Wednesday, March 30, 2011

T.F. Torrance: The Atonement, pt. 6

Range of Atoning Reconciliation

Comment: For those of us who have suffered the clinical depression that accompanies indoctrination in the Calvinist doctrine of “predestination,” the following should be of more help than Prozac! Thank you, Father in heaven, for raising up Karl Barth and T.F Torrance!

The descent of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh through the humanity of Jesus Christ is directly related to the important issue of the “boundless” nature of the atoning exchange. For Torrance (1993:244), the “range” of atoning reconciliation is directly related to the nature of God, whom scripture describes as “love” (1Jn 4:8, 16):
What are we to think, then, about the range of atoning redemption if it flows from and is anchored in the nature and being, and the love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? It cannot but be commensurate with the eternal nature, being and love of the Blessed Trinity, for to limit the range of atoning redemption would be to limit the range of the nature, being and love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Since God is love, to limit the range of his love would be tantamount to imposing limits upon the ultimate being of God and to call in question the universal nature of the communion inherent in his triune reality as God.
As Torrance argues, to limit the range of atonement is to introduce a limitation in the eternal nature of God as love, as well as a “schism” or “contradiction” in the hypostatic union of divinity and humanity in Jesus Christ. In the “indissoluble union” between incarnation and atonement, we learn that God is love (1Jn 4:8, 16), and that he loves all people without exception (Jn 3:16), for he cannot be to anyone other than what he is in himself. The love of God revealed in Jesus Christ is the “ultimate ground” of atonement (Torrance, 1996c:295-297). The gifts of love that flow to us through the incarnate Son are “quite unlimited” and as “inexhaustible” as God’s love for us. Because the life of Jesus Christ “has a value that outweighs the whole universe,” Torrance asserts the “infinite,” “transcendent” worth, and “universal” range of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, noting that this was a recurrent theme among many of the church fathers, particularly in the Eastern church (Torrance, 1988a:181, 182).

Comment: Note that Torrance grounds his understanding of the range of atonement in the nature of God. God is, by nature, love. Love is not merely an attribute among other attributes of God. Love is Who God Is, as scripture plainly teaches. Sovereignty, justice, and holiness have to be framed in the context of the love of God, particularly as revealed in Jesus Christ. To be sure, all our speech about God must begin with the definitive self-revelation of the divine nature, that is, Jesus Christ.

In regard to the range of atoning reconciliation, Torrance attributes great redemptive significance to the biblical assertion that the eternal Son, by whom all things were made, became man (cf. Jn 1:3, 14; Col 1:16, 17; Heb 1:2, 3). Since the consubstantial Father-Son relation falls “within” the being of God, argues Torrance (1986b:474), the person and work of Jesus Christ must be understood in terms of their “internal” relation to God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. Thus, the eternal Word who became incarnate in Jesus Christ is not only “of one being with the Father” (homoousios to Patri); he is also the one through whom all things were made. Moreover, since the Creator Word is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29), “the doctrines of redemption and creation cannot be torn apart but must be allowed to interpenetrate each other.”

In a passage that integrates the doctrines of creation and incarnation with the doctrine of redemption, particularly in regard to the universal range of atoning reconciliation, Torrance (1988a:182, 183) writes:
Through his penetration into the perverted structures of human existence he reversed the process of corruption and more than made good what had been destroyed, for he has now anchored human nature in his own crucified and risen being, freely giving it participation in the fullness of God’s grace and blessing embodied in him. Since he is the eternal Word of God by whom and through whom all things that are made are made, and in whom the whole universe of visible and invisible realties coheres and hangs together, and since in him divine and human natures are inseparably united, then the secret of every man, whether he believes or not, is bound up with Jesus for it is in him that human contingent existence has been grounded and secured.
Comment: The secret of every man “whether he believes it or not,” is bound up in Jesus. We do not invite Jesus into our lives through a personal decision of faith; Jesus has already INCLUDED us in the life of the eternal Triune God.

Again, Torrance (1993:244, 245) clearly connects creation and incarnation with the unlimited range of atonement as follows:
By his incarnate constitution as the Mediator between God and man who is at once Creator God and creaturely man, Jesus Christ as Man represents all mankind: in him all men have the creative and sustaining source of their being. He cannot but represent in his death all whom he represents in his incarnate constitution. Atonement and incarnation cannot be separated from one another, and therefore the range of his representation is the same in both. If in his incarnation Christ the eternal Son took upon him the nature of man, then all who belong to human nature are involved and represented ‒ all human beings without exception. It is for all and each that Jesus Christ stood in as substitute and advocate in his life and in his death: as such he died for all mankind and made atonement for their sins.
In bringing together the doctrines of creation, incarnation, and atonement, Torrance follows the great Athanasius (De Incarnatione; Torrance, 1988a:157 n 41). Torrance (1988a:157) writes:
In his incarnation he who by nature is internal to the being of God [homoousios to Patri] has embodied the creative source and ground of all human being in himself as man. As the Head of creation, in whom all things consist, he is the only one who really can act on behalf of all and save them. When he took our human nature upon himself, and in complete somatic solidarity with us offered himself up to death in atoning sacrifice for man, he acted instead of all and on behalf of all. Thus the redemptive work of Christ was fully representative and truly universal in its range. Its vicarious efficacy has its force through the union of his divine Person as Creator and Lord with us in our creaturely being, whereby he lays hold of us in himself and acts for us from out of the inner depths of his coexistence with us and our existence in him, delivering us from the sentence of death upon us, and from the corruption and perdition that have overtaken us.
In keeping with his holistic, unitary theology, Torrance regards the universal range of atonement as a direct consequence of the incarnate reality of Jesus Christ, who is God and man, Creator and creature, hypostatically united in one person. Because the very one by whom and through whom all things are created and in whom all things consist has united himself in somatic solidarity with humanity, all people, without exception, are ontologically bound up in the incarnate reality of Jesus Christ; thus, the range of atoning redemption includes all. Jesus Christ died for all humanity, making full atonement for the sin of the whole world (Torrance, 2009:182; cf. Jn 1:29; Rom 5:12-21; 2Cor 5:14; 1Tim 2:5, 6; 1Jn 2:2). For Torrance, the range of atonement is as universal in scope as is the incarnation. Anything short of universal atonement implies a circumscribed incarnation and a limitation in the love of God (Habets, 2008:345). To hold that some are not included in the incarnational redemption of Jesus Christ is “to cut at the very root of his reality as the Creator incarnate in space and time, as he in whom all things in the universe, visible and invisible, were created, hold together and are reconciled by the blood of his cross (Col 1:15-20).” Because he is the embodiment of the creative source and ground of all things, every human being is “ontologically bound” to the Creator Word. “Whether they believe it or not,” argues Torrance, every man is “creatively grounded” and “unceasingly sustained” in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Creator (Torrance, 1993:244, 245; cf. Acts 17:28; Col 1:17). “It is because atoning reconciliation falls within the incarnate constitution of Christ’s Person as Mediator, that it is atoning reconciliation which embraces all mankind and is freely available to all in the unconditional grace of God’s Self-giving” (Torrance,1986b:482).

