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The Torrances and the Logic of Reformation


(American Academy of Religion, November 2006)
The Torrances and the Logic of the Reformation

Victor A. Shepherd


When I was asked to speak at the 2006 meeting of the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship, I indicated that I would speak on “The Torrances and the Logic of the Reformation.”   To this I planned to speak on David Torrance and his appreciation of the Israel, both biblical and contemporary, with respect to God’s covenant faithfulness, comparing his appreciation of Israel to that of the Reformers, especially Calvin; on James B. Torrance and seeming deficits in his theology with respect to faith, contrasting his under-attention here to the biblically-delineated understanding of faith found in the Reformers; on Thomas F. Torrance, with respect to extending to a consideration of the homoousion of the Spirit the theological trenchancy that Torrance displayed concerning the homoousion of the Son.

I began with TFT, only to find that with him alone I had exceeded the time-limit assigned me by the Theological Fellowship. For this reason I shall not speak on David or James B., but rather restrict myself to TF.


Thomas Torrance has become notorious for his insistence on the homoousion as essential to any sound doctrine of the Trinity, arguing that the homoousion safeguards the Incarnation against Arianism and any of the ingredients of Arianism (e.g., Docetism and Ebionitism), even as it safeguards the Trinity against any form of sabellianism or modalism, and the doctrine of God against any form of unitarianism or polytheism.  While TFT’s insistence can be found somewhere, however fleetingly addressed or alluded to, in virtually everything he has published (not least his sermons), his major discussions of the homoousion appear in three overlapping books on the Trinity; namely, The Trinitarian Faith (1988), Trinitarian Perspectives (1994), and The Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons (1996).

Unrelentingly TFT has shown that without the homoousion of the Father and the Son the gospel is forfeited.         While the difference between homoousion and homoiousion is iota subscript, the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet, this difference, I tell my students, is precisely the difference between asking someone to run your business and asking her to ruin it; namely, the smallest letter of the English alphabet, with catastrophic outcomes in the balance.  The homoousion estops any suggestion that the being of the Son is like the being of the Father, however elevated the degree of likeness.  As TFT has made plain over and over, it matters not whether the being of Father and that of the Son are a lot like or only a little bit like. No degree of similarity can substitute for identity.   Absent identity of being of the Father and the Son, the gospel disappears, leaving behind no more than religious mythology (the “gospel”, so-called, is now no more than tales humans spin in order to try to make sense of their existence) or no more than a human construct (here we could think of the constructs pertaining to the never-ending “quest for the historical Jesus”) that leaves us doing what the apostles never urge us to do; namely, infer a deity lying behind Jesus as the latter is reduced to no more than a “window” by which we may apprehend the deity that he himself is not.         In other words, while all docetic Christologies leave us mythologizing in the pursuit of truth, all ebionite Christologies leave us deducing truth, when the gospel announces itself as truth, reality, since it is God’s incursion, self-bestowal, self-communication, and self-interpretation. Therein the gospel eclipses all mythological speculation and all inferential processes. (Incidentally, with respect to the lattermost, the process whereby the nature of God is inferred from a Son who isn’t quite God, present-day Ebionites – e.g., the questers of the historical Jesus seem not to understand that the characteristic of the biblical God, the Holy One of Israel, is that he speaks.   When he speaks, those addressed know that they have been addressed by an “other”, by the Other; they know what has been spoken and therein know as well who has spoken. According to the logic of scripture, any deity who is inferred or deduced or concluded is ipso facto an idol.   In other words, the quest for the historical Jesus appears to be able to yield no more than an idol.)

