The Holy Spirit in the Theology of Thomas F. Torrance: The Holy Spirit ‘Accommodates’ the Ineffable God through the Son, Jesus Christ

The Holy Spirit is often overshadowed by discussions surrounding Jesus, and even the Father, but in a way this is by design and the “order” of God’s life internal to himself. There are many important aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work though that we shouldn’t overlook, particularly with reference to, of course, thought about the Holy Trinity and the interior life of God. Thomas F. Torrance has these insightful things to note; as usual Torrance focuses in on the role that the reality of the homoousion brings to bear on a doctrine of the Holy Spirit:

It is by reference to this epistemological centre in the incarnate Son or Word mad flesh – that is, to the homoousion of the Son and the hypostatic union of divine Nature and human nature in him – that we also clarify our knowledge of the Spirit. He is not knowable in his own distinctive Person or hypostasis in the same way, for he is not embodied, like the incarnate Son, in the concrete modalities and structured objectivities of our world of space-time, or, like him, therefore, brought within the range of our human knowing at our lowly creaturely level. The Holy Spirit is God of God but not man of man, so that our knowledge of the Holy Spirit rests directly on the ultimate objectivity of God as God, unmediated by the secondary objectivities of space and time, and it rests only indirectly on those objectivities through relation to the Son with whom he is of one being as he is with the Father. Through all of God’s self-revelation to us in the incarnate Son, the Holy Spirit is the creative Agent in mediating knowledge of God to us in himself and the creative Agent in our reception and understanding of that revelation, although he is not himself the Word (λόγος) of that revelation or the Form (εἶδος) which that revelation assumes in Jesus Christ as it comes from the Father and is appropriated by us. But because it is in the Spirit as the immediate presence and power of God’s revelation to us that we know God in this way, the Father through the Son and the Son from the Father,  we know the Spirit in himself as Lord God no less than the Father and the Son, who therefore with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified. It is through holding constantly in our though the inseparable unity between the economic activity of God in the Spirit and the economic activity of God in the Son that we may be prevented from reading back into God himself the material or creaturely images (e.g. latent in human father-son relations) that rise out of the reciprocity he has established with us through the incarnation of his Son in space and time as one with us and one of us. Through the oneness of the Son and the Spirit the imaging of God in Jesus the incarnate Son or the Word made flesh is signitive, not mimetic. Thus the creaturely images naturally latent in the forms of thought and speech employed by divine revelation to us are made to refer transparently or in a diaphanous way to God without being projected into his divine Nature.[1]

It takes at least a minute or two to try and comprehend what Torrance is getting at; particularly in the last few clauses of the paragraph. Essentially, I think Torrance is underscoring how there remains a type of ‘gulf’—a Creator/creature distinction—between us and the ineffable God. Such that the work of the Holy Spirit is, in part, to provide the accommodating context between God who is ultimate, and those of us who are not. His work is to create the union between God and humanity where this can happen in hypostatic union—so His overshadowing of Mary’s womb. It is this dynamic, back-and-forth in dialectic, wherein us humans, as we participate in and from the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, are able to actually make our way through the diaphanous humanity of Christ—like the torn veil of his broken and now resurrected body for us—into the very recess of God’s eternal, Holy, and Triune life. But it is, as Torrance develops, the work of the Holy Spirit to constantly mediate us into the mediating humanity of Christ; a humanity that finds its breath life in the antecedent and eternal life of the Divine Logos, the eternal ingenerate Son, Jesus Christ. It is as if the Holy Spirit, in a way, is the like the cleft of the rock that Moses was hidden in as he encountered the back side of God’s intensely burning shekinah presence; it’s just now that because of the Holy Spirit we are now ‘hidden’ (Col. 3) in the vicarious humanity of Christ, the eikon of God (Col 1.15) wherein an elevation has happened (Eph. 1.18-23). Through the mediatorial humanity of Christ, by the Spirit, we are able to look into the eyes of Godself by gazing into the face of Christ (II Cor. 4.5-6); we are now robed in his humanity, by the Spirit, which allows us to literally and ontologically sit at the right hand of the Holy Father, in the Son, and to participate and partake in the divine nature itself, by the grace of the Spirit, carrying out our priestly roles as coheirs with Christ, and sons and daughters of the King.