It is precisely in Jesus Christ, who is both Son of God and Son of Mary, that we are to think of the entire human race, as well as all creation, as in a profound sense already redeemed, resurrected, and consecrated for the glory of God. The “blessed exchange” between the divine-human life of Jesus Christ and humankind “has the effect of finalising and sealing the ontological relations between every man and Jesus Christ,” so that our resurrection is “stored up” in the cross. “How could it be otherwise,” Torrance asks, “when he who became incarnate in him is the very one through whom all worlds, all ages, were made” (Torrance, 1988a:182, 183).

References: see previous posts

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

T.F. Torrance: The Atonement, pt. 5

The Wonderful Exchange

An important aspect of Torrance’s understanding of the personal, ontological redemption embodied in Jesus Christ is the all-important concept of the “wonderful exchange,” that is, “the redemptive translation of man from one state into another brought about by Christ who in his self-abnegating love took our place that we might have his place, becoming what we are that we might become what he is.” The New Testament word for the “exchange” effected between God and sinful humanity in Jesus Christ is “reconciliation” (katallage) (cf. Rom. 5:11; 11:15; 2Cor. 5:18, 19), a word that brings out the profound importance of “atoning” exchange. For Torrance, the concept of atoning exchange, wherein Jesus Christ assumes our poverty, so that through him we might become rich (cf. 2Cor 8:9), is the “inner hinge” upon which the entire doctrine of incarnational redemption turns (Torrance, 1988a:179, 180; cf. 2009:151-153).

The atoning exchange lies at the heart of Nicene theology, wherein the death and resurrection of Christ were neither separated nor treated in isolation from one another. Redemption was considered to have taken place not only through the death of Jesus Christ but also through the resurrection and ascension, so that redemption is not only release from death, bondage, and judgement but also the pathway to new life and freedom in God (Torrance, 1988a:180). Following the Nicene fathers, Torrance sees redemption as taking place not only through the cross of Christ, but also through the empty tomb and ascension of the Risen Saviour. To be sure, the resurrection and the ascension are essential to Torrance’s doctrine of the mediation of reconciliation in Jesus Christ, for incarnational redemption involves not only the healing and renewing of our fallen humanity but also the restoration of relationships and consequent new life in union with God. As Torrance argues, “[I]t is not atonement that constitutes the goal and end of that integrated movement of reconciliation [i.e., the atoning exchange] but union with God in and through Jesus Christ in whom our human nature is not only saved, healed and renewed but lifted up to participate in the very light, life and love of the Holy Trinity” (Torrance, 1992a:66). In language echoing the Nicene fathers, Torrance (1988a:181) argues:
This atoning exchange, then, embraces the whole relationship between Christ and ourselves: between his obedience and our disobedience, his holiness and our sin, his life and our death, his strength and our weakness, his grace and our poverty, his light and our darkness, his wisdom and our ignorance, his joy and our misery, his peace and our dispeace, his immortality and our mortality, and so on.
Torrance’s description of the wonderful, atoning exchange is similar to that of the great Genevan reformer, John Calvin (1509-1564). Drawing upon the Nicene fathers to articulate his understanding of the wonderful exchange between our poverty and Christ’s riches, Calvin (2008:IV.17.2; 896, 897; cf. Torrance, 1988a:179, n. 111) writes:
This is the wondrous exchange made by his boundless goodness. Having become with us the Son of man, he has made us with himself sons of God. By his own descent to the earth he has prepared our ascent to heaven. Having received our mortality, he has bestowed on us his immortality. Having undertaken our weakness, he has made us strong in his strength. Having submitted to our poverty, he has transferred to us his riches. Having taken upon himself the burden of unrighteousness with which we were oppressed, he has clothed us with his righteousness.
Christ’s union with us and our union with him in the wonderful exchange is part of a “miraculous commerce” between God and humanity (Dawson, 2007:62). As the early church understood, he who is Son of God by nature became son of man, so that we who are sons of men by nature might, by grace, become the sons and daughters of God (Deddo, 2007:140). The miraculous commerce of the atoning exchange is worked out “within the saving economy of the incarnation,” and in the “ontological depths” of the sinful Adamic flesh the incarnate Son assumed, and “therefore reaches its appointed end and fulfilment through his transforming consecration of us in himself and through his exaltation of us as one body with himself into the immediate presence of the Father” (Torrance, 1988a:181). In short, as Torrance (1996b:153) notes, “[T]hrough his incarnational union with us, he has established our union with him. . . . Through his incarnational fraternity, that which was lost in Adam is restored.”

In sum, Christ’s union with us in our fallen humanity entails not only the condescension and self-sacrifice of the incarnate Son but also the transformation and exaltation of our humanity, as it is cleansed, healed, and recreated in the incarnation, then lifted up in and through the Risen Christ into the very presence of God, where humanity is given to share in the Trinitarian life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Theopoiesis

Further insight into Torrance’s understanding of the wonderful exchange may be gained by an examination of what he regards as one of the significant aspects of the miraculous commerce wrought in Jesus Christ: this is the concept of theopoiesis (Gr. lit. “making divine”), the Greek Patristic assertion that Jesus was made man so that we might be made divine. While there is no formal explication of theopoiesis in Torrance’s work, his entire theology is influenced by the conception of human salvation as a process of theopoiesis (Habets, 2009:2, 5; cf. Hart, 2008: 79, 80).

Torrance is reluctant to use the term “deification,” preferring instead the term, theopoiesis, since the word’s grammatical construction keeps clear the creaturely nature of the verb’s object as well as the full deity of its subject (Hart, 2008:79; cf. Torrance, 1996b:243). For Torrance, theopoiesis involves no suggestion that the interaction between Christ’s deity and our humanity results in any change in either divine or human nature (ousia). Just as Jesus Christ is no less divine in assuming human nature, we are no less human in being brought under the cleansing and healing influence of his divinity. As Torrance notes, following Athanasius, “What makes us ‘divine’ is the fact that the Word of God has come to us and acts directly upon us.” In other words, in becoming human, Jesus Christ has brought us into “kinship” with himself, so that “our ‘deification’ in Christ is the obverse of his ‘inhomination’.” Thus, while we are “partakers of the divine nature” (2Pet 1:4), theopoiesis is not the “divinisation” of humanity; rather, it is the “recreation” of our lost humanity in the dynamic, atoning interaction between the divine and human natures hypostatically united in the one person of Jesus Christ, and its subsequent “exaltation” as it is lifted up in the Risen Saviour into union and communion with the Triune Godhead. While we are recreated and lifted up in Jesus Christ, however, we remain fully human, not divine (Torrance, 1988a:188, 189; cf. 1976:234). Elsewhere, Torrance (1992:64) connects theosis to the biblical concept of “adoption” (e.g., Rom 8:15; Eph 1:5). He writes: “[T]heosis . . . does not mean ‘divinisation’, as is so often supposed, but refers to the utterly staggering act of God in which he gives himself to us and adopts us into the communion of his divine life and love through Jesus Christ and in his one Spirit, yet in such a way that we are not made divine but are preserved in our humanity.” Finally, Torrance (1996b:243) notes, “Theosis describes man’s involvement in such a mighty act of God upon him that he is raised up to find the true centre of his existence not in himself but in Holy God, where he lives and moves and has his being . . .”

