Wednesday, March 14, 2012

T.F. Torrance: General summary

The following is a general summary of all the posts that have appeared in this blog, beginning October 2009, on the doctrine of the mediation of Christ in the scientific theology of T.F. Torrance.

General Summary

The doctrine of the mediation of Jesus Christ in the scientific theology of T.F. Torrance rests on the fundamental scientific axiom, derived from the natural sciences, that knowledge is developed in accordance with the nature (kata physin) of the object as revealed in the course of scientific inquiry. To know God through the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, who is of “one nature with the Father” (homoousios to Patri), is to know God in strict accordance with God’s nature and, hence, in a scientific theological way. As Torrance argues, scientific theology will operate on a christological basis, for the incarnation of Jesus Christ is the “controlling centre” for the Christian doctrine of God.

A corollary to Torrance’s fundamental principle of kataphysical inquiry is the “interrelationality” of reality. As Clerk Maxwell argued in his “field theory” of electromagnetism, a theory in which Torrance invests significant theological capital, the “object” of scientific inquiry exists within a nexus or matrix of “being-constituting” interrelations, or “onto-relations,” that disclose its identity. Because the fundamental aspects of reality are relational rather than atomistic, the goal of Torrance’s scientific theology is to investigate and articulate the essential interrelations embodied in our knowledge of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. If being-constituting relations (i.e., “onto-relations”) are to be given their proper place in an inquiry into the mediation of revelation and reconciliation, then Jesus Christ must be viewed within three specific nexuses of “onto-relations” that disclose his identity: these are his interrelations 1) with historical Israel, 2) with God, and 3) with humanity.

Torrance’s doctrine of the mediation of Jesus Christ is rooted historically in the incarnate Son’s relationship with ancient Israel, a nexus of interrelations Torrance cogently describes as the “womb of the incarnation.” The cultic liturgy, particularly as enacted on the annual Day of Atonement, constituted the all-significant “middle term,” whereby a sinful, rebellious people could approach a holy God in appropriate worship. This “covenanted way of response,” which God graciously provided Israel, established permanent structures of thought and speech about God. Torrance describes these “conceptual tools” as the “essential furniture of our knowledge of God.” Apart from the pattern of divine revelation imparted in God’s historical dialogue with ancient Israel, particularly as enacted in the cultic liturgy, the mediation of Jesus Christ, as High Priest and sacrifice, Offerer and offering, would be quite incomprehensible.

The mediation of revelation and reconciliation in Jesus Christ must also be viewed within the nexus of Jesus’ interrelations with God. In developing his scientific theology according to the divine nature as revealed in Jesus Christ, Torrance adheres to his fundamental methodological principle of kataphysical inquiry, a methodology which requires him to develop his epistemology a posteriori, as he allows God’s self-disclosure in Jesus Christ to guide his thinking. Torrance follows Barth in rejecting natural theology as an a priori, antecedent conceptual system developed ‘independently’ of the divine self-disclosure in the incarnate Son, then offered as a preamble to faith. Torrance also rejects anthropological approaches to the knowledge of God, for example, Schleiermacher’s “feeling” of dependence, regarding these as mythological projections of the human psyche onto the heavens. For Torrance the Nicene homoousion, that is, the creedal assertion that Jesus Christ is “of one being (nature) with the Father,” is the epistemological linchpin in the knowledge of God and the sine qua non of his doctrine of the mediation of revelation and reconciliation in Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ is not God in the same way the Father is God, then his mediation of revelation lacks divine content. Moreover, if Jesus Christ is not God, then his mediation of reconciliation lacks divine validity, for only God can save.

The mediation of Jesus Christ must also be viewed within the matrix of his interrelations with humanity. Torrance draws upon the Chalcedonian doctrine of the hypostatic union to argue that the humanity of Jesus Christ means that God has acted among us as man; at the same time, the deity of Jesus Christ means that God has acted among us as man. For Torrance, the humanity of Jesus Christ is essential for the mediation of revelation and is the guarantee that revelation is accessible to us within the limitations of our own creaturely existence. At the same time, the deity of Jesus Christ ensures that his human word is also the divine Word of God. To mediate divine revelation to us, therefore, Jesus Christ must be both God and human, yet he must be God and humanity joined in hypostatic union, so that his word and act are predicates of one divine person. Otherwise, his divine word is not human speech to us and his human speech is not the word of God. Because the words spoken by Jesus Christ are the words of very God, Torrance rightly identifies Jesus Christ, not the Holy Bible, as “The Word of God.” The humanity of Jesus Christ is the “real text” underlying the written word of God and by which scripture must be interpreted.

In addition to its epistemological implications, the hypostatic union has vital implications for human salvation. Because only God can save, Jesus Christ must be divine; yet, in order for his saving activity to reach us, he must also be human. Consistent with his non-dualist, unitary theology, Torrance asserts there are not two acts in the life and death of Jesus Christ, but only a single, unitary action that is simultaneously Godward and humanward. If atonement is to be real, it must take place from the side of humanity if we are to be reconciled to God; yet, it must also take place from the side of God if it is to be effectual. Thus, atonement must be the work of the one God-man, God and man in hypostatic union, not merely God “in” man but God “as” man. To be sure, Jesus Christ, who is both Son of God and son of Mary, fulfils the covenant, both from the side of God and from the side of humanity, in one unitary movement of atoning reconciliation.

A corollary to Torrance’s doctrine of the hypostatic union is his doctrine of incarnational redemption, that is, the Godward-humanward aspect of the unitary movement of atoning reconciliation. In keeping with his unitary, holistic theology, Torrance asserts an intrinsic, internal connection between the incarnation and the atonement. For Torrance, the incarnate Son is no mere agent of reconciliation; rather, Jesus Christ “embodies” atoning reconciliation in his incarnate constitution as God and humanity hypostatically united in reconciling, sanctifying union. Simply stated, atonement is not what Jesus “does”; it is what he “is.” For Torrance, there is an unbroken unity between the person and work of Jesus Christ; that is, the incarnation is inherently redemptive and redemption is inherently incarnational. The unitary connection Torrance sees between the incarnation and the atonement is heavily dependent upon his controversial assertion of the assumption of “fallen” human nature in the incarnation. In contradistinction to the “Latin heresy,” that is, the view that the eternal Word assumed “neutral” human flesh as it existed in its perfect state before the Fall in order to offer it as an instrument in an “external” juridical transaction with the Father, Torrance supports the Patristic assertion that the “unassumed is the unhealed,” arguing that Jesus Christ had to assume Adamic nature in order to penetrate to the ontological roots of our fallen humanity in order to bend the rebellious human mind and will back to God in reconciling union. For Torrance, the hypostatic union is not merely a static union; it is a dynamic atoning union, wherein the actual condition of human estrangement is brought into reconciling, sanctifying union with God.

Torrance further articulates the intrinsic connection between incarnation and atoning reconciliation in terms of Calvin’s “wonderful exchange,” wherein Christ takes our poverty in order to give us his riches, and in the Patristic doctrine of theopoiesis, wherein Christ becomes what we are that we might become what he is. For Torrance, the atoning exchange “is” incarnational redemption, and incarnational redemption “is” atoning exchange, all worked out in the one person of the incarnate Son of God within the ontological depths of fallen humanity. An important aspect of the wonderful exchange between Jesus Christ and humanity concerns the reception of the Holy Spirit. All who partake of the nature of Adam are implicated in the Spirit’s descent upon the incarnate Son in the Jordan River. This has profound implications for the “range” of the atoning exchange. The range of atoning reconciliation is anchored in the nature of God, whom scripture describes as “love.” Because the love of God is unlimited and inexhaustible, argues Torrance, to limit the range of atonement is to introduce a limitation in the nature of God. Because the incarnate Son, the eternal Logos, in whom all humanity coheres and the very one “by” whom and “through” whom all things are created and “in” whom all things consist, has united himself to creation, all things, including all human beings without exception, are ontologically bound up in the incarnate reality of Jesus Christ, and are, in a profound sense, already redeemed, resurrected, and consecrated for the glory of God.

The universal range of atoning reconciliation bears directly on Torrance’s doctrine of election. Torrance’s rejects the Calvinist predilection for locating predestination or election in an inscrutable decree of God hidden in eternity past. For Torrance, Jesus Christ “is” the eternal word or decree of God. To detach election from the incarnation makes election precede grace and implies a higher will in God than the grace revealed in Jesus Christ. While Torrance rejects the traditional Calvinist doctrine of predestination, with its logical corollary of limited atonement, Torrance is no universalist. Notwithstanding the boundless nature of the atoning exchange, Torrance develops a doctrine of reprobation. In contradistinction to a doctrine of double predestination, he argues that reprobation is not the result of a divine decree but, rather, of the reprobate’s free but inexplicable decision to reject the reconciliation Christ has already provided for all.

An additional corollary to Torrance’s doctrine of the hypostatic union is his doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. Emphasising the humanward-Godward aspect of the unitary movement of atoning reconciliation, this doctrine asserts that, as God and man joined in hypostatic union, Jesus acts from within the depths of the fallen humanity he assumed in the incarnation to offer to the Father the perfect response of faith and obedience on behalf of, and in place of, all. This vicarious response includes not only Jesus’ passive obedience on the cross but also the entirety of his active obedience offered to the Father throughout the whole course of his life. The key to this doctrine is found in Galatians 2:20, where Torrance translates pistis christou as a subjective genitive to assert that we live by the faith “of” Jesus Christ. This passage functions in a hermeneutical manner to provide a significant point of access for understanding Torrance’s theological vision of conversion, worship and prayer, the sacraments, and evangelism. In all these important aspects of discipleship, Jesus acts as both representative and substitute, offering to the Father perfect faith, obedience, worship, and prayer on behalf of, and in place of, all. Jesus’ response on our behalf, however, does not undermine our own response, but, rather, undergirds it as he takes our feeble efforts and unites them with his own self-offering to the Father. The sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist are visible forms of the Church’s participation in the self-offering and ongoing priesthood of Jesus Christ. Each sacrament finds its meaning, not in the rite itself, but in the objective reality underlying it, that is, the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ and his self-offering to the Father. When the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ is emphasised in preaching the Gospel, evangelism becomes an invitation for hearers to become what they are, that is, to participate actively in the reality of the salvation that is already theirs in Jesus Christ.

Finally, Torrance models his understanding of the “movement” of grace in redemption on the “logic” of grace in the anhypostasis-enhypostasis couplet. Transcending monergistic and synergistic views of the relationship between divine and human agency, Torrance asserts that “all of grace includes all of man.”

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