All That Is In God by James Dolezal: A Book Review by Pastor Todd Gill

Introduction

The mindset of our day seems to have an obsession with things that are new and innovative.  We are steeped in the idea that we must have the latest technological gadgets in order to have any relevance in the world.  And many consider it a great accomplishment to present a thought then hear someone say, “I’ve never thought of that.”  Love of the new is accompanied by the disdain for the old.  There appears to be constant quest to divest ourselves of the old.

This observation holds true when we consider the modern church.  The places of worship, the content of worship, and the ministers in the majority of churches must be in touch with the new.  Old things can exist in this world, but to be received by the masses they must be presented in a “Retro” way and should include a level of Hipster Irony.

Into this world of “if it’s not new it’s through”, Dr. James Dolezal brings his book, All That Is In God” calling us to recover and then treasure old ideas.  He calls our attention to recent departures from the theological positions that have been considered orthodox for centuries.  New ideas that displace orthodoxy are on the rise, and in the churches’ atmosphere of theological, historical, and biblical ignorance most people don’t even know what has been discarded.  In All That Is In God, Dr. Dolezal sounds the alarm.  He gives a clear and certain call for the return to the Classic Christian Theism while presenting the views of new theology with as much grace and kindness as possible.  We read these words in the preface, “it is not my intent to question the sincere love for God exhibited by those I critique; neither to impugn their persons.”

All That Is in God presents doctrinal aspects of Theology Proper like Aseity, Immutability, Eternality, and Simplicity.  Each facet of God is introduced then explained in the chapters to show that when one of these threads is pulled out of the fabric of Christianity, all thoughts of God come unraveled.  Dr. Dolezal’s work in theology proper enables him to bring important doctrines to our notice.  He speaks of lofty things that can be considered by great minds, but he explains as he goes allowing those of us who are simpler to understand the issue and appreciate the gravity.   Every page of this book is filled with gold that James Dolezal has mined and refined for you.  Read every page and possess the treasures in the forward, preface, introduction and main chapters.  Don’t skip a word:   Riches are presented in the dedication, quotations, and the footnotes.

Summary

All That Is In God is presented in a Forward, Preface, and 7 chapters: Models of Theism, Unchanging God, Simple God, Simple God Lost, Eternal Creator, One God Three Persons, and Conclusion.

The Forward, written by Richard Muller begins to explain the landscape of modern theological thought.  Presenting God as relatable and approachable has become the sine qua non in most churches.  Problematic God-thoughts have crept in regardless of particulars.  Churches that go by the name Evangelical, Neo-Calvinist, and even some who claim to be reformed holding to a historical confession.  Dr. Muller explains, “Traditional understandings of God, both of the divine essence and attributes and of the Trinity, have been caricatured for the sake of replacing them with notions of a changing temporal deity whose oneness is merely social.”   We are also reminded that this shift in the concept of God and the implications that follow are not problems for Pastors and Seminary professors only.  This is an important concern for all those who seek to have a right and biblically accurate perception of the God who is.

The first Chapter, Models of Theism, defines and explains the new idea that Dr. Dolezal terms “Theistic Mutualism” elsewhere called Theistic Personalism.  Dolezal marks the departure of Theistic Mutualism from Classic Theism and shows how those who follow this abandonment believe they are walking away from a rigidity and “other-ness” found in the God of the old doctrines.  Dolezal notes that in Theistic Mutualism there is a continuum from “hard” to “soft”.  While noting these variances, he shows that all those in the spectrum of Mutualism hold in common some change in God by a give-and-take relationship to creation.  Hard Mutualists are easier to recognize due to their clear statements about change in God.  Hard Mutualists would include the Open Theists who readily confess that God’s knowledge is dynamic and His providence is flexible.  This Hard Mutualistic view is a serious attack on the character of God, but it is at least a straight-on attack.  Soft mutualists may present more danger to the church of God because they claim to be conservative biblical teachers, some even claim to hold to a Classic Historical confession.  This is more dangerous because the soft mutualist uses the same documents and the same terms as the Classic Theist, but the mutualist must redefine and re-think the statements and meanings of the confession to such an extent that they abandon the author’s intent.