Another vital aspect of Torrance’s (1988a:189, 190) understanding of theopoiesis is concerned with the reception of the Holy Spirit, which is made possible through the atoning exchange that takes place in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In the incarnation, God is imparted to humanity by means of the Spirit and man is attached to God by Jesus’ assumption of fallen human flesh. In the incarnation, the Holy Spirit “became accustomed to dwell in humanity,” while, on the other hand, man became “accustomed” to receive God and be indwelt by him. Thus, God the Holy Spirit is mediated to mankind “by” and “through” the humanity of Jesus Christ. When the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ in the Jordan River, it was not because the sinless Son of God needed the sanctification of the Spirit; rather, the Spirit’s descent was a descent upon the fallen humanity assumed by the incarnate Son. Because Jesus Christ is homoousios with fallen Adamic flesh, the descent of the Spirit at the Jordan is a descent upon all those who partake of the nature of Adam, that is, a descent upon all humanity. As Athanasius (Contra Arius: Torrance, 1988a:190 n 152) asserted, when Jesus Christ, as man, was “washed” in the Jordan River, we were “washed”; when he received the Spirit, we received the Spirit. As Torrance notes:
This twofold movement of the giving and receiving of the Spirit actualised within the life of the incarnate Son of God for our sakes is atonement operating within the ontological depths of human being. It constitutes the “deifying” content of the atoning exchange in which through the pouring out of the same Spirit upon us we are given to participate. The indwelling of the Spirit mediated to us through Christ is the effective counterpart in us of his self-offering to the Father through the eternal Spirit.
Two important ideas come into view in Torrance’s understanding of the mediation of the Spirit by and through the humanity of Jesus Christ: First, Because Jesus Christ, the one through whom all things are made and in whom all things consist, has assumed fallen Adamic flesh, all those who partake of the nature of Adam are implicated in the Spirit’s descent upon the incarnate Son in the Jordan River. This is the sense in which Peter can proclaim that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on all flesh (Acts 2:17; cf. Joel 2:28). Secondly, in keeping with his unitary, holistic theology, Torrance does not allow a dualism between the work of the Son in atonement and the work of the Spirit in sanctification. As Torrance (1988a:190) notes, Pentecost (cf. Acts 2) is not something “added” to atonement; rather, it is “the actualisation within the life of the church of the atoning life, death and resurrection of the Saviour.” Thus, for Torrance, justification and sanctification are not two separate events but, rather, are each an integral part of the atoning exchange wrought by the assumption of fallen Adamic flesh in the incarnation.

References

Calvin, J. 2008. Institutes of the Christian Religion (translated by H. Beveridge). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. 1,059 pp.

Dawson, G.S. 2007.Far as the Curse is Found: The Significance of Christ’s Assuming a Fallen Human Nature in the Torrance Theology. In G. Dawson, ed. An Introduction to Torrance Theology: Discovering the Incarnate Saviour. London: T & T Clark. Ch. 3.

Deddo, G.W. 2007. The Christian Life and Our Participation in Christ’s Continuing Ministry. In G. Dawson, ed. An Introduction to Torrance Theology: Discovering the Incarnate Saviour. London: T & T Clark. Ch. 7.

Habets, M. 2009. Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance. Farnham (Surrey): Ashgate. 224 pp.

Hart, T. 2008. Atonement, the Incarnation, and Deification: Transformation and Convergence in the Soteriology of T.F. Torrance. Princeton Theological Review, vol XIV, no 2, pp. 79-90. Available at http://www.princetontheologicalreview.org/issues_pdf/39.pdf

Torrance, T.F. 1976. Theology in Reconciliation: Essays toward Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 302 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1988a. The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church. London: T & T Clark. 345 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1992. The Mediation of Christ (rev. ed.). Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard. 126 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1996b. (orig. ed. 1965). Theology in Reconstruction. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers. 288 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 2009. Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ (edited by R. Walker). Downers Grove: IVP. 489 pp.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

T.F. Torrance: The Atonement, pt. 4

Unity of Christ’s Person and Work

A greater appreciation of Torrance’s rejection of the Latin heresy, with its dualism between incarnation and atonement, requires an examination of his holistic view of the unity of Christ’s “person” and “work.” In Torrance’s doctrine of incarnational redemption, the incarnation and the atonement are intimately connected: incarnation is inherently redemptive and redemption is inherently incarnational (Torrance, 1988a:159; cf. 1992:66).

Following Barth (1957b:1ff; 1957d:1ff), Torrance fully integrates christology and soteriology into a unitary whole, refusing to separate the person and work of Jesus Christ as if they were two distinct doctrines. In Torrance’s doctrine of incarnational reconciliation, the doctrines of the hypostatic union and atonement are “inextricably interwoven.” The hypostatic union is “the ontological aspect of atoning reconciliation and atoning reconciliation is the dynamic aspect of hypostatic union.” For Torrance, the hypostatic union and atoning reconciliation “inhere inseparably in one another” and are the “obverse and reverse” of one another (Torrance, 1990:201; cf. 177-179).

In keeping with his unitary, holistic approach to theology, Torrance resists any dualism that separates the “person” and “work” of Jesus Christ. In the one person of the incarnate Son, who is of “one nature with the Father” (homoousios to Patri) and of one nature with humanity, divinity and humanity are united together, so that atoning reconciliation takes place “within,” not “external” to, the one personal being of the Mediator. As Torrance (1992:63) notes:
In Jesus Christ . . . his Person and his Work are one. What he does is not something separate from his personal Being and what he is in his own incarnate Person is the mighty Act of God’s love for our salvation. Christ and his Gospel belong ontologically and inseparably together, for that is what he is, he who brings, actualises and embodies the Gospel of reconciliation between God and man and man and God in his own Person. In him the Incarnation and Atonement are one and inseparable, for atoning reconciliation falls within the incarnate constitution of his Person as Mediator, and it is on that ground and from that source that atoning reconciliation embraces all mankind and is freely available to every person.
Note that for Torrance, “Christ” (i.e., person) and his “Gospel” (i.e., work) are ontologically united, for atoning reconciliation falls “within” the incarnate constitution of the Mediator. Jesus Christ actually embodies the mediation of reconciliation in the unity of divinity and humanity in his one incarnate person.

In his emphasis on the ontological union of the person and work of Christ, Torrance (1986b:473) argues that our understanding of atonement must be framed in the context of the consubstantial Father-Son relation. Noting that the Nicene homoousios to Patri was applied to the ‘incarnate’ Son, who came down from heaven for us and for our salvation, Torrance argues that the oneness in being between the Father and Son must be regarded from a soteriological perspective. Reconciliation is not merely a propositional truth that God has made known to us by sending his only-begotten Son to be our Saviour; rather, God’s self-revelation in the incarnate Son ‘is’ reconciliation, “as certainly as it is God himself: God with us, God beside us, and chiefly and decisively, God for us.” As Torrance asks, “How could God actually reveal and give himself to us across the chasm, not only of our creaturely distance but of our sinful alienation from him, except through a movement of atoning reconciliation?”

In bringing together the doctrine of atoning reconciliation and the Nicene assertion of the consubstantial Father-Son relation, Torrance (1986b:473, 474) clearly disavows an Arian view of Christ. If we operate with a view of the Son as created out of nothing and, therefore, only externally related to the Father, argues Torrance, “we are unable to give any saving significance to the human life and activity of Christ in the form of a servant, for it rules out of account any direct personal intervention by God himself in our lost and damned human condition.” If Christ is only externally related to God, his reconciling activity can only be construed in “moral” or “juridical” terms, rather than in the ontological terms of the consubstantial Father-Son relation. As Torrance argues, this is precisely what has occurred in Western theology, for it has allowed “an epistemological and ontological dualism, to cut between the Person of Christ as God incarnate and his saving work, with the result that it has constantly offered an interpretation of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross in external moral or juridical terms.” With its dualism between the incarnation and atonement, Western theology has failed to appreciate the implications for atoning reconciliation of the unity of being between the incarnate Son and the Father.

