Vindicae Torrance Contra Orthodox Bridge

Normally when I respond to Orthodox Bridge, I am trying to refute them and vindicate Reformed theology.  This post will be different.  Orthodox Bridge, in a move completely out of character for them, examined a high-profile Reformed theologian’s work. I encourage you to read the piece.  True, it does have all of the flaws of an OB post, but it is also quite informative and comes close to getting to the “real issues.”

I say they “came close” to the real issues.  They did not address them. Orthodox Bridge doesn’t like talking about prolegomena, Revelation, or the Doctrine of God.  And that’s where Torrance is most powerful.

We can spend all arguing over Election vs. Works-Righteousness, but what’s the point? I think this topic highlights the fundamental epistemological and ontological differences between the two streams of thought.  Much of the article is informative and needs no interaction on my part.  So let’s begin:

Arakaki is interacting with a Participatio issue on Torrance.

He was also critical of certain elements of Reformed theology, at least of the Dutch variant.

(and he goes to mention Torrance’s rejection of Limited Atonement stems from his Scottish theology.)  Several problems here:  LA wasn’t a Dutch innovation.  It has strong British and even Scottish elements.  

Arakaki writes

 

I would argue that the Nicene Creed emerged out of the interaction between the regula fidei (rule of faith) handed down by the bishops and the Church’s reading of Scripture, that is between oral tradition and written tradition.  I noticed that Torrance made no mention of oral tradition in his essay.  This is a significant omission because it is in oral tradition that the sense of Scripture is preserved.  If one looks at the early patristic writings, e.g., Irenaeus of Lyons, one finds that the rule of faith (creed) was derived from oral tradition, not from Scripture (Against Heresies 1.10.1).

 

First of all, Arakaki isn’t “arguing” anything.  He is asserting.  An argument has defensible premises leading to a conclusion.  Secondly, Torrance didn’t mention oral tradition because oral tradition is impossible to empirically verify. What would have been the point of such a discussion?  Orthodox apologists are big on telling us the “that” of Oral Tradition.  They have never proven the “what” of it.

The appeal to Irenaeus doesn’t alleviate the problem.  If Oral Tradition is simply “the rule of faith,” then a number of key distinctives are ruled out:  iconostasis, incense, prayers to Mary, etc.  I am not saying these are wrong, mind you, but if Oral Tradition = Regula Fide = something like early Roman baptismal creeds, then the above distinctions cannot be part of Oral Tradition.

Arakaki is bothered that Torrance doesn’t view the Nicene Creed prescriptively with regard to the teaching authority of the bishops.  He notes,

So, as much as Torrance is sympathetic to the Orthodox Church’s position, he does not seem to get it at certain significant points of doctrine and polity.

My initial reaction is “so?”  You’ve merely illustrated a difference.  You have not demonstrated Torrance to be wrong.

Torrance on Justification

Arakaki quotes Fairbairn on Cyril defining the Protestant view of justification as

The challenge here lay in finding in Cyril the Protestant understanding of justification as a passively received righteousness and sanctification as a cooperatively produced holiness/righteousness (Fairbairn p. 126).

This isn’t entirely true of Torrance’s position.  Torrance, given his Barthian view of revelation, sees both objective and subjective elements in Justification. The objective element is Christ’s work on the cross.  The subjective element is the faith of Christ in his life, which presents itself to us in an objective manner.

Maybe Torrance is wrong on here, but it is a glaring oversight to ignore Torrance’s most important essay on the topic (“Justification in Doctrine and Life,” in Theology in Reconstruction, pp. 150-168).

Divine Energies

Not surprisingly, Torrance rejects the essence/energies construction.  Arakaki, by contrast, follows the Palamite claim that  while God is unknowable in His Essence, we can know God through his Energies.  Now we are at the heart of the disagreement.  

For Torrance, not only is such a claim unnecessary, it is wrong and un-Athanasian.  To be sure, Arakaki is bothered by Torrance’s pitting Athanasius against other Fathers, but so be it.  Torrance argues that we can know God.  Per Athanasius, there is a mutual relation of knowing and being.  Christ’s being homoousion with the Father means that he really gives knowledge of God to us.  God really communicates himself to us.  He doesn’t hold anything back.  Our knowledge of God is rooted in the eternal being of God himself (Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, 59).  If Jesus really gives us knowledge of himself–indeed, he gives us his very self–and if the Logos inheres in the very being of God, then how can we posit an unknowable gap in the knowledge of God?

Here is another way to state the problem:  Is God the same God in his modes of origination as he is in his modes of revelation?  If yes, then that is Torrance’s position.  If no, you might not have the Christian God.

Didymus rebuts Basil’s distinction between the energies/operations of God and the immediate activity of his being…for it would damage a proper understanding of the real presence of God to us in his Spirit” (Torrance 210).

The Monarchia of The Trinity

What is the causal anchor point of the Trinity?  Does the monarchia refer to the hypostasis of the Father (per Basil and later EO teaching) or does it refer to the Triunity of God?  This is the key moment where Torrance wins the debate.  Well, I say wins the debate.  Arakaki doesn’t really argue the point. But here is the problem:

In order to rebut the charge that their (i.e., the Cappadocians) differentiation between the three hypostases implied three divine principles, they shifted the weight of the term “Cause” onto the Father. This had a damaging effect of seeing the Deity of the Father as wholly uncaused but the deity of the Son/Spirit as eternally derived or caused.  Further, they cast the internal relations between the three Persons into a consecutive structure or causal chain of dependence, instead of conceiving them (like Athanasius) in terms of their coinherent and undivided wholeness (Torrance 238).  Gregory of Nazianzus was probably closest to Athanasius in that he could speak (if somewhat inconsistently) of the deity as Monarchia.

Torrance: “The Cappadocian attempt to redefine ousia as a generic concept, with the loss of its concrete sense of being as internal relations, meant that it would be difficult if not impossible for theology to move from the self-revelation of God in his evangelical acts to what he is inherent in himself.  If God’s Word and act are not inherent (enousia) in his being or ousia, as Athanasius insisted, then we cannot relate what God is toward us in his saving relation and activity to what he is in himself” (246).

Assessment

 

One of Torrance’s greatest shortcomings was his failing to understand or take seriously the conciliar nature of Orthodox theology.  This failing seems to apply not just to Torrance, but to other Protestants as well.

 

And these are assertions, not arguments.  I need not take them seriously.  What you would need to do is a) prove that your approach is correct and b) then show how the Protestant approach entails logical self-refutations.  

 

Until Protestants grapple with the ecclesial and conciliar dimensions of doing theology, theological dialogue between Reformed and Orthodox Christians will be hampered by misunderstandings and people speaking past each other

 

Until EO apologists like Orthodox Bridge move beyond surface-level assertions, theological dialogue will be hampered and we will speak past each other.  Remember, a bridge is a two-way street.  Methinks–in fact, meknows–that Orthodox Bridge has no intention of learning from Protestants in form of correction.  Given their identity as having the fullness of faith, what could they possibly learn from us schismatics?  

 

Protestant theologians need to engage in a critical scrutiny to theological methods, both theirs and those outside the Protestant tradition.

 

Orthodox theologians  need to engage in a critical scrutiny to theological methods, both theirs and those outside the Orthodox tradition.

 

For example, Reformed Christians need to discuss with the Orthodox the importance of the Ecumenical Councils and the patristic consensus for doing theology.

 

You first.  This is a two-way street.  Where are you wrong that we can help you?  If you are not willing to admit that, you are dishonest.  You don’t want dialogue.  You want converts.  That’s fine.  Just say so in the first place.  You see, you can’t say that.  Your tradition is infallible.  

 

All too often one finds Reformed theologians who are quick to stereotype Orthodox Christianity or who fail to read the church fathers in their historical context.

 

All too often one finds Orthodox theologians who are quick to stereotype Reformed Christianity or who fail to read the church fathers in their historical context

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About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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3 Responses to Vindicae Torrance Contra Orthodox Bridge

  1. Cal says:

    You do realize that the ‘about’ for the blog is that it is to help Evangelicals to learn about Orthodoxy and perhaps “cross over to the other side”. It’s all a one-way street, which is why my first foray will also be my last.

    What Arakaki does not mention is that Fr. Dragas gives a lecture, that is mostly off the cuff, reflecting on TF Torrance’s legacy. It is very similar to the one in the issue of ‘Participatio’. At the end, he recounts how Metropolitan Methodius saw Torrance as Patriarch of the Church in Scotland, equating the moderator of the Kirk as a kind of archbishopric.

    Also, Fr. Dragas recounts how Torrance was asked if the Church of Scotland was ‘the’ Church. Torrance said: No, but we are a Prophetic movement within ‘the’ Church. Fr. Dragas admitted the same thing for himself and his Greek Orthodoxy.

    The problem with people like OrthodoxBridge is that they are internet-fundamentalists. They turn discussion as a winner-take-all, zero-sum-game kind of competition. All of their theology is so utterly abstract, that if you live at your computer, you might be fooled. They are all closet Idealists.

    Rather, I’m constantly amazed at how Romanized they act. Some of them seem jealous that there is point of singular unity to full present an imperial, complete, magisterium. I suppose that’s why there is a weird following around the Ecumenical Patriarch.

    Instead, real relationships like Torrance and Dragas, or even Florovsky, represent the possibility of reunion. That’s because unity belongs not to would-be theologians but to the Holy Spirit.

    cal

    Like

    • JB Aitken says:

      THat’s a very good way of putting it. I wish they had gone into more detail on Torrance. I think part of the problem is that some people see a crossover between Torrance’s view on vicarious humanity and EO’s view of theosis. Theosis is the sexy thing in theology right now.

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