A Cambridge change is a change that an object undergoes in relation to something
else. The object does not undergo an intrinsic change, but merely undergoes an extrinsic
change. For example, as I am currently typing this paper, I am north of the Cambridge
Divinity Faculty. The Divinity Faculty building has the relational property “being south
of Ryan.” Say that tomorrow I take a train down to Cambridge, and stand to the south
of the Divinity Faculty. The Divinity Faculty building has changed relationally with
regards to me, but nothing intrinsic to the building has changed. The building has
merely gone from “being south of Ryan” to “being north of Ryan.” When contemporary
theologians say that the classical God can undergo these sorts of changes, they are
misrepresenting the tradition. Boethius actually gives a similar account of relational, or
Cambridge changes, in The Trinity V. So classical Christian thinkers are aware of the
concept of a Cambridge change, though they do not refer to them under this moniker.
Boethius, like most classical theists, makes it clear that God does not undergo relational
changes. Why? Because, according to Boethius, the category of relation does not apply
to God at all.17 An immutable God, as classically conceived, cannot undergo relational,
or Cambridge changes. In fact, from Augustine to Aquinas and beyond, classical theism
denies that God is really related to creation in order to avoid saying that God undergoes
relational, accidental changes.18 The claim that God is not really related to creation is a
complicated matter. Since I have discussed it at length elsewhere, I shall say no more
about it here.19 What matters for the purposes of this essay is that on classical theism,
God is immutable in that God cannot undergo any kind of change, be it intrinsic or
Dolezal understands that there is a problem here for those who advocate a changeless God. He admits that much biblical language is “mutabilist” (19). And he thinks the problem is adequately solved by saying that this language is nonliteral, accommodationist, anthropomorphic. He cites Bavinck’s statement that “Scripture does not contain a few scattered anthropomorphisms but is anthropomorphic through and through” (20). These convey “something true about God, though not under a form of modality proper to him” (20). The modality proper to God asserts that God does not change, even in the ways the accommodated biblical language suggests that he does. This doctrine actually contradicts the meaning of the accommodated language.
But Dolezal never seems to understand the consequences of this distinction. It implies that Jesus did not “literally” become man, suffer, and die for us. He was not literally born of a virgin. He did not work literal miracles. Of course Dolezal confesses that there is “something true” about these doctrines of the faith, but every heretic in the history of Christianity has been willing to say that much.
The Immutability of God is a necessary concomitant of His aseity. It is that perfection of God by which He is devoid of all change, not only in His Being, but also in His perfections, and in His purposes and promises. In virtue of this attribute He is exalted above all becoming, and is free from all accession or diminution and from all growth or decay in His Being or perfections. His knowledge and plans, His moral principles and volitions remain forever the same. Even reason teaches us that no change is possible in God, since a change is either for better or for worse. But in God, as the absolute Perfection, improvement and deterioration are both equally impossible. This immutability of God is clearly taught in such passages of Scripture as Ex. 3: 14; Ps. 102: 26-28; Isa. 41: 4; 48: 12; Mal. 3: 6; Rom. 1: 23; Heb. 1: 11,12; Jas. 1: 17.
Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology (p. 46). . Kindle Edition.
James Dolezal argues that if God is immutable in ethics, then this requires a metaphysical explanation:
Divine immutability enjoys more explicit biblical affirmation than doctrines such as divine aseity and infinity.44 Many of the supporting passages tend to focus on the constancy and faithfulness of God to do what he has promised to do, that is, upon his ethical immutability. Nevertheless, even ethical immutability requires an ontological explanation rooted in the very being and essence of God.
Dolezal, James E.. God without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness (pp. 81-82). Pickwick Publications, An Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
But immutability of ethics can be its own consideration. God is consistent in character. Just because a human being has the ability to murder another human being, we do not require a metaphysical explanation as to why he doesn’t.
From Vincent Cheung’s commentary on Malachi:
God first reminds the hearers of his immutability, saying, “I am the Lord, I change not” (v. 6). God’s attributes remains the same, and they will never change. He is not subject to any external influence, and he is eternal so that there is no before or after in his being, so that he does not change. His omniscience implies that he has no succession of thoughts, and therefore he does not change his mind. His knowledge and decisions eternally exist in his mind, and are not subject to alteration. Since he knows all, he does not gain knowledge, and nothing surprises him. Since he is eternally immutable and comprehensively perfect, he never becomes better or worse.
Cheung contradicts himself in the first sentence. God is immutable, meaning God has no “before’s and after’s” yet he is “reminding” “hearers”. Those sound like actions, in time, with “before’s” and “after’s”. Cheung seems not to be self-aware as to how the context of Malachi contradicts his claims about the meaning of the text.