All that TFT has brought forward concerning the homoousion of the Father and the Son is pregnant concerning the homoousion of the Son and the Spirit.   TFT has admitted this in many places, not least in his most recent work, The Christian Doctrine of God. Here, for instance, he has written, “…we must think of our being in the Spirit in the incarnate economy of God’s saving acts in Jesus Christ as deriving from and grounded objectively in the homoousial Communion of the eternal Spirit and the eternal Son in the Holy Trinity.” (149) Plainly the homoousion of the Spirit is as crucial as that of the Son in any Christian understanding of God and the participation in God’s own life that constitutes the salvation of God’s people.  In the same way TFT has recognized the manner in which the homoousion of the Spirit protects God’s infinite transcendence against a human encroachment wherein it is assumed that because such terms as “father” or “generate” are used of God, humans can co-opt God or domesticate God or even comprehend God.  In this vein TFT writes, “Let us recall further here the fact that classical Christian theology placed the homoousion of the Spirit alongside the homoousion of the incarnate Son. While the homoousion of the Son expresses the truth that what God is in Christ Jesus he is antecedently and eternally in himself, the bracketing of it with the homoousion of the Spirit has the effect of excising from our thought any projection into God of the creaturely, corporeal or sexist ingredients in the terms ‘father’, ‘son’, ‘offspring’ or ‘generation’ into God. (158) Educing yet another implication of the homoousion of the Spirit, TFT writes, “If the ontological bond between the historical Jesus Christ and God the Father is cut, then the substance falls out of the Gospel, but if the ontological bond between the Holy Spirit and incarnate Son of the Father is cut, so that there is a discrepancy between the economic Trinity and the ontological Trinity, or between the saving activity of the love of God in history and the transcendent activity of God in eternity, then we human beings are left without hope and can have no part or lot in God’s saving activity in Jesus Christ.” (197)   While TFT and others have given no little attention to homoousion with respect to the Son, little work appears to have been done with respect to homoousion of the Spirit. The result is that while the deity of the Son has been highlighted in such a way as to forestall Christological speculation, projection and non-biblical deduction, neglect of the deity of the Spirit has allowed a non-Christologically normed, non-Christologically formed, non-Christologically informed notion of the Spirit to arise. It should be no surprise, then, that the Spirit is invoked to legitimize pantheism, panentheism, the salvific significance of “the world’s great religions” (even as greatness seems to be defined by no more than the number of adherents), the salvific significance of religiosity-in-general (as much of the current preoccupation with “spirituality” suggests), or the salvific significance of irreligion (even though such thinkers as Calvin would deny that humans can ever be irreligious, the fallen human heart and mind remaining a ceaseless factory of idolatry).

The question, then, “Do the Son and the Spirit possess the same nature or merely similar natures?” is no less urgent than the question concerning the Son and the Father. TFT has alluded to this briefly in several places of The Doctrine of God (e.g., pp. 61, 72, 148.) I wish now to propose several considerations concerning the homoousion of Son and Spirit that parallel, where possible, the points that TFT has made passim concerning the cruciality of the homoousion of Son and Father.



[1] If Son and Spirit are only ontically similar, then there is no protection against that rationalism which appears to be the Achilles heel of the Reformed tradition. The Christo-logic of the Reformation (which Christo-logic, we should note, always entailed a Pneumato-logic) maintained that as Jesus Christ surges over people in the power of the Spirit, this one action of God forges within them the capacity to understand God’s incursion, the categories by which to understand it, and the vocabulary with which to speak of it.  Reformation understanding of the nature of God’s action upon people rendered unnecessary, even counterproductive, any rationalist precursor that qualified the beneficiaries of God’s salvific action to understand it and speak of it. Herein the classic Sixteenth Century Reformers differed from what Calvin called the “schoolmen” and their rationalist apparatus.   Quickly, however, the logic of the Reformation gave way to the logic of Protestant Scholasticism. Aristotelianism returned and occupied the place in Reformed theology that it had occupied in late Mediaeaval scholasticism.   We need only recall the aftermath of Calvin wherein post-Calvinism, Arminianism, and Roman Catholic thought appeared incommensurable on the surface while more profoundly all were aspects of an Aristotelian commonality. While Arminius, for instance, was execrated by post-Calvin Calvinists, few of the latter appeared to understand that the most frequently quoted thinker in Arminius remains Thomas Aquinas, whose Aristotelianism is never in doubt. Post-Calvin scholasticism recrudesced in several manifestations: Roman Catholic and predestinarian (de Baie and Banez), Roman Catholic and non-predestinarian (Suarez and Molina), Protestant and predestinarian (Beza, Gomarus and Junius), Protestant and non-predestinarian (Arminius, Episcopus and Limborch). Regardless of apparent divergences or even apparent theological incommensurables, all of the aforementioned presupposed an Aristotelian substratum in their theology.

As the classic Sixteenth Century Reformers were aware, however, the logic of the substratum alters the logic of the stratum. Despite the theological differences between Arminius and his Calvinist neighbours (e.g., the doctrine of election and the reading of Romans 7), they were one in the foundation of their thought.

Rationalism remains the “default” position of the Reformed tradition (although not of the Reformed tradition only). Rationalism in some form arises when the homoousion of the Spirit is overlooked. While Jesus Christ is acknowledged to be the Son Incarnate without qualification with the result that the nature of the Father isn’t inferred or deduced from scripture’s portrait of the Son, now to be inferred is the effectual presence of this deity. Now effectual presence is what’s to be humanly supplied.  Now a deity lying behind Jesus of Nazareth isn’t concluded; rather, an activity of a spirit lying behind Jesus is concluded, which activity isn’t one with the activity of the Son, and therefore which spirit is less than holy. At this point speculation or mythologizing pertains not to the Son (as happened in the Arian controversy) but instead pertains to the Spirit.  Here there is an “orthodox” acknowledgement of the Son (acknowledgement but not understanding, since a proper understanding of the Son entails the homoousion of the Spirit) that is accompanied by a human projection of the Spirit’s work. Not infrequently one finds in the church an uncompromised acknowledgement of the Son – without qualification or hesitation – even as this acknowledgement is now co-opted for a purpose that diverges from the purpose of scripture. In this situation the Son Incarnate is conscripted to support aspects of liberation theology or feminist theology (or patriarchal theology) or ecological theology or religious pluralism or psycho-spiritual theses that fall short of scripture’s portrayal of the Spirit.

