Systematic Theology vol 1 (Kelly)

Kelly, Douglas F.  Systematic Theology: The God who is: The Holy Trinity. Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2008.

It is hard to explain how one feels about this volume from the highly-revered Douglas Kelly.  In many ways, this is not a normal systematic theology textbook. Some of Kelly’s chapters seem oddly placed.  Following every chapter, moreover, is an appendix (or appendices) that is highly technical and seems to detract from the flow of the book.  That is my one criticism of the book.  On the other hand, Kelly knows more about theological method and the Trinity than most professors, Reformed or otherwise, ever will.  

How do we Know?

Reality Comes First, and the mind second (Kelly ST I:41ff).  The question before us: how do you form beliefs in your mind? To which Kelly responds, there is a real world that imposes itself on your mind.  In other words, and with the historic Reformed (and classic) tradition, the order of knowing follows the order of being.  And the order of being is God himself.

As it stands, that paragraph is standard Reformed prolegomena.  Kelly takes it a step further. Kelly is one of the few Reformed theologians to include a section on how the mind, particularly the redeemed mind within the covenant community, forms beliefs. First, truth causes belief (17). “God’s reality imposes itself upon those whom He has made to know him” (17-18).

There is almost a “reflex-action” in the mind.  As Clement of Alexandria said, “Knowledge is excited by outwardly existing objects” (quoted in Kelly, 18). Faith, and here Torrance draws heavily from his mentor, Thomas Torrance, “involves a conceptual assent to the unseen reality.” Faith is the obedient response to truth.

Following the Stoics, though not blindly, Kelly remarks that the basis of the system “is the assumption that the real world imposes itself upon the recipient mind of man.”  An “outer reality presses in on the mind.”  This is “apprehensive presentation” (41).  Indeed, within the mind are “class concepts, which serve to give the mind clues into the objectivities of reality” (44). One can call them “proleptic pointers” that allow the mind to jump from clues to conclusion

Applied to theology, faith is the heart response to the aforementioned proleptic assent (46).

Kelly has several chapters on the Trinity, but no one chapter on the Trinity that neatly corresponds to standard treatments. At this point in the book (chapter four) he does not give a clear presentation.  What he does do, however, is press the meaning of the term “person” as it relates to the Trinity.  This represents a clear advance in modern systematic theology.  The key point is that the being of God leads itself to the concept of “person.”  That is good.  What is not so good, however, is Kelly’s use of John Zizioulas’s idea “being as communion.”  I think I know what Zizioulas means: being is being as communion.  It seems it means “the being of God” is the being as persons in communion.  Maybe.  The problem is Zizioulas will take the Person of the Father as the monarchy of the Trinity.  Kelly rightly rejects this move.  Athanasius (and for what it’s worth, Augustine) sees the being of the Father as the monarchy. This is much better, for it allows one to say that with the being of the Father, we automatically get the Son.  If we follow the Easter route of the Father as Cause, then we have introduced a sequence of causes in the Trinity.

I cannot go into detail here, but Kelly has a wonderful section on person and “modes of being” and why we prefer the former and not the latter (503ff). A person is inherently relational.  A mode of being is not. “The personal distinctions within God are constituted by eternal relations, as indicated by Father, Son and Spirit; or, by begetting and proceeding” (521).  With Didymus the Blind, we say the persons refer to the order of relations (kata schezein) rather than to the essence (521-522).

The later Cappadocians, excepting Gregory Nazianzus, account for the persons by the Father as cause or monarchy. They do not intend any latent Arianism by the word cause (since it happens before time), but, nonetheless, a person is now part of a causal sequence in the Godhead.


By no means is this a beginner’s textbook.  Kelly’s ordering of topics does not always follow the standard accounts.  Moreover, the reader risks getting lost in some of his appendices.  On the other hand, few Reformed authors today demonstrate Kelly’s grasp of Nicene Trinitarianism and the idea of person in the Godhead, and for that reason this volume is highly recommended to the intermediate student.


T. F. Torrance as Missional Theologian

Sherrard, Joseph.  T. F. Torrance as Missional Theologian: the Ascended Christ and the Ministry of the Church. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress Academic, 2021.

I initially approached this book with some skepticism.  Whenever someone uses the term “missional,” it is often to baptize some new, edgy idea.  Moreover, Thomas Torrance does not make one think of “missional theology.”  I was intrigued.  This book far surpassed my expectations.  The problem with missional theology is not that it tries to be missional.  Its problem is that it largely ignored the Trinity.  To be sure, some astute readers might point out Barth’s phrase of the “Mission Dei.”  Understanding what Barth meant by that might be a more daunting task.  