These are things and realities, in many ways, that we can only marvel in outright worship at. Realities that we can taste and see are good by participating in them; we can only talk about them to just an extent. But then again, that’s the point of all this; the Holy Spirit in and through the vicarious humanity of Christ, is in the constant mode of accommodating these deep and ineffable realities about God’s life into our lives in and through the creaturely modalities and creational structures we find ourselves currently enrobed by. The evangel is that because of who God is, Triune Love and Grace, he has bent down to us, and continuously does so by the work and person of the Holy Spirit, in and through the Sabbath rest of the Holy Son; our brother and Savior, Jesus Christ. amen.

 

 

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 101.

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‘From’ Christ, not ‘For’ Christ: “Why don’t you have a category for obedience?”

I have lots of people email (instead of comment) me about my various posts here at the blog. Recently I received an email from someone who wondered why I didn’t have a category (in my categories for the blog) designated as “obedience”? I haven’t emailed this person back yet, but I thought before I did that I would respond to this rather interesting observation here at the blog first (it seems fitting for me to do so).

adam-eve-garden-of-eden-1To start with, I do have a category entitled “ethics,” which deals with issues and instances of concrete instantiations of Christian obedience (or disobedience); and then I do deal with Christian obedience in many posts, but they aren’t under a specific category of “obedience,” but instead those can be found under the category of “salvation” (and then a lengthy process of weeding through this posts will ultimately yield results that show I have dealt with questions that are oriented around Christian obedience). But I would like to answer this question with more particularity, and clarity on why my blog does not emphasize this category (as important as it is!). My blog does not emphasize this category (in the way my interlocutor is wondering, I presume) because the way I think of our relation to God in Christ, has Christ in the way; and I mean in the way of you and me (logically, theo-logically). Historically, and classically, Evangelicals (given their hybrided dependence upon Reformed/Covenant theology) have emphasized relation with God through a mode of emphasizing law-keeping conditioned by forensic categories of thought (just read an Evangelical systematic theology if you don’t believe me). And insofar that I have eschewed this classical mode, I have abandoned emphasizing law-keeping (code for ‘obedience’, usually) as the emphasis by which I understood relationship with God, and how I conceive of Christian holiness (or obedience as its subsequent expression). To provide an example of where the Evangelical heritage comes from, theologically, in this regard; let me quote Kim Riddlebarger (a contemporary advocate of Covenant Theology, and member of the White Horse Inn radio broadcast, along with Michael Horton), as he sketches the original and lasting relationship and way that he (and the classically Reformed) think of how God and man (God/world) relate to each other through the Covenant of Works (or Creation):

[A]s redemptive history unfolded, the first Adam—the biological and federal representative of all humanity—failed to do as God commanded under the terms of the covenant of works. The Lord God said to Adam, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). This covenant of works or, as some Reformed writers speak of it, the “covenant of creation” lies at the heart of redemptive history. Under its terms God demanded perfect obedience of Adam, who would either obey the terms of the covenant and receive God’s blessing—eternal life in a glorified Eden—or fail to keep the covenant and bring its sanctions down upon himself and all humanity. Adam’s willful act of rebellion did, in fact, bring the curse of death on the entire human race. This covenant of works is never subsequently abrogated in the Scriptures, a point empirically verified when ever death strikes. This covenant also undergirds the biblical teaching that for any of Adam’s fall children to be saved, someone must fulfill all the terms of the covenant without a single infraction in thought, word, or deed (Matt. 5:48; 1 Peter 1:16). [Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding The End Times, 47.]

