voluntarism vs. realism

I’m prepping for tonight’s class on the nature of God, and one of the points we’ll be discussing is whether God has chosen to be what he is or whether what he is determines his choices. Philosophers call the first viewpoint “voluntarism,” because of its primacy on God’s will; and the second viewpoint realism, because the universals/perfections of God’s nature have a real and eternal existence, independent of his will.

The topic reminded me of a conversation I had with Ben Whipple at Immanuel Baptist on Sunday. We were discussing the problematic lyrics in many of our worship songs, and he mentioned an offending line in the otherwise fine song by Phillips, Craig, and Dean, “You Are God Alone.”  

I’ve italicized the problem, which comes at the end of the first verse.

You are not a god
Created by human hands
You are not a god
Dependent on any mortal man
You are not a god
In need of anything we can give
By Your plan, that’s just the way it is

This verse says that God’s uncreated, independent nature (what theologians call “aseity”) is a product of his will, which means that God could have chosen to be created, needy, and dependent upon us. But this would be a problem, even for Arminians (just a little Calvinist humor).

If you’re a worship leader who cares what your church sings (and if not then you should promptly resign), the fix is easy. Just use the ending of the second verse for the first:  “You are God, that’s just the way it is.”

Remember, what the church sings is what it will believe, so sing what you believe, and sing it well!






3 responses to “voluntarism vs. realism”

  1. Sounds Barthian. For “God’s being-in-act was understood to mean that [are you ready for this?!?] God is his decision.” (Eberhard Jüngel, God’s Being is in Becoming, 83. )

    Sorry, it’s the thesis talking.

  2. Jonathan Shelley

    Don’t you have your students read any Anselm? Or even some Aquinas?

  3. this is not the big issue they have, which would be their oneness pentecostalism

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