Dolezal says, “Some adherents to the classical view regard the mutualist account of the God-world relations as advancing an idolatrous form of theism…”  And his presentation of Classical Theism convinces me that it is true.  I agree with the quote from E.L. Mascall, “unless we are prepared to accept the God of classical theism, we may as well be content to do without a God at all.”  This highlights the fact that a mutualist god is developing and becoming, is not eternal or infinite, and is not worthy of worship and truly not really God at all.

After defining terms in chapter 1, Dr Dolezal turns to present particular aspects of God’s character in an effort to show how the mutualistic concepts cannot coexist with Christian orthodoxy.  Chapter 2, Unchangable God, addresses immutability and aseity, the fact that God exists in and of Himself.  Aseity means that God is uncaused pure act with no potential or capacity.  Aseity addresses the Is-ness of God as seen in the statement to Moses, “I AM.”  There is no room or possibility for change in God and there is nothing that can bring action to God that God does not already have.  Aseity is the why of God’s immutability.  God does not change and cannot change because He is A Se and receives from none.

Immutability means that God does not change and cannot change.  Change would improve or degrade.  Improvement would mean that the former existence of God was less than complete and therefore NOT GOD.  Degradation would mean that the later existence of God is less than the former and therefore NOT GOD.  So what is not God cannot become God by change, and God cannot become not God by change – meaning God cannot change.  God has decreed changes in action in time, but is Himself unchanged.  Changes related to God are Ad Extra actions not Ad Intra Essence or Actuality.

Dolezal brings up the ideas of some that Sovereignty could be the key to Change in God.  The notion is understood in Barth’s quote, “God cannot be moved by outside forces, He is moved and touched by Himself.”  This infers self-creation, meaning that by an act of Sovereign Will, God creates an existence different from His current existence.  This implies that the God of yesterday created the God of today and God today can create a God for tomorrow.  Then no single iteration of God is eternal.

In addition to Barth, this idea of “Holy Mutability” (with some nuance) is held by modern Calvinists who wield power and influence such as Bruce Ware and J.I.Packer.  This is where I get the idea that certain “Soft Mutualists” can be more dangerous because they are hidden reefs.  Barth realized that his mutualistic understanding of God’s was not compatible with doctrines like impassibility.  Therefore when Barth rethought immutability, he outright denied impassibility.  But J.I. Packer redefines the terms without telling us when he says things like this:  “Theologians say that God is impassible. They mean NOT that he is impassive and unfeeling but that what he feels…is a matter of his own deliberate voluntary choice.”  This redefinition of impassibility is presented without any indication that he is departing from the Classic Historical position.

Listen to Dr. Dolezal’s words about God’s unchangeableness:  “If one follows the path of theistic mutualism, even if it is modified by the belief that God freely chooses and controls His mutability, then it turns out that a man can be profitable to God, a righteous man can produce pleasure in Him that He would otherwise be lacking, and it is gain to God if we make our ways perfect.  Moreover, God does receive from us and is served by human hands…it must mean that God lives and moves and has His being in or through his creatures in some respects.  … Theistic Mutualism when consistently developed, is like an acid that cannot but burn through a whole host of divine attributes traditionally confessed of God.  When its work is done, the result looks rather unlike a variation or refinement of the classical model and much more like a demolition and wholesale replacement.”

Chapter 3, Simple God, deals with perhaps the most unfamiliar attribute of God presented in the book.  The terminology may be new and conceptualizing the Simplicity of God a new idea for modern Christians, but there is a basic understanding that is held by nearly every Christian.  Dr. Dolezal explains that while Christians may not know the terms or specifics of Simplicity, they do understand and affirm the basic definition.  Simplicity means that there is nothing that is not God that makes God God.  Historical confessions state God’s simplicity in different ways, some terming it multiple times using different statements.  Saying God is simple or saying that God is without parts both mean that God is not God as a consequence of something less than God being added to Him.  Simplicity seems to be a favorite subject of Dr. Dolezal as this is the topic of his doctoral dissertation published under the title, “God Without Parts, Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness”.  But this is a favorite for good reason.  Divine Simplicity is too often ignored and in many cases all but forgotten.  But All That Is In God reminds us with a quote from Peter Sanlon that Simplicity “is the most fundamental doctrinal grammar of divinity.”