At this point the Spirit is the principle whereby the Incarnate Son is deemed to energize or empower an agenda of transformation where that agenda of transformation isn’t entirely congruent with scripture’s depiction of the definitive, eschatological transformation wrought by the Spirit as the effectual presence of God.  A formally correct acknowledgement of the homoousion of the Son now fuels social or sexual or religious programmes that bear some relation to that “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2nd Peter 3:13) – that is, the acknowledgement of Jesus Christ subserves the correction of what the church rightly pronounces unrighteous – even as, absent the homoousion of the Spirit, what Wesley called “the general tenor” or scripture is truncated. Often church members who resist all such agendas are disdained, subtly or frontally, as lacking theological sophistication when in fact (as TFT never tired of saying, thanks to his reading of Michael Polanyi, and not least the latter’s Personal Knowledge) these “simple” church members know more, vastly more, than they can articulate. In other words, without being able to state it precisely or defend it cogently, in fact that they have “scented” a newer unrighteous that is proffered as the proper redress of what is widely admitted to be an older unrighteousness or injustice. A properly articulated homoousion of the Spirit, needless to say, would strengthen immeasurably those who possess what TFT called a theological “instinct”, however little they are able to articulate it at present.

Where the homoousion of the Spirit isn’t operative, effectiveness in the church’s teaching, preaching, and evangelism are sought elsewhere; not only sought, but found to the detriment of church and world alike.         Frequently my students in Introductory Systematic Theology, rightly zealous for the gospel, protest, “But shouldn’t the church be concerned with converting people, concerned with seeing them converted?” These questions, however, are not identical.  Witness, proclamation, evangelism – this is always the church’s business. Throughout the book of Acts no one comes to faith apart from the mission and ministry of the Christian community.   And in Acts no one comes to faith apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit, that activity of God whereby he alone renders the church’s ministry saintly effective just because he alone can.

Throughout its history the church has shown itself to lack the patience of God as well as an agenda-free grasp of the purpose of God, with the result that the church overreaches itself and attempts to do God’s work in the face of God’s unendurable slowness, even negligence. The result, as the world is aware where frequently the church isn’t aware, is that the church persecutes. Whenever the church upholds the homoousion of the Son but fails to uphold the homoousion of the Spirit, the church turns its unexceptionable recognition of the Son into a weapon that it wields against people whose recalcitrance has imperilled them spiritually, such coercion being able to move them along to a saving confession. The coercion can be physical, social or psychological; but it remains coercion, and it arises through a defective understanding of the relation of the Spirit to the Son, as the vulnerability of the crucified Son is contradicted by the non-vulnerability of a coercive church.

Tragically, pathetically, in the name of its Lord the church advertises its unbelief in its Lord, for plainly its resorting to coercion announces that it doesn’t trust God to do what God insists God alone can do; namely, quicken faith in the sin-ravaged heart by means of the Holy Spirit. Not to put too fine an edge on it, non-recognition of the homoousion of the Spirit issues in a seeming Christological zeal that merely publicizes the church’s atheism. To be sure, in his dispute with Erasmus on the bondage of the will Luther said that apart from Jesus [i.e., apart from the cross] God is indistinguishable from the devil. Luther was aware, without mentioning it in this one instance, that it is only as the Spirit renders us beneficiaries of the cross, only as the Spirit quickens faith in the crucified, do we know the God who is forever distinguished from the devil.

While much has been said about Luther’s theologia crucis and his disavowal of theolgia gloriae, little attention has been paid to the cruciality of the identity of the crucified and the Spirit.  Briefly, a theology of glory occurs whenever it is thought that God can be derived from metaphysical speculation, whenever it is thought that the truth and nature of God can be read off nature or read off the face of history, and whenever the church becomes triumphalistic. Concerning the church’s confusion between its triumphalism and the true triumph of the crucified (triumphant in that he is raised from the dead, as the church correctly notes, but is raised wounded, suffering still, vulnerable yet in the suffering of the world, as the church too often fails to note) enough has already been said.  Concerning the first point of Luther’s theologia crucis, the derivation of God from metaphysical speculation, Luther, eschewing all forms of rationalism (his vehement “faith seizes reason by the throat and strangles the brute” must be kept in mind), was always aware that only that Spirit whose activity is the action of God, and therefore the action of God the Son according to Luther’s conviction, could bring humans to a knowledge of God by means of the crucified. Beneficiaries now of the mercy of the crucified God, they can recognize assorted theologies of glory for what they are.  Apart from Spirit-wrought living faith in the crucified God, however, biblically orthodox theology remains an ideational construct and therein akin to philosophical speculation, from which one must infer or deduce God. The difference in content between biblically orthodox theology and philosophical speculation doesn’t of itself protect the former from an ideational construct whose lack of Holy Spirit renders its “miss” as good as a mile.

