Thursday, June 16, 2011

T.F. Torrance: The Vicarious Humanity of Jesus Christ, pt. 4

The Unity of Revelation and Reconciliation

According to Torrance (1996b:132), the incarnation shows that revelation and reconciliation are “inseparable,” for “revelation does not achieve its end in humanity apart from reconciliation.” Though Jesus Christ was obedient throughout the whole course of his life, he had to “learn” obedience. Though conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus was born in the womb of a sinner, within the compass of sinful flesh. Torrance continues:
As the Son of Adam he was born into our alienation, our God-forsakenness and darkness, and grew within our bondage and ignorance, so that he had to beat his way forward by blows, as St. Luke puts it, growing in wisdom and growing in grace, before God as well as before men. He learned obedience by the things which he suffered, for that obedience from within our alienated humanity was a struggle with our sin and temptation . . . fought out with strong crying and tears and achieved in desperate anguish and weakness under the crushing load of the world’s sin and the divine judgment. Throughout the whole course of his life he bent the will of man in perfect submission to the will of God, bowing under the divine judgment against our unrighteousness, and offered a perfect obedience to the Father, that we might be redeemed and reconciled to him.
Finally, at Calvary, Jesus “penetrated to the utmost extremity of our self-alienating flight from God where we are trapped in death, and turned everything around so that out of the fearful depths of our darkness and dereliction we may cry with him, ‘Our Father.’” In his anguished experience at Gethsemane, where he wrestled with God over the cup he had been given to drink, Jesus cried out, “Yet not my will but thine be done.” As Torrance notes, it is “your will and my will,” that is, our Adamic self-will that Jesus appropriated in the incarnation, which is “bent back in the agony of Gethsemane in total obedience to the will of the Father . . .” Thus, we must think of “the whole life and activity of Jesus from the cradle to the grave” as constituting the vicarious human response which God has graciously and unconditionally provided for us (Torrance, 1992:79, 80; cf. 1988a:167).
In the midst of our sinful humanity, the incarnate Word of God takes the way of “vicarious” suffering and judgement. The revelation he embodies is not complete apart from reconciliation, “for only through reconciliation can revelation complete its own movement within man, bringing out of our humanity the obedient reception of revelation which is an essential part of its very substance.” As he who is both God and man, Jesus Christ penetrates to the depths of our sinful existence in order to overcome our estrangement and reconcile us to the Father. He acts from the side of God in the faithful revelation of divine truth and, at the same time, acts from the side of man “in the faithfulness of a life wholly obedient to the Father” (Torrance, 1996b:132, 133).
Comment: Note here the continued “holism” of Torrance’s theology. He does not allow a dualism (separation) between revelation and reconciliation. Both revelation and reconciliation occur “simultaneously" as the eternal Son of God assumes human flesh. Jesus both reveals the Father and reconciles us to the Father in one unitary movement of revelation and reconciliation.
Representation and Substitution
Torrance (1992:80, 81; cf. 1988a:168) asserts the “radical nature of Jesus’ mediation of our human response to God” by bringing together, and “thinking into each other,” the concepts of “representation” and “substitution.” It will not do, argues Torrance, to think of what Jesus has done for us merely in terms of “representation,” for that would imply that Jesus represents our response merely as the “leader” of humanity in its response to God. On the other hand, if Jesus is merely a “substitute” in detachment from us, who simply takes our place in an external forensic way, then his act has no ontological bearing upon us, but, rather, is “an empty transaction over our heads.” As Torrance argues, a “merely representative” or “merely substitutionary” concept of vicarious mediation is “bereft of any saving significance.” He continues:
