Review by Jeremy Kimble
Rob Lister. God Is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. 333 pp. $22.99.
In the modern church the doctrine of God’s impassibility (that is, his inability to suffer or feel pain) has often been relegated to the esoteric realms of theological discourse. However, when you consider the breadth of Scripture and the number of times God’s emotional responses can be observed, it becomes necessary to make sense of a God who is both transcendent and yet responsive to his people. As such, Rob Lister’s God Is Impassible and Impassioned is an outstanding primer on this topic, educating the reader on divine impassibility from historical, biblical, and theological vantage points.
Lister, associate professor of biblical and theological studies at Talbot School of Theology, seeks to address the apparent theological impasse between God’s unchanging nature and the temporal emotional responses he experiences in the Scriptures. Touching on theology proper, Lister argues that, when appropriately understood, “a holistic reading of Scripture itself compels the conclusion that proper senses of both impassibility and impassionedness are true of God” (36). Lister thus contends God is impassible in that he’s never emotionally manipulated, overwhelmed, or surprised into a response he doesn’t desire to have. However, this doesn’t mean God lacks emotion altogether. God is also impassioned and affected by his creatures—but always in ways that accord with his will to be so affected in the economy of redemption. This veracity of Lister’s thesis is carefully demonstrated throughout the book.