Dolezal, James. E. All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017.
James Dolezal’s book, All That Is in God, made quite a splash, causing something of controversy. The book itself lends itself towards controversy because Dolezal pushes back against a large contingent of contemporary evangelicals who don’t affirm (or fully affirm) the classical view of God’s simplicity. One such evangelical is John Frame.
On November 25th, 2017, Frame discussed Dolezal’s book and consigned its argument to the scholastic tradition, which Frame has a low opinion of. For Frame Dolezal’s insistence that God is simple—without parts and timeless—is a relic of the scholastic tradition.
In contrast to Dolezal, Frame maintains that God “really enters the changing world” (while unchangeable in his being); and “because God comes into time he has a temporal existence.” Oddly, Frame also denies that persons are relations: “So I think the analysis of the Trinity into substantive relations is a failure.”
Near the beginning of Frame’s essay, he calls out Dolezal for challenging the evangelical consensus (or what Frame considers is the consensus) by saying: “Is it not even a little bit daunting to stand against such a consensus?”
And yet: Frame may not actually represent the consensus view. As Mark Jones wrote on November 27th:
But the overall consensus clearly belongs to Dolezal. Orthodoxy is on Dolezal’s side. Not only Aquinas, but patristic, medieval, Reformation, and Post-Reformation Reformed theologians are basically with Dolezal and not the very recent group of authors that Frame calls a “consensus.” The men who wrote the Westminster Confession would certainly join with Dolezal over the revisionist theology that seems somewhat popular in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. After all, they were all Reformed scholastics. No wonder that RTS professor, Scott Swain, says, in his commendation of Dolezal’s book, that it is a “compelling presentation of what, until recently, catholic Christians have believed and confessed regarding the being and perfection of the triune God.”
Jones hits at the heart of the debate. Frame is not representing a broad consensus but a new, revisionist theology.
Dolezal’s book aims to restate what Christians have believed for ages: God is without parts. He is simple. And it is on the basis of simplicity that Trinitarian theology stands. Frame is no slouch. But he seems oddly dismissive of what Christians have confessed for centuries.
In contrast, Dolezal is a tradent. He carries the torch of Reformed and historic Christian theology. Yet his work is not without its flaws. Dolezal writes like his spiritual Fathers, the reformers and puritans. And so some of his work is not easy to read. Of course, you may enjoy this style of writing. If so, please forgive my critique.
And secondly, Frame rightly chaffed at Dolezal’s tone. Even as one who is sympathetic to Dolezal’s argument, I found myself put off by how he argued. He created terms to lump his opponents into (mutualists). He then uses these categories like catch phrases to galvanize his audience against the scholars who fall into this camp.
It reminds me of Donald Trump’s rhetoric when he, for example, called Hillary Clinton “Crooked Hillary.” At a certain point, you have to admit that Trump and Dolezal have stacked the cards in their favour by giving their enemies an unfavourable and catchy name.
Still, read the book. Read it to learn about God, to learn how he truly is without parts. I suspect, if you can get past the rhetoric, that you will enjoy Dolezal’s book and grow in the knowledge of God. And that’s never a bad thing.