But if representation and substitution are combined and allowed to interpenetrate each other within the incarnational union of the Son of God with us in which he has actually taken our sin and guilt upon his own being, then we may have a profounder and truer grasp of the vicarious humanity in the mediatorship of Christ, as one in which he acts in our place, in our stead, on our behalf but out of the ontological depths of our actual human being.
Here Torrance plainly reveals the necessary connection between his assertion of the incarnational assumption of fallen Adamic flesh and the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. Against “external” concepts of representation and substitution, Jesus Christ acts on our behalf, and in our place, from “within” the ontological depths of his incarnational penetration into the fallen flesh he assumed in common with sinful humanity. Because Jesus has identified himself with us in the assumption of our diseased and sinful humanity, there is an ontological connection between us and what he does as our representative and substitute; that is, Jesus acts on our behalf and in our place, throughout the whole course of his life, from within the depths of fallen Adamic flesh. As Torrance (1976a:136) notes elsewhere:
[T]he Son of God united himself with us in our actual human condition so intimately and profoundly that through his healing and sanctifying of our human nature in himself we may be made with him sons of God. As such he acts with us and for us and on our behalf towards the Father in all our distinctive human experiences as children of God, such as confession, penitence, sorrow, chastisement, submission to the divine judgement, and faith, obedience, love, prayer, praise adoration, that we may share with him what he is in his ascension and self-presentation before the Father as the beloved son in whom he is well-pleased.
The Son of God assumes sinful human flesh, then “as man,” as son of Adam and son of Israel, acts vicariously for us, as our representative and substitute, in all our human experiences as children of God, so that we may share in his intimate experience as the Father’s beloved Son. As Torrance notes elsewhere (1986b:479):
Although atonement was certainly the Act of God himself, it was the Act of God as Man, and thus act of God translated into our human existence and made to issue out of it as a fully human act in the obedient self-offering of man in holiness and filial love to God the Father and in unbroken fellowship with him.
Because it is God who acts “as man” on our behalf and in our place, “central place” must be given to the representative and substitutionary aspects of the humanity of Jesus Christ in atoning reconciliation. As Torrance (1986b:479) argues:
Now if it was as Man as well as God that Jesus Christ took our place, he must be recognised as acting in our place in all the basic acts of man’s response to God: in faith and repentance, in obedience and prayer, in receiving God’s blessing and in thanksgiving for it.
Jesus Christ acts “as man,” “in our place,” in all aspects of humankind’s response to God. In the gospel, therefore, we do not have to do simply with the Word of God and the human response to it; rather, we have to do with the “all-significant middle term,” that is, “the divinely provided response in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ.” Because he is the one in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), the humanity of Jesus Christ occupies a “unique place in the creative ground of our humanity” (Torrance, 1971:145). Torrance continues:
[The vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ] fulfils a representative and substitutionary role in all our relations with God, including every aspect of human response to Him: such as trusting and obeying, understanding and knowing, loving and worshipping. Jesus Christ is presented to us in the Gospels as He who in and through His humanity took our place, acting in our name and on our behalf before God, freely offering in Himself what we could not offer and offering it in our stead, the perfect response of man to God in a holy life of faith and prayer and praise, the self-offering of the Beloved Son with whom the Father is well pleased.
