In Robert Reymond's Systematic theology he says it is not legitimate to classify the attributes of God as Communicable/Incommunicable. This is what he says about Berkhof's use of said classification,
"Berkhof, while employing the incommunicable/communicable classification himself... acknowledges that "it was felt from the very beginning, however that the distinction was untenable without further qualification." He goes on to say, in order to justify his continuing use of the distinction that
"If we... remember that none of the attributes of God are incommunicable in the sense that there is no trace of them in man, and none of them are communicable in the sense that they are found in man as they are found in God, we see no reason why we should depart from the old division which has become so familiar in Reformed theology." "
Reymond then says this, "But these very words give the reason for not using this classification and illustrate the qualifications that have to be introduced into every classification the theologian might select."
With the above portion of his book as the defense of Reymond's position, I want to go through this position systematically, evaluate, and critque it.
Reymond's argument, in short, is this.
A. A classification is not usable/meaningful if it needs added qualification.
B. Berkhof, who supports the Communicable/Incommunicable classification, says it needs qualification.
A+B= C.Therefore the Communicable/Incommunicable classification in not usable/meaningful.
Now presumably, many of those who use this classification would attack this position by concentrating on premise B. They might claim (as Berkhof seems to) that despite qualifications needing to be added it is still a useful classification. This is not the case. If scripture makes no distinction between "communicable" and "incommunicable" attributes, and man adds the "necessary' qualifications, it is an arbitrary system of classification. It would be as meaningless as classifying the Armor of God based on which article of armor each is represented by, and then arbitrarily labeling them.
A. Clothing: The belt of truth and the sandals of the preparation of the gospel of peace.
B. Weapons: The shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit.
C. Armor: The helmet of salvation and breastplate of righteousness.
A. Regards Salvation
B. Regards Perserverance
C. Regards Sanctification
As you can tell, when classification is used that uses arbitrary qualifications, it is not useful/meaningful.
The same is true of the attributes of God, if there is not a basis for the system of classification in scripture, it is not legitimate.
Now that we have addressed and agreed with Reymond's first premise, let us continue to his second.
Reymond claims that the Communicable/Incommunicable system of classification needs qualification. His proof? Berkhof 'admits' it. "it was felt from the very beginning, however that the distinction was untenable without further qualification." for " none of the attributes of God are incommunicable in the sense that there is no trace of them in man, and none of them are communicable in the sense that they are found in man as they are found in God."
This quote is entirely misleading. Man was made in the image of God, and as such he was made holy, just, and righteous. He was not made in anyway eternal or omnipotent. Now after the fall man is still called to be holy (and enabled to be by the blood of Christ.).
Leviticus 19:2 "Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: 'Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.'" Similarly the Lord says, in Leviticus 22:32 Do not profane my holy name. I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am the LORD, who makes you holy.
So we see the obvious communicability of this attribute. If we claim as Reymond does, that we should make no distinction between communicability of holiness, and communicability of omnipresence, then when the Lord calls us to holiness, he is not calling us to something which is possible. In fact if Reymond is correct we could just as well strive for omniscience as holiness!
Reymond's error is heightened and made more obvious when he quotes Donald Macleod,
"None of these [classifications] has much to commend it and certainly none is to be regarded as authoritative. Scripture nowhere attempts a classification... All the suggested classifications are artificial and misleading, not least that which has been most favoured by Reformed theologians - the division into communicable and incommunicable attributes. The problem here is that these qualities we refer to as incommunicable adhere unalterably to those we refer to as communicable. For example, God is "infinite, eternal and unchangeable" (The Shorter Catechism, Answer 4) and these are deemed to be incommunicable properties: and God is merciful, which is deemed to be a communicable property. But the mercy itself is "infinite, eternal and unchangeable" and as such is incommunicable. The same is true of all the other so-called communicable attributes such as the love, righteousness and faithfulness of God. One the other hand, to speak of omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence as incommunicable is equally unsatisfactory. If we remove the prefix omni we are left simply with power, knowledge and presence, all of which have analogies in our own human existence."
If Macleod is correct, then when we are commanded to be Holy, we are also commanded to be God! For Macleod states clearly, "The problem here is that these qualities (of God) we refer to as incommunicable adhere unalterably to those we refer to as communicable." (and vise versa) Therefore according to that argumentation, mercy is omniscient or else it ceases to be mercy, and because man cannot be omniscient, man cannot be merciful.
While Reymond has not carried this belief to it's logical conclusion, it remains a dangerous trap. If carried to the logical end, holiness, even in heaven would be impossible for it would be as incommunicable as Omniscience.
In conclusion, man was made sinless, holy, and righteous. He was not made eternal, omnipresent, or unchangeable nor is he commanded to be such. In addition, our God does not command impossibilities. His command for holiness, is also fulfilled by Him in that He is "the LORD, who makes you holy." That is as communicable as you can get. Therefore, finally we find the answer to our question. Is it legitimate to classify the attributes of God as communicable/incommunicable? It is not only legitimate it is necessary!