In a somewhat “softer” form of rationalism there isn’t a conclusion or inference to be drawn entirely naturalistically; instead the Spirit is said to facilitate illumination.   The Spirit operates at the level of mind, but at the level of mind only without reference to the heart.   Here the truth of God can be known without the knower herself being brought into the orbit of the “new creation”, without the knower herself being rendered a new creature within the new creation.  The Spirit is little more than the influence of a Deistic deity who provides the conditions for a humanly engendered knowledge of God; i.e., there is an outer structure of “grace” (admittedly a soft, dilute “grace” that is less than scripture’s understanding of grace as the living God’s uncompromisable faithfulness to his covenant). The outer structure of “grace” is complemented by an inner content of human possibility and human achievement. The Spirit, then, is the divinely-supplied condition by which human achievement occurs. This notion, of course, is epistemic semi-Pelagianism.

Where such Spirit-facilitated illuminationism is said to operate, “knowing” is closer to the outlook of the Enlightenment than to that of scripture. In scripture, to know God is to participate in the reality of God and therein, thereby, be rendered forever different.   Our knowledge of God is the precisely the difference our engagement with this “Other” has made to us when we meet this “Other” as Person.   Only as the Spirit is admitted to be God is the activity of the Spirit that act of God whereby God renders us participants in God’s own life. Only as the Spirit is God (i.e., homoousially identical with Father and Son) is the activity of the Spirit that act of God whereby the God who knows himself includes us in his self-knowing.


[2] In what follows I aim at tracing item-by-item with respect to the homoousion of the Spirit some of the points that TFT has emphasized with respect to the homoousion of the Son

[a] Whatever we say of the Son we can say of the Spirit except “Son”.   To deny this is to deny the deity of the Spirit, and therefore to deny the eternal Tri-unity of God. To deny the eternal Tri-unity of God is to deny the immanent or ontological Trinity. The result is that there remains only an economic Trinity, an economic Trinity ungrounded in an immanent Trinity. The problems that arise here are legion.   Whereas the non-identity of being between Father and Son means that we can no longer be certain that the “face” of God that we know by revelation is one with the heart of God in God’s innermost, intra-triune life, the parallel non-identity of being between Son and Spirit means that the “face” of God that we seen in the Son might not be one with the act of God whereby the Spirit supposedly brings us to Christ and Christ to us. What, then, is the work of the Spirit? Where might the Spirit be taking us? To what end? And how shall we be able to “discern” or test the spirits if the nature or being of the Holy Spirit is that which is most in question?   Plainly the denial of the homoousion of the Spirit is no less catastrophic than the denial of the homoousion of the Son. (Non-congruence between economic and immanent Trinities for any reason, i.e., whether on account of the Son or the Spirit, lands theology in all the problems Paul Molnar has discussed in his Divine Freedom and the Doctrine of the Trinity and David Lauber in his Descent into Hell.)

[b] TFT earlier pointed out that any detraction from the Son detracts from the Father; i.e., whatever the Father as giver might give, he doesn’t give himself, with the result that giver and gift aren’t identical.  The consequence of this has to be that while God gives, he withholds himself. The apostle’s cry “He didn’t spare his own Son” has the force of “God didn’t spare himself” – and this is now denied.

In the same way detraction from the Spirit detracts from the Son since the gift (the Son) is now willed by the Father yet fails to accomplish the purpose for which the Father gives it even as the Son longs to be given effectually.  (See John 12:27: “Now is my soul troubled.  And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.”   Here the Father grants the Son’s profounder request [profounder, that is, than “If it be possible….”].)  In short, where the homoousion of the Son is upheld but that of the Spirit is denied, giver and gift are one but they remain ineffectual.  God can be said to be alive, even be said to merciful (he spares not his own Son) but ultimately ineffectual in that his Word “goes forth from [his] mouth” but in fact does “return to me empty”, since it did not “accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)         Only as the disobedient sinner is brought to faith by God the Spirit, and rendered a new creature is the purpose of Incarnation and Crucifixion accomplished.