Whatever else Sherrard might say about missional theology, this book is a fine primer to Torrance’s theology.  As any reader of Torrance knows, the chief culprit is dualism. Dualism infected the Western world by Plato through Newton.  It was halted by James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein.

The hero of this story, as is the case with all of Torrance’s works, is Athanasius.  Athanasius was primarily influenced by the Markan tradition in Alexandria and the way of science in Alexandria.  This way of science is “kataphysical,” to use Torrance’s phrase.  We know a thing by submitting our minds to its inherent rationality.  According to Torrance, Athanasius employed this in his understanding of the Father-Son relationship.

Pre-Nicean Dualisms

Origen, Clement, and Alexandria understood the problem of dualism.  Unfortunately, they addressed dualism by reinforcing its basic assumptions.  Athanasius countered this, according to Torrance, with the claim that the revelation of Christ “exerted its own inner logic upon the term logos.”  Logos was no longer a Middle Platonic concept; it was now the Ha-Debar.  Logos did not mediate between God’s being and man’s being.  Rather, it was enousia logos; the logos internally inheres in the ousia of God (Contra Arianos II.1).  The relation between God and the logos is an internal relation.

Torrance and Calvin

Calvin was able to move somewhat beyond Augustine’s dualism of the mundus intelligibilis and the mundus unintelligibilis. This is best seen (though, to be sure, this is probably more illustrative of Torrance than of Calvin) with the fact that one cannot detach grace from God and make it inhere in a creature, such as we see in Roman Catholicism.  Grace is identical with Christ.


For the most part I do not care about this section because I do not care about Barth.  There are some perceptive comments on liberalism that are worth mentioning, though. Older liberalism upheld the same pernicious dualism.  Only now it was a dualism of correspondence between the divine and subjective structures in man’s self-consciousness.

At this point Sherrard pivots from the doctrine of God to the ministry of the ascended Christ to his church, as per the subtitle. In line with good Reformed theology, Sherrard points us to the threefold office of Christ as prophet, priest, and king. It is this framework that is “determinative” for “the church’s participation in Christ’s ministry.” Torrance does modify the traditional Reformed schemata in several ways. Torrance sees Christ’s offices as already embedded in the narrative of Israel by three Hebrew words: paddah, kipper, and Go’el. 

Torrance tends toward a “munus duplex” in some places, as the prophetic office is subsumed into the priestly one. If “homoousios” function as a cipher for his doctrine of God, the vicarious priesthood has a similar role for his Christology. Even if his account is overstated at points, he makes a number of important gains: his take on the vicarious humanity emphasizes the role of man to God in the mediator. Moreover, the humanity of Christ safeguards the reality of divine revelation.

Unlike some missional accounts, Torrance links the ascension of Christ with the Church’s ministry.  The church does not need to be “incarnational” for the sole reason that Jesus has ascended and give His Spirit.

The final chapters of the book contain some technical discussions about anhypostasia and enhypostasia and how they relate to the ministry of the church. As hinted at above, any discussion of “being incarnational” runs aground on the terms an/enhypostasis.


This book is a fine primer to the theology of Torrance.  Many of us who began our study of Torrance did so on the doctrine of God.  Sherrard’s work reminds us of other riches in Torrance’s corpus.

Space, Time, and Incarnation (Torrance)

At barely 90 pages of text, Thomas Torrance wrote a book on cosmology that shocked the theological world.  If his arguments in this book obtain, then all of modern Protestant theology (and Catholic modernists like Schillebeeckx) are not only biblically wrong, but scientifically wrong (which compounds the irony, given that they gut the faith to make it scientifically relevant).

Plato: Spoke of space as a receptacle, but only metaphorically.  It is that in which events take place.  A formless and passive medium (Torrance 4). The problem is that Plato had to use spatial terminology to refer to a world that was beyond space and time.

Aristotle: container notion of space (Physics, Book IV).  He saw the Platonic separation (χωρισμός) as the stuff or substrate.  It is associated with the category of quantity. It is a vessel (αγγειον).  There is a “relation of interdependence between the container and its contents” (7).  There is no void or empty space since the container is always in contact with that which it contains.

Problems: “in equating being in place with a particular volume, it also equated the volume with a spatial magnitude” (8).

Stoics: Space moves as the body or agent fills it.  Much closer to the biblical view, yet ended up making God part of the world, or the active principle of the world.  Degenerated.

