Wednesday, January 25, 2012

T.F. Torrance: The Vicarious Humanity of Jesus Christ, pt. 13

The Logic of Grace
As Torrance (1992:xii) notes, some may feel that his stress on the unconditional grace of God, particularly in regard to the vicarious word and act of Jesus Christ in our place and on our behalf, undermines the integrity of the personal response of faith and repentance we are called to make in acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Saviour. Yet, as Torrance rightly argues:
Part of the problem here is that unconditional grace is too costly, for it calls into question all that we are and do, so that even in our repenting and believing we cannot rely upon our own response but only upon the response Christ has offered to the Father in our place and on our behalf.
While Torrance’s doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ radically undermines any Pelagian approach to redemption (i.e., the heretical teaching that we possess, at least in part, the resources to save ourselves), as Colyer (2001a:117, 118) rightly observes, Torrance’s doctrine of vicarious humanity includes the human response to the Gospel, yet in such a way that may require rethinking the relationship between divine and human agency.
Torrance’s view of the “inner logic of grace,” as it relates to divine and human agency, can be approached through the “theological couplet” of anhypostasis-enhypostasis, a technically precise expression that guards against certain heretical christologies. Though Torrance first learned it in interaction with Karl Barth, this concept is traceable through older Scots theology back to Cyril of Alexandria. Cyril conceived the terms to guard against a “schizoid” christology, such as Nestorianism, by asserting the “indivisible union of the divine and human natures in their undiminished reality in the one Person of Jesus Christ.” The negative term, anhypostasis, means that “apart from the incarnation of the Son of God Jesus would not have come into being.” Against adoptionist christologies, anhypostasis means that Jesus would not have existed apart from the incarnation of the Logos, for, in the incarnation, there was no “independent” human hypostasis (person) or reality which was “adopted” into union with the eternal Logos. On the other hand, the positive term, enhypostasis, asserts that “with the incarnation Jesus came into being and exists as a completely human person in the full hypostatic reality of the incarnate Son of God”; that is, the human nature of Jesus became enhypostatic “in” the pre-existent Son, so that the divine and human natures of Christ constitute “in their union one indivisible subsistent person.” In other words, against monophysitism, enhypostasis asserts that in the incarnation there is a real, fully human Jesus of Nazareth who exists in perfect “oneness” with the divine nature of Christ (Torrance, 1990:125, 199, 200; 1993:230; 1996c:71).
Comment: Anhypostasis: no incarnation, no Jesus. Apart from the incarnation, Jesus would not have existed. This rules out any “adoptionist” notion that the incarnation occurred when the Holy spirit came upon the man Jesus.
Enhypostasis: Jesus of Nazareth is fully human as well as fully divine. This rules out any Apollinarian notion that Jesus lacked a human mind or any monophysite notion that Jesus lacked a human will. Jesus was fully human just as we are.
Torrance (1993:230) applies the “logic of grace” embodied in the incarnation, as expressed in the anhypostasis-enhypostasis couplet, to the relationship between divine and human agency in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He writes:
[T]he incarnation was brought about through the grace of God alone, without any human cooperation, yet in such a way that through the sheer act of divine grace the human nature of Christ, the incarnate Son, was given complete authentic reality as human nature in inseparable union with his divine nature. This gives expression to the singular “logic of grace” embodied in the incarnation: “all of grace” involves “all of man.” Instead of discounting human nature the downright act of God’s grace incarnate in Christ creates and uphold human nature.
Thus, while the human Jesus had no independent existence apart from the divine act of God in the incarnation (anhypostasis), at the same time, the human agency of Jesus is no less real because of its indivisible union with the divine nature (enhypostasis).
Comment: That last sentence is crucial for understanding Torrance’s articulation of the “logic” of grace.
Torrance (1990:190) applies the “logic of grace” embodied in the incarnation to the “movement” of grace by which we become children of God. He writes:
The theological couplet anhypostasia/enhypostasia expresses in succinct hypostatic terms the essential logic in the irreversible movement of God’s grace. It is by grace alone that man comes into being and by grace alone that he is saved and made a child of God, which he cannot achieve for himself. However, by grace alone does not in any way mean the diminishing far less the excluding of the human but on the contrary its full and complete establishment.
Hence, for Torrance (1992:xii), “all of grace” does not mean “nothing of man.” Rather “all of grace means all of man,” for God’s gracious act toward us in Jesus Christ “includes the fullness and completeness of our human response in the equation.” Thus, the anhypostasis-enhypostasis couplet expresses the logic of grace, wherein “all of grace” (i.e., full divine agency) includes “all of man” (i.e., full human agency).
Comment: All of grace=divine agency; all of man=human agency
As Torrance (1992:xii), argues, the relationship between divine and human agency cannot be understood logically, because logically, “all” of grace would mean “nothing” of man. As Colyer (2001a:120, 121) rightly notes, however, to assert that the relationship between divine and human agency cannot be understood logically does not imply that it is illogical. For Torrance, the complex, ineffable relationship between divine and human agency is sui generis, that is, unique or in a class by itself. It cannot be reduced to logico-causal categories of thought. The problem is similar to that faced in modern physics, with its lack of an adequate conceptuality to schematize the nature of light as both wave and particle.
Nevertheless, thinking in terms of logical, causal, or necessary relations has led to the development of classic, competing theological explanations for the relationship between divine and human agency: for example, “monergism,” in which God is the sole agent in salvation (Augustinianism, Calvinism) and “synergism,” wherein agency is apportioned both to God and man (Arminianism) (Colyer, 2001a:120; Olson 2002:276ff). Against those who would divide the responsibility for human redemption into that which God does for us and that which we must do for ourselves, Torrance (1992:xii) argues:
All of grace means all of man! We must remember that in all his healing and saving relations with us Jesus Christ is engaged in personalising and humanising (never depersonalising or dehumanising) activity, so that in all our relations with him we are made more truly and fully human in our personal response of faith than ever before. This takes place in us through the creative activity of the Holy Spirit as he unites us to the perfect humanity of the Lord Jesus conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary and raised again from the dead.
As Colyer (2001a:119) notes, just as there is full divine and human agency in Jesus Christ, there is an “analogous” fully divine and fully human agency in the human response to the Gospel. For Torrance (1990:125, 199), the relationship between divine and human agency is given “archetypal” or paradigmatic expression in the Virgin birth, an act that is at once fully divine and fully human.
The “inner logic of grace” embodied in the incarnation applies to “all the ways and works of God” in his dealings with humanity. Torrance’s emphasis on the gracious nature of Jesus’ vicarious acts in our place and on our behalf does not rule out human involvement in redemption; yet, our response to Christ is not under our own disposal, nor is it determined by the very human will we are called to renounce. Nevertheless, as noted above, human faith has its proper place in the “polar relationship” between God and humanity, wherein our weak and faltering faith is lifted up and undergirded by the faith “of” Jesus Christ. Our response of faith is a free participation in the faithful response of Jesus Christ already made on our behalf. Consequently, our faith, and human response to the Gospel in general, is not made redundant by the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ; rather, it is established, undergirded, and empowered.
Comment: Think about the Virgin birth for a moment. The incarnation came about when the Holy Spirit (“all of grace”) came upon the Virgin Mary (“all of man”). Thus, the incarnation is an event that is at once both fully divine and fully human.
While the incarnation of the Son of God remains an ineffable mystery, it is a mystery that has a wider application. We have already seen that the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, who believes and obeys in our place and on our behalf (“all of grace”), does not negate, nullify, or render redundant our own faith (“all of man”). Rather, it undergirds and establishes it. Now apply this “logic” to the “inspiration” of Scripture. Is the Bible a divine product or a human product? It is both! Both fully divine, hence trustworthy and reliable, and fully human, thus containing differing human recollections (e.g., the details of the resurrection stories). Torrance’s conception of the logic of grace allows us to transcend centuries-old arguments, including the relationship between divine and human agency (monergism vs synergism) and the relationship between divine and human agency in the recording of Holy Scripture.
In terms of their “for us-ness,” the implications of Torrance’s doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ for human response to the Gospel are astonishing, for his vicarious word and act includes “all of man.” In his faithful response to the Father, Jesus Christ believes “for us.” In regard to obedience, he offers the perfect human response to God “for us.” He justifies and sanctifies humanity in himself “for us.” Moreover, he worships “for us.” He even makes the “personal decision” of faith “for us.” Our faith, our obedience, our personal decision, our justification and sanctification are all implicated in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ and his self-offering to the Father, so that we are fully and completely accepted by the Father in him. To be sure, the Gospel is truly “good news,” for Jesus Christ, in his vicarious humanity, is truly “God for us.”
Colyer, E.M. 2001a. How to Read T.F. Torrance: Understanding His Trinitarian & Scientific Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP. 393 pp.
Olson, R.E. 2002. The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity. Downers Grove, IL: IVP. 365 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.


