Jesus did not repudiate the preaching of John the Baptist, the proclamation of judgment: on the contrary he continued it, and as we have seen he searched the soul of man with the fire of divine judgment, but in Jesus that is subsidiary to — and only arises out of — the gospel of grace and vicarious suffering and atonement. In the incarnate life of Jesus, and above all in his death, God does not execute his judgment on evil simply by smiting it violently away by a stroke of his hand, but by entering into it from within, into the very heart of the blackest evil, and making its sorrow and guilt and suffering his own. And it is because it is God himself who enters in, in order to let the whole of human evil go over him, that his intervention in meekness has violent and explosive force. It is the very power of God. And so the cross with all its incredible meekness and patience and compassion is no deed of passive and beautiful heroism simply, but the most potent and aggressive deed that heaven and earth have ever known: the attack of God’s holy love upon the inhumanity of man and the tyranny of evil, upon all the piled up contradiction of sin. (T. F. Torrance, ed. Robert Walker, “Incarnation,” 150)

This view of the atonement gets underneath what the Forensic view (the classical view) has to offer on what happened at the cross. In other words, the classical view is based solely upon a juridical (legal) perspective; that frames what Jesus did through the framework offered by meeting the conditions set by the “Covenant of Works.” Basically, the problem with the classic view of the atonement is that it doesn’t deal with what is really wrong with man, and that is his heart; the classic view emphasizes dealing with “behavior” (the external), while what Torrance is speaking of above deals with man’s core problem — which of course is a depraved heart (internal).

To be clear I am not denying that there is a “legal” component to the atonement; just that it doesn’t deal with the whole picture, in fact I think the frame to any discussion on the atonement must be tied to the implications of the Incarnation. If we are truly to be redeemed, truly “saved,” then Christ had to truly assume our “sinful humanity” and put it to death (cf. II Cor 5:21). This is what Torrance is speaking to, and I think his point is well taken!

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