Much could be said in critique of this conception of things (and I have already said much, just check my category “critiquing classical Calvinism”), but in order to not get side-tracked from the point of this post, let me stay particular to my intention. In predictable form (since Covenant theology has Creation preceding Covenant), Riddlebarger allows Creation to condition Covenant instead of seeing Covenant (God’s life of gracious love) conditioning Creation (one serious fall out of this theological ordering is that Jesus becomes conditioned by creation instead of conditioning creation himself as homoousion—I digress!). In other words, when Reformed thinkers like Riddlebarger, and his whole tradition, start theologizing and biblical exegeting they start where Riddlerbarger starts, with Law (or the Covenant of Works/Creation). And yet, as Ray Anderson has highlighted (along with others), what should be understood (first), is that God spoke and created (which is an act of grace as corollary with His overflowing life of Triune love). So what grounds any relation with God, first, is not Law-keeping, but the fact that God spoke (which is grace)! This might seem to be a subtle shift, but it is profound!

Following this shift of emphasis, what becomes primary is not my personal obedience (and Law-keeping), but God’s in Christ for us. As Thomas Torrance has written (as I just quoted this in a post below this one),

[…] Under the gracious impingement of Christ through the Spirit there is a glad spontaneity about the New Testament believer. He is not really concerned to ask questions about ethical practice. He acts before questions can be asked. He is caught up in the overwhelming love of Christ, and is concerned only about doing His will. There is no anxious concern about the past. It is Christ that died! There is no anxious striving toward an ideal. It is Christ that rose again! In Him all the Christian’s hopes are centred. His life is hid with Christ in God. In Him a new order of things has come into being, by which the old is set aside. Everything therefore is seen in Christ, in the light of the end, toward which the whole creation groaneth and travaileth waiting for redemption. The great act of salvation has already taken place in Christ, and has become an eternal indicative. [see full text here].

This does not mean that personal obedience is not important, but it frames it in a way that allows me to keep my eye on Christ instead of first looking at myself (and then reflexively looking at Christ: i.e. reflexive faith], as if I, myself, can somehow be abstracted out of the only true humanity which is Christ’s. So I “seek first His kingdom and righteousness, then all these other things will be added unto me” (and I only seek first, because He first loved (and sought) first that I might love Him, through Him by the Spirit). My relationship with God is not dependent upon my obedience, but Christ’s obedience for me (us); and so this ought to go along ways in illustrating why I don’t have a separate category (apart from Christology) for obedience in my sidebar. Thomas Torrance in his (posthumously published) book Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ really captures the import of this shift and way of framing things from God’s gracious Self directed life for us in contrast to the Legalistic emphasis that the classical Covenant of Works flows from:

(iii) The holiness of the church is its participation through the Spirit in Christ’s holiness

 This holiness is actualised in the church through the communion of the Holy Spirit. He only is the Spirit of holiness, he only the Spirit of truth; and therefore it is only through his presence and power in the church that it partakes of the holiness of Jesus Christ. Since the holiness of the church is its participation through the Spirit in Christ’s act of self-consecration for the church, then that is the only holiness, the only hallowing of the church there is. That is the holiness which was actualised in the church when it was baptised with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the union of the church with Christ was fulfilled from the side of the church as well as from the side of Christ.

The church is not holy because its members are holy or live virtuous lives, but because through his presence in the Holy Spirit Christ continues to hallow himself in the midst of the church, hallowing the church as his body and the body as his church. Thus the true holiness of the members is not different from this but a participation in it, a participation in the holiness of Christ the head of the church and in the holiness of the church as the body hallowed by Christ. Participation in this holiness however involves for the members of the church a life of holiness, just as it involves a life in Christ, of faith relying upon his faithfulness, of love that lives from the overflow his love, of truth that comes from the leading of the Spirit. Because the church is the body of Christ in which he dwells, the temple of the Holy Spirit in which God is present, its members live the very life of Christ through the Holy Spirit, partaking of and living out the holy life of God. Therefore personal holiness, and all the qualities of the divine life and love found in their lives, are the fruits of the Holy Spirit. [Thomas F. Torrance, Atonement, edited by Robert Walker, 386-87.]