For Torrance, Jesus is our representative and substitute in every aspect of our response to God. “[E]ven in our believing, praying, and worshipping of God . . . he has yoked himself to us in such a profound way that he stands in for us and upholds us at every point in our human relations before God (Torrance, 1994:30, 31).
In this regard, a clear description of what Torrance means by “the vicarious humanity” of Jesus Christ is found in Torrance (2008:205 n 32), edited by R.T. Walker:
“Standing in our place” (Lat, vicarius, substitute). Christ in his humanity stands in our place and represents us, and hence the term the “vicarious humanity” of Christ in which the humanity of Christ takes our place and represents us, so that what is true of him is true of us, and what he did in his (our) humanity is ours.
Hart (2008:87, 88) is particularly helpful in his articulation of the relationship between the substitutionary and representative aspects of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ and its connection to humanity in general. As Hart asks, if the humanity of Jesus Christ is the locus of God’s regenerative and redemptive activity, then in what sense are we actually healed and reconciled in the process? Is Torrance guilty of an “ontological fiction” that leaves humanity unhealed and unchanged? The answer is, of course, “No,” because as the material quoted above illustrates, Torrance understands that all Jesus is and does, he is and does “for us.” In assuming fallen Adamic flesh, the Son of God unites humanity to himself, thereby establishing an ontological bond by virtue of which, notes Hart, “his particular humanity was rendered inclusive in its relationship to ours.” All human beings have drawn near to God in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ and are “included” in him, prior to, and apart from, any salvific response on our part. Because we have no existence apart from the “ontological solidarity” God has established with us in the hypostatic union of God and humanity in Jesus Christ, what takes place in the incarnation and throughout the whole course of Jesus’ life of filial obedience to the Father is no ontological fiction but, rather, impacts us in the depths of our being. As Hart notes, this is no mere philosophical notion of “concrete universals” or “primitive notions of ‘corporate personality’”; rather, this is the specifically Christian claim that Jesus Christ is the Creator Logos, the one in whom we live and move and have our being and who, in taking human flesh to himself, binds us to himself by virtue of both his humanity and his deity.
Following Torrance, Hart (2008:88) goes on to state, quite correctly, that “all” humans are united to the regenerated and sanctified humanity of Jesus Christ and are, thereby, granted access to the life of “sonship.” Yet, substitution is “not the whole story,” for substitution must be complemented by, and come to fruition in, our active participation, as we are led by the Spirit to become what we are by virtue of our ontological union with Christ. The union Christ established with us in his body and blood demands our union with him in his body and blood, as we draw near to him in worship and the sacraments. Our participation in baptism and the Eucharist (cf. below) bear witness to our appropriation, by faith, through the Spirit, of what is already ours in Jesus Christ (cf. Torrance, 1976a:111).
By bringing together and thinking into each other the concepts of “representation” and “substitution,” Torrance is in complete harmony with the New Testament (cf. Hebrews) description of Christ as both our High Priest (representative) and sacrifice (substitute), the “Offerer” and the “Offering” (cf. Torrance, 1988a:173-178). In representing our humanity before the Father, Jesus Christ is the High Priest representing the people before God. At the same time, he is also the sacrifice, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Rev 13:8; Jn 1:29). He is our substitute, taking our place and offering to the Father the life of perfect filial obedience we are unable to offer. As Kettler (2005:6) notes, this is the true sense of “vicarious”: doing something for another in their place, doing for them what they are unable to do for themselves. This is the heart of Torrance’s understanding of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ.
see Vicarious Humanity, pt 1.

