Anyone wishing to come to grips with the complexities of the doctrine of God would do well to read this magisterial volume by T. F. Torrance. His writing style is dense and his theological reflection truly mature. He argues from an extensive (and breath-taking) familiarity with the Church Fathers wherein he interacts with their works. His presentation is both thoroughly ecumenical and evangelical (something not usually found anywhere with any great regularity). He certainly deserves a wider reading than he has tended to receive in American Evangelicalism (which has perhaps been denied him by his close connection to Karl Barth as both a student and translator). I pray others find the joy of taking the time to wade through the depths of this volume (and others by Torrance) and thereby draw ever nearer our Great Lord and Savior. With the forgoing stated…below I offer my own brief précis of the work.
The Christian Perspective; The Biblical Frame; The Trinitarian Mind
Any proper description of God must begin with God’s Trinitarian self-revelation. God is unknowable and indescribable apart from this self-revelation and through God’s self-revelation we may now humbly know and speak of God in perfect accord with this revelation. The self-revelation is most clearly made known in the Word of God. God’s act and being are in perfect harmony in His Word and therefore provide the only sure basis upon which to know God. The Word as the One who reveals God is testified to most truly in the Scriptures as by the witness of the Spirit of God. The Word made flesh perfectly reveals the Spirit and the Father, it is only in this revelation that Father, and Spirit may be known as Father and Spirit, and the Word as Son. The revelation of God also conceals God in his ineffable glory. The only way to know God is through His revelation in the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is the center. He sets aside all human conceptions of God and reveals God as He truly is – Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. God is unknowable apart from Christ Jesus. He is the Revelation of God – the true mystery and revelation of God bound in his being and doing.
One Being, Three Persons; Three Persons, One Being
God has revealed Himself as “I AM” and as such we must confess God as One, but understand that to properly speak of God as One (as to His ousia or being) is to speak of God as perfect fellowship with and for the other. The three persons (or hypostasis) of the Trinity are not extracted from the One but are inherent to the One. He is the I AM and I will be – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is the Father in relation to the Son and is only knowable as the Father through the Son by the Spirit. The Son is the Son in relation to the Father and is only knowable as the Son by the Spirit from the Father. The Spirit is the Spirit in relation to procession from the Father (as Monarchia) and communion with and between the Father and Son. The one Act of God is grounded in the one essential Being of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While God has made Himself known in this very human manner, yet humanity cannot fully comprehend nor define God in His being and necessarily needs the ongoing revelation (grounded in the once for all revelation) of the eternal, free and interpenetrating grace and love of the One God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity; The Sovereign Creator; The Unchangeableness of God
Perichoresis is the way the inter-relatedness as to being and doing, which both identifies and distinguishes the Father, Son and Holy Spirit was described by the Church Fathers. It affirms the equality being and doing of Jesus as the being and doing of the Father and the Spirit, while also maintaining the distinction within the inter-relatedness of the being and doing of the Trinity. The Monarchia of God is not to be conceived as belonging only to any one of the Trinity but to the Trinity as a whole, while recognizing the distinction held in the perichoretic inter-penetrative relations of the Trinity. The Father in the absolute sense of ousia is God, but in the relational sense of hypostasis is Father of the Son. Thus the Spirit properly proceeds through the Son from the Father as to the ousia, the one Monarchia or koinonia of God. The Father, Son and Spirit are true God of true God and as such in their perichoretic relation the activity of creation, redemption, and reconciliation is carried out. Who God is and what God does are to be identified as indistinguishable. The act of creation, redemption and reconciliation are inherent to God as eternal Father, though enacted temporally. Thus, God reveals the love that belongs rightly to His inner being and inner relatedness through the act of creation, redemption and reconciliation and this is particularly evident in the incarnation. In the incarnation, the freedom of God’s love is manifest and poured out in power to give life. The providential care of God can only be understood properly in light of the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. God who is perfectly correlated in “Word and Act and Person” is dynamically unchangeable. The newness of the Act of God in creation, redemption and reconciliation belongs to the free inter-related unchangeableness of God’s being. In Christ Jesus, the dynamically unchangeable God faithfully and freely binds the temporal and the eternal in His love.
Torrance, Thomas F. The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2006.