In contradistinction to the dualism of the Latin tradition, Torrance (1988a:155) argues that “the work of atoning salvation does not take place outside of Christ, as something external to him, but takes place within him, within the incarnate constitution of his Person as Mediator.” As Torrance (1988a:158) argues:
[A]toning reconciliation must be understood as having taken place within the personal being of Jesus Christ as the one Mediator between God and man, and thus within the ontological roots and actual condition of the human and creaturely existence which he assumed in order to save. In this event atonement is not an act of God done ab extra upon man, but an act of God become man, done ab intra, in his stead and on his behalf; it is an act of God as man, translated into human actuality and made to issue out of the depths of man’s being and life toward God.
For Torrance (1992:65), incarnation and atonement are “internally and essentially intertwined” in reconciling union in all Jesus Christ became for us and our salvation. As Torrance argues:
[The hypostatic union] is projected . . . into the actual conditions of our estranged humanity where we are in conflict with God, so that the hypostatic union operates as a reconciling union in which estrangement is bridged, conflict is eradicated, and human nature taken from us is brought into perfect sanctifying union with divine nature in Jesus Christ. Embodied within the deep tensions and contradictions of our rebellious humanity, the hypostatic union took on the form of a dynamic atoning union which steadily worked itself out within the structures of human existence all through the course of our Lord’s vicarious earthly life from his birth to his crucifixion and resurrection.
It is essential to note that the hypostatic union is not merely a static union of divine and human natures; rather, it is a “dynamic atoning union,” wherein the actual condition of human estrangement and conflict is brought into “perfect sanctifying” union with God. As Torrance (1992:66) eloquently argues:
The hypostatic union could not have been actualised within the conditions of our fallen humanity without the removal of sin and guilt through atonement and the sanctification of human nature assumed into union with the divine. On the other hand, atoning union could not have been actualised within the ontological depths of human existence where human beings are alienated from God without the profound penetration into those depths that took place through the Incarnation and the hypostatic union between divine and human nature that it involved. That is what came about in Jesus Christ, the Mediator, in whom atoning union and hypostatic union served each other.
Torrance’s insistence on an ontological, rather than external, view of atonement can better be understood in light of his understanding of “sin.” For Torrance, the human dilemma is, at root, that of alienation from God as a result of sin, coupled with human enslavement to a nature determined by its fallen condition. Sin is, thus, far more than a merely forensic or moral problem; sin is an ontological problem; it is the state in which we exist, a state of existential estrangement from our Maker. As an ontological problem, sin must be dealt with at the depths of our fallen, diseased humanity (Hart, 2008:81; cf. Torrance, 1992:70). In the hypostatic union of divinity and Adamic flesh in Jesus Christ, God penetrates to the ontological depths of our diseased, broken, and fallen humanity, healing our corrupt flesh, making whole our brokenness, and removing our sin and guilt by sanctifying it in atoning union in the incarnation. Atonement, therefore, is not to be understood in terms of “external relations” between human sin and Jesus Christ, but in terms of his “incarnational penetration” into the ontological depths of human existence under the judgement of God. In Jesus Christ, God the Judge has made himself one with us in such a way as “to get at the very roots of our original sin and guilt and through his expiatory and propitiatory activity, not only to do away with our sin and guilt, but to sanctify us and creatively to set our life on an altogether new basis in union with himself” (Torrance, 1990:178, 179).

In regard to incarnational redemption, the hypostatic union is “the immediate ground for all Christ’s mediatorial and reconciling activity in our human existence” (Torrance, 1992:64, 65). The hypostatic union is in itself an atoning union between the “Holy One of God” and sinful humanity, which Jesus Christ heals and sanctifies by making it his own. Atoning reconciliation, therefore, must be understood as “accomplished within the incarnate constitution of the Mediator and not in some external transactional way between himself and mankind” (Torrance, 1986b:475, 476). Torrance continues:
Jesus Christ does not mediate a reconciliation (any more than a revelation) other than what he is in himself, as though he were merely the intermediary or instrument of divine reconciliation. He embodies in himself what he mediates, for what he mediates and what he is are one and the same. He himself in the wholeness of his Person, Word and Act is the content and reality of divine Reconciliation. He is the Propitiation for our sins; he is our Redemption; he is our Justification. It is in this identity between Mediator and Mediation that the living heart of the Gospel is to be found. If we let go of the intrinsic oneness between Jesus Christ and God, or between the Person and the Work of Christ, then our grasp of the Gospel of salvation is bound to disintegrate and we will invariably lose its substance.
As Hart (2008:85) notes, atonement is not an abstract quality that arises from something Jesus Christ “does”; rather, atonement is who he “is” in his incarnate constitution as God and humanity joined in reconciling union. Thus, there can be no separation of the person and work of Christ. As Pratz (1998:6) simply but accurately states, “What he is is what he does.”

Just as Jesus Christ is the content of the revelation he brings, so that Revealer and Revelation are one, so also Jesus Christ is the content of reconciliation, so that Mediator and mediation are one. In contrast to the gospel of “external relations” of the Latin heresy, atonement is a function of the “internal relations” of the incarnate constitution of Jesus Christ, in whom God and fallen, sinful humanity are eternally united in atoning, reconciling union. Atonement takes place “within” the one person of Jesus Christ, as the eternal Word of God takes our diseased, fallen humanity to himself in reconciling union, penetrating to the ontological depths of human sin and alienation in order to heal, cleanse, and reconcile fallen humanity to God. In the hypostatic union of divinity and sinful human flesh in his one person, Jesus Christ “embodies” the mediation he brings by healing and sanctifying our fallen humanity in atoning reconciliation. Thus, atoning reconciliation does not occur “outside” the person of Jesus Christ, as though his person and work could be separated; rather, atoning reconciliation falls “within” the incarnate constitution of the God-man, who, as fully God and fully human in one person, ‘is’ atoning reconciliation between God and humanity. Jesus Christ is “the centre of it all,” mediating reconciliation in such a way that, in him, we are with God. “In the deepest sense,” notes Torrance (1990:204), “Jesus Christ is himself the atonement.”

References

Barth, K. 1957b. Church Dogmatics (vol II.1) (translated by G.T. Thomson). Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 699 pp.

Barth, K. 1957d. Church Dogmatics (vol IV.1) (translated by G.T. Thomson). Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 802 pp.

Hart, T. 2008. Atonement, the Incarnation, and Deification: Transformation and Convergence in the Soteriology of T.F. Torrance. Princeton Theological Review, vol XIV, no 2, pp. 79-90. Available at http://www.princetontheologicalreview.org/issues_pdf/39.pdf

Pratz, G. 1998. The Relationship between Incarnation and Atonement in the Theology of Thomas F. Torrance. Journal for Christian Theological Research, vol 3, no 2. Available at http://www2.luthersem.edu/ctrf/JCTR/Vol03/Pratz.htm.

Torrance, T.F. 1986b. Karl Barth and the Latin Heresy. Scottish Journal of Theology, vol 39, pp. 461-482.