Friday, June 3, 2011

T.F. Torrance: The Vicarious Humanity of Jesus Christ, pt. 3

The Whole Course of His Obedience

In the manward-Godward movement of mediation, Jesus Christ vicariously fulfils the covenant throughout the entirety of his life, from birth through death, resurrection, and ascension. In older theology it was common to speak of the “vicarious death” of Christ. Yet, with no intent to minimize the importance of Christ’s sacrificial death, Torrance argues that the death of Christ must be seen in the wider context of his whole life. The nature of Christ’s reconciling activity is not accomplished in only the few hours he hung on the cross, but encompasses the entirety of his life, so that the entirety of our lives might be affected (Kettler, 2005:5, 6).
Following the Nicene fathers, Torrance argues that Jesus’ life, not only his death on the cross, was a priestly self-offering on our behalf.  “[T]he priestly self-consecration and self-offering of Christ throughout the whole of his earthly life are to be regarded as belonging to the innermost essence of the atoning mediation he fulfilled between God and mankind. Reconciliation through the life of Christ and reconciliation through the passion of Christ interpenetrate each other” (Torrance, 1988a:167, 168). Torrance continues:
[A]s one of us and one with us, he shared all our experiences, overcoming our disobedience through his obedience and sanctifying every stage of human life, and thereby vivified and restored our humanity to communion with God. He sanctified himself for our sakes that we might be sanctified in him.
In “an agonising union between God the Judge and man under judgment in a continuous movement of atoning reconciliation running throughout all his obedient and sinless life,” Jesus Christ sanctified every phase of human life through his filial obedience to the Father. Atonement, therefore, did not begin at the cross. To the contrary, atoning reconciliation began with the incarnation itself; that is, the assumption of sinful Adamic flesh was redemptive from the moment of Jesus’ “conception and birth when he put on the form of a servant and began to pay the price of our redemption” (Torrance, 1986b:475; cf. 1988a:167). Torrance continues:
As the one Mediator  between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus is not only God with us, but God for us, God who has crossed the chasm of alienation between us and himself, God who has taken our rebellious and corrupt human nature upon himself, God who has made our sin and guilt, our misery and death, our condemnation and godlessness, his very own, in order to intercede for us, to substitute himself in our place, bearing the just punishment of our sin, and offering and making restitution by suffering what we could not suffer and where we could make no restitution at all. That is the doctrine of Jesus Christ as Mediator who is God of God and Man of man in one Person, and who as such reconciles God to man and man to God in the hypostatic union of his divine and human natures.
Throughout his entire life, Jesus Christ is “God for us.” In taking sinful humanity to himself in the incarnation, the eternal Word began cleansing it, and continued to do so throughout what Calvin (2008:II.16.5; 327) called “the whole course of his obedience,” that is, throughout the entirety of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension (cf. Dawson, 2007:56, 62). For Torrance, therefore, atoning reconciliation is accomplished within the incarnate constitution of Jesus Christ (1986b:475), who acts on our behalf throughout the whole course of his obedient life, bending our fallen human will back to the Father and restoring communion between God and humanity. Following Greek patristic theology, Torrance (1993:238) writes:
[I]t is the whole incarnate life of Christ vicariously and triumphantly lived out from his birth to his crucifixion and resurrection in perfect obedience to the Father within the ontological depths of his oneness with us in our actual fallen existence, that redeems and saves us and converts our disobedient alienated sonship back to filial union with the Father. That is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In regard to the “whole course” of Jesus’ atoning life, Torrance (1960:229-231) draws upon the Reformed doctrine of the “active” and “passive” obedience of Jesus Christ. The active obedience of the incarnate Son refers to the positive fulfilment in the whole life of Jesus, who, from beginning to end, lived a life of perfect filial obedience to the Father, perfectly fulfilling God’s will in our name and laying hold of the Father’s love on our behalf.  The passive obedience of Jesus Christ refers to his willing submission to the judgement of the Father upon our sin, especially as manifested in his expiation of our sins upon the cross. Christ’s passive obedience, however, cannot be limited to the cross, for his passion began at his birth, so that his entire life was a bearing of the cross. Here Torrance quotes Calvin’s (2008:II.16.5; 327) assertion that as soon as Christ put on the form of a servant (cf. Phil 2:7), he began to pay the price of liberation for our salvation. As Torrance notes, the Reformed distinction between the active and passive obedience of Christ is not intended to divide the work of Christ but to insist that atonement cannot be limited to his passive obedience at the cross; rather, the whole course of Christ’s life of filial obedience to the Father is absolutely integral to our reconciliation. Torrance (1960:230) continues:
How could it be otherwise when in the Incarnation there took place a union of God the Judge and the man judged in one Person, so that all through His life, but especially in His death, Jesus bore in himself the infliction and judgement of God upon our sinful humanity, and wrought out in His life and His death expiation and amendment for our sin?
The “mutuality” of the active and passive obedience of Jesus Christ is important in regard to justification, for it means that we have imputed to us not only the passive righteousness of Christ when he satisfied for our sins in judgement on the cross, but also the active righteousness of Christ in which he “positively” fulfilled the Father’s will in an obedient life. For Torrance, therefore, justification means not merely the “non-imputation” of our sins through the pardon of Christ but also “the positive sharing in his divine-human righteousness” (Torrance, 1960:230, 231). He continues:
We are saved, therefore, not only by the death of Christ [passive obedience] which He suffered for our sakes, but by His life [active obedience] which He lived in our flesh for our sakes and which God raised from the dead that we may share in it through the power of the Spirit. It is in that light, of His atoning and justifying Life, that we are to understand the Incarnation of the Son in the whole course of His obedience from His Birth to His Resurrection.
According to Torrance (1993:238, 239), the “cardinal issue” here is the all-important truth of the “vicarious humanity” of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. When we assign central place to the humanity of Jesus and his atoning acts throughout the whole course of his obedient life, atonement cannot be regarded merely as an “external” juridical transaction that took place at the cross, but “as something made to issue out of the depths of our actual existence through the incredible oneness which Christ forged with us in his vicarious humanity.” Torrance’s view that the entire life of Christ was lived vicariously on our behalf and in our place gives the humanity of Jesus Christ an “essential” and “integral” place (cf. Torrance, 1996b:131) in the indivisible unity of agency of the Father and Spirit and stands in stark contrast to the Latin view that the humanity of the incarnate Son played merely an instrumental role in an external, legal transaction between the Father and the Son at the cross.
As Torrance (1992:80) argues, Jesus’ filial obedience to the Father is not “an answer to God” that arises merely through an external transaction, as in the Latin view of atonement; rather, it is an obedient response that arises from the depths of the fallen humanity Jesus has made his own. Moreover, Jesus’ obedient self-sacrifice is not a mere moral example we may follow; rather, it is a “final answer” to God actualised in “the flesh and blood of our human existence and behaviour” which remains “eternally valid.” Against external forensic and exemplary theories of the atonement, Torrance asserts that “Jesus Christ is our human response to God.”
References (see previous post)

