The End of the Timeless God

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R. T. Mullins
Oxford Studies in Analytic Theology
  • New York, NY: 
    Oxford University Press
    , March
     2016.
     264 pages.
     $110.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780198755180.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

R. T. Mullins writes that he began this book as search for the timeless God. The fact that the title begins with “The End” signals instead that he found several obstacles to logically defending an atemporal God, especially when taking into account other traditional Christian doctrines. He concluded that theologians must instead accept a God who exists in time.

In addition to the specific topic of God and time, The End of the Timeless God offers insight into the aims of analytic theology itself, which Mullins portrays as an interdisciplinary field that engages seriously with both analytic philosophy and the Christian tradition (xxi). He draws on the metaphysics of time and historical theology and introduces ideas from these fields in a way that is accessible to readers to whom some of the terms are new, and he does this without going too far off the course of his clearly organized argument.

To say that God is timeless means that God does not experience the succession of time, so a timeless God does not experience change. According to Mullins, then, the “divine timeless research program” includes “divine timelessness, simplicity, strong immutability, and strong impassibility” (10). Mullins then outlines some of the additional commitments that Christian thought has, including the triune God’s creation, sustenance, and providential guidance of the world; God’s revelatory acts; God’s covenants; the incarnation; the Holy Spirit; our ability to accurately refer to God; and the impossibility of the actual created world being ultimately evil (3-10).

Mullins carefully considers presentist and eternalist theories of time and finds no workable philosophical theory that allows for a successful model of the timeless God. Among other problems, presentism does not allow for a timeless God to change and thus to have relationships to creation, such as being the Redeemer (119-122). Mullins’s concern for Christians’ ability to refer meaningfully to God is evident here: God is worshipped as Redeemer and must really be the Redeemer, which necessitates interaction in time. Eternalism also leads to conceptual problems, including God having contradictory properties; for example, God must be both incarnate (at the time of the incarnation) and not incarnate (before that time) (152-153). The incarnation becomes especially important in Mullins’s argument as he finds it impossible for a timeless God to fulfill the conditions of embodiment (189-192). Because analytic theology must be accountable to the Christian tradition—and presumably most accountable to what is most central in it—it is compelling that Mullins prioritizes traditional ideas of the incarnation and God’s relationship with the world over the tradition of the timeless God.

At a few points Mullins expresses frustration with the concepts of divine ineffability and mystery, dismissing them as negating the very project of Christian theology. Readers who are inclined toward these answers may wish that Mullins had spent more of the book engaging with defenses of divine ineffability, or in answering some theological questions by pointing to mystery, but in fact to do so would counter his approach of searching for coherent and well supported answers.

The book’s conclusion briefly addresses related topics that the author was unable to include in detail. One is the doctrine of the Trinity, and indeed it would be interesting to learn more about how Mullins models the temporal God in relation to this and other Christian doctrines, particularly revelation, given the commitments that he has outlined here. The method and conclusion in The End of the Timeless God certainly have set a foundation on which Mullins and others may continue constructive theological work.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Emily A. Bennett is Instructor of Philosophy and Religion at Hastings College.

Date of Review: 
September 7, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

R. T. Mullins is Research Associate in Philosophy of Religion at the University of Cambridge.

Keywords: 

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