Torrance, T.F. 1988a. The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church. London: T & T Clark. 345 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1990. Karl Barth: Biblical and Evangelical Theologian. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 256 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1992. The Mediation of Christ (rev. ed.). Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard. 126 pp.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

T.F. Torrance: The Atonement, pt. 3

The Latin Heresy

The "Latin heresy" refers to western-Latin christology, wherein a dualism is created between the person and work of Christ. This view is characteristic of both Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism. In the Latin view of the atonement, the "work" of Christ is "external" to the "person" or "being" of Christ; that is, Jesus simply offers his body as an instrument in the payment of a forensic debt. In this view, the atonement is merely the fulfillment of a "transaction" between the Father and the Son, wherein the Son pays humanity's debt of sin. Hence, in the Latin view, the atonement produces no ontological change in fallen humanity; that is, the atonement discharges a debt but it does not change us in the depths of our fallen being. Words used to describe this view include "external," "instrumental," and "transactional."

Torrance argues that we must “relearn” the fundamental soteriological principle that Christ assumed fallen, sinful human flesh, since it has been “suppressed” in the Western church, where doctrines of the atonement have departed from the soteriological emphasis of the incarnation found in the early centuries of Christianity. Consequently, the atonement has been regarded in the Latin West primarily as an “external transference of penalty” between sinners and God, rather than as “the culmination of God’s incarnational penetration into the alienated roots of humanity in order to cancel sin and guilt and undo the past, and to effect within it once for all atoning reconciliation between the world and himself” (Torrance, 1986b:476; 1992:39).

In asserting the assumption of sinful human flesh, Torrance (1986b:477, 478, 480; cf. 1990:232, 233; 1992:40, 41; 1993:237-239; 1994:58, 59) rejects what he terms the “Latin heresy,” that is, a “dualist” understanding of the person and work of Christ, traceable to Leo’s Tome sent to the Council of Chalcedon, that provided the Western church its paradigm for a formulation of atoning reconciliation in terms of “external” relations, whether exemplary, as in Abelard, or juridical, as in Anselm. In asserting the Son of God assumed a “neutral” human nature, that is, human nature in its perfect original state as it existed before the Fall, unaffected by sin and guilt and not under divine judgement, the Latin position insists that Jesus Christ did not assume our “original sin,” lodged within the roots of personal and social human being, but only our “actual sin.” This led to the Roman doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary, which continues to divide the Latin and Greek branches of the church. Consequent to this view, argues Torrance, Protestantism was forced to deal with original sin by an appeal to a separate and subsequent work of sanctification by the Holy Spirit, while Roman Catholic theology dealt with original sin through the “healing medicine” of grace merited by Christ and dispensed by the church in the holy sacraments.

In asserting the assumption of a neutral humanity, Latin theology rejected the cardinal soteriological principle, associated with Nicene theology, that “the unassumed is the unhealed.” In arguing that Jesus assumed a neutral human flesh, Latin theologians split apart the intrinsic relation between the person and work of Christ by construing the atonement in an “instrumentalist” way, wherein the incarnation was regarded simply as a means of supplying a sinless human being who could live in perfect obedience to the law of God and take our place on the cross. Subsequently, atonement was regarded either as an external moral transaction or as an external penal transaction, wherein the penalty for sin is transferred from sinners to the sinless Saviour. Either view, however, created a separation (i.e., dualism) between the incarnation and atonement by construing Christ’s saving act in external terms, whether exemplary or juridical, rather than in terms of the internal Father-Son relation, wherein the atoning work of Christ is a function of his incarnate constitution as the eternal Son who is homoousios to Patri. Protestant theology, particularly Evangelicalism, has generally followed the Latin church in this regard, specifically in its development of various theories of the atonement, all of which, in varying ways, dualistically divide the incarnation and the atonement by separating the person and work of Christ (Torrance, 1986b:476). As Torrance (1992:40) argues:
If the incarnation is not held to mean that the Son of God penetrated into and appropriated our alienated, fallen, sinful human nature, then atoning and sanctifying reconciliation can be understood only in terms of external relations between Jesus Christ and sinners. That is why in Western Christianity the atonement tends to be interpreted almost exclusively in terms of external forensic relations as a judicial transaction in the transference of the penalty of sin from the sinner to the sin-bearer.
In regard to this external, “transactional” view of atonement, Torrance notes that Federal theology, arising from post-Reformation Protestant Scholasticism, works on the premise of an “contract” or “bargain” made between the Father and the Son in eternity past, and interpreted in causal, necessary, and forensic terms (Habets, 2008:344). Torrance sees this “transactional notion” of atoning reconciliation in post–Reformation Calvinism, particularly in the Westminster Confession of Faith (VIII:v), where the incarnate Son is said to have “purchased” reconciliation for us. Implied here is an external, transactional view of atonement, wherein Jesus’ suffering on the cross is regarded as the fulfilment of a “divine requirement, on the ground of which the Father was induced to reconcile us, and was as it were ‘bought off.’” This transactional view of the cross departs from the teaching of the New Testament, in which, according to Torrance, there is no suggestion that reconciliation is “bought” from God. He argues further that the notion of reconciliation as purchased from God departs from Calvin (2008:II.16.4; 326, 327), who cited Augustine in arguing that the Father’s love for humanity is prior to the atoning reconciliation of the cross (cf. Rom 5:8); that is, God does not love us because of what Christ has done; rather, it is because God first loved us that he came in Christ to reconcile us to himself (cf. Jn 3:16). As Torrance notes, “the truth of the prevenient love and grace of God in Christ was one of the primary principles of the Reformation” (Torrance, 1996c:19, 139; 2009:146).

In contradistinction to the gospel of external relations that characterizes the Latin heresy, Torrance (1992:41) follows Patristic theology in arguing that the incarnation and the atonement are “internally linked,” for “atoning expiation and propitiation are worked out in the ontological depths of human being and existence into which the Son of God penetrated as the Son of Mary.” As Torrance (1994:59) argues, if the incarnation itself is essentially redemptive rather than instrumental, that is, merely a means to an end, then “atonement must be regarded as taking place in the ontological depths of Christ’s incarnate life, in which he penetrated into the very bottom of our fallen human being and took our disobedient humanity, even our alienated human mind, upon himself in order to heal it and convert it back in himself into union with God.” Jesus penetrated to the depths of our original sin “in order to redeem us from it by bringing his atoning sacrifice and holiness to bear upon it in the very roots of our human existence and being.” Noting that in his genealogy recorded in Matthew, “Jesus was incorporated into long line of sinners,” Torrance (1992:41) eloquently argues:

[H]e made the generations of humanity his very own, summing up in himself our sinful stock, precisely in order to forgive, heal and sanctify it in himself. Thus atoning reconciliation began to be actualised with the conception and birth of Jesus of the Virgin Mary when he identified himself with our fallen and estranged humanity, but that was a movement which Jesus fulfilled throughout the whole course of his sinless life as the obedient Servant of the Lord, in which he subjected what he took from us to the ultimate judgment of God’s holy love and brought the healing and redeeming power of God to bear directly upon it in himself. From his birth to his death and resurrection on our behalf he sanctified what he assumed through his own self-consecration as incarnate Son to the Father, and in sanctifying it brought the divine judgment to bear directly upon our human nature both in the holy life he lived and in the holy death he died in atoning and reconciling sacrifice before God.
In contradistinction to the Latin tradition, Torrance (1992:41, 42) argues that we must “recover the awesome truth that through his Incarnation the Son of God appropriated our fallen humanity under the judgment of God.” Throughout the whole course of his life, the incarnate Saviour brought his healing and redeeming power to bear upon sinful Adamic flesh, even in the deep recesses of original sin, in order to heal, cleanse, and sanctify it in atoning reconciliation.

