Sunday, July 24, 2011

T.F. Torrance: The Vicarious Humanity of Jesus Christ, pt. 6

This post is intimately connected to the previous post regarding the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ as it relates to “faith.” This and the following post address the important topics of justification and sanctification. When I began studying Torrance, I could quickly see how salvation was “objectively” accomplished for all humanity in Jesus Christ. Yet it took me several years and much of the writing of a doctoral dissertation to begin to grasp the “subjective” aspects of salvation. “How does it apply to me” “What is required of me?” I now realise my thinking was constrained by a traditional view of the Protestant ordo salutis. Read on to learn more.

Torrance finds this understanding of faith (see previous post) in St. Paul’s teaching that we are “justified by faith” and that “the just shall live by faith” (cf. Rom 1:17; 3:28). For Torrance, these passages do not refer to the faith of the individual believer; rather, they refer to “the faith of God.” According to Torrance, Paul’s phrase, “the just shall live by faith,” comes from Habakkuk (cf. 2:4) and, in a commentary on the same found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, is interpreted to mean that the just live from “the faith of God,” as also understood by Athanasius, Calvin, and Barth (Torrance, 1994:31; Torrance, et. al., 1999:25). In regard to the locus of justifying faith, Torrance (1960:236) writes:
[Jesus Christ] stood in our place, taking our cause upon him, also as Believer, as the Obedient One who was himself justified before God as his beloved Son in whom he was well pleased. He offered to God . . . a perfect faith and response which we are unable to offer, and he appropriated all God’s blessings which we are unable to appropriate. Through union with him we share in his faith, in his obedience, in his trust and appropriation of the Father’s blessing; we share in his justification before God. Therefore when we are justified by faith, this does not mean that it is our faith that justifies us, far from it - It is the faith of Christ alone that justifies us, but we in faith flee from our own acts even of repentance, confession, trust and response, and take refuge in the obedience and faithfulness of Christ - “Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief.” That is what it means to be justified by faith. (emphasis in original)
Justification is an objective reality (cf. Torrance, 1960:228, 233) appropriated for us by Jesus Christ, who rendered to the Father the perfect faith and obedience we are unable to offer. In the union with Christ wrought by “the wonderful exchange,” in which he assumed our poverty and gave us his riches, humanity is made to share in the beloved Son’s justification before God. This interpretation, however, does not denigrate the faith of the individual believer. Rather, in Torrance’s understanding of the “polar relation” of faith, the “primary pole” is God’s faith. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, is the faithful one who lays hold of us and brings us into relationship with himself. Within that relationship, the “secondary pole” is that of the believer and his or her response of faith; yet, the human response is an act of faith “evoked by,” and “sustained by,” the faithfulness of God, so that far from being an act of worship arising from the individual believer, it is “a gift of God” (Torrance, 1994:31, 32; Torrance, et. al., 1999:25). As Torrance argues elsewhere (1992:84):
Thus the very faith with which we confess is the faith of Jesus Christ who loved us and gave himself for us in a life and death of utter trust and belief in God the Father. Our faith is altogether grounded in him who is “the author and finisher of our faith,” on whom faith depends from start to finish.
Comment: Torrance has been criticised for putting “too much” emphasis on the vicarious faith "of" Christ and, thereby, undermining the importance of the faith of the individual believer. Yet, as Torrance argues, the faith "of" Jesus Christ does NOT undermine your faith and my faith; rather, it undergirds it, establishes it, even makes it possible. Your faith and my faith is a participation in the faith "of" Jesus Christ offered by the Son to the Father on our behalf.
Following John McLeod Campbell, Torrance argues that justification is not merely the “non-imputation” of sin which we accept by “our” faith; rather, it is a “participation” in the righteousness or “actualised holiness” of Jesus Christ, who sanctified himself on our behalf so that we might be sanctified in him. Thus, “to be justified by faith is to be justified in him in whom we believe, not by an act of our own faith as such” (Torrance, 1976a:141).