Origen: accepted the Stoic contention that limit and comprehension go together.  God’s comprehending all things limits them.  He begins to form a relational notion of space.

Athanasius: doesn’t operate with the bifurcated worldview of Plato and Origen (the separation of cosmos aesthetos and cosmos noetos).  Torrance writes, “for the linking together incarnation and creation in the manner of Nicea made that impossible” (15).

The mediator who is also homoousion fulfils the space relations between God and man.   Mere creatures are unable to make room for God. Torrance writes, “The inter-relations of the Father and the Son must be thought in terms of ‘abiding’ and ‘dwelling’ in which each wholly rests in the other” (15).

The Son for us is the place (topos) where the Father is.  Therefore “place” “is here stretched beyond its ordinary use and must be interpreted elastically” (16).  Torrance then drops a cosmological hammer: “This forces theology into the construction of a sort of topological language in order to express the dispositional and dynamic inter-connection between topos and topos, or place and place” (16).

This requires, to use another Athanasian term, different paradeigma under the impact of divine revelation.  Space “is here a differential concept that is essentially open-ended” (18).  Torrance continues with the mathematical language: “It is treated as a sort of coordinate system (to use a later expression) between two horizontal dimensions, space and time, and one vertical dimension, relation to God” (18).

Modern and Reformation Conceptions

What is the “receptacle” mode of thought?  It is when we think of x being in y.  This works well on some level in classical physics.

For the ancient Greeks “finite,” “comprehensible,” and “limit” were all bound together.  An actual infinite was inconceivable.  This had to give once Christian revelation came on the scene, since God is infinite and maker of heaven and earth.  This “meant that God does not stand in a spatial or temporal relation to the universe” (23). 

The receptacle notion of space was applied to the sacraments.  Grace operates as though it is in a vessel.

Patristic notion of space: seat of relations or meeting place between God’s activity and the world.  It is a differential or open concept of space, as opposed to the closed Aristotelian system of limited bodies (24-25).                                                                                                                    

Duns Scotus began to correct the medieval problems by focusing on God’s creative will (29).

Extra Calvinisticum

One of the Lutherans’ problems with Calvinist Christology arose due to the former’s “container” notion of space (30ff). The Reformed were able to speak of Christ’s ascending to heaven or leaving heaven without abandoning his governance of the universe because they saw space in relational, and not quantitative terms.

Eternal Simultaneity in Luther

For God’s presence all spatial relations are reduced to a mathematical point (34). To his credit Luther recovered the biblical idea of the living and active God, yet Luther never escaped from the dualism embedded in a receptacle notion of space.

The problem: “If we posit any kind of spatial relation without extension in time we make it impossible to discern any real difference between the real presence of Christ in the days of his flesh, in the Eucharist, and at the Last Day” (35).


He held to the receptacle view but made it infinite.  Space and time are in God as in a container (38).  And since space and time are now infinite, they are now attributes of God.  This further mean that if God is the container, he can’t really become Incarnate.  A box cannot become one of the several objects it contains” (39).  This is partly why Newton was always suspected of being an Arian.

Incarnation and Space and Time


Receptacle notion: finite receptacle (Aristotle) and infinite (Newton).

Relational notion: Maybe Plato and the Stoics. Nicene and Reformers.

God’s relation to the world is an infinite differential, but the world’s relation to God is a created necessity (66). This means God is free from any spatio-temporal or causal necessity in relation to his creation.

Back to Einstein: the flow of time and the extent of material bodies depends on the velocity at which those bodies move.  The geometrical structures change according to the accumulation of mass within the field. If Einstein (or James Clerk Maxwell) is even remotely correct, then the old dualisms are necessarily false.

Theological Geometry: The Incarnation must create for us the field of organic connections “within which we are to develop our thought and language about it” (70-71).  “The interaction of God with us in the space and time of this world sets up, as it were, a coordinate system between two horizontal dimensions (space and time) and one vertical dimension (relation of God through his Spirit)” (72).

Economy: the orderly purpose and control of God as introduced by the Incarnation (79).

The analogy of topological language: we have to connect the different ways in which we must speak about topos and place in accordance witht he human and divine natures of Christ (81).

“Mind is not in time and space in the same sense in which ……

Personal Knowledge (Michael Polanyi)

Polanyi, Michael.  Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago, reprint 1974.

Despite the extreme difficulty of both the subject matter and the text itself, Polanyi’s argument is relatively simple: the knower is more akin to a detective looking for patterns than traditional epistemological models allow for. Earlier models saw knowledge as instrumental, and the closer one got to lab instruments, the better the knowledge.  With Einstein we see a beginning attack on this type of thinking.  His 1905 essays “discovered rationality in nature, unaided by observation” (Polanyi 11).

