Both Thomas F. Torrance and Karl Barth speak of the obedience of the Son as a condescension of the Son to become incarnate for our sakes. Thus there is wide agreement between them with regard to both the doctrines of atonement and the Trinity. Yet, despite the fact that Barth never wavered in his rejection of subordinationism and modalism and always affirmed the freedom of God's love, he also claimed that there ‘is in God Himself an above and a below, a prius and a posterius, a superiority and a subordination’,1 while Torrance unequivocally refused to read elements of the economy, such as the ideas of super and subordination and a before or after, back into the immanent Trinity. By comparing the thinking of Barth and Torrance on this issue, I hope to show why I think Barth illegitimately read back elements of the economy into the immanent Trinity, thus creating confusion where clarity would help us see that what God does for us in the economy is and remains an act of free grace which becomes obscured when any sort of hierarchy is introduced into the Trinity.
Both theologians thoroughly agree that what God is towards us in the economy, he is eternally in himself and what he is eternally in himself, he is towards us in the economy. But, there is a difference between them over how to interpret this insight, since Barth thinks super and subordination should be ascribed to the immanent Trinity. While Torrance, like Barth, will argue that the incarnation and Christ's mediatorial activity fall ‘within the life of God’, he also insists that the incarnation cannot in any way be confused with the generation of the Son from the Father in eternity. Barth would agree; yet this important distinction becomes fuzzy when he ascribes subordination and obedience to the eternal Son as a basis for his actions ad extra.
This article will develop in four sections. First, I will discuss the obedience of the Son as condescension for Torrance and Barth. Second, I will consider the implications of the Extra Calvinisticum for each theologian's view of the obedience of the Son and of the Trinity. Third, I will explore how each theologian attempts to avoid subordinationism and modalism indicating the problems which arise in Barth's thinking in connection with these views. Fourth, I will compare Torrance and Barth, showing that Torrance more consistently maintains God's freedom and love by not reading back elements of the economy into the life of the immanent Trinity.