[3] Just as the Father isn’t Father in that he is the Father of believers (therein requiring something creaturely in order to be who he is) but rather is Father in that he is the Father of the Son and is therefore eternally, intrinsically Father, so the homoousion of the Spirit means that God is eternally, intrinsically the ceaseless activity, the “doing”, of the Father loving the Son and the Son reciprocating that love in the bond of the Spirit. In other words, the homoousion of the Spirit is essential if love as “doing”, act (rather than mere attitude) is to remain operative. This truth is freighted concerning Christian discipleship. For instance, Leviticus 19:2 can be defended as the “root” commandment of scripture (in contrast to the “great” commandment): “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”   One the one hand, God’s holiness is his unique Godness and therefore he alone is holy. On the other hand, God’s people are commanded to be holy, the “root” commandment of scripture gathering up all others.  Since God is love eternally in the sense of ceaseless activity or “doing”, God’s people are holy inasmuch as the “root” commandment is seen to be related to the “great” commandment”: we are to love the Lord our God, together with our neighbour. We love God and neighbour alike, however, not through adopting an attitude or assuming a posture; we love God and neighbour by being “doers of the Word” (James 1:22 ). We are not to “love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.” (1st John 3:18)   What’s real is not merely to be apprehended; what’s real (ultimately God and his claim upon us and our concrete obedience in the sphere of his love and in fellowship with him) is to be done. (John 3:21) Love as ceaseless activity expressing one’s nature characterizes God’s people inasmuch as it first characterizes God himself.

[4] The homoousion of the Spirit is a bulwark against all forms of unitarianism.  Absent the Spirit, a unitarianism of the Father arises wherein the God who is infinitely transcendent is one-sidedly “high and lifted up” so as to be inaccessible – and unknowable, since if God were only infinitely transcendent, humans couldn’t even know this much.  Absent the Spirit, a unitarianism of the Son arises wherein Jesus is rendered our “chum”, lending himself to all our agendas, never challenging us or correcting us. Absent the homoousion of the Spirit, a unitarianism of the Spirit arises wherein God is indistinguishable from a subjectivism that has surrendered all appreciation of truth and has elevated religious “inwardness” uncritically.  The homoousion of the Spirit means that the Spirit is Holy Spirit only in conjunction with the Father and the Son.  A profounder grasp of this point would do much to spare the church charismatic distortions that arise from a unitarianism of the Spirit, even as the charismatic dimension of the church has highlighted the frigid unitarianism of the Father and the naturalistic unitarianism of the Son.

Similarly the homoousion of the Spirit is a bulwark against polytheism, for the Spirit isn’t a second deity or a different sort of deity or a subordinate deity. The Holy Spirit is simply God.

And of course the homoousion of the Spirit is a bulwark against dependency on the church.  Earlier it was noted that the Father needs nothing creaturely in order to be Father. In the same way the Spirit, whose activity is related much more closely to the church than to the creation, needs nothing ecclesial in order to be Spirit. (This point is to be noted with respect to those theologies that suggest the Spirit to be tied to the church or to inhere the church or to be anything other than lord of the church.)


[5] In his discussion of the homoousion of Father and Son TFT has highlighted its gospel-significance by asking “What is implied if Father and Son are not of one being?” The same question must be put concerning the homoousion of Son and Spirit: What is implied if this latter truth ceases to remain embedded in the church’s consciousness?

[a] God is utterly unknowable. Arius had said that no creature (e.g., the Son) can mediate knowledge of God.  If the Spirit isn’t God, without qualification, then God isn’t known in the biblical sense of “know”, where knowledge isn’t characteristically the acquisition of information by means of mastery but rather is transformation through engagement with an “other” who is person, and all of this by means of surrender.  If the Spirit isn’t God, our knowledge of God is no more than a matter of “reading off” God from the face of Jesus, not necessarily “advancing” to a God behind a Jesus who is no more than a window to him but nonetheless confusing everyday knowledge as the accumulation of information with that biblical “knowing” which is transmutation.  Human knowledge of God, it must be remembered, is precisely the difference, the transformation, arising in the knower through her self-abandonment to the Person of God.  Where the homoousion of the Spirit is neglected, knowledge of God (so-called) is a one-sided cerebralism or “informationism” where orthodox truths (abstractions by definition) are assimilated even as the heart remains unaltered by the concreteness of that Truth which is reality.