You Know More than You Can Say

The scientist, or any knower, observes “a set of rules which are not known as such to the person following them” (49).  There are rules to an art, but they do not always determine how you practice that art.  Polanyi gives the example of practicing a piano.  On one hand, a certain sequence of keys have to be hit, but they also have to be hit in a certain way, or “touch.”  The element of “touch” remains surprisingly resistant to analysis.

This type of learning is tradition, or that of a master/apprentice relationship. The apprentice watches the master and imitates him.  In doing so, he not only learns the technical process of the craft, but he also picks up the rules of the art which aren’t always known to the master himself (53).

Focal Awareness vs. Subsidiary Awareness

I hit a hammer with a nail. In doing so, I attend to both the hammer and the nail, but not in the same way. My focal awareness is on driving the nail.  My subsidiary awareness is on the feeling the hammer has on my hand.  I am “watch[ing] something else while keeping intensely aware of [it]” (55).

Polanyi concludes this chapter noting that “personal knowledge in science is not made but discovered, and as such it claims contact with reality beyond the clues on which it relies. It commits us, passionately and far beyond our comprehension, to a vision of reality” (64).  This is what Thomas Torrance calls “kataphysic knowledge.” It is where we submit as knower to the object known, which then impresses itself into our mode of knowing.

When we discover patterns in learning, the process is irreversible.  You can never “unsee” a completed puzzle.  The child at early ages learns by basic operational rules.  Over time and use, these rules form a system of logic.  This system of logic does not give any new information.  It is akin to “mere manipulation of symbols” (83).  When confronted with a completely new opportunity for knowledge, the mind must make a “proleptic jump” from the known to the unknown.

Subsidiary knowledge is instrumental knowledge.  “It is not known in itself but is known in terms of something focally known” (88). In the quest for knowledge, one cannot always say how the subsidiary facts fit together.

“The origin of this intellectual striving…both shapes our understanding and assents to its being true.” It is “an active principle” (96).

“Education is latent knowledge, of which we are aware subsidarily in our sense of intellectual power based on this knowledge” (103).

Polanyi’s project consists in reminding us that we rely on verbal clues in the quest for knowledge.  Knowledge is not merely justified, true belief, but also “aha!”  It is almost a gamble.  Polanyi writes, “We take a plunge only in order to gain a firmer foothold” (106). We are moved by “a desire for greater clarity and coherence.”

Back to the Search

Polanyi points out three “strata of intensions:”

(1)   Readily specifiable properties of a class of things.

(2)   The known but not readily specifiable.

(3)   Indeterminate range of anticipations.

In other words, “In order to analyse the use of a descriptive term we must use it for the purpose of contemplating its subject matter” (116).  We move from analysis to use to proleptic jump. It is almost a paradox.  One cannot discover a new thing by merely following the accepted rules.  There remains a “logical gap” between the rules of the experiment and the discovery (123). Illumination bridges the gap.  This logical leap is a heuristic act which requires the rules to be sometimes vague and that interpretation be an art.

Focus awareness  {conception of solution} = Look at known data as clues to the unknown

^ ^ ^ ^
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Polanyi: “We look at the known data, but not in themselves, rather as clues to the unknown; as pointers to it and parts of it” (127-128).  The act of knowledge has a certain “feel to it.”

“The application of existing rules can produce valuable surveys, but does not advance the principles of science.  We have to cross the logical gap between a problem and its solution by relying on the unspecifiable impulse of our intellectual personality” (143).

“As observers or manipulators of experience we are guided by experience and pass through experience without experiencing it in itself” (197).

As Polanyi hints on his last page, and as Thomas Torrance said in all of his literature, the closet analogue to this type of knowing is worship and theology.


We should stand in awe of Polanyi’s breakthrough. One wonders, however, if he would have been as important if Thomas Torrance had not promoted his project. In Torrance’s hands Polanyi’s work, especially when incorporated into theological epistemology and the Trinity, is exhilarating. This book, however, is not. Before reading this book, one should spend some time with Esther Lightcap Meek‘s works on epistemology.

The Science of God (McGrath)

McGrath, Alister. The Science of God: An Introduction to Scientific Theology.

Alister McGrath defends the idea that creation (or “nature”) is a real entity that discloses knowledge in such a way that shapes the knowledge it discloses. In other words, ontology structures epistemology without negating the latter. Echoing Thomas Torrance, we know “kata physin.”

