T.F. Torrance Responds to the Eternal Functional Subordination Debate

I was just scanning one of my old blogs (yeah, I have about five to six other blogs that I used to run that nobody has access to anymore but me), and I just came across fortuitously (I wasn’t even looking for this) a post I originally entitled: Top Down Father-Son relation versus Bottom Up: Avoiding the Social Trinity. In the post I reference Thomas Torrance in regard to his thinking about how we ought to conceive of the ad intra/ad extra relation between the Father-Son. In other words, Torrance speaks to the mythology, and indeed, heresy that is produced when we tommytorranceattempt to read God’s Self-revelation in the economy of salvation-history (i.e. in the Incarnation) back into the immanent or ontological (ad intra) life of God. Torrance argues, appealing to the Arian heresy, and within a context of Athanasius’ theology, that we cannot speak analogously of the Father-Son relation that co-inheres between the Father and Son in the divine life vis-à-vis human father-son (children) relationships in the creaturely realm. God’s life, in other words, is technically speaking, sui generis, or unique; it is his life that is regulative of our speech and thought patterns, analogically, but we cannot univocally read that thinking (e.g. of parent-child or by extrapolation husband-wife relations) back into the Godhead; thus the reality of analogical conceptualization when we think God. This is what Torrance fleshes out further for us. Here is the post I originally wrote for another one of my blogs back in 2011.

Torrance is discussing the impact that dualistic Hellenism has had upon Western-thought-forms; namely the precedence that classical thought has given to the optical mode of thinking and verification (so the obsession with empericism, etc.). TFT is highlighting the impact that this methodology and epistemology can have upon our construal of God’s “Father-hood” and “Son-hood,” and how Christian/Patrisitic theology, primarily through Athanasius’ influence, eschewed this “Hellenising” effect by reifying it through Christian ontology.

The contrast between Christianity and Hellenism could hardly be greater than at this fundamental level, where biblical patterns of thought governed by the Word of God and the obedient hearing of faith (υπακοη της πιτεως) conflict sharply with those of Greek religion and philosophy. The issue came to its head in the Arian controversy over the Father – Son relation at the heart of the Christian Gospel. Are the terms ‘father’ and ‘son’ to be understood as visual, sensual images taken from our human relations and then projected mythologically into God? In that event how can we avoid projecting creaturely gender into God, and thinking of him as grandfather as well as father, for the only kind of father we know is one who is son of another father? To think of God like that, in terms of the creaturely content of images projected out of ourselves, inevitably gives rise to anthropomorphic and polymorphic notions of deity and in fact to polytheism and idolatry. However, if we think from a centre in God as he reveals himself to us through his Word incarnate in Jesus Christ, then we know him as Father in himself in an utterly unique and incomparable way which then becomes the controlling standard by reference to which all notions of creaturely fatherhood and sonship are to be understood. ‘God does not make man his pattern , but rather, since God alone is properly and truly Father, we men are called fathers of our own children, for of him every fatherhood in heaven and earth is named.’ Unique Fatherhood and unique Sonship in God mutually define one another in an absolute and singular way. As Athanasius pithily expressed it in rejection of Arian anthropocentric mythologising: ‘Just as we cannot ascribe a father to the Father, so we cannot ascribe a brother to the Son’.[1]

I know I said I wasn’t going to post on the eternal functional subordination debate anymore, but I have re-thought that; I think I needed a cooling off moment, since that was all I was posting on for about a week or so.

If Bruce Ware, Wayne Grudem, et al. followed Torrance’s lead, along with the early church councils, they would not hold to positions that ultimately lead to tri-theism; or where God’s triune life is thought of as three distinct persons/subjects, with three distinct wills.

[1] T. F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, 69-70.

This entry was posted in Analogia Entis, Analogia Fidei, Analogy of Being, Analogy of Faith, Doctrine Of Creation, Doctrine Of God, T. F. Torrance, Thomas F. Torrance, Trinity. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to T.F. Torrance Responds to the Eternal Functional Subordination Debate

  1. Chamberline owen says:

    Thanks Bobby for your continued labour of love.i enjoy your articles. God bless and keep you.keep on keeping on.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rein Zeilstra says:

    Thanks Bobby. I think you are right It is about being consequent about the encapsulation of our truths and see them derived as from God’s Truth and Reality. I am not sure though with all the Reformed jargon to that purpose does anything but confuse.


  3. Bobby Grow says:

    Thank you, Chamberline!


  4. Bobby Grow says:


    It is what it is. I’m not using “Reformed jargon” in this post, I’m using catholic jargon that has been present in the church almost since the beginning.

    But as far as Reformed language goes in general that’s what I will use when necessary because I am indeed Reformed. But in this particular post none of that is used.


  5. Pingback: T.F. Torrance Responds to the Eternal Functional Subordination Debate — The Evangelical Calvinist | Talmidimblogging

  6. I sympathize Bobby, I couldn’t help writing something myself either!

    Liked by 1 person

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