Torrance’s interactionist, critical-realist epistemology, as well as his theological holism, is foundational to his doctrine of the mediation of Christ. Torrance rejects Newtonian Deist cosmological dualism by asserting that God has interacted with humanity in history, within the creaturely conditions of the world of space and time by revealing himself in the history of Israel and the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Similarly, Torrance’s assertion that God has accommodated his self-revelation to the human mind within the medium of human thought and speech (cf. below) is a clear rejection of the epistemological disjunction of Kantian dualism, with its separation of the knower and the known. For Torrance, God can be known because God has made himself known, graciously enabling us to know him through the creative power of his Word. God’s divine self-revelation in the history of Israel, as recorded in the Old Testament, provides the foundation of Torrance’s “realist” epistemology (cf. Torrance, 1982:84). As Torrance (1982:85) notes:
By revelation is meant, then, not some vague, inarticulate awareness of God, projected out of the human consciousness, but an intelligible, articulate revealing of God by God whom we are enabled to apprehend through the creative power of his Word addressed to us, yet a revealing of God by God which is actualized within the conditions of our creaturely existence and therefore within the medium of our human thought and speech.
For Torrance, revelation is an act of God, who graciously reveals himself to us in a means amenable to human apprehension and articulation.
Yet, if we are to know God and speak of him in appropriate ways, argues Torrance, we must have “fitting modes of thought and speech, adequate conceptual forms and structures, and indeed reverent and worthy habits of worship and behaviour governing our approach to him.” Just as a workman needs appropriate “tools” to complete his task, Torrance notes, we need “conceptual tools” to understand God; that is, we need basic categories, concepts, and beliefs to enable us to receive and assimilate divine revelation within the comparatively limited capacity of human understanding (Torrance, 1992:6; cf. 2008:41). As Chung (2011:4, 5) notes, Torrance’s “tool” analogy not only emphasises God’s gracious provision of the conceptual tools needed to articulate a radically new encounter with God, but also underscores the reality that our sin renders human thought unsuitable in itself for the purpose of mediating divine revelation. As Torrance (1992:12) notes, “Israel teaches us, then, that divine revelation cuts against the grain of our naturalistic existence and calls into question the naturalistic patterns of human thought.”
According to Torrance, the conceptual tools for the mediation of revelation are moulded throughout God’s historical dialogue with Israel, within the life and history of a particular people elected by God to be the instrument of divine revelation to all humanity (Torrance, 1992:6, 7; 2008:41). In order to gain a “foothold” in human history, so that we might learn to know and speak about God in appropriate ways, notes Torrance, God selected Israel, “one small race out of the whole mass of humanity,” and subjected it to “intensive interaction and dialogue with himself” in order to mould and shape it for the purpose of divine revelation. Refusing to allow his purpose of love and redemption to be inhibited by human limitation and weakness, God, in great humility, condescended to find a way to enter our “beggarly weakness and poverty” in order to restore fallen humanity to complete fellowship with himself, both in knowing and being. For the sake of the entire world, Torrance argues, God took Israel in hand to provide “a whole set of spiritual tools” and “appropriate (emphasis added) forms of understanding, worship and expression,” so that knowledge of God could be revealed in a means amenable to human understanding (Torrance, 1992:6, 7; 2008:40, 41; cf. 1952:164, 165). In regard to the development of conceptual tools for the mediation of revelation in Israel, Kruger (1989:47) rightly draws attention to Torrance’s insistence on “appropriate” conceptual tools for the creation of a “medium” in human thought and understanding through which God communicates himself to humanity. It is not merely human speech or concepts per se that Torrance has in view, notes Kruger; rather, Torrance is concerned with ways of human thinking, knowing, and even worship which are “appropriate” to God. In addition, as Scandrett (2006:35) notes, the forms of thought and life that God gave to Israel are not “arbitrary.” They are graciously given so that humanity may rightly apprehend and respond to God’s definitive self-revelation in Jesus Christ.
For Torrance, the development of appropriate conceptual tools for the mediation of revelation constitutes the “epistemological significance” of Israel (Kruger, 1989:47) or the “normative pattern” of divine revelation and mediation before its final fulfilment in the incarnation of Jesus Christ (Chung, 2011:4, 5). For Torrance, notes Chung, the selection of Israel underlines the “singular purpose” of the mediation of revelation to the world, so that the salvation of humanity is made possible through the subsequent coming of Jesus Christ. As Torrance (2008:41) argues, God selected Israel in order to prepare humanity for the incarnation of the Son of God. The story of Israel is the “prehistory” of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Chung, T. 2011. Thomas Torrance's Mediations and Revelation. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate. 205pp.
Kruger, C.B. 1989. Participation in the Self-knowledge of God: The Nature and Means of Our Knowledge of God in the Theology of T.F. Torrance. Thesis Ph.D. University of Aberdeen.
Scandrett, J.A. 2006. Suffering Servant, Wounded Word, Troubled Trinity: The Passion of God in the Theology of T.F. Torrance. Thesis Ph.D. Drew University.
Torrance, T.F. 1952. Salvation is of the Jews. Evangelical Quarterly, 22(3):164-173.
Torrance, T.F. 1982. Reality and Evangelical Theology: The Realism of Christian Revelation. (Forward by K.A. Richardson, 1999). Downers Grove, IL: IVP. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster. 174pp.
Torrance, T.F. 1992. The Mediation of Christ (rev. ed.). Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard. 126pp.
Torrance, T.F. 2008. Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (edited by R. Walker). Downers Grove: IVP. 371pp.