It can reasonably be proffered that an operative denial of the homoousion of the Spirit underlies evangelicalism’s preoccupation with apologetics. Few Christians would object to the heuristic apologetics that helps doubters past those matters that appear to impede people from embracing the gospel (e.g., naturalistic, reductionist arguments against faith, which arguments can readily be exposed as lacking cogency).  Entirely different is the apologetics that establishes, and maintains there needs to be established, the conditions for the possibility of God, then for the possibility of incarnation (for instance), then for the possibility of faith, the actuality of faith, and finally for the assurance of faith.  In its commitment to apologetics has much contemporary evangelicalism tacitly denied the homoousion of the Spirit, assuming that philosophical demonstration can do what the Spirit ought to do but seemingly fails to do?   In the same vein, does the preoccupation with apologetics deny that the integrity (albeit not the structure) of reason is compromised in the Fall? All of this is undercut by the efficacy of that Spirit who is God; specifically God working to bring the human putative knower into the sphere of God’s self-knowing. None of this can be accused of countenancing faith as no more than an exercise in irrationality. Faith reasons as surely as faith trusts. It is, however, to admit that while the structure of reasoning survives the Fall, the integrity of reasoning concerning God and humankind’s relationship to God is compromised by the Fall.   Such compromised integrity can be restored only by means of grace, in faith. In other words, grace/faith restores reason to reason’s integrity.  (Hans Urs von Balthasar’s articulation here is a salutary reminder:

“…the word of God is not of this world and hence can never be discovered in the categories  and accepted patterns of human reason.”(Prayer p. 61)

“I was appointed by God from all eternity to be the recipient of this…eternal

word of love, a word, which, pure grace though it be, is…more rational than

my reason, with the result that this act of obedience in faith is in truth the

most reasonable of acts.” (p. 62)


[b] TFT has pointed out that absent the homoousion of the Son it can’t be held that there is oneness between what the gospel presents as the revelation of God and God himself.   Absent the homoousion of the Spirit it can’t be held that there is oneness between what the gospel presents as the revelation of God and that appropriation without which “revelation” as such hasn’t occurred, since revelation is revelation only if there is a human participant.  Absent the homoousion of the Spirit, “revelation” would be no more than rationalistic ideation or non-rationalistic emotion stimulated by human proximity to a depiction of the Son, however orthodox.  In other words, apart from the homoousion of the Spirit the apostolic portrayal of Jesus Christ becomes the stimulus to concepts and affects to which the Holy Spirit is applied as a means of sanctifying what the apostolic depiction of Jesus Christ arouses naturalistically but doesn’t in truth generate as a concomitant of apprehending Christ as the One who bears and bestows that Spirit who magnifies him. In short, it appears that to overlook the homoousion of the Spirit is to find even scripture, and specifically its depiction of Jesus, advancing a religious paganism within the church.

[c] TFT has stated that absent the homoousion of the Son the gospel can’t be God’s self-bestowal or self-communication; i.e., God may be said to bestow and communicate, but now necessarily something less than, other than, himself – and all of this on account of a deficiency in the Son.  Absent the homoousion of the Spirit the gospel can’t be God’s self-bestowal, God’s self-communication. Here there is a frustration in God in that what God wills in himself and accomplishes in the Son, God can’t effect in us.  Such divine “frustration” leaves the church looking elsewhere for effectiveness.

The Protestant Reformation, aware of the deity of the Spirit, didn’t undervalue the experiential dimension of faith; indeed, the Magisterial Reformers, concerned with the correction and re-articulation to be sure, nonetheless gave far greater place to “the Word in the heart” than they are commonly thought to have done. One need only read Luther, where he speaks of “hearing the voice” together with grasping the doctrine; the bridegroom saying ‘you are mine’, and the bride saying ‘you are mine’; etc., or read Calvin and the latter’s use of “feel” (Calvin’s Institutes and Commentaries abound in “feel” and similar terms as Calvin ever remains a theologian of the heart.) The Reformation’s concern for assurance, the assurance of faith (i.e., the assurance of one’s salvation) is attestation enough.  For this reason the Reformers acknowledged the experiential aspect of crucial biblical texts; e.g., Galatians 3:2 – “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit [an unambiguous reference to an event in their lives whose vividness was undeniable and therefore could serve as the foundation of the point Paul wanted to make with them] by works of the law or by hearing with faith?”   In other words, was the startling vividness of their Spirit-wrought immersion in Christ the result of their appropriating the gospel in faith or the result of having endeavoured to conform themselves to a lifeless code? What they could never deny or forget was the vividness of the Spirit within them.

In light of the normative place of scripture in the thought of the Magisterial Reformers, there is no stepping around, e.g., the force of Paul’s experience: the Damascus Road arrest, subsequent visions and voices and trances.   And then there are his “revelations”.  On the hand he doesn’t preach them, content to preach only Christ crucified. On the other hand, apart from his revelations, he wouldn’t be an apostle at all and therefore would have nothing to say.         The apostle candidly admits the “abundance of revelations” (2nd Cor. 12:1, 7; cf. Gal. 1:12 ; 2:2). They have all left him as one of those who “love our Lord with love undying.” (Eph. 6:24)

In the history of the church Roman Catholics appear to have visions while Protestants do not.  Does a tacit neglect (to say the least) of a homoousion of the Spirit result in large areas of scripture remaining closed to Protestants?         Abraham is the prototype of faith in older and newer testaments.  We are told “…the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision” (Gen15:1). To be sure, the vision was given to convey the word. Still, the vision can’t be discounted. Yet Protestants, rightly Word-oriented, do little with other scriptural depictions of God’s approach and self-impartation.         Why? (Recall Jean Brebeuf, Jesuit missionary to the Huron aboriginal people of Georgian Bay . Just as visions had been crucial in the spiritual formation and vocation of Loyola one hundred years earlier, vision would be no less crucial in the spiritual life of missioner and people, for Jean de Brebeuf was privileged to “see”, one night amidst his comfortable life in France, a flaming cross suspended above the Huron encampment in the New World.         Thereafter he never doubted what he was to do or why.  How is his vision/dream different from mere fantasy or wishful thinking?

Jonathan Edwards spoke much of “Religious Affections”: a felt response to an object grounded in an understanding of the nature of that object. Edwards distanced all such affection from emotion or passion. Emotion presupposes no understanding whatever of anything supposed to have aroused it. Passion, said Edwards, is problematic in that its passivity contradicts the act and event that faith and obedience are; in addition, passion entails loss of self-control, whereas the fruits of the Holy Spirit include self-control. Nonetheless, while religious affection (Edwards’ way of speaking of faith) presupposes an understanding of the nature of God, affection ever remains affective, as Edwards never tired of pointing out in his exploration of the phenomenon of Spirit-wrought faith.)

Similarly John Wesley, in his landmark tract “The Almost Christian”, maintained that unbelievers are characterized by lack of faith in God, while believers are characterized by – faith in God?   By love for God, insists Wesley, even as he immediately goes on to speak of their faith. Wesley can never be read hereby as upholding justification by love.         From the moment of his Aldersgate awakening he never ceased to insist on justification by faith, even as he praised the Book of Common Prayer for insisting on it and faulted Quakerism for neglecting it.  Wesley’s point, rather, is that faith in Christ and love for Christ presupposed and imply each other.  Without love for Christ, faith in Christ degenerates into “beliefism” where the assimilation of doctrine is equated with living engagement with the living Lord.  Without faith in Christ, love for Christ denies the necessity of the atonement and hinges justification on the quality of the believer’s love.

The Pauline corpus is where Protestants customarily look first; certainly where the Magisterial Reformers looked first – even as their descendents, post-Reformation Protestant scholastics, overlooked a major dimension of Paul himself.

What can be vouchsafed to the apostle can be vouchsafed to anyone. The question the church must ask is “How are genuine revelations to be distinguished from religious ‘boilovers’?” In truth, the Spirit-formed, Spirit-informed, Spirit-normed affective or experiential aspect to faith is a matter the church neglects only at is peril, for deficits in the church spawn the sects.

As a pastor (for 36 years) I have come to see that people suffer enormous affective deprivation; specifically, Christians suffer from affective deficits related to faith.  It is little wonder that needy, vulnerable people are thereby exposed to the blandishments of psycho-religious nostrums that don’t deliver what they hold out. Always to be kept in mind are two facts: human affective need, both natural and spiritual, and the affective, experiential dimension of genuine gospel faith.

[d]         TFT had intimated that absent the homoousion of the Son, then in Jesus Christ God has not condescended to us, and his love (so-called) has stopped short of becoming one with us.  TFT’s point is incontrovertible.   The Father would have given us something to fix us, even given us the “fix-me-up” out of love, but it would have remained a fix that allowed him to fix us at arm’s length – not unlike a surgeon who remedies a patient, to be sure, yet who always does so by not undergoing himself the surgery he prescribes for the patient.  (Here we need to recall psychiatrist Gerald May’s insight: “Something deep inside us knows we can’t love safely; either we love defencelessly or we don’t love at all.”)

Absent the homoousion of the Spirit none of the foregoing would apply, in that God would have loved us defencelessly; but this time his love would have stopped short of saving us as his self-giving remained finally ineffective.  Self-giving to the point of self-immolation would have remained self-inhibiting, even self-defying as the self-giving failed to result in a people that lives for the praise of God’s glory. (Eph. 1:12)

[e] Once again, TFT insisted that absent the homoousion of the Son, there is no ontological, and therefore no epistemological, connexion between the love of Jesus and the love of God. God could be said to love us in Jesus even as God isn’t actually that love in himself.  This being the case, there might be a dark, unknown God behind the back of Jesus Christ. (Surely this is one problem with Calvin’s doctrine of reprobation: there is an act of the Father that isn’t an act of the Son.) The giver of grace and the gift of grace are not the same. In other words, while God can be said to love us, does his love exhaust his will and way and work concerning us?  Or does God love us as an act of his even as there remains (or might remain) some other attitude/act wherewith God visits us, whose nature or purpose we don’t know, even can’t know?