Dolezal laments that the doctrine of Divine Simplicity is neglected in the writings of the Theistic Mutualists.  After his presentation of the doctrine it seems evident that the absence is due to the incompatibility.  Simplicity stands in contrast to Composition.  God is the only Simple.  All things that we know are compositions.  Dolezal defines compositions as consisting of parts that are less than the whole.  A composition requires the parts and a composer or assembler.  So in order for God to be not simple, a composition, He would have to be preceded by the parts of which He was made up and by a composer/assembler.  Dolezal points to a necessary implication of Simplicity, that all of the attributes of God are the same as His essence and therefore are also identical with each other.  Though we speak of God in terms that sound like singular parts, In reality All that is in God is God.  While God has revealed Himself in a way that can be imagined in the mind of man, we cannot take that condescension and work backward to compose God from the pieces we understand.  Dolezal’s analogy of a prism splitting light into individual colors is helpful in understanding the accommodation of God’s revelation of Himself.

Chapter 4, Simple God Lost, offers some possible explanations and particular points  of departure from Simplicity.  Dr Dolezal outlines the departure of theologians from the doctrine of divine simplicity in three parts:  Disregard, Denial, and Distortion.  He traces disregard for the doctrine back to the mid-eighteenth century when many theologians ceased to address this important attribute of God in their writings, noting that at the beginning of that century Simplicity would have been part of any theological work.  Dolezal explains that this disregard opened the door for the Theistic Mutualist thinking.  As Simplicity disappeared from the modern theological landscape, others were free to either distort the basic tenants of the doctrine or to deny it altogether.

Dolezal spends time looking at one particular facet of Theistic Mutualist distortion of Simplicity to show how it is a subversive attack on the character of God.  That facet is the idea that God has both Essence attributes and Relational attributes.  This allows soft mutualists like Bruce Ware and J.I.Packer to make claims that on the surface seem to be contradictory.  They claim that God is Immutable while at the same time being mutable.  They claim that God is Impassible and Passionate.  They hold these contradictions by reimagining God to have these two different types of attributes.  When speaking of God’s Essential attributes (those which are part of His essence), they say immutable and impassible.  But then they speak of a different category of attributes that are Relational Add-ons to God and then they say mutable and passionate.  These fantastic notions bend Simplicity past the breaking point, and the desired or intended result is disappointing.  In a quest to make God relatable and close, these ideas ultimately strip God of His God-ness and leave mankind helpless and hopeless.

In the conclusion of chapter 4, Dr Dolezal writes: “If we are to faithfully preserve the infinite and unsurpassable glory of God’s being, we will have to recover the older commitment to divine simplicity and the incomprehensibility of God and forsake the misguided path of thinking our thought or language adequately computes the mysterious manner of God’s existence.”

Chapter 5 is titled “Eternal God”, and addresses an attribute of God that is often confessed but many times not understood: Eternality.  When we time-trapped people try to conceive of eternity, we often think of time as we know it and then envision no start or stop.  But Dr. Dolezal teaches us that eternity is not time without beginning or end.  Eternity is an absence of change.  We measure the passing of time by successive increments of change.  Whether the tick of a clock, the addition of a few pounds, or the graying of hair, all that is in time is changing.  We experience the successive increments of time and measure them in change.  Mutability is the measure of the temporal.

Confessing God as Eternal means that He does not experience the successive increments of time.  God has no past and no future.  It is technically improper to say “God Was” or even “God shall”.  When we express these statements we are really speaking of our experience of the eternal decree of God brought to pass in time and effecting creation without having any impact on God’s being.