T.F. Torrance: The Vicarious Humanity of Jesus Christ, pt. 2

Torrance’s doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ is rooted in the “covenanted way of response” God graciously provided Israel, so that a sinful people might approach God in an appropriate form of worship.

The ministry of Jesus Christ toward God on our behalf, that is, the manward-Godward movement of incarnational redemption, can be better understood by taking our “initial cue” from God’s relationship with Old Testament Israel, particularly in regard to the “reciprocity” which God patiently and lovingly worked out in covenant relationship with his chosen people. While a covenant is generally thought to involve two parties, there is an all-important “middle term” between the polarities of the covenant. This is the “covenanted way of response” God provided his people, “a divinely provided sacrifice replacing the best that the human partner may think he can offer,” as in the paradigmatic example of the offering God provided in place of Isaac, Abraham’s beloved son (cf. Gen 22:13, 14). In establishing the covenant at Sinai, God knew that Israel would not be able to fulfil its side of the covenant relationship by walking before him as a holy and obedient people, nor could sinful Israel draw near to God in appropriate worship. Hence, as an act of sheer grace, God freely provided the people a covenanted way of responding to him, a “vicarious” way in which the covenant might be fulfilled in their midst and on their behalf, so that Israel could come before God forgiven and sanctified in covenant partnership with him and fulfil their priestly mission to the world (Torrance, 1992:73, 74).
The Covenanted Way of Response
In the general pattern of the cultic liturgy, God had made it clear to the people of Israel that they were not to appear before him with offerings they had devised themselves. In contrast to pagan worship, there were to be no offerings embodying their own self-expression or representing their own natural desires: no unprescribed oblations, no “strange fire,” no rituals of their own invention were to be introduced into Israel’s worship of God. Instead, God graciously provided the people a covenanted way of response, a divinely prepared pattern of liturgy and worship, designed to testify to the fact that only God can expiate guilt, forgive sin, and bring about propitiation between himself and his people. This cultic liturgy, including the liturgical ordinances, sacrifices, offerings and oblations, and even the priesthood itself, constituted the “vicarious way of covenant response in faith, obedience and worship which God had freely provided Israel out of his steadfast love” (Torrance, 1992:74, 75).
God intended the covenanted way of response he provided for Israel to be worked into the hearts and minds of the people as a liturgical witness to God’s revealing and reconciling purpose. Over time, the covenanted way of response was worked into the flesh and blood existence of Israel, so that it might control the whole pattern of its priestly mission in history. The mediatorial and priestly roles of Moses and Aaron, as well as the notions of guilt-bearer and sacrifice, were gradually conflated, appearing in the Isaianic prophecies as the “servant of the Lord,” the “hypostatized actualisation” within the flesh and blood existence of Israel of the divinely provided covenant way of response set forth in the cultic liturgy. A messianic role was attributed to the servant of the Lord in which “mediator and sacrifice, priest and victim were combined in a form that was at once representative and substitutionary, corporate and individual, in its fulfilment.” In the Isaianic prophecies, Israel, the servant of the Lord, and the “Redeemer,” the “Holy One of Israel” were conflated and brought together, as though the prophet wanted to say that “the real servant of the Lord is the Lord himself,” the divine Redeemer who has bound himself in covenant kinship with Israel, taking upon himself Israel’s affliction in order to make it his own (Torrance, 1992:75, 76).
The Fulfilment of the Covenanted Way of Response
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is seen as the historical incarnation of this prophetic vision (cf. Torrance, 1971:158). In him, the prophesied servant of the Lord and the promised Redeemer come together, as he bears away the iniquities, transgressions, and guilt not only of Israel, but of the whole world. Torrance regards the identity of servant and Redeemer as “the essence of the Gospel.” As the incarnate Son of the Father, Jesus Christ came to fulfil all righteousness as both priest and victim. Through his one self-offering in atonement for sin, he mediated a new covenant of universal range, wherein humanity is presented to the Father as redeemed, sanctified, and perfected forever in Jesus. As Torrance notes, “Jesus Christ constitutes in his own self-consecrated humanity the fulfilment of the vicarious way of human response to God promised under the old covenant, but now on the ground of his atoning self-sacrifice once for all offered this is a vicarious way of response which is available for all mankind (Torrance, 1992:75-77).
As Torrance (1992:77) argues, this is surely how we are to understand the twofold ministry of Jesus Christ, from God to man and from man to God. Jesus Christ himself fulfils the covenant from both sides. In regard to the Old Testament commands, “I shall be your God and you shall be my people,” “I am holy, be you holy,” and “I will be your Father and you will be my son,” Jesus Christ is both the covenant-making God and the one true Israelite, who, as the obedient and faithful servant, fulfils both polarities of the covenant. Our immediate concern in upcoming posts is the “manward-Godward” movement of the covenant, that is, the fulfilment of the covenant in the body and blood of Christ, “from the side of human beings toward God the Father as the divinely provided counterpart to God’s unconditional self-giving to mankind.”
Calvin, J. 2008. Institutes of the Christian Religion (translated by H. Beveridge). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. 1,059 pp.
Dawson, G.S. 2007b. 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.
Kettler, C.D. 2005. The God Who Believes: Faith, Doubt, and the Vicarious Humanity of Christ. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books. 205 pp.
Torrance, T.F. 1960. Justification: Its Radical Nature and Place in Reformed Doctrine and Life. Scottish Journal of Theology, vol 13, no 3. pp. 225-246. Also available in Torrance (1996b:150-168).
Torrance, T.F. 1971. God and Rationality. London: OUP. 216 pp.
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. 1992. The Mediation of Christ (rev. ed.). Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard. 126 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. 1996b. (orig. ed. 1965). Theology in Reconstruction. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers. 288 pp.

Discipleship; Living in Union with Christ

Radically and unapologetically Christ-centered Announcing the publication of my new book (or manual) called "Discipleship: Living i...