Torrance: the homoousion is good news!

This series explores T.F. Torrance in Plain English wherein author Stephen D. Morrison unpacks nine key ideas in the Christ-centered, Trinitarian theology of Thomas F. Torrance. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 3, 5.  

Updated 3/24/2019

Last time we looked at Torrance's key idea that natural theology is useful in understanding God, but only when viewed in the light of divine revelation concerning God's true nature. This post looks at the divine nature by exploring Torrance's key idea that the tri-personal God (the Holy Trinity) is revealed to us in Scripture as "one in being"---homoousion---a Greek word that combines  homós  ("same") with ousía ("being"). Stephen Morrison comments on the meaning and importance of the homoousion in Torrance's scientific Trinitarian theology:
The being and acts of the Father and the Son are one and not divided (homoousion: "one in being"). This is a central doctrine in Torrance's theology. The truth of the Gospel depends on the homoousion, on the unity of the Son with the Father. For us practically, this doctrine reveals that there is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ for us to fear, and that the life and work of Jesus Christ are intrinsic to the very being of God, so that in Him it is truly God's being and acts as a human. (p. 79)
The Holy Trinity by Rossetti (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

As Morrison notes, T.F. Torrance viewed the homoousion as the linchpin of the gospel in that it "asserts that God is eternally in himself what he is in Jesus Christ" (p. 80). Trinitarian theologian Elmer Colyer, reflecting on that idea in How to Read T.F. Torrance, wrote this:
The homoousion is utterly decisive and revolutionary in Torrance's mind, for it expresses the supreme evangelical truth of the Gospel that God is the content of what God is towards us in God's love and grace. What God has done and continues to do for us in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, God really is in Himself. (p. 80, quoting Colyer, p. 151)
Homoousion is expressive of a fundamental precept in the Trinitarian, orthodox Christian faith codified by the church in the ancient Nicene Creed (for a Surprising God article about the Creed, click here). The Creed states this: "[We believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.... Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, of one being [or substance] with the Father." In Greek, "of one being with the Father" is homoousion to Patri. Some criticize the Patristic Fathers (and Torrance) for using this phrase, saying it is "extra-biblical" (i.e., not found in Scripture). But as Morrison notes, The Patristic Fathers used it to sum up a key teaching of Holy Scripture, namely "the mystery at the heart of the Gospel: God in Christ, the incarnation of the Son of God as a human being" (p. 83).

In harmony with the Patristic Fathers, Torrance used homoousion as a theologically precise way to express a reality that only can be indicated by human speech. Though the word does not contain the truth in itself, it points precisely to the truth of who the triune God is in his essential being.

In accord with the evangelical theo-logic that undergirds the Creed's use of homoousion, Torrance asserted that to know God in accordance with how he has revealed himself to be in the Person of the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, we must
enter into an intimate and saving relationship with [God] in Jesus Christ... for it is only through reconciliation to God by the blood of Christ that we may draw near to him and have access to him. (p. 82, quoting Torrance in The Trinitarian Faith, p. 3).
Homoousion is thus no mere academic term---it points to the living Persons of the Trinity and their relatedness as well as to the relationship we may have with them. This truth is very good news (gospel) in that it assures us that "there is no God except the God who has come and meets us in Jesus" (p. 84, quoting Torrance in A Passion for Christ, p. 13).

The truth of the homoousion rails against a disturbing tendency of many Western theologies to imply that there is a "divide between the being and acts of God and the being and acts of Jesus Christ" (p. 84). Morrison elaborates:
We deny the incarnation and God's self-revealing when we seek after a knowledge of God that does not rely wholly upon the person and work of Jesus Christ, which does not see in Him the inseparable bond [i.e. the homoousion] of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (p. 84)
The doctrine of the homoousion proclaims in no uncertain terms that in Jesus we see the face of God. Said another way, it proclaims that God truly is like Jesus. T.F. liked to put it this way: "There is no other God behind the back of Jesus." Morrison draws this conclusion: "No other factor should determine our knowledge of God more than Jesus Christ; no theoretical ideas about God should be given more weight than the self-revelation of God in him" (p. 85).

Is an angry God lurking behind Jesus' back? (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Morrison notes the two-fold importance of the homoousion in Torrance's scientific Trinitarian theology. First, the homoousion is
essential for securing the knowledge of God. If God's being is not one and the same between the Father and the Son, then here is no assurance we have any knowledge of God at all. (p. 85)
Second, the homoousion tells us that
it was truly God who acted for us and with us in Jesus Christ. It was not a human, not even the best of human, who saved us, but truly God as a human being. God in the thick of our darkness and estrangement, who lifts us up into the Triune communion of God's light and love....
Without a firm conviction of the truth of the homoousion there is no reality of salvation, no certainty in our knowledge of God, and no assurance that we are loved and cherished by HIm. In short, there is not good news at all; we wold remain lost in our darkness and isn, lost in a fearful, alienated state of existence.The homoousion is essential to the truth of the Gospel. (p. 86)  
Morrison concludes his look at Torrance's understanding of the homoousion by noting that when we think out of the reality to which the homoousion points, we will not be hoodwinked by false dualistic notions that somehow the Father is "far removed  from Jesus' historical existence" or that somehow the Father is "a separate being somewhere else entirely" (p. 87). Morrison elaborates:
The Gospel only makes sense in the unity of Their life together. Any understanding of Jesus that does not reveal the "Abba" He loved collapses Christ into a moral example we must imitate, instead of the gracious Son who has reconciled the world to the Father by the Holy Spirit. (p. 88)

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