All That Is in God

Rare thing: a short book (137 pages excluding the index) that clearly presents classical Christian theism. This alone makes it a significant work, for there is nothing simple about classical theism. Classical theism has a rich heritage in the history of the Church, from the Fathers to the Magisterial Reform, via major figures of medieval theology (such as Aquinas) and the Reformation (such as Calvin). And yet, in recent decades, this conception of God has been under attack by theologians, even some evangelicals. All That is in God is therefore also a polemical work.

Dolezal begins by presenting the rival model to classical theism in today’s evangelical world: theistic mutualism. There is a whole spectrum of theologians embracing this view, but the main idea is that God in his being is capable of being moved by his creatures (3). More Reformed theologians embracing mutualism would say, for example, that God chooses in his sovereignty to be changed in his being by his creation, whether it be a change of knowledge or of emotional state. Some even go so far as to say that He sovereignly chooses to suffer in His being. The criticism these theologians often level at classical theism is that it presents a God who is cold and distant. Their model, on the other hand, presents a God who is relational. For them, a true relationship between man and God implies a reciprocal influence of one on the other, implying change in God.

This book is a defence of classical theism in response to theistic mutualism. Chapter by chapter, he explores points in the doctrine of God where these two visions of God collide: immutability, simplicity, eternity, and the substantial unity of God. But the heart of his argument hinges on the doctrine of divine simplicity. According to Dolezal, divine simplicity is the centrepiece of the “grammar” regulating our doctrine of God (38). It is the erosion of this doctrine that has led to the development of mutualism and a growing rejection of classical theism. So what is divine simplicity?

“God is absolute in his existence; he depends on nothing but himself.”

Put simply, it is the idea that God is not composed of parts (40). In other words, God is not a composite being. All that is in God is God. God is absolute in his existence. He depends on nothing but himself (which would not be the case if he were composed of parts). In philosophical terms, this means that there is no difference between his existence and his essence. Thus, God’s essence is not made up of love, justice and goodness. These things are manifestations of his indivisible essence. God is love because he is God, not because he possesses a property called “Love” that exists outside God. The doctrine of simplicity expresses negatively (“God has no components”), what the doctrine of pure divine actuality proclaims positively: there is no potential, no “becoming”, in God, for his being is absolute and possesses all fulness. He is the great “I AM”. His essence is to be.

However, Dolezal does more than a philosophical presentation. He shows that the witness of Scripture leads to an understanding of God as a simple being. Nevertheless, his presentation is more theological and philosophical than exegetical. This makes for a book full of references from theologians of the past and the present.

God’s simplicity is a doctrine full of mystery and questions. What makes it so hard to understand it is that there is nothing like it in all creation. We are all composite beings. A simple being is beyond our comprehension. This review is not the place to list and answer all the objections to divine simplicity. If you would like to read more on that, buy this book!

“This is not an obscure doctrine without importance”

It should be noted that this is not an obscure doctrine without importance. Dolezal demonstrates just how central it is to our conception of God’s immutability and impassibility (ch. 2) and eternity (ch. 5). In particular, it plays a key role in the doctrine of the Trinity, because without it, it is hard to escape the Muslim accusation that we are tritheists! The doctrine of simplicity enables us to maintain the essential unity of God whilst maintaining the integrity of the 3 persons (ch. 6).

All That is in God is an excellent book to fill us with wonder at the incomprehensible being that is God, sometimes to the point of vertigo. This work is very well references. Its polemical side makes it a topical book in the today’s world of systematic theology. Yet, its greatest added value is undoubtedly its ability to make such a complex subject, with all its implications, accessible in so few pages. That said, it remains a book for people with a basic understanding of theology.

In short, this is a superb introduction to classical theism in opposition to modern mutualist reconstructions. I warmly recommend it to any pastor, theology student, or theology proper enthusiasts.

Dolezal, James E. All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *