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

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely breathtaking! How awesome is our triune God revealed in our Lord Jesus Christ! I thank our King for raising up available vessels such as T.F. Torrance and Athanasius to share with us their understanding of the Lord by His grace. I also thank the Lord for you Mr. Davis for "interpreting" the intellectual "tongues" of these guys. Thank you brother for putting in all the hard work by God's grace and bringing this "prozac" to us former federal Calvinists.


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