References

Calvin, J. 2008. Institutes of the Christian Religion (translated by H. Beveridge). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. 1,059 pp.

Habets, M. 2008. The Doctrine of Election in Evangelical Calvinism: T. F. Torrance as a Case Study. Irish Theological Quarterly, vol 73. pp. 334-354.

Torrance, T.F. 1986b. Karl Barth and the Latin Heresy. Scottish Journal of Theology, vol 39, pp. 461-482.

Torrance, T.F. 1992. The Mediation of Christ (rev. ed.). Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard. 126 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1990. Karl Barth: Biblical and Evangelical Theologian. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 256 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1993. The Atonement. The Singularity of Christ and the Finality of the Cross: The Atonement and the Moral Order. In N. Cameron, ed. Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker House. Chapter 8.

Torrance, T.F. 1994. Preaching Christ Today: The Gospel and Scientific Thinking. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 71 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1996c. Scottish Theology from John Knox to John McLeod Campbell. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 330 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 2009. Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ (edited by R. Walker). Downers Grove: IVP. 489 pp.

T.F. Torrance: The Atonement, pt. 2

Torrance’s doctrine of atonement, or incarnational redemption, arises as he follows Christ in order to penetrate, as much as humanly possible, into the salvific significance of the Nicene homoousion and the hypostatic union of divine and human natures in the one person of Jesus Christ. These two elemental forms of Torrance’s scientific theology provide the framework for understanding his doctrine of the mediation of reconciliation in Jesus Christ.

Torrance grounds his doctrine of incarnational redemption in the unitary relation between the “being” of Jesus Christ, who is homoousios to Patri, and his redemptive “act” of atonement. For Torrance, the incarnation and the atonement are intimately and inseparably related; that is, incarnational redemption, or atoning reconciliation, is a direct function of the incarnate constitution of the Mediator. In his incarnate constitution as God and man joined together in the hypostatic union of divine and human natures in one person, Jesus Christ ‘is’ atoning reconciliation.

A clearer understanding of Torrance’s unitary approach to incarnational redemption, wherein the person and work of Christ are fully integrated, may be facilitated by prior inquiry into the nature of the flesh assumed by the eternal Word in the incarnation, as well as an investigation of what Torrance calls the “Latin heresy.”

Assumption of Adamic Flesh

The inherent connection Torrance sees between the incarnation and atonement depends heavily upon a particular view of the nature of the flesh the eternal Word assumed in the incarnation. The previous chapter examined the epistemological and soteriological significance of the humanity of Jesus Christ without concern for the manner of the flesh he assumed from the Virgin Mary. In regard to the precise nature of the humanity of Jesus Christ, however, we encounter one of the more controversial aspects of Torrance’s doctrine of the mediation of Christ: his assertion that the incarnate Word assumed sinful Adamic flesh (Torrance, 1988a:161ff; 1990:202-205; 1992:65; 1994:58-60). In the hypostatic union, argues Torrance (1988a:163; cf. 1994:58), the eternal Word assumed “our sinful and corrupt humanity in conflict with God.” Following Athanasius (Contra Arius; Torrance, 1988a:161 n. 52), Torrance argues that in taking upon himself “the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7), Jesus Christ assumed “fallen Adamic humanity” from the Virgin Mary, that is, “our perverted, corrupt, degenerate, diseased human nature enslaved to sin and subject to death under the condemnation of God.” Elsewhere, Torrance (1992:39) writes:
[T]he Incarnation was the coming of God to save us in the heart of our fallen and depraved humanity, where humanity is at its wickedest in its enmity and violence against the reconciling love of God. That is to say, the Incarnation is to be understood as the coming of God to take upon himself our fallen human nature, our actual human existence laden with sin and guilt, our humanity diseased in mind and soul in its estrangement or alienation from the Creator.
In becoming flesh, the Son of God “became what we are as sinners alienated from God and existing down to the roots of our being in a state of disobedience against him” (Torrance,1990:203). Torrance continues:
[I]n his incarnation the Son of God penetrated into the dark recesses of our human existence and condition where we are enslaved in original sin, in order to bring the redeeming love and holiness of God to bear upon us in the distorted ontological depths of our human being.
The assumption of fallen human flesh was “a doctrine found everywhere in the early Church in the first five centuries,” argues Torrance (1992:39). From the time of Irenaeus, the Greek fathers interpreted the teaching of St. Paul (e.g., Rom 8:1ff; Gal 3:13; 2Cor 5:21) to mean that “in the incarnation the Son of God condescended to assume from us our fallen, corrupt, mortal human nature, on the ground that what he did not assume did not come within his healing, saving and sanctifying power.” The Greek fathers argued that in becoming flesh, the incarnate Son was not merely “externally” or “accidentally” related to us, for without being united with us in “our condition of sin, corruption and slavery,” he could not save us (Torrance, 1990:202).

As Torrance (1990:204) notes, it is important to realise that “in the very act of taking our fallen nature upon himself Christ was at work healing, redeeming and sanctifying it.”Torrance views the incarnate Son’s assumption of fallen Adamic flesh as a “reconciling, healing, sanctifying and recreating activity.” In becoming one of us, Jesus took what is ours and gave us what is his. In great compassion, he gathered up our fallen humanity to himself “in order to purify it and quicken it in his own sinless life-giving life” (Torrance, 1988a:162).

Torrance’s assertion of the assumption of fallen Adamic flesh in order to heal and cleanse it in the hypostatic union of divine and human natures in Jesus Christ is based on the soteriological principle that “only what the incarnate Son has taken up from us into himself is saved,” a principle given central place in the theology of the Cappadocian fathers, but also asserted by Athanasius and Cyril (Torrance, 1988a:163-165). Torrance quotes Basil’s assertion that Jesus Christ could not have “slain sin” and reunited fallen humanity to God if he had not come in “our flesh.” As Torrance notes, however, it was Gregory Nazianzus who gave the principle “its most epigrammatic expression” in a trenchant refutation of Apollinarianism: “The unassumed is the unhealed; but what is united to God is saved. If only half Adam fell, then what Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of him who was begotten, and so be saved as a whole.” In addition, Torrance notes Gregory Nyssa’s assertion that Jesus came to bring home “the whole sheep, not just the fleece,” leaving “no part of our nature which he did not take up into himself” (Torrance, 1988a:163, 164 n. 62-64). The early fathers understood that if the whole man was to be healed, the whole man had to be assumed in the incarnation, for the unassumed is the unhealed, and that which is not taken up by Christ is not saved (Torrance, 1992:39).

In arguing that Jesus assumed sinful Adamic flesh in order to heal and cleanse it, Torrance follows the Greek fathers in placing special emphasis on the healing of the rational human mind. Against the Apollinarian assertion that the mind of the Logos replaced the human mind of Jesus, Torrance argues that it is the rational human mind that is assumed and redeemed in the incarnation, for it is in the mind, not merely in the flesh, that human sin is most deeply entrenched (Torrance, 1988a:164, 165). Torrance (1990:40) writes:
Divine salvation and reconciliation had to do with human beings, not only in the corruption of their physical nature, but in the depravity of their spiritual nature in which they had become alienated and enemies in their minds so that they turned the very truth of God into a lie. Thus the Incarnation had to be understood as the sending of the Son of God in the concrete form of our own sinful nature . . . in which he judged sin within that very nature in order to redeem man from his carnal, hostile mind.
As Dawson (2007:58-60, 74) notes, following Torrance, the necessity of the assumption of fallen human flesh, including the rational mind, is related to the disease that lies at the root of our existence: our sinfulness. The innumerable problems of human existence, whether evil thoughts, murder, adultery, theft, lying or slander are the symptoms of a problem that is located at the centre of our being, in our very hearts (cf. Jer 17:9; Mt 15:18, 19). The depth of our need, therefore, requires a redemption that issues from the depth of our being. If we are to be saved, we must be cleansed from the root of our existence, in the ontological depths of the human heart. Therefore, in order for our redemption to reach to the root of our sinfulness, Jesus had to become what we are, in order that we might be made what he is. Jesus had to assume our diseased, corrupted flesh in order to heal and cleanse it “from the eternal inside out.” As Hart (2008:86) notes, Jesus assumed from the Virgin Mary humanity in the precise condition in which it needs to be redeemed.

Torrance’s assertion of the assumption of fallen Adamic flesh takes seriously St. Paul’s teaching that “Christ was made man in the concrete likeness of the flesh of sin under the law of sin and death” (cf. Rom 8:3), and inexplicably was “made sin” (2Cor 5:21) and “made a curse” for us (Gal 3:13), in order to redeem and save us from sin and death. Yet, in assuming our sinful flesh, Christ did not himself sin; rather, “by bringing the perfect holiness and righteousness of God in himself to bear upon it, he condemned sin in the flesh, and through his atoning self-offering and self-consecration in our place he healed, redeemed and sanctified in and through himself what he had assumed” (Torrance, 1990:203, 204; cf. 1994:58). Torrance quotes Hilary’s assertion (De Trinitate; Torrance, 1988a:162; n.54) that “God took upon himself the flesh in which we have sinned that by wearing our flesh he might forgive sins; a flesh which he shares with us by wearing it not by sinning in it.” Torrance also quotes Gregory Nyssen’s dramatic assertion (Against Apollinaris; Torrance, 1988a:162 n. 56) that “[a]lthough Christ took our filth upon himself, nevertheless he is not himself defiled by the pollution, but in his own self he cleanses the filth, for it says, the light shone in the darkness, but the darkness did not overpower it.”

As Torrance (1986b:476) argues, Eastern theologians from Irenaeus to Cyril of Alexandria taught that “in becoming one with us and one of us in Jesus Christ, God had humbled himself to take our lost cause upon himself by assuming our fallen human nature, our humanity diseased in mind and soul, our actual human existence enslaved to sin and subjected to judgment and death, precisely in order to save us in the very heart of our depraved condition where we are in enmity with God.” In assuming our diseased and corrupt humanity, the eternal Word was not contaminated by it; rather, he condemned sin in the flesh by living a life of perfect obedience “inside” the flesh of Adam, bringing his holiness to bear upon it and healing and sanctifying it.

References

Dawson, G.S. 2007.Far as the Curse is Found: The Significance of Christ’s Assuming a Fallen Human Nature in the Torrance Theology. In G. Dawson, ed. An Introduction to Torrance Theology: Discovering the Incarnate Saviour. London: T & T Clark. Ch. 3.

Torrance, T.F. 1986b. Karl Barth and the Latin Heresy. Scottish Journal of Theology, vol 39, pp. 461-482. Also available in Torrance (1990).

Torrance, T.F. 1988a. The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church. London: T & T Clark. 345 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1990. Karl Barth: Biblical and Evangelical Theologian. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 256 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1992. The Mediation of Christ (rev. ed.). Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard. 126 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1994. Preaching Christ Today: The Gospel and Scientific Thinking. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 71 pp.

T.F. Torrance: The Atonement, pt. 1

Ash Wednesday is a fitting day to begin a series of weekly posts on T.F. Torrance’s understanding of the atonement of Jesus Christ. All previous posts on Torrance’s doctrine of the mediation of Christ have been leading to this point. Before we can understand the saving work of Jesus Christ, we must first understand who he is as incarnate Saviour of the world. Hence, I have posted a great deal of material on the homoousion, that is, the creedal assertion of the consubstantial Father-Son relation, as well as on the hypostatic union of divine and human natures in Jesus Christ. These important historical/scriptural doctrines of orthodoxy teach us that the incarnate Word is fully God and fully human, joined in eternal union in the one person of Jesus Christ. Torrance, following Barth and Patristic theology, shows us how this union of God and humanity in Jesus Christ is, in fact, a healing, reconciling union, one which obtains for the entire cosmos. So let’s get started with the good news of what God has done for every one of us in Jesus Christ. To be sure, the news is good: really good!


The Nicene homoousion and the Chalcedonian doctrine of the hypostatic union are among the primary elemental forms, or basic constitutive concepts, of Torrance’s doctrine of the mediation of Jesus Christ. These primary christological tools are thoroughly integrated in Torrance’s doctrine of incarnational redemption or atoning reconciliation.

For Torrance, there is an intrinsic connection between the incarnation and the atonement; hence, his doctrine of atoning reconciliation is intimately interwoven with his understanding of the consubstantial Father-Son relation and the doctrine of the hypostatic union of divine and human natures in the one person of Jesus Christ. As noted earlier, in the Torrance theological tradition, the “Who?” question is prior to the “how?” question. Torrance does not attempt to articulate a doctrine of the salvific work of Jesus Christ until he has articulated his thinking in regard to “who” Jesus Christ is as the incarnate Saviour of the world.

Moreover, because of the intrinsic connection between the person of Jesus Christ and the atonement, Torrance does not articulate a doctrine of the hypostatic union only to state subsequently a doctrine of atoning reconciliation, as if the latter were something added to the former. “On the contrary,” Torrance argues, “we have to see that reconciliation is the hypostatic union at work in expiation and atonement, and therefore that [the] hypostatic union cannot be expounded aright except in terms of Christ’s active ministry within our darkness and estrangement, bringing revelation and reconciliation to bear revealingly on one another.” If Jesus Christ is the incarnation of the eternal purpose of God to bestow eternal love upon us and gather us back into eternal life, it is paramount to understand that the doctrine of Christ’s atoning reconciliation presupposes the doctrine of the hypostatic union of divine and human natures in the one person of Jesus Christ, “for the whole work of reconciliation depends upon the fact that one person acts both from the side of God, and from the side of man, both in his divine acts and in his human acts, and that these acts are really and truly identical in the person of the mediator” (Torrance, 2008:183, 184).