He begins with his own life-journey from studying chemistry at Oxford to studying theology–and becoming a Christian along the way.

Contra Hellenism and Orientalism, since creation is contingent, the real can be found by acknowledging nature’s contingency (McGrath 51). For Greeks, to get to the real was to get beyond appearances and nature. For the creation-tradition, however, the opposite was the case. The natural order possesses its own goodness and rationality.

Creation (or “nature”) finds itself within an interlocking network of divine and human rationality (62). Following the Hebrew writers, particularly Job (38ff), creation is linked with the idea of God’s “ordering.” This ordering is not the result of God’s being under necessity, but is rather contingent.

McGrath defends natural theology but in a new way. Natural theology isn’t looking at a squirrel and then deducing God’s simplicity. Rather, it begins with revelation and sees the natural world as disclosing real truths.

The book then moves from “nature” to “theory.” McGrath criticizes communitarian approaches like Lindbeck and to an extent, Barth. He also interacts with John Milbank and Alasdair McIntyre.

This book is a summary and popularization of his larger Scientific Theology. It succeeds in channeling key aspects of Thomas Torrance (on epistemology and ontology) while leaving Karl Barth behind

The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Torrance)

Torrance, Thomas F. The Ground and Grammar of Theology. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1980.

Man, the Priest of Creation

Herman Weyl: “since all things, bodies in motion and space and time, are ultimately defined by reference to light, light occupies a metaphysical place in the universe” (Torrance 3-4).

Thesis: space and time are the bearers of all rational order in the universe (6). These set the boundary markers for us and represent the way “we know things in accordance with their natures” (8). These things impress themselves upon our minds. Theology works the same way, though we do not always know a thing in one field by the same rational mode in another.

The Being of God in His Acts

Science is moving beyond the old structures of determinism and mechanism towards an “open-structured order” (12).  Instead of either a flat mechanism (modernity) or Neo-Platonic emanations, we see the universe as a hierarchy of levels, “a stratified structure, so that our science takes the form of an ascending hierarchy of relations of thought that are open upward in a deeper and deeper dimension of depth” (13).  This is a huge point that Torrance expounds elsewhere in his works on the Trinity.  I wish he would have given examples.

Emerging from the Cultural Spirit

Thesis of chapter: examine the move from a dualist to a unitary outlook on the universe (15).  Torrance’s enemy in this chapter is the “old mechanistic system, or a closed continuum of cause and effect, characterized throughout by a hard determinism” (18). This is at odds with a kataphatic view of reality, where the very structures of reality impress themselves upon our minds.  The closed continuum view, by contrast, rules out possibilities before the very investigation.


The first dualism was from the Greeks, that of the sharp contrast of “rectilinear motion in terrestrial mechanics and circular motion in celestial mechanics” (21).  This points to a deeper dualism between “the empirical and the theoretical, the physical and the spiritual, the temporal and the eternal, the mortal and divine.”

Newton never fully broke with these dualisms.  He identified absolute time and space with the mind of God, thus positing an eternal, inertial frame. Kant took this absolute time and space from the mind of God to the mind of the human knower (26).

But if Einstein is correct that there is a unity of form and being, the theoretical and empirical factors in knowledge, then we can no longer follow Kant (30).  If there is indeed a unity of form and being, structure and substance, then we can be confident that “reality discloses of itself” (31). The same unity, we will see, also obtains in theology.  

Response: I like this. It echoes my thoughts. I do wonder, however, if Torrance overcooked the evidence.

Nicene Theological Geometry (my phrase)

Nicea rejects the Greek dualisms in knowledge.  As Torrance says, “If Jesus Christ is in his own being what he is as God’s revealing word and saving act towards us…then through Christ and in one Spirit we are given access to God…(40).  The enousion energia are the internal relations of God (cf. Athanasius, Discourse on the Arians, II.14.2).  The anchor of homoousion allows us to see “the meditation of knowledge of God in his intrinsic reality and intelligibility” (40).

Creation and Science

Thesis: We know the intrinsic structures of the universe “in such a way that its basic design becomes disclosed” (45). When we seek to know both God and the world in such a way that they force the structures on our minds, we have “what Cyril of Alexandria (or maybe Clement of Alexandria) called dogmatike epistime, ‘dogmatic science’” (50). We know God and the world in the way that “our minds fall under the power of what we hear and find there.”  Professor Torrance helpfully outlines what he means:

[1] There is a rational unity of the universe. If God created all things, then we cannot posit a hard and fast dichotomy in the universe.