As Torrance (1960:236, 237) notes, because our faith rests in, and is undergirded by, the faith of Jesus Christ, the great Reformer, John Knox (c. 1510–1572), hesitated to use the expression, “justification by faith,” for its common usage seems to transfer emphasis from Jesus Christ and his faith to our own acts of trust or believing. In later Scots theology, however, anthropocentric questions regarding faith arose because the believer’s heart turned inward to reflect upon the nature of his or her own faith, rather than taking assurance in the faith of Christ. In this regard, argues Torrance, whenever questions arise regarding “justifying faith,” we are thrown back upon ourselves and doubts are cast on assurance, for if we must rely upon our own repentance and faith, who can be sure of his or her own salvation? For both Knox and Calvin, however, questions of assurance had little place because they understood faith as grounded, not upon the believer’s faith, but upon the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Thus, as Torrance rightly asserts, when we use the expression, “justification by faith alone,” we must be “crystal clear” that by “faith alone” we mean by “the grace of Christ alone.”
Moreover, just as justification is “objectively” realised in Jesus Christ, justification is “subjectively” realised for mankind through the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. As Torrance argues, what Jesus did in his human nature was not for his own sake; rather, all he did was for our sake. Throughout the whole course of his obedient life and death, he stood in our place, acting vicariously on our behalf. He is the Word of God brought to bear upon man, but he is also man hearing that Word and responding to it by faith. He is “the great Believer,” who vicariously believes for us, in our place, and in our name. Moreover, he is both the will of God enacted in human flesh and man responding perfectly to that will, bending our human will back in perfect obedience to the Father. Likewise, in regard to justification, he is both “the embodiment of God’s justifying act” and “our human appropriation of it” (Torrance, 1960:233). Torrance continues:
In that unity of the divine and the human, justification was fulfilled in Christ from both sides, from the side of the justifying God and from the side of justified man . . . Justification as objective act of the redeeming God and justification as subjective actualization of it in our estranged human existence have once and for all taken place - in Jesus.
Comment: Justification is not a “potentiality” waiting to be “actualised” by our personal decision of faith. Justification is already fully accomplished in our place and on our behalf by Jesus Christ. Jesus has not realised justification in merely an “objective” way that remains to be “subjectively” realised in you and me by something we must do, for example, making a personal decision of faith. To be sure, we are not justified by our own personal act of faith (as in modern evangelicalism); we are justified by the faith “of” Jesus Christ, the one True Believer, who offers the perfect response of faith to the Father on behalf of all. We must rid ourselves of our ingrained Pelagian notions that there must be something we have to do in order to “be saved.” To be sure, nothing remains undone; there is nothing we can add to the salvation already accomplished for us by Jesus Christ. All that is needed for our salvation, including repentance, faith, and obedience, has been accomplished on our behalf and in our place by the incarnate Son of God, the one True Believer.
As the divine Son of the Father, Jesus “embodies” the divine act of justification from the side of God; as the human son of Mary, he “appropriates” justification from the side of man, so that both the objective (i.e., Godward-manward) and subjective (i.e., manward-Godward) aspects of justification are fulfilled in his incarnate person.
Torrance (1960:236) expresses the relationship between the “objective” and “subjective” aspects of justification, and their relation to union with Christ through the Spirit, as follows:
Justification has been fulfilled subjectively as well as objectively in Jesus Christ, but that objective and subjective justification is objective to us. It is freely imputed to us by grace objectively and we through the Spirit share in it subjectively as we are united to Christ. His subjective justification becomes ours, and it is subjective in us as well as in him, but only subjective in us because it has been made subjectively real in our own human nature, in our own human flesh in Jesus, our Brother, and our Mediator.
Note that Torrance does not say justification is subjectively realised in the believer when he or she “accepts” Christ through a personal decision of faith. To the contrary, justification is subjectively realised in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, a reality in which we share through union with the Risen Christ. For Torrance, justification by faith is a “once and for all” reality that has been objectively and subjectively fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who, in the hypostatic union of God and humanity, is, at once, the embodiment of God’s justifying act and the human appropriation of that act on behalf of all humanity.
(next post, on sanctification, August 15)
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. 1976a. Theology in Reconciliation: Essays toward Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 302 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.
Torrance, T.F. 1996b. (orig. ed. 1965). Theology in Reconstruction. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers. 288 pp.
Torrance, T.F. et al. 1999. A Passion for Christ: The Vision That Ignites Ministry (edited by G. Dawson & J. Stein). Edinburgh: Handel Press. 150 pp.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

T.F. Torrance: The Vicarious Humanity of Jesus Christ, pt. 5

With this and the following posts, we get into the heart of Torrance’s doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ.

Vicarious Humanity and Human Response
A clearer understanding of Torrance’s doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ may be gained by an exploration of the relationship between the humanity of Jesus and the mediation of the human response to God.
Following Scottish pastor and theologian, John McLeod Campbell (Torrance, 1976a:141), Torrance identifies Galatians 2:20 as a passage of “primary importance” in his doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, a passage he personally translates as follows (Torrance, 1994:31; Torrance, et. al., 1999:24, 25; cf. Torrance, 1957:113):
I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I. But Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Commenting on his translation of this passage, Torrance (1994:31; Torrance, et. al., 1999:25) argues:
“The faith of the Son of God” is to be understood here not just as my faith in him, but as the faith of Christ himself, for it refers primarily to Christ’s unswerving faithfulness, his vicarious and substitutionary faith which embraces and undergirds us, such that when we believe we must say with St. Paul “not I but Christ,” even in our act of faith.
Galatians 2:20 is the paradigmatic text for understanding Torrance’s doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. As Torrance (1992:98) argues, this text informs all our human responses to God, including faith, conversion, worship, the sacraments, and evangelism (cf. Torrance, 1992:81-98). The relationship between the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ and specific aspects of human response to God will be the subject of the remainder of the present chapter.
Torrance’s early article on faith (1957) ignited a “firestorm” of controversy. In this article, Torrance argues that human faith is grounded in God’s faithfulness, indeed, that faith and believing do not apply to humanity, but to God. Torrance’s understanding of faith and its relation to the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ reveals the “fundamental contours” of his theology, particularly in regard to the “once-for-allness” of what God has accomplished in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ (Thimell, 2008:27, 28).
While we are accustomed to thinking of faith as something we possess, or as an activity in which we engage, faith is not to be construed as an independent, autonomous act which arises from a base within ourselves (Torrance, 1992:81, 82). Arguing that the intellectual aspect of faith (pistis) is grounded in “the basic fact of the faithfulness of God,” Torrance (1957:111) notes that the Old Testament concept of faith (’emunah) mirrors the “constancy” and “steadfastness” of a parent to her child (cf. Is 49:15), and is properly applied to God in his covenant faithfulness, not to man (cf. Dt 7:9). Thus, faith and belief do not properly describe a virtue or quality of human beings; rather, “they describe man as taking refuge from his own frailty and instability in God who is firm and steadfast.”
The biblical conception of faith is rooted in the covenant relationship between God and Israel. In the “community of reciprocity” established between God and his people, there is a reciprocal movement of faith, that is, a “polarity between the faithfulness of God and the answering faithfulness of man.” Even when the people’s faith faltered, God would not let them go. Despite their rebellion and unfaithfulness, God held on to them in “undergirding” and “utterly invariant” faithfulness, as revealed in his covenant love for Israel. Hence, the ultimate ground of Israel’s faith toward God was God’s faithfulness toward Israel. As Torrance argues, the steadfast faithfulness of God is the ground on which redemption rests, as the divinely prepared pattern of Israel’s cultic liturgy attests (Torrance, 1992:82).
