Wednesday, 29 October 2014

God Without Parts, by James E. Dolezal

James E. Dolezal, God Without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God's Absoluteness, 2011 Pickwick Publications

"The Doctrine of Divine Simplicity has no shortage of detractors in the modern philosophical-theological millieu. Indeed, its austere and sometimes shocking demands grate against the modern proclivity for a God that is more easily understood, more manageble, more like us."

So writes James Dolezal in his conclusion to God Without Parts. This is a fantastic summary of what is wrong with so much Evangelical thinking about God these days. Most Evangelicals want a warm cuddly God who is like us. Hence, all those cold philosophical attributes that used to be so important to theologians get jettisoned. The Doctrine of Divine Simplicity is simply too philosophical, too abstract, too difficult and too irrelevant for today's Christians. Yet in the first chapter of this book, Dolezal demonstrates the importance of this doctrine in both Catholic and Reformed thought.

This is a book aimed at Evangelical readers and so Dolezal understandably spends some time surveying critics of Divine Simplicity within Evangelicalism. The main figures he mentions are Alvin Plantinga, John Feinberg and Ronald Nash. Dolezal argues that the common error of these theologians is an ontological univocism; regarding the Creator as though he differed from his creation only by greater degrees. In contrast the advocates of Divine Simplicity regard God as being fundamentally unlike created beings.

Dolezal argues that the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity is essential to undergirding key attributes of God. God's Aseity, Unity, Infinity, Immutability and Eternity are all compromised if Divine Simplicity is denied. Furthermore the doctrine also establishes the absoluteness of God's existence in contrast to the contingency of created beings.

The author deals with a number of objections to the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity. The most troubling of these is the argument that it entails the denial of divine freedom. Dolezal responds to this by arguing that divine freedom cannot be seen in terms of counter-factual choices, but must be seen in terms of the absoluteness of the divine will. This may be a little troubling for those like me who believe in libertarian free-will, but he makes a strong case for this as part of his defense of Divine Simplicity.

The foreword by veteran philosophical theologian Paul Helm briefly says a little about the Trinity. The main text of the book, however, does not address the Trinity at all. I was a little disappointed by this. I understand why the doctrine of the Trinity is in harmony with Divine Simplicity, but as the Trinity is sometimes raised as an objection, it would have been helpful of Dolezal to say a little about this. It would also have been interesting to have some consideration of whether the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity has any implications for other doctrines and also for Biblical hermeneutics.

This is a difficult book to understand in places, but it deals with a difficult, but vital doctrine.


  1. Thank you for this helpful review. You might also be interested in Dolezal's article on the Trinity and simplicity in the International Journal of Systematic Theology. It seems to serve as a supplement to his book: