Torrance: Evangelical Significance of the Homoousion
In the last several posts, we have considered the importance of the Nicene homoousion as it relates to epistemology. In plainer language, we have examined the importance of the creedal assertion that Jesus Christ is "of one being with the Father" (homoousios to Patri) in regard to the knowledge of God. We saw that Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is the definitive self-revelation of God. All human attempts to arrive at knowledge of God apart from, or behind the back of Jesus, ultimately fall short in the light of God's self-disclosure in Christ. In the present post, we will consider the evangelical significance of the homoousion; that is, we will examine the significance of the consubstantial Father-Son relation for human salvation. In addition, we will consider the vital pastoral implications of the oneness in being between Jesus and God. The material contained in this post is among the most important ever published on this blog. The material you are about to read is the heart of the hopeful, uplifting theology of T.F. Torrance. The ideas discussed below are what compelled me to learn more about his inspiring theology. The Evangelical Significance of the Homoousion Not only is the Nicene homoousion epistemologically vital to our understanding of the nature of God; there are important soteriological (salvific) considerations to the consubstantial Father-Son relation. To be sure, the Nicene homoousion did not arise from abstract, detached metaphysical arguments about the nature of a distant and impersonal deity. Rather, the fathers understood that the theological debates of their time concerned the foundational message of the Gospel: "for us and for our salvation" (this phrase is from the Nicene Creed). In their debates with the Arians, nothing less than the evangelical message of human salvation was at stake. For Torrance, the soteriological implications of the consubstantial Father-Son relation, that is, the "evangelical significance of thehomoousion," can be better understood by posing a vitally important question: "What would be implied if there were no oneness of being between Jesus Christ and God the Father?" Comment: What Torrance is asking is this: What would it mean if Jesus is not God?
"What kind of God would we have. Jesus could not give us "inside" information about the nature of God. and that his love has stopped short of becoming one with us? It would surely mean that there is no ontological. on the contrary. The integrity of the Gospel. the Gospel would lack any 'realist' (i. for Jesus would not be "of one being with the Father. 1988a:132-134). Torrance (1988a:134) asks.. as Arius declared. therefore. something that rather mocks us. if Jesus Christ were not the self-revelation or self-communication of God. occurring in space-time history) foundation in the self-revelation and selfcommunication of God in Jesus Christ. can mediate authentic knowledge of God. hence. if God were not inherently and eternally in his own being what the Gospel tells us he is in Jesus Christ?" He poignantly answers: Would "God" then not be someone who does not care to reveal himself to us? Would it not mean that God has not condescended to impart himself to us in Jesus Christ.As Torrance rightly argues. depends on the unity of being and act between Jesus Christ and the Father." Consequently. What if Jesus is merely a less than fully divine "creature" (created being) as the Arians argued (or as the Jehovah's Witnesses and other cults argue)? Jesus would then be "external" to God (as are all created things). Comment: Torrance is asking.
. for while God is said to manifest his love to us in Jesus. connection between the love of Jesus and the love of God ‒ in fact there would be no revelation of the love of God but. Hence we would be left completely in the dark about God." however. Thehomoousion asserts the unity of the "I am" of the Father (Ex 3:14) and the "I am" of Jesus Christ (Jn 11:25." We would be left "in the dark" about God and all our talk about God would be little more than "mythology" (rather than "theology"). if Jesus Christ were not homoousios to Patri. the Church would be left to pass off as "revelation" not something received from beyond itself but merely a "mythological" fantasy projected from a centre in human consciousness (Torrance. there would be no identity between God and the content of his revelation and no access for mankind to the Father through the Son and in the Spirit. exalted. If the Nicene homoousion were not true. he is not actually that love in himself. "If what God is in himself and what he is in the Lord Jesus Christ were not the same. then Jesus would remain "external" to God and altogether different from him. but rather created out of nothing.e. God would remain utterly unknowable. then. and therefore no epistemological. thus. for no "creature.
forgiving. Because there is an unbroken homoousial relationship between the Father and the Son. In addition to the unity of being between the Father and Son. 5). then the "bottom falls out" of the Gospel. 125). 1988a:137. The pastoral implications are enormous (see below). "My Father works hitherto and I work" (Jn 5:17). what the Son does. so that we may draw near to him through his reconciling and saving activity toward us. but only the God revealed in the compassionate eyes of our loving Saviour. for the incarnate Son of God is the "place" where we may know the Father as he is in himself. as evidenced by Jesus' words. in accordance with his divine nature. and. unknown" God hidden behind the back of Jesus.14:6. the Father does. 1988a:135. Again. so that the work of the Father cannot be divided or separated from the work of the Son. The homoousion implies that the Father and Son are one in agency as well as being. The saving acts of Jesus described in the
. The Nicene homoousion means that Jesus and the Father are one in both being and act (agency). and redeeming. "The homoousion asserts that Godis eternally in himself what he is in Jesus Christ. 124. the Son does. but merely the work of a godly man (as in much liberal theology). another vital aspect of the evangelical significance of thehomoousion is the all-important issue of the unity of agency. the acts of Jesus are the acts of God. Torrance asks: "What would be implied if there were no oneness in act between the incarnate Son and God the Father?" Torrance asserts that the Nicene homoousios to Patri implies not only a oneness in 'being' between the Father and Son but also a oneness in 'act'. 15:1. therefore. 138)." as Torrance argues. The evangelical significance of the homoousion (that is. "On the other hand. As Torrance argues. If what Christ has done for us is not the work of God. then he constitutes in being and act in his incarnate presence or saving economy the creative selfgiving of God to mankind" (Torrance. thus. If the actions of Jesus are not inherently the acts of God. then he does not embody in his incarnate constitution the saving grace of God and. "if Jesus Christ cannot be divided in being and act from God the Father. but only he who is made known to us in Jesus Christ" (Torrance. All the redemptive activity of Jesus arises from his oneness in being with the Father. that there is no dark unknown God behind the back of Jesus Christ. the significance of the Nicene homoousion for reconciliation) becomes clear as it bears upon the saving acts of Jesus in healing. Comment: The acts of Jesus are the very acts of God. Comment: We may take great assurance in knowing there is no "dark. is incapable of truly divine activity. 18. What the Father does. 1996a:17.
God is not different in himself from what he is in the activity of his saving and redeeming love as expressed in Jesus Christ (Torrance. 1986:303. for what would be the value of a word of forgiveness from Jesus to a sinner if he. they amount to nothing more than the words and activity of a moral teacher of note and leave the Gospel empty of any divine reality or validity.Gospel are imbued with a divine finality and validity. Rom 8:31ff]. then his word of forgiveness lacks divine authority and becomes merely the empty word of one creature to another (Torrance. were merely a creature (created ex nihilo) and related to the Father in only an external way? If the words and acts of Jesus are not backed up by the being and reality of God. 1988a:8. Torrance (1996a:5) expresses his pastor's heart: It is in the Cross of Christ that the utterly astonishing nature of the love that God is has been fully disclosed. Pastoral Implications The Nicene homoousion asserts an identity between the saving acts of Jesus and the reality of God. inscrutable deity behind the cross of Christ. "What God is toward us in his revealing and saving acts in the Gospel he is in himself in his own eternal Being as God.
." If this is not so. 58. 304. 1996a:21). There is no other God than the God who has shown himself in the face of Jesus Christ. In short. 1992:57. in fact. as the Nicene fathers understood. 54. is really to know God as he is in himself in his eternal Being as God and in the transcendent Love that God is. and to know him as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. 1994:53. In regard to the transcendent love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. for they are nothing less than the acts of God "for us and our salvation. 142. for in refusing to spare his own Son whom he delivered up for us all. for whoever has seen Christ has seen the Father. As Torrance (1996a:18) rightly argues: [T]o know God in Jesus Christ. As Torrance frequently notes. the very same God who has loved us to the uttermost in the incarnate Son and the gift of the Spirit (Torrance. thus. there is no dark. 1990:176). revealing and saving presence in Christ. God has revealed that he loves us more than he loves himself [ cf. the Gospel is devoid of redemptive content. He is in himself not other than what he is toward us in his loving. 1988a:141." As Torrance argues. 1996a:5). if Jesus Christ is detached from God.
arbitrary Deity whom they inevitably think of with terror for their guilty conscience makes them paint harsh angry streaks upon his face. 1980:147. 1994:55. 1999:16). As Torrance (1992:59) asks.e. dying soldier who asked. 1996a:9. with the ultimate Being of God. As Torrance (1992:59. arbitrary deity hidden behind the back of Jesus. . . "before whom in our guilty conscience as sinners we cannot but quake and shiver in our souls" (Torrance. Torrance traces the "theological schizophrenia" arising from the perceived split (i. see my posts. Any disjunction between the being of Jesus and the being of God disrupts the message of grace contained in the Gospel and introduces anxiety into the hearts of many Christians. 1994:56. rather. "dualism") between the loving Son and the "unknown" Father to the medieval habit of developing first a doctrine of the one God (De Deo Uno) derived by reason (natural theology) followed by a comparatively unimportant doctrine of the Triune God (De Deo Trino) based on faith (revealed theology) (Torrance. "Tommy A. 1992:60).There are important pastoral considerations in connection to the evangelical significance of the homoousion. 