The New Testament concept of faith is not different, although it is “intensely personalised” in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He is “the Truth of God actualized in our midst, the incarnate faithfulness of God” (Torrance, 1971:154; 1992:82). In an important passage for understanding the relation between human faith (pistis), God, and the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, Torrance (1957:113; cf. 1971:154) describes Jesus Christ as the “embodiment and actualisation” of human faith in covenant with God. He writes:
Like the Old Testament, the New Testament also lays emphasis upon the faithfulness of God, and requires from man a corresponding faithfulness. But in the gospel the steadfast faithfulness of God has achieved its end in righteousness and truth in Jesus Christ, for in Him it has been actualised as Truth, and is fulfilled in our midst. Jesus Christ is not only the Truth of God but also Truth of God become man, the Truth of God become truth of man. As such, Jesus is also the truth of man before God, for God, and toward God. Jesus Christ is thus not only the incarnation of the Divine pistis, but He is the embodiment and actualization of man’s pistis in covenant with God. He is not only the Righteousness of God, but the embodiment and actualization of our human righteousness before God.
The Old Testament concept of the faithfulness of God is actualised in Jesus Christ, who, at the same time, is the embodiment and actualisation of man’s faith toward God. In his incarnate constitution as God and man in one person, Jesus Christ manifests a “twofold” faithfulness or steadfastness; that is, “the steadfastness of God and the steadfastness of man in obedience to God.” Jesus Christ is both the Word of God revealed to man and man in steadfast obedience and faithfulness to that Word. As Torrance argues, “He is from the side of man, man’s pistis answering to God’s pistis, as well as from the side of God, God’s pistis requiring man’s pistis: as such He lived out the life of the Servant, fulfilling in Himself our salvation in righteousness and truth.” Torrance finds this truth summed up in the New Testament assertion that Jesus Christ is both the faithful “Yes” of God to man and the faithful “Amen” of man to God (cf. 2Cor 1:18-20). “He offers to God for us, and is toward God in His own person and life, our human response of obedience and faithfulness” (Torrance, 1957:114).
In this regard, Torrance notes two great aspects of the gospel which need fuller consideration in modern theology than they have been given. First, the “whole of our salvation” is dependent upon the “faithfulness of God.” It is God’s faithfulness that undergirds and supports our “feeble and faltering” faith, and enfolds it in his own. In Jesus Christ, we are unable to disentangle our faith from the faithfulness of God, for it is the nature of our faith to be implicated in the faithfulness of Jesus. Second, Jesus Christ is not only the incarnate Word of God; he is also “Believer,” “Believer for us,” “vicariously Believer, whose very humanity is the embodiment of our salvation” (Torrance, 1957:114). Torrance continues:
In Him who is Man of our humanity, we are graciously given to share, and so to participate in the whole course of His reconciling obedience from His birth to His death. That He stood in our place and gave to God account for us, that He believed for us, was faithful for us, and remains faithful even when we fail Him again and again, is the very substance of our salvation and the anchor of our hope.
In his solidarity with humanity, Jesus Christ stands in our place, in his life and in his death, in utter faithfulness to God and man. In his complete filial obedience and faithfulness to the Father, Jesus offers to God the “perfect response of faith” which we are unable to offer; that is, Jesus “offers to God, and is toward God in His own person and life, our human response of faith and obedience to God.” He is man keeping faith and truth with “perfect correspondence” between his life and the word of God. In Jesus, there is “utter consistency” between the revealed word of God and man hearing, believing, and obeying that word (Torrance, 1971:154). Jesus enters into the relationship between the faithfulness of God and the unfaithfulness of human beings to restore the faithfulness of mankind by grounding it in his own faithfulness, thereby perfectly answering God’s faithfulness (Torrance, 1992:82). Torrance continues:
Thus Jesus steps into the actual situation where we are summoned to have faith in God, to believe and trust in him, and he acts in our place and in our stead from within the depths of our unfaithfulness and provides us freely with a faithfulness in which we share. He does that as Mediator between God and man, yet precisely as man united to us and taking our place at every point where we human beings . . . are called to have faith in the Father, to believe in him and trust him.
