A trinitarian doctrine of salvation

This is the first of 11 posts, for the other posts in this series, click on a number: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.

In the book Communion with the Triune God, Dick Eugenio examines T.F. Torrance's trinitarian perspective on the doctrine of salvation (soteriology). Though Torrance never wrote systematically on this topic, he addressed it frequently and Eugenio has helpfully compiled and analyzed that material.

When addressing soteriology, Torrance carefully connected the doctrine of salvation with that of the Trinity. For Torrance, failing to do so would be tantamount to separating God's doing (act) from God's being, thus setting up a dualism that leads to what Torrance called the "Latin heresy" (click here and here for related articles). This dualism leads to the false view that salvation is merely something God does (through an external transaction), not what God is.

Angels at Mamre (Holy Trinity)
by Adrie Rublev (1360 to 1430)
Wikipedia Commons: Public Domain
That "God does what God is" (and vice versa) should, therefore, be understood as a fundamental precept of Torrance's trinitarian soteriology. Note his comment: "The origin and telos [goal] of salvation are in strict accordance with the being of God as personal communion" (Communion with the Triune God, Kindle edition, location 230). Thus for Torrance, all thinking about salvation must be grounded upon the bedrock doctrine of the Trinity. Why? Because it answers the question, Who is God?, and points us to Christology where we learn both who God is (as revealed in the person of Jesus) and how God acts in grace toward humanity (in the person and work of Jesus).

For Torrance, "God is inherently in himself what he is toward us in Jesus Christ, and the economy of God's grace in Jesus Christ is nothing other than a revelation of the Trinitarian relations of God's own being" (loc 664).

Sadly, many Christians embrace a dualistic doctrine of salvation that separates God's being and act. A prime example is Federal Calvinism with its forensic doctrine of the atonement and salvation. Though Torrance highly regarded Calvin, his soteriology is distinctively Trinitarian and Christocentric (rather than forensic)---not about a transaction that God makes, but about the relationship that God is (as the tri-personal, being-in-communion) and that God has in his union with humanity through the incarnate person of his Son, Jesus Christ. Eugenio comments:
Soteriology is primarily an inquiry about the who, not the what or the how. The subject of salvation is the Triune God. The nature, range, and attainment of human salvation is inseparable from the being of the Savior, which is another way of affirming that God's being is his act and his act is his being. Salvation [quoting Torrance] "is indeed more than a reflection of [the Trinity], for it is grounded in it, is altogether inseparable from it, and actually flows from it."
....To argue for a soteriology grounded in the being of God is to argue that salvation is the work of the persons of the Triune God... God is not only triune in being, but also triune in activity.... The triune persons mutually interpenetrate each other [the concept of perichoresis] not only in their hypostatic relations but also in their salvific agencies: "The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit always act together in every divine operation whether in creation or redemption, yet in such a way that the distinctive activities of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are always maintained" ...The Triune God, Torrance writes, is "engaged in the work of reconciliation in distinctive ways appropriate to each Person" (loc 710-741).
Eugenio then offers this relevant quote from Torrance in The Christian Doctrine of God:
God's distinctive self-revelation as Holy Trinity, One Being, Three Persons, creates the overall framework within which all Christian theology is to be formulated.... The doctrine of the Trinity enshrines the essentially Christian conception of God: it constitutes the ultimate evangelical expression the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ who though he was rich for our sakes became poor that we through his poverty might become rich, of the love of God who did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all, for it is in that personal sacrifice of the Father to which everything in the Gospel goes back, and of the Communion of the Holy Spirit through whom and in whom we are made to participate in the eternal Communion of the Father and the Son and are united with one another in the redeemed life of the people of God (loc 775-6)
We know God in his being, which is a tri-personal communion of love and grace, because we know God in his self-revealing acts of love and grace---seen most particularly in the self-giving of God for our salvation in the person of his incarnate Son. God does (he saves) because that is who God is (the God of love). "Salvation," notes Eugenio, "when perceived in the light of the being, persons and work of the Triune God, results in a dynamic participatory, and communal soteriology" (loc 800).

This trinitarian, Christocentric perspective on salvation is quite unlike the view held by those who see God as a transactional God and salvation as a mere transaction (related to a forensic view of the atonement) that somehow is distinct from (even separate from) God's tri-personal being. In future posts I'll summarize more from Eugenio's comprehensive and helpful examination of Torrance's trinitarian doctrine of salvation.

Dick Osita Eugenio (pictured at left) was sent by the Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary (APNTS), Philippines, to the UK to pursue doctoral studies in order to return to be the Seminary’s resident dogmatic theologian. He wrote his thesis, Communion with God: The Trinitarian Soteriology of Thomas F. Torrance, under the supervision of Dr. Thomas A. Noble. Dick finished his Doctor of Philosophy in November 2011. He then returned to the Philippines in January 2012, and currently serves as Professor of Theology and Academic Dean at APNTS. For a list of his publications click here.