Wednesday, February 6, 2013

T.F. Torrance: The Womb of the Incarnation, pt 6

The Prehistory of Reconciliation 

The prehistory of mediation in Israel involves reconciliation as well as revelation. According to Torrance (1996b:194), God chose Israel to be both the medium of revelation and “the special sphere of his redemptive acts leading throughout history to the fulfilment of his promise of salvation.” In keeping with the unitary, holistic character of his theology, Torrance (1992:24) sees the mediation of revelation and the mediation of reconciliation “intertwined” in God’s interaction with Israel; that is, “revelation and reconciliation belong together, so that we cannot think out the mediation of revelation apart from the mediation of reconciliation”  

God’s election of Israel to be the mediator of reconciliation must be viewed against the background of God’s eternal purpose in creating the universe. According to Torrance, God created the universe in order to pour out his love upon humanity and to enjoy communion with us. Notwithstanding the fall of Adam, God’s resolute purpose to commune with humanity is undeterred by human sin. Torrance (1957a:190) writes:
Behind all that we hear in the Gospel lies the fact that in creating man God willed to share His glory with man and willed man to have communion with Himself; it is the fact of the overflowing love of God that refused, so to speak, to be pent up within God, but insisted in creating a fellowship into which it could pour itself out in unending grace. Far from being rebuffed by the disobedience and rebellion of man, the will of God's love to seek and create fellowship with man established the covenant of grace in which God promised to man in spite of his sin to be His God, and insisted on binding man to Himself as His child and partner in love. God remained true and faithful to His covenant. He established it in the midst of the people of Israel, and all through their history God was patiently at work, preparing a way for the Incarnation of His love at last in Jesus Christ, that in and through Him He might bring His covenant to complete fulfilment and gather man back into joyful communion with Himself.  

In this statement, notes Kruger (1989:23), Torrance looks back to creation and eternity and then forward to Israel, and within Israel to the fulfilment of God’s redemptive purpose for humanity in Jesus Christ. Embedded in this passage are three essential points that are constitutive of Torrance’s doctrine of the mediation of reconciliation (cf. Kruger, 1989:23, 24): 1) Creation is an act of “overflowing love,” that is, an act of grace, whereby God freely wills to include humanity in communion with himself. 2) Redemption is not separate from God’s gracious, loving act of creation. Despite human sin, God remains “true and faithful” to his purpose in creating humanity for fellowship with himself. God is not “rebuffed” by human sin; rather, after the fall of Adam, God’s creative purpose for humanity becomes a redemptive purpose with an eschatological goal; God establishes a covenant of grace whereby he binds himself to man as “his child and partner in love.” In Kruger’s pithy words, “God is committed.” 3) Israel is chosen as the corporate medium of redemption, in the midst of whom, God is “patiently at work,” preparing the way for the incarnation of Jesus Christ, “that in and through Him He might bring His covenant to complete fulfilment and gather man back into joyful communion with Himself.” God’s resolute purpose in creating humanity for communion with himself, unwavering even in the face of human sin, is always in the background of Torrance’s discussion of Israel as the corporate medium of reconciliation.  

As Kruger (1989:27) notes, grace, creation, and redemption are interrelated throughout Torrance’s writings. For example, in an essay on baptism, Torrance (1960a:120, 121) writes:
When God made His Covenant of grace with Abraham it was none other than the Covenant of grace which He established with [the] creation of the world, and which took on a redemptive purpose with the rebellion and fall of man. But with Abraham that Covenant assumed a particular form within history and with one race elected from among all the races of mankind in order that God might prepare a way within humanity for the fulfilment of His Covenant Will for all men. 

In the light of human sin, God’s creative plan to pour out his love on all humanity takes on a redemptive purpose with the calling of Abraham (Torrance, 1971:141). The covenant of grace God established with the creation of the world begins to take definitive shape in human history in Israel, where God prepares the way for the salvation of all humanity. Torrance follows Barth (1957d:22ff; 1957f:28-31; 42ff; 1959:52ff) in asserting a relationship between creation and the covenant. According to Torrance (1959:lii):
As Karl Barth has interpreted it, the Covenant is the inner ground and form of creation and creation is the outer ground or form of the Covenant, and the very centre of the Covenant is the will of God to be our Father and to have us as His dear children. Creation is thus to be understood as the sphere in space and time in which God wills to share His divine life and love with man who is created for this very end.
For Torrance, the covenant of grace is intrinsically bound to creation. God established his covenant of grace at creation in his resolute purpose to create humanity in order to pour out his love in communion with us. Torrance (1959:li) refers to the covenant of grace established at creation as “the one all-embracing Covenant of the overflowing love of God.” As Kruger (1989:28 n. 22; 29, 30) perceptively notes, in contrast to Westminster theology, with its [dualist] separation of creation and redemption, Torrance seeks to allow the light of Jesus Christ to illuminate the mystery of creation and God’s covenant relation with humanity (cf. Torrance, 1959:lvi). To be sure, as Kruger rightly argues, Torrance is aligned with the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel [and the Nicene creedal assertion] that all things were made through the eternal Word who became flesh “for us and our salvation” (cf. John 1:1-3, 14). Nevertheless, as Kruger rightly contends, it is a weakness in Torrance’s writings that he fails to thoroughly develop his understanding of the relationship between creation and covenant, for redemption actually informs Torrance’s understanding of creation; that is, Torrance interprets creation in the light of God’s redemptive purpose in Israel and its fulfilment in Jesus Christ. 

In the following posts, we will consider four important aspects of the “prehistory” of the mediation of reconciliation in Israel: 1) Israel’s communal transformation in relation to God’s holiness; 2) the covenanted way of response provided for Israel by God; 3) Israel as the suffering servant, and 4) Israel’s rejection of the Messiah.

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