In his important article on the atonement, Torrance (1993:225, 226) identifies a number of verses in the New Testament that witness to the “singularity” and “finality” of the mediation of Jesus Christ in atoning reconciliation between God and sinful man, as well as the “range” or scope of the atonement. By “singularity,” Torrance refers to “the one unrepeatable particularity of [Jesus Christ’s] incarnate reality as God and man, Creator and creature, indivisibly united once and for all in one Person . . . the First and the Last, the Alpha and Omega of all God’s ways and works.” Torrance opens his article with scriptural references to Jesus Christ as “ransom.” He quotes the Gospels (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45): “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ‘ransom’ for many.” In addition, Torrance cites Paul’s assertion (1Tim 2:5, 6) that there is only one Mediator between God and man: the man, Jesus Christ, who gave himself a “ransom” for all. He also notes John’s assertion that Jesus Christ is the “propitiation” for the sins of the whole world (1Jn 2:2). In a passage that is of primary importance for his understanding of the relationship between creation, incarnation, and atonement, Torrance quotes a lengthy passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians (1:14-20), a passage that identifies Jesus Christ as the one “in” whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. This same Redeemer is the one “by,” “through,” and “for” whom all things are created and “in” whom all things consist or hold together. Through Jesus Christ, in whom the fullness of God dwells, God has reconciled all things to himself, whether visible or invisible, making peace by the blood of the cross. Finally, Torrance notes one of the many passages from the Epistle to the Hebrews (9:12, 15) that refer to the singularity and finality of the atoning work of Jesus Christ, who, as the Mediator of the new covenant, entered the heavenly Holy of Holies once for all, to secure by his own blood eternal redemption from the transgressions under the first covenant.

Though not specifically cited in his article on the atonement, another important passage for understanding the relationship between creation, incarnation, and redemption is found in the opening to the Epistle to the Hebrews (1:2, 3). Here the Son of God is identified as the one through whom God made the worlds and who upholds all things “by the word of his power.” In addition, the Prologue to the Gospel of John (1:1-14) identifies the Word who became flesh as the one through whom all things were made. This same creator Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ, is later identified as “the Lamb of God” who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). As will be shown below, the relation between creation, incarnation, and atonement is of vital importance to Torrance’s doctrine of the atoning mediation of Jesus Christ, particularly in regard to the “range” of atoning reconciliation.

In approaching the subject of the death of Christ, Torrance reminds us that we are dealing with a great mystery. In the liturgy of Old Testament Israel, after the cultic sacrifice was made, the high priest “ascended” into the Holy of Holies, where, behind the veil, hidden from public view, he sprinkled the blood shed in sacrifice onto the mercy seat (Lev 16:12-14, 17). God ordained that the mystery of atoning reconciliation, particularly its most “solemn and awful part,” should be veiled from the eyes of the people, so that the “innermost heart of atonement” should remain hidden and ineffable. In the same way, even though the veil in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Mt 27:51; Mk 15:38; Lk 23:45), the resurrected Jesus ascended to the heavenly Holy of Holies, into the immediate presence of the Father, where, beyond the view of humankind, he acted as our High Priest and Mediator in a work whose nature is “unutterable.” The mystery of atonement, therefore, can neither be “spelled out” nor “spied out”; rather, it is a mystery “more to be adored than expressed.” As Torrance reverently notes, as we delve into the mystery of the blood of Christ, the blood of God incarnate, “we must clap our hand upon our mouth again and again for we have no words adequate to match the infinitely holy import of atonement” (Torrance, 2009:2).

It is precisely because the mystery of atonement is ineffable and unutterable, argues Torrance (2009:2, 3), that, on the night before his death, Jesus gave us a tangible, earthly reminder of atonement in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. “[T]he broken bread and the poured out wine enacted in solemn anamnesis” [“remembrance,” “calling to mind again”] communicate to us what mere human words are unable to do; that is, “the inexpressible mystery of atonement through the body and blood of the saviour.” This sacrament, “ordained to communicate Christ to us in action,” forbids us to presume that we can enclose the mystery of atonement in human words or doctrinal formulations, or to think that we can articulate any adequate account of its meaning.

The death of Jesus Christ is an act of God that undercuts the ground of all human religion and entails a complete reversal of our previous attitudes and preconceptions, so that we can only understand the cross by repentance and a change of mind (Gr., metanoia). This reversal of our preconceived ideas means that we cannot think our way into the death of Christ; we can only think our way from it by following the new and living way opened by the cross. Because the cross of Christ is a “mystery of unearthly magnitude before which we can only bow in utter humility,” we can never reduce the act of God at Calvary to any mere “theory” of atonement (Torrance, 2009:3, 4). As Torrance (2009:4) cogently argues:

No merely theoretical understanding is possible, for abstract theoretic understanding does away with the essential mystery by insisting on the continuity of merely rational explanation. But that is just what we cannot give of the awful fact of the descent of the Son of God into our hell and the bearing by the Son of God of divine judgement on our behalf, for all rational explanation must presuppose a basic continuity here between man and God, but that is just what the atonement reveals to be wanting by the very fact that God himself had to descend into our bottomless pit of evil and guilt in order to construct continuity between us and God.

As Torrance argues, rather than seeking to understand the cross through abstract theoretical explanations or logical presuppositions derived from the assumption of a basic continuity between man and God, we must put together “conjunctive statements based upon the inherent synthesis to be found in the person of the mediator,” for there is a continuity that God himself achieves through his atoning “act” and the intervention of his own divine “being.” To understand the cross, we must “follow Christ” and think only a posteriori, allowing our minds to be conformed to Jesus Christ, who is himself “the truth” (Jn 14:6). “That is the only way to understand and at the same time to reverence the infinite mystery and majesty of this atoning deed on the cross which by its very nature reaches out beyond all finite comprehension into eternity” (Torrance, 2009:4, 5). As Torrance (1993:228, 229) notes elsewhere, the “singularity” of the mediation of Jesus Christ in atoning reconciliation cannot be expressed in the language of abstraction. As a unique and unrepeatable reality, the atonement can only be understood out of itself.

While Torrance’s doctrine of incarnational redemption does not fit neatly into any one of the major theories of atonement that have arisen in the history of Christian theological thought, his view of the atonement is closely related to the “representative theory” or “theory of vicarious repentance” associated with the Scottish pastor and theologian, John McLeod Campbell (1800-1872) (Torrance, 1996c: 287ff). Elements of this view are also found in P.T. Forsyth (1848-1921) and Karl Barth (1886-1968). In this model of atonement vicarious identification is stressed over penal substitution. The cross is viewed as the “creative sympathy of the holy” rather than a propitiation of the wrath of God (Bloesch, 2006:157). In his insistence that the atonement is a mystery to be adored rather than rationally expressed, Torrance is in harmony with Eastern Orthodox Christians who tend to shy away from rational explanations of the atonement in favour of embracing mystery (cf. Olson, 2002:261). In regard to the extent to which salvation is a “gift” or a “task” (Olson, 2002:267), Torrance, with his emphasis on atonement as the dynamic expression of the hypostatic union, identifies with the Reformed tradition by clearly affirming salvation as “gift.”

References

Bloesch, D.G. 2006. (orig. ed. 1978.) Essentials of Evangelical Theology (vol 1): God, Authority, and Salvation. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. 265 pp.

Olson, R.E. 2002. The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity. Downers Grove, IL: IVP. 365 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1993. The Atonement. The Singularity of Christ and the Finality of the Cross: The Atonement and the Moral Order. In N. Cameron, ed. Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker House. Chapter 8.

Torrance, T.F. 1996c. Scottish Theology from John Knox to John McLeod Campbell. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 330 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 2008. Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (edited by R. Walker). Downers Grove:IVP. 371 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 2009. Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ (edited by R. Walker). Downers Grove: IVP. 489 pp.

T.F. Torrance: “The Communion of the Spirit,” pt. 2

Reference Torrance, T.F. 1959. The School of Faith: The Catechisms of the Reformed Church . London: James Clark & Co. 298 pp. The S...