  1. Thanks Martin, you have once again made my day!

  2. Finally got to your post today, Martin. Very good and very encouraging! The vicarious humanity of Jesus is a way of transcending the either/or of monergism or synergism. I especially appreciated the portion where you referred to Christ's faith upholding and undergirding our own - perfect! To raise an "old" subject, we cannot create a Sabbath rest on our own - Jesus, in His very being, in whom we live and move and have our own being, is our Rest, and he shares it with us, through his very real humanity united with our own. One more example of this: on Wednesday night, we were showing our 4th - 6th grade kids class Matthew 8 from the "Matthew" video, with Bruce Marchiano. I was struck by what Jesus is for us and has given us! His own perfect faith, which upholds and undergirds our own, which we can participate in if we only believe, if we only will receive it. The scene was the storm on the Sea of Galilee, with the disciples crying out in fear of the waves and the wind, desparing of life! Meanwhile, in the back of the boat, under a tarp, reposed the sleeping Jesus, in no distress whatsoever, filled with Faith in His Father, as the boat bobbed like a cork! They rouse him in their fear, begging him to save them (they do have at least an inkling about this Jesus!)and he says something strange to them: "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Doesn't seem logical! Little faith SHOULD equal fear! The sleepy Jesus reminds us that He has all the faith we need to uphold and undergird our own little faith! Thank you Lord!

  3. Martin,
    When I add your blog to Google Reader, it always comes up with 3 posts from 2008. I have been looking for recent posts, but neither the email notifier nor Google Reader provides notice. I just happened to visit today. I wonder if others have experienced a similar glitch?

  4. Hey Bill,

    I don't know how to fix this. To see latest posts, go to

  5. Thank you so much .... As a new comer to Torrance, this is a most helpful introduction for me.


  6. Admittedly, reading of the denial of the man Christ Jesus is pretty rough for those of us depending on His mediatorship, His resurrection, through whom we receive the grace of God and the gift of grace - righteousness, through whom we are genuine brethren, etc.

    However, I appreciate the clear expose of the denial of the man Christ Jesus back through history. Now I hope that people of God can become aware of their cute aphorisms really result in - a complete degradation of the person of Jesus - the Messiah and the Son of God.


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