[2] There is a contingent rationality or intelligibility of the universe (53). Indeed, we might not be able to posit eternal forms in creation.  (For all his recent lapses in theology, William Lane Craig at least saw this clearly in his rejection of Platonism.) Space and time now have a relation to God, a created relation.  This means we must reject the Aristotelian notion of space as a container and the Newtonian view of time as absolute.

[3] The freedom of the universe is a contingent freedom.

Torrance suggests that Athanasian theology and non-Aristotelian, indeed anti-Aristotelian, science meet in the person of John Philoponus.  Philoponus was condemned as a monophysite because nature, according to Western readings, was interpreted in an Aristotelian way.  Philoponus, working with relational views of space and time, saw nature as more akin to “reality,” which led him to say there was only one reality of the Logos–no schizoid Christ (61).

Theological summary of the book: “Since the act and Word of God we meet in Jesus Christ are eternally inherent in the Being of God, and since none other than the very Being of God himself is mediated to us through the incarnation of his love in Act and Word in Jesus Christ, God’s Being is revealed to be his Being in his Act and Word” (67).

The Transformation of Natural Theology

We hold to a natural theology, but not one of simply identifying various causes.  Rather with Athanasius’s De Gentes we “let our minds tune in to the rational order that pervades the universe…a way of communing with the regulative and providential activity of God in the rational order of the universe” (76).  When this work is paired with Athanasius’s more popular De Incarnatione we see a field of “God/man/world or God/world/man interconnections.”  This allows the structure of reality to “throw light upon the whole manifold of connections with which we are concerned in the knowledge of God in his interaction with creation” (77).

Unity of Form and Being

This unity finds an analogue in the Word/Act and Being of God.  The unity of form and being is the “indivisibility of the intelligible and the ontological” (96).  The patristic analogue is the inherent of logos and act in being.  This means that objects “must be known and understood objectively in their distinctive modes of being and modes of self-disclosure.”  As a result, these “things” will impress upon us objective forms of thought “correlated with the ultimate openness of being and its semantic reference beyond itself” (97).

Conclusion and Grammar of Theology

[1] There is a Trinitarian character in our knowing that corresponds to the trinity of relations in God himself.  “We grasp things in our though, and hold them in our thought, only if we can grasp them in their internal relations” (149-150).  We take our cue from Athanasius’s concepts of enousios logos and enousios energeia.

[1.1] If the Logos is inherent into the being of God, then we have access to divine intelligibility.  We are able to access intrinsic structures.

[1.2] If God’s energeia or act inheres in his being, and that Act is Jesus in the Incarnation, then we know God “in his activity in disclosing himself to us” (152). A created analogue is our relation and knowing to the dynamic structure of the universe (as opposed to a medieval model of final causes).

[2] Our first and basic level of this experience is in worship, “in which we encounter the revealing God.” The next level is the theological level where we meet up with the so-called Economic Trinity.  This throws us upon a “higher theological and scientific level,” the internal relations of God.  While we know the economic reality first, it is the ontological reality that grounds our knowing.  This is true episteme dogmatike. 

Like all of Torrance’s books, this one is exciting, explosive, and probably underdeveloped in key areas.  I think the problem is that Torrance likely memorized many of Athanasius’s passages in the original Greek and instead of translating them from memory, I think he is summarizing the Greek into English from memory.  I went back and checked some of these in Contra Arianos.  The idea is close enough, but not word-for-word.

Revamping Natural Theology

Let’s explore a different angle. I went over some of my notes on Torrance, Einstein, Polanyi, and the like.

With the natural theology guys, we agree that there is a rationality in nature that points towards God and to which even the unbeliever has access.

Against the natural theology guys, this rationality is more along the lines of post-Newtonian models and not simply Aristotle’s causality.

With the Van Tillians I agree that without God this rationality would be impossible, as it would no longer be contingent.

Against the Van Tillians, it is better to pursue this as seeing a God-given rationality within nature rather than bizarre transcendental models.

Bottom line: the extreme Van Tillians are wrong to reject natural theology as proposed above. The classical theists, although correct on the doctrine of God, need to move beyond Plato and Aristotle.

Notes on Polanyi, part 2

You Know More than You Can Say

The scientist, or any knower, observes “a set of rules which are not known as such to the person following them” (49).  There are rules to an art, but they do not always determine how you practice that art.  Polanyi gives the example of practicing a piano.  On one hand, a certain sequence of keys have to be hit, but they also have to be hit in a certain way, or “touch.”  The element of “touch” remains surprisingly resistant to analysis.

