased…God always acts according to the immutable nature of his holiness, and can no more change in his affections to good and evil, than he can in his essence… Though the same angels were not always loved, yet the same reason that moved him to love them, moved him to hate them. It had argued a change in God if he had loved them always, in whatsoever posture they were towards him.[13]
Consequently, God can be grieved after the fall of man and be appeased by the atoning work of Christ on the cross because He, who controls time, can differentiate between time related events.
The Solution for Relationships
The differentiation within the Trinity is also what allows God to be personal and relational in His nature. God did not have to take on relational properties when He created man; rather, He is eternally and inherently relational. Hence, without any change taking place in His nature, He is capable of personally interacting with those whom He created in His own likeness.
The Solution for a Separate Universe
The ontological differentiation between the Father, Son, and Spirit is as vital as God’s oneness. The ontological differentiation within God is vital in keeping the essence of God from becoming conflated with the universe. This is because the equal ultimacy of God not only allows for diversity-in-unity, but it also explains why an immutable God was able to create a distinct universe out of nothing (ex nihilo) at a particular point in time.
Aristotle believed that motion (e.g., the pure motion of the stars) was eternal, for every act of motion within the universe must be caused by a previous act of motion, which must be indefinite. Though motion is infinite, there must be a prime mover to prevent the logical inconsistency of an eternal regression. The solution, according to Aristotle, is that motion is the eternal effect of the eternal Unmoved Mover – making the unmovable God and the forever moving universe coeternal and coessential.
Aristotle was right – motionlessness and motion must both be eternal. There is no way around this. For instance, if motionlessness(i.e., an Unmoved Mover) was not eternal, then we would be left with an eternal regression of causes with no explanation of what or Who set off the first cause. On the other hand, if motion was not eternal, then motion would not be essential to God’s nature. And if motion was not essential to God’s nature, then God would depend upon something outside of Himself to move and act. And if God was immobile and unable to exert acts of volitional power, then He could not have created a temporal universe out of nothing. So, motionlessness and motion must both be eternal.
But how can both realities be eternal without God and creation being coeternal and coessential? How can an unmovable God create something temporal if creating the universe requires an act of movement within God? How can God be unmovable, yet capable of moving Himself to create? How do we have a God who is above time and space, but is not locked out of time and space? How do we have a God that is immutable to time-bound events, but is also able to carryout time-bound events, such as creating and governing the universe?
The only solution is found in the triune God of the Bible. God is immutable without being restricted to a static and motionless state. This is because God is one in His essence and three in His persons. He is unchanging in His essence (which safeguards us from open theism).[14]However, in this immutable and eternal state of perfection, the Father, as a distinct person, is intrinsically and internally (ad intra) moved to love and glorify the Son, and likewise the Son and the Spirit are moved to love and glorify the Father. They each are incited to share, communicate, give, love, and glorify the other by the infinite worth that they consistently see in the other. They are in an eternal state of interacting and sharing their glory with each other. That is, within the Godhead there is an eternal state of movement (i.e., interaction) between the three persons without any change taking place in the unity of God’s immutable essence.
The word automobile originated from the compound of two French words auto, which means self, and mobile, which means movable. Thus, an automobile is something that moves itself. But truly this cannot be said of man-made vehicles that require a driver and fuel. Vehicles don’t move themselves. Strictly speaking, the word automobile applies only to God. Only the triune God is autonomously self-moving. Unlike Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, the God of the Bible does not need the universe as a vehicle of movement. God is not dependent on anything outside of Himself. God is not cemented in an immovable state, for He can act, move, create, and do as He pleases.
