The topic of the “immutability” of God has gone through various adjustments and disputations in these last 20 years in the church. In the past, older commentators seemed to close their theological eyes to such difficult passages (God “repented,” “relented,” “changed His mind”) by relegating it to the category of “anthropomorphism.” When something is anthropomorphic, it means that the Bible stoops down to convey a clear message to humanity using human terms. By adopting this response, what interpreters are saying is: this can’t be God, because my decretal God could never think twice about changing His mind–He only has a plan A. However, what would you say if I told you God has a plan A,B,C, and sometimes even D? If you do not believe that is the case, think of how many times He could have destroyed us because of our miserable sins. I am here referring to the covenantal sense. It would be theologically dangerous to assert that God’s eternal plans can be changed or altered on the basis of human actions. But through the lenses of covenant, we see that God is willing to change His judgment (Nineveh , as an example) on the basis of covenant fidelity from His people. In His kindness, benevolence, He relented from doing so. In fact, relenting is part of His gracious character. If He were not a relenting God we would be doomed.
In Exodus 32:12, 14 and 1 Samuel 15:29 and Jonah 3:10, we find multiple examples of this reality. On the condition (see also Exodus 19) that God’s people maintained and kept themselves loyal to their covenant promises, God would give them a great Land–flowing with milk and honey. If they break the covenant promise, God would then punish them accordingly.
Exodus 32 is a marvelous example of this human imploring by Moses. God threatens, but then relents. In fact, this is a clear pattern throughout Scriptures. God threatens, so that,–as Greg Bahnsen would say–there would be ethical readjustments in people’s behavior. If God never threatened, there would be no change. It is through His threatening, that people renew their covenants with God and nations repent of their sins. This is why in times of great natural disasters in early American history, the presidents called for a day of repentance and humiliation.
This is where Federal Vision theology makes Reformed Theology plausible and Biblical. Our beloved Confession (and I mean it when I say this) focuses largely on God’s decretal plans; that is, from before the foundations of the world. The decretal plans of God are unalterable, unchangeable, and immutable. Am I clear? However, what the Confession does NOT place much emphases is on the Covenantal plans of God. By this I mean, the earthly, tangible, physical manifestation of God’s plans. When we speak of God as a personal God, we are referring to this covenantal relationship between God and His people. To make this even clearer: God’s decretal plans work harmoniously with His Covenantal plans. However, His covenantal plans are different than His decretal plan. For instance, through my repentance I can personally communicate my sins to God, without expecting that God is wholly other, but rather expecting that He is wholly near; knowing that He hears my repentance and acts based on my repentance (If you love me keep my commandments).
The secret things (decretal plans) belong to Him alone. It is not for us to speculate or assume; but everything else is revealed to us and our children. This is where we should concern ourselves: with our response to God and to others.
Federal Vision theology has restored this Biblical imperative. Let us petition to our God for He listens to us and acts accordingly to our responses and His holy character.