Monday, November 19, 2012

T.F. Torrance: The Womb of the Incarnation, pt 3

There are three important aspects to the mediation of revelation in Israel: 1) the establishment of a community of reciprocity to facilitate a two-way movement or “double adaptation” of divine revelation and human response; 2) the intensification of the innate hostility of the human mind toward divine revelation as God drew ever nearer to Israel, and 3) the creation of the appropriate forms of thought and speech to enable humanity to receive the final self-revelation of God in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

1.                     A Community of Reciprocity
For Torrance, notes Scandrett (2006:33), all human knowledge develops within a “social coefficient of knowledge,” that is, a social matrix of forms of thought and life that shape our apprehension of reality (cf. Torrance, 1985:98-130). Since, for Torrance, there is no correlation between human knowing and the being of God, as Scandrett correctly notes, it was necessary to establish a “social coefficient of knowledge” in a human community, wherein forms of thought and life necessary for the apprehension of God in Jesus Christ could be developed. That community was Israel.
In order for divine revelation to enter history in a form amenable to human understanding, argues Torrance, it must arise within the context of “community.”
Language is the “currency of social being,” rooted in society and kept alive by the interchange of ideas within it; hence, “word” or language does not develop in isolation but within a community of persons bound by a common way of life and culture. For Torrance, therefore, if the Word of God is to become speech to humanity, it must be directed to us in the context of “community.” Moreover, if divine revelation is to create a “reciprocity” between God and humanity, it must create a “community of reciprocity” within human society as “the appropriate medium of its continuing communication to man” (Torrance, 1971:146, 147). Torrance continues:
That is what happened between God and Israel, for the Word of God spoken to man did not operate in a vacuum but penetrated human existence in the particular life and history of one people elected as the instrument for the actualization of God’s revelation in humanity and separated as a holy nation in whose midst God dwelt in an intimate way through the presence of His Word.
In order to be divine Word that is both heard and understandable, Torrance argues, divine revelation penetrates human interpersonal speaker-hearer relationships and becomes speech to humanity by becoming speech “of” humanity “to” humanity, as heard and spoken through the intelligible medium of human language. In taking the form of human speech and writing, God’s self-revelation to humanity becomes, at the same time, our obedient response to God, thus “anchoring” revelation both in divine reality and in the conditions of human reality. Torrance writes, “[T]he reciprocity created by the movement of divine revelation takes the form of a community of reciprocity between God and man established in human society, which then under the continuing impact of divine revelation becomes the appropriate medium of its continuing communication to man” (Torrance, 1982:85, 86). Noting that all God’s relations with his people are reciprocal, Torrance regards the creation of a “community of reciprocity” as an essential aspect of the mediation of divine revelation (Torrance, 1992:12, 13). In creating a reciprocal movement of revelation from God to humanity and a responsive movement from humanity to God, he argues, God established “a special partnership of covenanted kinship with Israel … in such a way that it could become the instrument of his great purpose of revelation” (Torrance, 1992:6, 7; 2008:41).
1.1                   Double Adaptation of Revelation and Response
For Torrance, the actualisation of revelation within the confines of our creaturely existence necessitates a “profound reciprocity” between God and humanity, wherein divine revelation summons an “answering movement” from humanity toward God that is a “constitutive ingredient” in God’s revelation of himself to us (Torrance, 1982:85; cf. 1971:138). Torrance (1971:138; cf. 1982:85) writes:
Thus the Word of God communicated to man includes within itself meeting between man and God as well as meeting between God and man, for in assuming the form of human speech the Word of God spoken to man becomes at the same time word of man in answer to God.
The self-revelation of God in Israel, within the medium of human thought and speech, notes Torrance, requires a two-way movement: “an adaptation of divine revelation to the human mind and an adaptation of articulate forms of human understanding and language to divine revelation” (Torrance, 1992:7). As Kruger (1989:48) notes, this “double adaptation” of divine revelation and human response, wherein divine revelation is adapted to human understanding and language, while human understanding and language is adapted to divine revelation, is an important feature of Torrance's discussion of the mediation of revelation in Israel.
The two-way movement of divine revelation and human response is integral to Old Testament thought. According to Torrance (1996b:130), “In the Hebrew idiom, revelation is not only the uncovering of God but the uncovering of the ear and eye of man for God. It is revelation which achieves its end in man and does not return void to God” (cf. Isa 55:11). In establishing a covenant relationship with Israel, notes Torrance (1992:22), God graciously adopted a way to make himself known “in which the movement of his revelation fulfilled itself not only from the side of God toward man but from the side of man toward God.” Divine revelation was “progressively mediated” to humanity through Israel in such a way as to make the appropriate human response a constitutive aspect of the mediation of revelation. In an essay on christology, Torrance (1996b:131) writes:
Revelation involves … the freedom of God to be present to man and to open up man for God and to realize from the side of man his understanding of revelation and his obedient response to it, to effect in man real meeting with God in revelation and to give him capacity for revelation. This capacity for revelation is not to be judged in terms of the receiver, as if he could achieve it on his own, but in terms of the Giver, the Father in Heaven, who acts by his Spirit upon man, from beneath and from within man, but who effects from the side of man and issuing out of man's life a really human understanding of revelation and a really human obedience to it.
Torrance is careful to point out that he is not speaking merely of a divine revelation that “demands” a human response; rather, and most significantly, he is speaking of a divine revelation which “already includes a true and appropriate and fully human response as part of its achievement for us and to us and in us.” In clear contrast to Kantian epistemological dualism, Torrance (1969a:45) regards knowing as reciprocal in nature, consisting of a two-way dynamic between the knower and that which is known; hence, the mediation of divine revelation requires both a movement from God to humanity and a responsive (reciprocal) movement from humanity to God, both of which must be considered. As Torrance argues, these are not two separate movements but one “two-fold” movement, “for even the movement from the side of man toward God … is coordinated with the movement of God toward man, and is part of the divine movement of revelation and reconciliation.” This is precisely what Torrance sees occurring in the two-fold movement of revelation in Israel.
For Torrance, notes Kruger (1989:54), revelation includes the “realisation and actualisation” of the knowledge of God in Israel (Torrance, 1992:10), “the fulfilling and actualizing of the knowledge of God in man” (Torrance, 1969a:45), the completion of “the circle of its own movement” (Torrance, 1982:86), and the achievement of “its end in man” (Torrance, 1996b:130). As Kruger (1989:53, 54) argues, in contrast to a divine monologue, Israel’s “reception” of divine revelation is given a critical place in Torrance’s thought, for Torrance envisions revelation as fulfilled and complete only when it is truly and faithfully received by humanity. For Torrance, notes Kruger, “revelation” and “reception” are the “obvious sides” of knowledge of God, and both are included in his discussion of the mediation of revelation in Israel. Likewise, Chung (2011:10) asserts that the mediation of revelation requires both divine initiation and human responsive participation through “the course of dialogical interaction in history” (cf. Kruger, 1989:54). Although the relationship between the divine and human aspects of mediation in Israel is asymmetrical, notes Chung, human participation, however insignificant in comparison to divine grace, constitutes an “indispensable place” in the mediation of revelation, for the revelation of God is “embodied” in Israel. In agreement with Kruger and Chung, we emphasise that the human participative response is a constitutive aspect of the mediation of revelation in Israel. Thus, we see that for Torrance, the two sides of the knowledge of God, divine revelation and human response, are aspects of the unitary, two-way movement of the mediation of revelation. Divine revelation and appropriate human response taken together constitute the mediation of revelation in Israel.

Torrance’s discussion of the two-way movement of divine revelation and human participative response in historical Israel is highly relevant to his doctrine of the mediation of Jesus Christ. For Torrance, Jesus Christ, in his incarnate constitution as God and man joined in reconciling union, embodies the two-way movement of divine revelation and human response that God established in Israel. As both the self-revelation of the divine God and the perfectly obedient human Son, Jesus not only reveals the Father but also offers “vicariously” the perfect human reception and response to divine revelation in place of and on behalf of all humanity.
1.2                   The People of the Voice of the Word of God
The covenant of grace God established at creation and which “assumed a particular form within history” with Abraham was re-enacted with Israel after its redemption from bondage in Egypt, taking on “more specific shape” (Torrance, 1960a:121) in the “once-and-for-all events at Mount Sinai in which God decisively revealed himself and enacted his revelation in the midst of Israel” (Torrance, 1956:309). At Mount Sinai, argues Torrance, God provided the Law as the “revelation of His Will”; God provided the commandments “to show the way of obedient conformity” to his will (Torrance, 1960a:121). At the heart of the covenant relation God established with Israel at Sinai are the Ten Commandments, or the “Ten Words.” “Those Ten Words,” argues Torrance (2000:2), “form the innermost secret of Israel's history.”
At Mount Sinai, “Israel stood forth as the Ecclesia or Church of God” (Torrance, 1976a:194). Unlike any other nation, Old Testament Israel is not merely a people with a national identity, that is, an ethnos; rather, Torrance sees the people of Israel as a laos, “a kind of church, a community burdened with the knowledge of God, a community divinely adapted and constituted as the correlate of God’s self-revelation.” In order to understand the role of Israel in the mediation of revelation, notes Torrance, we must consider the nation as a whole, that is, as a corporate entity or a “coherent community of reciprocity” in relationship with God. Israel itself is the “prophet” sent by God. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the other prophets act within the one body which is brought into special relationship with God in order to be moulded and shaped into the earthen vessel of divine communication to mankind (Torrance, 1992:12-14).
According to Torrance, the Old Testament writers, particularly in the latter books, apply the word qahal to Israel, translated in the Septuagint as ekklesia, to refer to “the congregation regarded collectively as a people and as a whole, rather than to the actual assembly or meeting of the people.” Qahal derives from the word for “voice”; hence, the Old Testament qahal was “the community summoned by the Divine Voice, by the Word of God.” Old Testament Israel, “the people of the voice of the Word of God,” was a nation “invaded by divine revelation” and progressively moulded under its impact in such a way that its responses, whether of obedience or disobedience, were the means by which God forged a deepening understanding of divine reality within the structures of human thought and speech. Throughout the history of Israel, argues Torrance, the Word of God kept “pressing for articulation within the corporate medium of covenant reciprocity,” creating “formal and empirical correlates of its own self-utterance” that progressively took shape in spoken and written form through the corporate understanding and response that developed among the people. “Thus Israel became in a unique way the bearer of the oracles of God, a church as much as a people charged with priestly and prophetic significance for all mankind and divinely destined for the universalization of its revelatory mission in the advent of God himself in space and time.” By choosing Israel from among the nations, God moulded Israel to its purpose by forming within it a “womb” for the incarnation of his Word, that is, “a matrix of appropriate forms of thought and speech” for the definitive and final reception of divine revelation (Torrance, 1956:305; 1971:149; 1982:87).
Next post: Intensification of conflict between God and Israel.
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. 1956. The Israel of God: Israel and the Incarnation. Interpretation, 10:305-320.
Torrance, T.F. 1960a. Conflict and Agreement in the Church (vol. II): The Ministry and the Sacraments of the Gospel. London: Lutterworth Press. 213pp.
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. 1982. Reality and Evangelical Theology: The Realism of Christian Revelation. (Forward by K.A. Richardson, 1999). Downers Grove, IL: IVP. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster. 174 pp.
Torrance, T.F. 1992. The Mediation of Christ (rev. ed.). Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard. 126pp.
Torrance, T.F. 1996b. (orig. ed. 1965). Theology in Reconstruction. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers. 288pp.
Torrance, T.F. 2008. Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (edited by R. Walker). Downers Grove: IVP. 371pp.

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