To think, to love, to share, to communicate, and to act are all intrinsic abilities within a triune God. Because the triune God is not restricted from having acts of motion within Himself, creating and governing a universe that is separate and bound to time is not an impossibility. Creation does not have to be eternal. Although God is not bound by time and space, He is not locked out of time or space either. The God of the Bible is Lord of time and space as He is personally ever-present in all the particular affairs of this world.[15]
In short, because the three persons of the Trinity interact internally (ad intra) with one another, the Godhead was able to create externally (ad extra) a temporal universe out of nothing at a particular moment in time.
The Solution for God and Time
This brings us to one of the most difficult questions of theology: What is God’s relationship to time? If time is the measurement of movement, then God’s relationship with time is unlike our relationship with time.
We are restricted by time because movementexists independent of our own existence. We can’t slow down the rotation of the earth or speed it up. Time ticks at the same rate regardless of how we feel about it. Moreover, movement changes us. We grow from young to old, with our bodies changing along the way. The older we become, the more we realize that our lives are slipping away from us. And there is nothing we can do about it. In short, we are bound to time because our existence is bound to causation or movement outside of our control.
God, on the other hand, is not moved or changed by any external causation or movement. This is because there is no causation or movement outside of God’s control. The causation within a solar system or the falling sand within a hourglass do not move (or even exist) independently from God’s will and power. Because God’s ontological existence stands independent of any external movement, His nature cannot be changed by movement or time. With this in mind, God’s nature is timelessly changeless.
The timeless and immutable nature of God, however, does not mean that God is restricted from moving Himself. Even though God cannot be moved or changed by external causes, He can internally move Himself in accordance with His immutable nature. This is because motion– all motion – occurs directly or indirectly by the power of God who does all things according to His predetermined counsel. As we have seen, God is capable of temporal acts of power (i.e., creating and governing the universe) because movementis inherent within His multi-personal existence.
So then, God’s relationship with time must be understood in light of His triune nature. While God is changeless in the singularity of His immutable nature, the interaction between the pluralityof the divine persons is not static. In other words, God can be both timelessly changeless within His unified essence and capable of moving Himself due to the inherent interaction between the three divine persons.
Thus, time, as with movement, is neither something that exists independently of God nor is it something that restricts God. Rather, both time and movement are ultimately controlled by the interaction between the diversity of divine persons as they think and act in accordance with the oneness of their immutable nature.
The Solution for God’s Transcendence and Immanence
A monistic deity, on the other hand, would be completely locked out of time. An atemporal god, such a Allah, has its consequences. The consequence in this case would be that, since a monistic deity cannot display intentional and temporal acts of power, the universe would have to be eternal. That is, seeing that there is a universe, there could not have been a time when there was nothing but God if God was atemporal.
If God is bound by timelessness, where did the universe come from? The only possible answer that retains God as Creator is the notion that the universe has always existed as an eternal emanation flowing from the undifferentiated essence of this Unmoved Mover. As light flows from the sun, the universe has to be timelessly flowing out of God. Ultimately, without the Trinity, God and the universe would be one and the same, as light is made of the same stuff as the sun. Consequently, even though an atemporal god would be wholly other in His unknowable transcendence, He would be one with the universe in His ontological immanence. While this is a blatant contradiction, it is the result of a god who is barred from any temporal movement.
This obvious inconstancy, however, is safely resolved with the God of the Bible. With the Trinity there is a clear Creator/ creature distinction, since God created the universe out of nothing at a particular point in time. God alone existed before the foundation of the world. There was nothing else but God until God (at a particular point in time) freely and intentionally spoke the universe into existence out of nothing.
And because the universe and God do not consist of the same ontological substance, God remains transcendent. But He is also immanent because He is not barred from time as He personally interacts with those whom He has made after His own likeness. This unityand diversity between God and creation is possibly only because there is unity-in-diversity within the Godhead.