Temporality also means successive states of being.  Men are changed by the passing of time.  The simple act of learning a new fact means that the former man who was ignorant of that fact ceases to exist and a new informed state of being now takes his place.  Because humanity exists in time it is easy to see that every thing we experience, great or insignificant, changes our state of being.  Because God is eternal, He does not undergo these changes in His state of being.  God is not becoming, He is pure actuality.  It is bad grammar but good theology to say that God Bees.

It is evident that the Theistic Mutualist fancies God as changing.  Even if they try to say that He is sovereign over that change or that the changes are in Add-on Relational ways that do not really affect His essence, they say that God is undergoing change.  This intimates that God is experiencing successive states of being, and therefore by definition the God of the mutualists is not eternal.  Dr. Dolezal frames the argument well when he says, “No less than true religion is at stake in the contest between theistic mutualism and classical Christian Theism.”

In chapter 6, Dolezal discusses the doctrine of the Trinity.  He points out how theistic mutualism has harmfully distorted this crucial Christian doctrine. He explains how Simplicity was the litmus test for early church fathers to evaluate different statements and views of Trinity.  If ones doctrine of the Trinity did not square with Simplicity, it was considered a flawed view.  Dolezal explains that without Simplicity, almost any view of Trinity will do.  Simplicity prevents modalism and tri-theism by insisting that All That Is In God Is God.  Dolezal notes that those who abandon simplicity move toward social trinitarianism.   They see eternal subordination and complementarianism in the God-Head because ultimately they view Father, Son, and Spirit as “Parts” of God.

In the conclusion to All That Is In God, Dr. Dolezal says that it would be difficult to overstate the contrast between these two schools of thought.  Classical Theism, the older orthodox position for centuries, is wholly incompatible with the novel Mutualistic teaching of a more relatable God.  This sharp divergence is evident when we consider the recent debates over the nature of the Trinity and the associational split over the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility.  These are presenting issues pouring out of mutualist mindsets.

Conclusion

This abandonment of Classical Theism that comes with redefinition of terms in our historic confessions and reimagining the very being of God feels like a bigger issue than one book can solve.  Responses to Dr. Dolezal’s book by proponents of Theistic Mutualism have made it clear that this book didn’t resolve the matter.  But All That Is In God does sound the alarm.  It calls Pastors and teachers to equip themselves for coming trouble.  It calls Christians everywhere to prepare for battle.  A great division is coming.  Certainly we fear when we see division on the horizon, but we also should courageously anticipate the battle for purity of doctrine.   When Dr. Dolezal shows us a departure from vital doctrines among many evangelical and reformed pastors, seminaries, and churches, we must decide.  Will we make a course correction, recovering and treasuring the theology of Aseity, Immutability, Eternality, Trinity, and Simplicity?  Or will we let the tide of error pull us further out to sea?  We must be gracious and loving recognizing our own growth and progress, but we must never yield the precious ground of truth.

When discussing division over such doctrinal matters, a brother in a recent meeting said, “It is good, and I’m glad it happened.”  I agree.  Our Theology Proper is shaped by God’s revelation of Himself and considers the whole of that revelation, or it is Idolatry.  I am not qualified to parse the finer points of this argument in order to determine where the lines are to be drawn, but my opinion is that we need clear lines of orthodoxy and heresy.  Dr. Dolezal is gracious to point to the beneficial work of mutualists in other areas of study, and he is careful to question their doctrine without questioning their character or motives, and I am instructed by this.  It may be that these men are not walking the path to Hell, but these false doctrines may lead others to faith in a god who is no more than an invention of imagination.  “No less than true religion is at stake.”

We need to pray for grace and mercy and Christ-like compassion for our brothers who are sinking in the mire of mutualism.  We need to study the Bible and our confessions and creeds that we will be competent to teach in our churches, introducing people to the God of scripture.  We need to study Theology Proper, not simply to be more intellectual, but in order to love God more deeply, appreciating Him more fully.  To borrow from Charnock, we cannot comprehend God as He is, but we dare not fancy Him to be what He is not.

Submitted by Todd Gill

Posted by Bob Curley

All articles posted on this Blog are published solely for reader consideration and are not position papers of TAARBC or official opinions of TAARBC.

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