1. Doug

    Here is a QUICK survey of some Jewish/Christian Greek literature around the time of Christ. But I would think how they sometimes used the term should have some bearing on this discussion. First, its use towards Christ. SibOr 1:20, “His life-altering passion and resurrection from the dead.” Often the term was used by the Fathers to refer (as said above) to Christ’s passion. That’s clearly not a bad thing. The overwhelming majority of uses of this term that I came across was with regard to suffering (from anyone). Suffering isn’t a sin, though through it we can often be overcome by evil passions.

    Second, the modifier. I think saying that the term “always has a sinful connotation” is too strong. It is better to say that it USUALLY has sinful ADJECTIVES modifying it. You pointed this out above. Here is just another of many examples outside the Bible. “If a man hath fallen before the passion of a wicked desire and become enslaved by it …” (Testament of Joseph 7:8). The modifier is key. Pseudo-Phocylides 1:59 explains, “Let passions be temperate, neither great nor overwhelming.” Good advice I would think. Thinking here about 1 Cor 7:9, Paul is not saying that the passion is “evil” but that the passion in the context of not being married leads to evil actions. His prescription is not to become an ascetic and live on a pole in a desert forsaking female companionship, but to marry, so that this passion can be fulfilled in its good context. The passion itself is not evil.

    Finally, the word is actually used positively by people like Josephus. “When his [Joseph’s] passion to him [Benjamin being alive] made him shed tears, he retired, desiring he might not be seen in that plight by his brethren” (Ant 2:123); or “Joseph, as overcome now with his passions, and no longer able to impersonate an angry man, commanded all that were present to depart, that he might make himself known to his brethren when they were alone”(Ant 2:160). In both instances, Josephus is targuming (it seems to me) the story of Joseph. This is clearly not “utterly contradictory to anything good.” He obviously felt that Joseph’s passion was not needing of repentance.

    The word is used literally thousands and thousands of times in the ancient literature. Obviously, this could go on all day. I just find it odd that three or four uses in the NT — all modified and in a context, combined with a very select historical use of the word — certain Puritans from 300 years ago, would be something that would evoke such a strong response (“maybe you need to repent”). It seems clear to me that when the word is actually surveyed fully, that kind of a conclusion is overstating it quite a bit.

    Like you, I certainly get the point about certain contemporaries completely missing the boat. I actually have a cassette tape of Greg Boyd preaching a “sermon” called “Passion,” where he basically tells everyone to get “fired up for Jesus” and then plays a drum solo for 15 minutes at the end. Clearly Dr. Renihan’s limited study is an important entry into helping people think better about passion. Today, it is clear that many do not. I’m just not sure it is fair and balanced enough.

  2. Jeffery Smith

    I am surprised that Dr. Renihen allowed that 2008 blog to be republished in light of BG’s earlier response to it back then. I wonder if he did or if RBF republished it without his knowledge? My past impression has been that Dr. R is reluctant to get entangled in blog debates. I greatly appreciate Dr. Renihan and Dr. Gonzales, Both are men of God and men of exceptional learning. Both are lovers of our common confessional heritage. I trust they remember that ultimately we are on the same side and ultiimately our great enemy is Satan and sin and preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is an essential However, I do believe that Dr. Renihan’s article warranted a strong rejoinder for the reasons that Dr. Gonzales mentioned i.e. “I fear that Dr. Renihan’s post will unfortunately bias the linguistically naïve to distrust otherwise sound preaching and teaching that speaks of things like, say, God’s Passion for His Own Glory.12 Is this a kind of backhanded polemic against the teaching of some “New Calvinists” like John Piper who employ the terms “passion” or “passionate” in a positive sense? If so, this kind of oversimplified polemic needs to stop.”

    I agree with Dr. G that this kind of polemic needs to stop!! .

    I can sympathize with becoming a bit weary of the overuse of any term, including “passion, passionate” etc…The same could be said for “confession, confessional..etc..” or “covenant, covenantal” etc…” Sometimes terms are so constantly and almostly mindlessly brought in to almost every discussion or issue that it can be a bit irritating at times. It is possible to be passionate about being passionate (and perhaps that has become a danger with some) rather than actually being passionate about Christ and God’s glory. However, I agree with Dr. Gonzales that Dr. Renihan’s polemic is off the mark. May God grant that both men, and all of us, may learn from one another in a gracious spirit of cut and thrust.

    • drgonz985

      Dear Pastor Smith,

      Thanks for your remarks and reminder that Dr Renihan and I are on the same side. I wholeheartedly agree! And I hope that my rejoinder will be accepted as a friendly caveat. As I indicate toward the end of my article, I suspect that he is mainly concerned with some of the shallow emotionalism that’s promoted in some circles today. I’m concerned about that too. Yet I think there’s a better way to oppose spurious religious affections or passions than placing strictures on terms that may legitimately be used in positive ways.

      Grace and peace!

  3. Thank you Dr. G. I’d argue that we’re more likely to confuse our hearers when we hold onto old definitions when most others (including most in our congregations) have moved on from them. For instance, most folks would find it confusing if I described someone as “awful” because he is worthy of respect, or if I insisted on describing something as “terrific” because it moved me to great terror or fear. Prescriptivism of this sort doesn’t often lead to clearer communication. So if the goal is to preserve an older form the language, I guess it makes sense to hold onto antiquated meanings. But if my goal as a preacher is to strip away unnecessary stumbling blocks to understanding, then I’d say I have a responsibility to roll with language change in an effort to clearly communicate the Gospel.

    • drgonz985


      Thanks for your comments. Your examples of English words that have changed in meaning are helpful. And your point about the importance of employing language in a way that conforms to contemporary usage so that we don’t cloud the gospel but actually make it more clear and accessible to the people we’re trying to reach is vital.

      Grace and peace!

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