[1] By formal differentiation I mean something more than a conceptual distinction (distinctione rationis, a distinction in thinking) that exists only within our finite minds to help us make sense of an ineffable God that transcends human language.
[2] K. Scott Oliphint, “Simplicity, Trinity, and Incomprehensibility of God” in One God in Three Persons, Ed. Bruce Ware and John Starke (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 230.
[3][3] The Eunomians (i.e., neo-Arians) denied the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity by applying Aristotelian logic to the doctrine of divine simplicity. In gist, they argued that if there are no distinctions within God, then only the Father exists a se (dependent on nothing outside of Himself). Ultimate oneness is reducible to the Father – He alone possesses the simple essence of Divinity. The essence of the Son is generated from the Father and the essence of the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son as they are ontologically and eternally subordinate to the Father, who alone is Almighty God. See Thomas H. McCall “Trinity Doctrine, Plain and Simple” in Advancing Trinitarian Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 46.
[4] Richards, Jay Wesley, The Untamed God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2003), 230.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Scott Oliphint seeks to maintain balance when he reminds us: “An important aspect of this doctrine of God’s simplicity is that these distinctions in God are not thought to exist as real ‘things’ in God. That is, they should not be thought as things at all, so that the Godhead is a composition of ‘things upon thing’” (God with Us, 65).
[7] For an excellent article on the relationship between divine simplicity and the Trinity see Thomas H. McCall “Trinity Doctrine, Plain and Simple” in Advancing Trinitarian Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014).
[8] Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 2nd ed., William Edgar (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2007), 273.
[9] B. A. Bosserman explained: “Unitarian theologies. . . succumb to a stultifying sort of mystery where god is identical with, or subject to, an ineffable void, that renders him incapable of speaking altogether, or of speaking with authority. For, nothing can be accurately predicated of a strictly unitary deity, since the multiplicity involved in predication is at odds with his nature. If such a being were to enjoy negative definition as he exists in contrast to the created sphere, it would only demonstrate his dependence on the temporal universe in order to enjoy the sort of differentiation, purpose, and relationship that he lacks in himself” (The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox, 101).
[10] Calvin, Institutes, 1.13.2.
[11] B. B. Warfield, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Trinity,” Works of Benjamin B. Warfield (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 5.191.
[12] William M. Schweitzer, God is a Communicative Being: Divine Communicativeness and Harmony in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards (London: T&T Clark, 2012), 17.
[13] Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God (reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 1:345.
[14] The proponents for open theism, such as Richard Rice, Clark Pinnock, and John Sanders, may say that God is unchanging in His essence, but they undermine their claim by making the diversity of the tripersonal relationship of the Godhead ultimate over the oneness of His unchanging essence. That is, the oneness of God’s essence ends up being at least partially absorbed into the diversity of God’s tripersonal interaction within creation. By elevating the diversity of God over the onenessof God, God’s sovereignty, omnipotence, and omniscience no longer remain immutable. God’s knowledge, emotions, and power become  limited to the multiplicity of things taking place outside His being. Rather than being immutably closed, God is open to change. Rather than the Almighty controlling all things, He is more of a powerful demigod. He is able to properly adjust His plans as needed, but remains restricted to the diverse whims and decisions of man. His knowledge is dependent on creation.
The trinitarian God, however, is able to interact with creation in a personal and imminent way because He is inherently able to differentiate between things within Himself and things outside of Himself. Because diversity is essential to His nature, God is able to distinguish between His thoughts, emotions, acts, and time related events. Yet, He remains transcendent and separate from creation because His unityis also equally essential to His nature. Because He is able to differentiate between His will of decree and His will of command, He is able to providently and emotionally interact with creation in a personal way. But, He also knows and sees all things at once. And, ultimately, nothing can cause God to suffer because He knows and controls all things without there being any change within Himself.
In sum, without the diversity of the three persons, God’s simplicity would lead to pantheism. Conversely, without the onenessof God’s essence, the relational properties inherent within the Trinity would lead to open theism. Though from different directions, both pantheism and open theism make God dependent on creation. The equal ultimacy of the oneness and diversity of the Trinity is the only safeguard to keep us from falling on either side of the ditch.
[15] And according to Michael Reeves, love was “the motive behind creation” (Delighting in the Trinity, 47). For His own glory, God chose to share His love with His people. Or as Jonathan Edwards worded it: “God’s end in the creation of the world consists in these two things, viz. to communicate himself and to glorify himself. God created the world to communicate himself, not to receive anything” (Jonathan Edwards, Approaching the End of God’s Grand Design, 1743-1758, ed. Wilson H. Kimnach. vol. 25 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006., 116 ).

