The claim, recently, has often been made that the “classical” view of God is illegitimate because it has origins in Greek thought. Greg Boyd may be the most prominent theologian to promulgate this idea, and it has seemingly taken a hold of a swath of Western Christians, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. This has been referred to as the Hellenization of Christian theology, and it asserts that, because these classical doctrines (such as immutability, impassibility, etc.) are rooted in Greek thought, they are illegitimate. However, I want to demonstrate briefly in three elements how this assertion falls flat and ought not be heeded, in any respect. For our object of thought, we will use the doctrine of impassibility, which says that God is in no way subject to changes in his emotive state.
The first avenue in which the Hellenization claim falls apart is one of external consistency in application. It is inconsistent. Concerning impassibility, those who speak against Hellenization say that the idea of an “impassible God” was espoused by Greek philosophers and has no relation to the biblical texts. Further, impassibility is a doctrine that is thrust upon the text without warrant. However, this claim, which hides its counter-proposal (that God is, in fact, passible) cannot be faithfully held if we take the critique seriously. It is true that Greek philosophers espoused impassibility. Heraclitus was one. It is equally true, though, that Greek philosophers, theologians, and the general culture asserted that the gods were intensely passible. Hesiod, for example, portrays the gods in extreme states of emotion—filled and overflowing with lust, rage, malice, joy, etc. If we are to take this critique seriously, we are left with a God who is neither passible nor impassible, since both are portrayed in Greek thought.
The second element of the Hellenization claim which we will address is a failure of internal consistency. If we take the claim seriously, then we have no legitimate reason to stop with these classical doctrines of God and not throw out the rest of Greek philosophy, including the logic systems developed by Aristotle and the peripatetics. It is sheer obstinance to say that impassibility, which is spoken of in Greek philosophy, is illegitimate in Christian theology but we may continue to use the logical system brought to us by the pagan, possibly atheistic philosophers who preceded Christ. Greek thought is Greek thought, whether its philosophical or theological, and yet why ought we use the system of thinking promoted by the Greeks but not the seed of a result thereof?
The third element that betrays the Hellenization claims is a manifestation of the genetic fallacy. And, ultimately, a “genetic fallacy” is all that the Hellenization claim amounts to. It asserts that, because the classical doctrines of God are found in Greek thought, that they are therefore false. This statement is a distraction. A red herring. It says absolutely nothing about the substance of the claim but attempts to demonstrate illegitimacy of the doctrine by pointing to the source.
However, the finger pointing to the source does not point far enough. Christians ought to hold to the this truth: that all truth is God’s truth, whether it’s a shadow of Christ revealed in the Old Testament Law or a shadow of the nature of God revealed in pagan philosophy. If we left our scientific understanding of the world to Christians, we could very well be left with this. However, we do hold that true truth is from the fount of life, and that a statement left on the tongue of Heraclitus is true if it is true, whether he is Greek or not.
In The Mortification of Sin in Believers, John Owen prescribes two motivations for pursuing such mortification. Mortification, essentially, is the negative realm of what we call sanctification. It is the putting to death our sinful nature and tendencies. He uses the verse Romans 8:13 as the foundation for this discussion. It reads, “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” From this verse, Owen draws out his two motivations. The second, and secondary, motivation reads, “The vigor, and power, and comfort of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh.” Your spiritual potency, so to speak, is contingent on the degree to which you put to death your sinful desires. That’s obvious. Pragmatically, your witness is clouded when you continually walk sin. Further, that is one means by which the Spirit is quenched and the fruits stifled. Nevertheless, this is not Owen’s primary motivation. That reads, “God has appointed this means [the mortification of the deeds of the flesh] for the attaining of that end [life eternal], which he has freely promised.” God has chosen that eternal life would be secured by the mortification of the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit. If you do X, it has been promised that Y would occur as a result. As secure as the reality is that you’ll be wet after jumping into water, so secure is it that if you mortify the deeds of your flesh by the Spirit, you will live.
Concerning the strange absolutization of Second Temple Judaism as the only proper hermenutical approach.