1992:59. cf. On the other hand. when the perfect love of God embodied in him casts out all fear" (Torrance. inscrutable. 60) observes: Fearful anxiety arises in the human heart when people cannot connect Jesus . and the Western Split" (March. "Is God really like Jesus?" Such troubling questions. 2009). great comfort and assurance arise "when the face of Jesus is identical with the face of God . This is particularly true in regard to the love of God. 2009). cf. for then the ultimate Being of God can be to them only a dark. . for God is love?" If Jesus Christ is not God become man. 60. who fear there may be a dark. usually arising in moments of crisis and distress. inscrutable. then God has not loved us to the uttermost. The dualist split between faith and reason resulting from the bifurcation in the western doctrine of God has serious pastoral implications. Comment: For more on the insidious dualism in the Western doctrine of God. reflect the insidious damage done to the faith of believers by the "dualist habits of thought" that drive a wedge between the transcendent Father and the incarnate Son (Torrance. 148. and "How to Make a Western OmeletGod" (April. et al. . 167. his love has stopped short of becoming one of us in the incarnation for us and our salvation. "Where would we be if the bond between the love of Jesus and the love of God were cut.. 56). 1985:166. Torrance describes his experience as a chaplain on the battlefield when he held in his arms a young. which would be the case if there were no oneness of being between them. 10). In the preaching and
There is great comfort in knowing that our final destiny lies in the hands of the one who cried from the cross on behalf of his tormentors. forgive them. et al." leaving us to face at the end an unknown deity who bears no relationship to our Saviour. Even in the final judgment God the Father and the incarnate Son are perfectly one in being and agency. see my article. he could not "go bail for our future. Comment: For more on this subject. 1999:15). The judgment of Jesus and the judgment of God are one and the same. for the hands of Jesus and the hands of God are the same (Torrance (1999:17). "the voice of divine forgiveness and the voice of divine judgment are one and the same" (Torrance." in the right-hand column of this page under "Articles." In summary. 1994:56). for.ministry of the Gospel. and any disjunction between God and his saving activity through Christ and in the Spirit could only mean that in the last analysis salvation is without divine validity. who defines God for us and does so in a way that calls into question all alien presuppositions about God arising from the "insidious effect of dualism" on both our theology and our pastoral care (Torrance. 192) succinctly captures both the epistemological and the evangelical significance of thehomoousion as follows: Any disjunction between God and his self-revelation through Christ and in the Spirit could only mean that in the last analysis revelation is empty of divine reality. The believer may find assurance in Torrance's connection between Jesus. Torrance (1988a:8. "The Judge Judged in Our Place. "And what about the ultimate destiny of mankind.
. "Father. He asks. for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34). therefore. the day when the Lord Jesus Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead?" If Jesus Christ were merely a created intermediary between God and man. the most important consideration is to bring believers face-to-face with God in Jesus Christ. compelling words. for it asserts that there is no interval or gap of any kind between Jesus Christ and God the judge of all the earth. the compassionate Saviour." As Torrance argues: Quite clearly the homoousion makes an immense difference to our understanding of the divine judgment. for it is the incarnate Son alone. 143) also notes the evangelical significance of the homoousion in terms of judgment. Torrance (1990:191. and Jesus the Judge into whose hands all judgment has been given (Jn 5:22). for the final judgement would be a judgment "apart from and without respect to Jesus Christ and his forgiving love and atoning sacrifice. who is one in being and agency with the Father. 142. in Torrance's trenchant.
T.Torrance. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 1992. et al. T. T. 1990. 144 pp.F. 2001). the Gospel account of the mediation of revelation and reconciliation would not be true if there is no oneness in being between Jesus and God. in Jesus Christ. OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers. There is great comfort and peace in realising that the pulsing.Torrance. and will do in Jesus" (Torrance.F. T. Torrance. who is "of one being with the Father. Preaching Christ Today: The Gospel and Scientific Thinking. 1996a. in loving us in the gift of his dear Son.Torrance. ***** ReferencesTorrance. 256pp.F. (rev. Yet.Torrance.Torrance. 1988a. the epistemological significance of the homoousion is that. the acts of very God for us and our salvation. Stein). does do.Torrance. pp. 1980." God loves us with the very Love which he is (Torrance (1996a:5). 1985. The Legacy of Karl Barth. saving acts of Jesus are. We may rest in the assurance that "God does not and will not act toward any one in life or death in any other way than he has done.To be sure. for the heart of the Father is not different from the heart of the incarnate Son. 1986a. 260pp. et al. One Being Three Persons. 1999:16). (New Forward by T. Dawson & J. 345pp. 2001). The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church.F. The Mediation of Christ. The Ground and Grammar of Theology: Consonance Between Theology and Science. 1999. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. T. Scottish Journal of Theology. Eugene. for. T. 220pp.Torrance. Reality and Scientific Theology.F. The Christian Doctrine of God.
.F. vol 39. T. compassionate heart of Jesus is a window into the innermost heart of God.Torrance. 150pp. Karl Barth: Biblical and Evangelical Theologian. (Preface to new edition by T. A Passion for Christ: The Vision That IgniteMinistry (edited by G. in fact. 256pp. 289-308. Grand Rapids. Edinburgh: Handel Press.F.F.F. T. while the evangelical significance of the homoousion is the assuring good news that the loving. 1994. T.London: T & T Clark. 1pp.F.F. London: T & T Clark. MI: Eerdmans. ed.) Helmers & Howard Publishers. Torrance. God has revealed himself as he is.