"Jonathan Edwards on Freedom of the Will" by Philip Fisk

Immanuel Baptist Church, where I serve as the primary teaching elder, has been privileged to support Phil and Cindy Fisk in their ministry at the Evangelical Theological Faculty (ETF) in Leuven, Belgium. May God bless their ministry and the ministry of ETF!

Phil recently defended his doctoral dissertation at ETF, and you may watch his defense in the video above. His dissertation is entitled Jonathan Edwards on Freedom of Perfection: Establishing the Shift Away from the Classic-Reformed Tradition of Freedom of the Will. I highly recommend watching the defense in its entirety. It is both fascinating and informative. If you’re at all like me, it will make you want to learn more and to get a copy of the dissertation and read it for yourself. The book will be available in the fall of 2016 as a part of the series New Directions in Jonathan Edwards Studies, by Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. Given the defense above, I suspect that it will become essential reading for anyone interested in the theology of Jonathan Edwards. I also suspect that, even if many still side with Edwards’ view, they may be forced by Phil’s work to acknowledge that they stand outside Classic-Reformed theology when they do so. I think I certainly need to study the issue again in a much deeper way and to reassess my own view in the light of Scripture.

After messaging with Phil, he has stressed that it should be kept in mind while watching the video that he is only making the claim that Edwards turned from the classic-Reformed tradition on the topic of “freedom of the will,” not on other topics, such as union with Christ, the Covenants, etc.

I’ll be sure to let our readers know when the book is available for purchase.

The Primacy of the Abrahamic Covenant by Jeff Johnson

As the description on the YouTube pages says, in this message “Pastor Jeff Johnson, author of The Fatal Flaw Behind The Theology of Infant Baptism, shows us how the Abrahamic Covenant unifies the Old Testament and the New Testament; the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, the demands of the law and the glory of grace.” I hope all the blog’s readers will find it helpful. If you want to learn more from Jeff on these foundational issues, I highly recommend two of his books:

The Fatal Flaw Behind The Theology of Infant Baptism (The single best book I have ever read on the subject)

The Kingdom of God: A Baptist Expression of Covenant & Biblical Theology

I am grateful to have Jeff as a blog partner, and I hope you will find his writing as beneficial as I have.

Bob Gonzales on the Impassibility of God

Some of the blog’s longtime readers will remember that several years ago I had posted an article recommending a series of articles by Bob Gonzales, the Academic Dean and a professor of the Reformed Baptist Seminary, concerning the doctrine of the impassibility of God. Such readers may also have noticed that some time ago I removed that post. Now, however, I wish to make it clear that the post was not removed because I no longer recommended Bob’s writings on the subject, but rather because Bob himself had removed the articles from his own blog for a time, and I did not want to have a post linking to articles that were no longer available. However, since an updated series of the articles has once again been made available on Bob’s blog, I and my blog partner, Jeff Johnson, wanted to post in support of them again here. We understand full well that the issue of God’s impassibility has been a matter of significant debate recently, and we are saddened at the division that has arisen over it, since it is our belief that there has long been an openness among Reformed theologians toward suggested refinements in the expression of the doctrine. It is our hope that such an openness will continue and that Reformed theologians will be able to agree to disagree on the matter, especially since we respect many on both sides of the current debate among Reformed Baptists as well as Presbyterians.
Having thus made our basic perspective on the matter clear, we want to recommend Bob’s articles on our blog once again. Bob is our friend, but, more importantly, he also happens to be on the right side of the issue in our judgment. In fact, we also share his sorrow over the unnecessary division that has arisen concerning the issue in some quarters in recent years.
At any rate, the first article Bob published that touches on the matter was actually written in response to an article by James Renihan concerning whether or not we should speak either of God or of believers as “passionate.” Here is the link:
In this article Bob concludes:
Are you passionate for that which is contrary to God’s revealed will? Then you do need to repent. Are you passionate for God, his worship, and the advance of his gospel? If so, please don’t repent! Instead, pray for more passion in order that you might be passionate as your heavenly Father is passionate.
Then there is a four part series of articles dealing more directly with the doctrine of divine impassibility. Here they are in order:
Bob states his ultimate conclusion thusly:
So we affirm that God is self-contained, independent, and wholly satisfied with himself. He possesses a kind of joy that cannot be marred. Yet, we also affirm that within the matrix of time and space, God expresses various cognitive-affective valuations such as grief, sorrow, anger, pleasure, love, hatred, jealousy, joy, and peace in ways that are perfectly consistent with his unchanging “being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” Accordingly, God’s transcendent qualities — his sovereignty, immutability, and eternality — remain intact.
We highly recommend reading all five of these articles, and we would also encourage reading from the other side of the issue, such as God Without Passions: A Reader, edited by Samuel Renihan, who lays out his own view in the “Introduction to the Reader.” We have friends on both sides of the debate, and, as indicated above, we believe that those on both sides of the debate are well within the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy, even if we come down on one side rather than the other.