Absent the homoousion of the Spirit, there is no ontological connexion, and therefore no epistemological connexion, between the Son and that “spirit” which may infuse us and inspire us to lofty human heights, even as that spirit has to be less than holy, since such a spirit has to be less than God, creaturely by definition.  While giver and gift may remain one, the “giving” of grace isn’t one with giver and gift. Then who or what effects the giving? And what are the implications of this for giver and gift?   Plainly “another spirit” has to be operative.  Then what is ultimately the nature and purpose of such a spirit?  Spirits abound, to be sure, yet absent the homoousion of the Spirit we can only regard them as self-defined (rather than, as is the case of the Holy Spirit, the power that Jesus Christ bears and bestows and therefore the power in which Jesus Christ acts); we can only plead our ignorance of what such spirits intend or what they achieve.

It must never be forgotten that spirits abound not only in the world but in the church, perhaps especially in the church, since the idolatry of religion appears to be a greater problem in the church, given the church’s chronic difficulty in distinguishing religion and faith. In addition, in light of the greater problem religion poses for the church, the spiritual discernment needed in the church is now inherently impossible. Martin Buyer’s perceptive remark – “Modernity is open to religion but closed to faith” – appears to go unheeded in the church, if it is even understood. Not only is the lack, now the impossibility, of such discernment in the church tragic, it is puzzling in that the book of Acts depicts discernment as the principal manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the nascent church – which discernment, of course, is possible only if the Spirit is homoousially identical with Father and Son.

[f]         TFT has indicated that absent the homoousion of the Son the acts of Jesus Christ are not the acts of God, and there is no final authority for anything he said or did.   Absent the homoousion of the Son “spirituality” can’t be distinguished from self-indulgence. Faith always presupposes Jesus Christ as author, as he acts in the power of the Spirit; faith also always presupposes Jesus Christ as object, as he effects in the spiritually inert both the capacity and the desire to embrace the One who has first embraced them.   Apart from the homoousion of the Spirit, faith is reduced to a natural, intrapsychic capability that we “choose” to vest here or there.  Such a notion renders the Holy Spirit entirely superfluous.   (The church today, intoxicated with “spirituality” and its inherent naturalism, hasn’t yet seen that the contemporary church’s deity is bi-une and its soteriology pelagian.)   The result of viewing faith as a natural, human capability is to render faith a human virtue, to render faith in Christ a subset of “faith-in-general”, and to say that it is faith as contribution, albeit faith correctly vested, that saves.

Stung by the world’s accusation regarding its putative narrowness, the church attempts to redress its reputation by means of a non-Christic Spirit. It forgets that the effectiveness of a knife depends on the narrowness of its cutting edge, and therefore only a precisely delineated Christology and Pneumatology add up to an effective theology.         That surgery required for the most profound heart transplant (Ezekiel 36) can’t be performed with something as broad and therefore as blunt as a crowbar. In addition, the church today appears in danger of forgetting that only a Christological exclusivity is Pneumatologically comprehensive and therefore salvific. If faith ceases to be quickened only as the risen, victorious Crucified acts on people in the power of the Spirit, and if faith is thereby reduced to a natural talent or virtue, then the predicament of those lacking such a talent is hopeless. To say the same differently: if Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, brings with him a renewed cosmos and therefore a renewed humanity, and if this is ours only as we are rendered participants in it through the power of the Holy Spirit, then only the exclusivity of Incarnation, Cross and Pentecost are salvifically inclusive.

[g] TFT maintains that absent the homoousion of the Son we shall be judged by a God who is arbitrary in that he bears no relation to Jesus Christ and all that the latter stood for.

Absent the homoousion of the Spirit we shall be judged by a God who made provision for us, admittedly, but merely made provision for us; in the course of which made himself proximate to us in our fallen humanness, but merely made himself proximate. By whom, then, are we to be judged? Plainly by someone who left it to creaturely spirits, left it to us to “make the connexion”. We shan’t be judged by a God who is arbitrary in that he bears no relation to Christ, but rather now by a God who in effect teased us, tantalized us with the sufficient provision he made and placed before humans with their “freedom of choice” that, of course, is no freedom at all but simply the randomness of indeterminism as the fallen creature continued to flounder.


The last word today has to be given to Thomas F. Torrance himself: “…unless the Being and Activity of the Spirit are identical with the Being and Activity of the Father and the Son, we are not saved.” (The Christian Doctrine of God, 169)