Sunday, June 16, 2013

T.F. Torrance: The Goodness and Dignity of Man, pt. 3

Summary and Critique

As Calvin famously argues at the beginning of his Institutes, in order to know ourselves, we must first know God. In arguing that the imago dei (“image of God”) is a “created correspondence” to the “uncreated relations” in the Holy Trinity, Torrance illumines our understanding of ourselves. Since the One God of the Christian faith is Father, Son and Holy Spirit―three distinct “persons-in-relation”―then to be a human being created in the image of God is to be a “person-in-relation.” Contrary to the Western spirit of individualism and self-reliance, to be a human person is to exist in nexuses of relations that are integral to our identities.[1] Our primary “being-constituting”[2] relation is our vertical relationship with God, realised and actualised in the spirit-Spirit relationship made possible by the vicarious humanity of Jesus, in and through whom the Holy Spirit has become “accustomed” to dwelling in humanity (Irenaeus). Our secondary “being-constituting” relation is our horizontal relation with neighbour. Hence, marriage, family, tribe, church and society form an ever-widening network of relationships that are constitutive aspects of our identities as persons. As the poet said, “No man is an island.” To be a “person” created in the image of God is to live and move and have our being in relationships. [3]
Torrance’s argument that the God-human relationship is the primary “being-constituting” relation in which humanity exists has important implications for the doctrine of sin. Given that the imago dei is constituted in relationship, “sin” cannot be construed merely in terms of the violation of a moral code. Rather, sin must be viewed primarily in terms of the breach of our vertical relationship with God[4] and secondarily in terms of a breach of our horizontal relationship with other. This view is supported by Christ’s great commandment to love God and neighbour (Matt 22:37-40). Hence, rather than view sin in “legal” terms, it must be viewed as “alienation” and “estrangement” from God and neighbour.[5]
            Finally, Torrance’s argument for the goodness and dignity of man is a welcome relief to the Augustinian-Calvinist emphasis on “total depravity.” Torrance’s develops his anthropology not from Adam but from the Second Adam; that is, he locates the goodness and dignity of man in the humanity of Jesus Christ. Torrance emphasises the biblical teaching that man is created “good”[6] and, given the price paid for his redemption, is of infinite worth in the sight of God. For Torrance, sin is not intrinsic to our nature; it is, rather, a “contradiction” of our good creation, whose origin is inexplicable.[7] In keeping with the Reformed tradition, Torrance upholds the importance of grace, articulated in terms of God’s steadfast refusal to let man go, regardless of the depth of the contradiction into which he has fallen.

[1] This is not to suggest that our individual identities and unique personalities are unimportant. In contrast to eastern religions, where individual identity is ultimately dissolved into union with the cosmic “One,” a trinitarian view of relationship acknowledges both the importance of the individual and the nexuses of relations in which he or she exists. Father, Son and Spirit are distinct (not identical) persons “in relationship.”
[2] Torrance refers to these “being-constituting” relations as “onto-relations.”
[3] While the “social” or “interpersonal” Being of the Holy Trinity may have innumerable implications for human relationships, care must be taken in making comparisons between the intradivine relations of the Trinity and human relationships. For example, the “mutual indwelling” of the Father, Son and Spirit has no analogue in human relations. God is God and we are not. Cf. Tanner, K. 2001. Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, pp. 82-3.
[4] Cf. Psalm 51:4: “Against You and You only have I sinned.”
[5] A corollary to this view of sin is an emphasis on atonement as reconciliation rather than penal substitution.
[6] Cf. Gen 1:31.
[7] Karl Barth described sin as an “impossible possibility.”


  1. Appreciate your work, Martin. I didn't see anyway to email you or to search you blog for subjects.
    Have you written anything on Torrance's view of time and the future?
    Appreciate any help you can offer on this. Thanks, Jon

  2. Hi Jon,

    Thanks for your comment. I have done no work in this area. Try Torrance's book, "Space, Time and Resurrection."



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