This type of learning is tradition, or that of a master/apprentice relationship. The apprentice watches the master and imitates him.  In doing so, he not only learns the technical process of the craft, but he also picks up the rule of the art which aren’t always known to the master himself (53).

Focal Awareness vs. Subsidiary Awareness

I hit a hammer with a nail. In doing so, I attend to both the hammer and the nail, but not in the same way. My focal awareness is on driving the nail.  My subsidiary awareness is on the feeling the hammer has on my hand.  I am “watch[ing] something else while keeping intensely aware of [it]” (55).

Polanyi concludes this chapter noting that “personal knowledge in science is not made but discovered, and as such it claims contact with reality beyond the clues on which it relies. It commits us, passionately and far beyond our comprehension, to a vision of reality” (64).  This is what Thomas Torrance calls “kataphysic knowledge.” It is where we submit as knower to the object known, which then impresses itself into our mode of knowing.

One Being, Three Persons (Torrance)

Torrance, Thomas.

The homoousion is a decisive step in the life of the church.  It guarantees how we understand the internal relations in the Trinity.  Not only are the persons homoousion, but so are the relations.

“Only in Christ is God’s self-revelation identical with himself” (Torrance 1).  In Christ God has communicated his Word to us and imparted his Spirit.  

God’s three-fold revelation and self-communication to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (7).

The mutual relationship between knowing and being between God and the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-12) has been embodied in Jesus.

Since the proof of an unknown reality is its own evidence, and the conceptual mode of relating to it there must be a breaking through to a new realm of truth, and this calls for faith (19).

Knowledge of new realities calls for new ways of thinking–new concepts and new thought patterns (Contra Arianos, 1:23; 4:27; De Synodis 42).

The difficulty the early church overcame was in acquiring knowledge of something yet unknown (20).

Being and Act

God reveals himself out of himself.

God gives himself as a whole. In knowing God we do not know God as a part, but we apprehend the Whole.  But in apprehending the whole, we know that full comprehension eludes us (26). We know God as Totum, but not en toto.

In the Communion of the Spirit our own way of knowing is lifted up into the transcendent life (33).  By our indwelling the Scriptures our minds form a structural kinship.

Personal Knowledge

We interiorize what we seek to know and rely not just on external evidence (38).  The object naturally integrates into us and we let it disclose its depths of meaning to us.

Knowledge of the father, Son, and HS are locked into each other.

The Trinitarian Mind

The mystery of Godliness means thinking about God in a  Trinitarian way.

“The Son is the knowledge of the Father, but the knowledge of the Son is in the father and has been revealed through the Son” (Irenaeus 4.14.5).  

Homoousion: God’s revelation of himself as Father, Son, and HS in the economy of salvation is grounded in and derived from the eternal being of God” (80).

P1: Our conceptual statements must be open-ended and point beyond themselves.

Top Level: More refined scientific theory/Trinitarian relations in God


Middle Level: Theory/ Economy of Christ

Ground level: day to day experience/ Evangelical apprehension and experience

Each level is open to the others.  When we move from one level to another, we seek to order the basic concepts from the lower level to the higher.

The intuitive mind takes its first principle at once and as a whole, naturally and tacitly (84).

Since the Act and Word of God are internal to his being, we may know God through the Act and Word in the inner reality of his being (Contra Ar. 1:9ff).

Since the Spirit is not embodied in space and time, we cannot know him in the concrete modalities.  Our knowledge of him rests directly on the objectivity of God, unmediated.  

One Being/Three Persons

Ousia–not a static being but the living and speaking being (116). Athanasius preferred to use verbs when speaking of God (De Synodis 34).  Ousia is to be understood in terms of the divine “I am.” Being-in-Act and Act-in-Being.

God’s being is a being-for-others. 

Monarchy and Taxis

The monarchy means there is a specific order to the divine Persons.  It is the order manifested in the history and revealing of God’s saving acts (176). The Son is begotten of the Father, not the other way around.

Cappadocian Developments

If one presses the cappadocian distinctions too far, then we are left with the claim that the person of the Father causes, deifies, and personalizes the Being of the Son, Spirit, and even Godhead!

We can say, however, that the monarchia of the Father is cause not of their being, but of their mode of enhypostatic differentiation (179).

Torrance wants to see the monarchia referring to the Being of the Father, rather than strictly the Person.  For him this points back to the intrinsic relations of the Being: The Being of the Father as Father means the Being of the Son of the Father.

Perichoresis reinforces that the Holy Trinity may be known only as a whole.