There is a lot to comment on here as well, but I must limit myself. I will just say that it is this reversal of things (i.e. placing the Covenant of Grace [God’s life Pre-destined]) from Law to Grace that explains why I don’t have a category explicitly labeled “obedience”. It isn’t because I don’t think Christian obedience is important, it is because I think the gr0und of this emphasis is roundly rooted in Jesus Christ for us (and thus I have a category for Christology instead). It isn’t that I don’t think personal obedience or holiness are important, I do! Instead, it is because I am persuaded that focusing on Christ and God’s Triune life of gracious love, and participating in that from the Spirit’s unioning activity will produce obedience and the life of Christ through the members of our bodies as they are constantly given over to the death of Christ that His life might be made manifest through the mortal members of our body. We obey, only because Jesus obeyed for us first. We don’t obey to ensure that we are one of the elect that God purchased from the mass of “perdituous” humanity; we obey because God loved us first that we might love Him back through the mediating and priestly Spirit anointed humanity of Jesus Christ. It is only through this framing of things that I feel I can live out this exhortation from St. Paul:

 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. ~Galatians 5:1

Without the freedom of God for us in Christ I live under a burdenouss yoke that really ends up being hell; which, I am pretty sure this is what Jesus came to save us from (ourselves), and for Himself (and His shared life in the Monarchia or God-head). So obey, but only from Christ by the Spirit, not for Christ so you can find God’s approval.

The Holy Spirit and T. F. Torrance

The Holy Spirit is such a minimized character within the triadic unfolding of God, partly because this is His mission—to bear witness and magnify Jesus—and partly because if He has received any attention, often times it is in an abused way (i.e. pentecostalism). The Holy Spirit, historically, has been thought of as the linch-pen who subjectifies, for us, the objective work of Christ. He is the One who, eternally functions as the communal personage that completes the interpenetrating (i.e. perichoretic) stasis of Father and Son. He subjectively brings us into this communion, by uniting us with Christ through His humanity, and into His divinity. This is why Paul can say:

. . . But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. ~ I Corinthians 6:17

So much beyond the minimalist and abusive notions that accompany thinking about the Holy Spirit today, there is a richness about Him, that can only be fully appreciated within the context of Jesus’ incarnation, which He bears witness to, and the subsequent fullness of Joy He brings us into as our union with Christ becomes the occasion for knowing the Father. Once again Torrance has this insightful plus for our consideration:

Like Christ the Holy Spirit is one in being and of the same being as the Father, but unlike Christ the Holy Spirit is not one in being and of the same being as we are, for he incarnated the Son but does not incarnate himself, he utters the Word but does not utter himself. He directs us through himself to the one Word and Face of God in Jesus Christ in accordance with whom all our knowledge of God is formed in our minds, knowledge of the Spirit as well as of the Father and of the Son. This is the diaphanous self-effacing nature of the Holy Spirit who hides himself, as it were, behind the Father in the Son and behind the Son in the Father, but also the enlightening transparence of the Spirit who by throwing his eternal Light upon the Father through the Son and upon the Son in the Father, brings the radiance of God’s Glory to bear upon us. We do not know the Holy Spirit directly in his own personal Reality or Glory. We know him only in his unique spiritual mode of activity and transparent presence in virtue of which God’s self-revelation shines through to us in Christ, and we are made through the Spirit to see the Father in the Son and the Son in the Father. While the Holy Spirit thereby guards the transcendence of God who infinitely exceeds what finite minds can grasp, nevertheless through his personal presence to us he brings the ineffable Being and Reality of God out of his unapproachable Light to bear upon us, and brings us out of our distance and darkness to have communion with himself and through himself with the Father and the Son. Because through him the Word of God continues to sound forth and is heard and believed, because in his light we see light and by his creative operation we come to know the unknowable and eternal God, we know the Holy Spirit, although personally distinct from the Father and the Son, to be no less Lord God than the Father and the Son, both as he is toward us and as he is antecedently in the undivided oneness of God’s eternal being. (Thomas F. Torrance, “The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons,” 66-7)