As Mediator between God and man, Jesus steps into the arena of human faith in order to act in our place from within the depths of our fallen and unfaithful humanity. As Torrance argues, “[I]f we think of belief, trust or faith as forms of human activity before God, then we must think of Jesus Christ as believing, trusting and having faith in God the Father on our behalf and in our place.” Even in regard to our belief, Jesus acts vicariously, that is, in our place, offering to the Father the fullness of faith we are unable to offer. Torrance illustrates his argument with a story about teaching his young daughter to walk. While the little child held firmly to her father’s hand as tightly as she could, it was not her feeble grasp that enabled her to remain steady, but, rather, her father’s strong grip on her hand. As Torrance argues, “This is surely how God’s faithfulness actualised in Jesus Christ has hold of our weak and faltering faith and holds it securely in his hand” (Torrance, 1992:82, 83; cf. 1994:32; et. al., 1999:26).
For Torrance, our response of faith is a “free participation” in the faithful response of Jesus Christ already made on our behalf. Our response of faith is encompassed “within the ring of faithfulness which Christ has already thrown around us, when in faith we rely not on our own believing but wholly on his vicarious response of faithfulness toward God.” Hence, Christ’s faith undergirds our feeble faith and enfolds it in his own. Moreover, since the faith of the incarnate Word includes both the faith of God and the faith of man, “we are unable to disentangle our acts of faith in Christ from their implication in the eternal faithfulness of God” (Torrance, 1971:154).
For Torrance, faith is a “polar concept” that “reposes upon and derives from the prior faithfulness of God which has been translated permanently into our actual human existence in Jesus Christ.” We do not rely upon our own faith, “but upon the faith of Christ which undergirds and upholds our faith” (Torrance, 1960:235). In the “polar relation” between Christ’s faith and our faith, “our faith is laid hold of, enveloped, and upheld by his unswerving faithfulness.” Jesus Christ takes our place, making our cause his own, and offering to the Father the response of faith and love we are altogether unable to offer. Human faith, therefore, has its proper place, not within the autonomous individual, but within the “polar relationship” between God and mankind, a relationship that is “actualised” in Jesus Christ, with whom we are yoked together and made to share in his vicarious faith and faithfulness on our behalf. Through his incarnational and atoning union with us, our faith is implicated in his faith; yet, far from being depersonalised, our faith is made to issue “freely and spontaneously” out of our own lives before God. To be sure, we rest in the faithfulness of the incarnate Saviour, and even the way in which we rest is undergirded by his own faithfulness. For Torrance, therefore, the relation between our responses in faith to the vicarious faith of Christ can be summed up in the Pauline principle, “not I but Christ.” Even in our believing we must say with St. Paul, “I believe, yet not I but Christ” (Torrance, 1992:83, 84; 1994:31, 32; Torrance, et. al., 1999:25; cf. 1957:113).
Thimell, D. 2008. Torrance’s Doctrine of Faith. The Princeton Theological Review, vol XIV, no. 2, issue 39. Available at
Torrance, T.F. 1957. One Aspect of the Biblical Conception of Faith. The Expository Times, vol 68, pp. 111-114.
Torrance, T.F. 1971. God and Rationality. London: OUP. 216 pp.
Torrance, T.F. 1976a. Theology in Reconciliation: Essays toward Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 302 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.
Torrance, T.F. et al. 1999. A Passion for Christ: The Vision That Ignites Ministry (edited by G. Dawson & J. Stein). Edinburgh: Handel Press. 150 pp.

Grace and Response: A Matter of Order

Many years ago, when I was a young man in Bible college, one of my theology professors said to the class, “When I wake up in the morning, ...