Divine Meaning (Thomas Torrance)

Complex Background

Athanasian thought would ultimately part with the Hellenistic separation (chorismos) between “kosmos aisthetos” and “kosmos noetos.” 


Dialectic between pleroma and kenoma.  We can only know what God is not (Basilides). Thus, without a positive epistemological control, the Gnostics were thrown back upon mythology to make sense of God. 

Relatively speaking, the kenoma is a realm of non-existence. How, then, can we offer any account of the way things really are, if we can only think them in a vast vacuum or blank? (Torrance 31).  “If we seek to know God by pushing abstraction of him to the limit of an infinite discrepancy between what he is and what we can think of him, then our thoughts and statements can only be about nothing, and we are simply engaged in empty movements of speech and thought within the kenoma.”

If our knowledge of the descending realms of kenoma are merely shadows, and these realms are shadows, then the Gnostics face a problem: how can shadows cast shadows?  But if the shadows can’t cast shadows, then the idea and paradeigmata in the intelligible world are substantial bodies or essences—then have we not just lapsed back into heathen pluralism” (32).

Irenaeus and Kerygma

It is embodied truth or embodied doctrine (61).  

Hellenism had to have allegory because Hellenism posited a chorismos between the sensible world and the intelligible world, and since they could never touch, allegory allowed one to “jump” from one world to the other.  To this Irenaeus opposed typology.  There is an inseparable relation between word and event (101).  Therefore, “the distinction between aletheia and tupos is not that between intelligible and sensible…but between the preparatory action of God in history pointing forward to…his final action in the Incarnation and Atonement through which all things are changed and brought to their fulfillment” (102). 

“Recapitulation means that redemptive activity of God in Jesus Christ was not just a transcendent act that touched our existence in space and time at one point, but passed into our existence and is at work within it, penetrating back to the beginning in the original creation retracing it and reaffirming it in the divine Will, and reaching forward to the consummation in the new creation in which all things are gathered up, thus connecting the end with the beginning” (121).

Hermeneutics of Clement

“Faith itself is the basic form of understanding and its source” (130).

“Epistemology” is derived from stasis, for it is a standing of the mind upon objective realities.

Athanasius:  Foundation of Classical Theology

Torrance makes the claim that Athanasius came from the episcopal school in Alexandria, and not the catechetaical school. This means he would have absorbed the Hebraic outlook of St Mark

Two kinds of demonstration:

Athanasius came to reject the dualism of “kosmos aisthetos” and “kosmos noetos.” 

His main argument:  while God is beyond created being and all human devising (epinoia), he nevertheless remains being in his own transcendent way.  His ousia is being and activitiy. 

The Doctrine of God

Key premise: he cut the identity between the generation of the Son and the creation of the universe.  In generation there is an identity of nature, in creation there is a disparity of natures (Florovsky).

God in his internal relations: “Since the Logos is internal to the being of God, essentially and eternally enousios in God, truly to know God in and through the Logos is to know him in the inner reality of his own Being” (186).  

The doctrine of the Son

Redemption takes place within the mediatorial life of the Incarnate Son.  Salvation “takes place in the inner relations of the mediator (mesites) and not simply in Christ’s external relations with sinners” (193). 

Theological Language and Method

There is a rigorous knowledge of the inner structure of things investigated (204).  

The Logic and Analogic of Biblical and Theological Statements in the Greek Fathers

  1. The Spirit and Knowledge of God
    1. Athanasius and Paul: Only the Spirit knows the things of God.
    2. Our minds are directed away towards the proper object in God to be governed by his Word.
  2. Homoousion: basic logical economy which governs theological grammar in accordance with the pattern of God’s own self-communication in the Incarnation.
    1. it breaks up the radical disjunction between kosmos aesthetos and kosmos noetos.
    2. It keeps our thoughts from being imprisoned within themseles, but directs them dianoia in God, kata physin kai alethos.
  3. Ana-Logical Reference
    1. What God is to us in Jesus Christ he is eternally in himself.
    2. If we know via the Logos, then all true theological statements will be consistent with one another in so far as they have the Logos as their center of reference.
    3. Oikonomia
      1. Later on this was changed to mean “in reserve.” Only economical, where God is to us not quite what he appears to be.
      2. Rather, because of the Incarnation of the Logos God really imparts knowledge and himself to us.
  4. Logos as Person
    1. He is God’s self-communication
    2. If he were Word only, we “would be thrown back upon our own resources to authenticate him; if he were Person only, we would be thrown back upon our own resources to interpret him…
    3. “But because he is both Word and Person, he interprets and authenticates himself”.
    4. As self-communicating, he is self-authenticating