Those who are justified by grace, by faith in Christ, are the only ones who really know that they are lost sinners, apart from Christ, but those who have not received Christ’s forgiveness and the verdict it entails upon their humanity are the ones who regard themselves as able to justify themselves. Similarly, those who have come to know the mystery of Christ as true God and true man are the only ones who really know that they themselves are in ignorance, and that by themselves, by their own capacities, they cannot know the mystery. But those who have not received Jesus Christ, who have avoided the mystery. But those who have not received Jesus Christ, who have avoided the mystery and therefore have not come to know it, are those who think they can understand how God and man can come together. Both the sinner who is forgiven by Christ and the man or woman who has come to see the face of God in the face of Christ, know that they can never master or dominate the mystery of Christ in their hearts, but can only acknowledge it gladly with wonder and thankfulness, and seek to understand the mystery out of itself, that is, seek to let it declare itself to them, seek to let themselves be told by the mystery what it is. They will acknowledge that this is a mystery that is not conceivable in ordinary human thought — it is a miracle. And if they know something of this miracle they will know that even their knowing of it is a very wonderful thing, that it is an act of God. They know the mystery by faith, in the power of the Spirit, but not by themselves alone. It is a gift of God. That belongs to the very content of the doctrine of the virgin birth and its significance for our knowing of Christ. (Thomas F. Torrance, ed. Robert T. Walker, “Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ,” 87-88)
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!
Here is Torrance on what the language of curse means in the Bible:
. . . let us be clear about what the curse of God means. When the Bible speaks of curse, it means that the cursed is no longer within but without, outside the covenant of God. Without the covenant relation with God man is condemned to exist as one who does not belong to it, but is an outsider. Curse means the reprobation of the elect, the casting away of those whom God has made and loves; it means separation from the face of God, banishment from creation into outer darkness. That is what Paul calls the act of God in giving mankind up to their own uncleanness and to their own reprobate mind, to their own self destruction. Cursing does not mean annihilation, the sending of the cursed into nothingness, into the nihil out of which man and woman were created, but a banishment to their own denial of their being in God, that is, into the very darkness upon which God has for ever turned his back in creation on the cross. (T. F. Torrance, Incarnation, 251)
They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10. on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. . . . II Thessalonians 1:9, 10a
As Torrance notes, “outer darkness” is a place that is reserved for those whom reject their ‘election’ in Christ; and instead, realize their abysmal condemnation in the chasm ripped open at the cross — that is in the ‘chasm’ signified by: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This so called chasm is shaped by the inward curving of humanity upon itself; life realized as non-life, forever separated from the bosom of the One who is a se (life from self), and reaping the consequences of dying in a self-possessed life.
Here is a helpful, at least for me, outline of the development of christological articulation through the councils; this is provided by (who else) Thomas F. Torrance:
(i) The Council of Nicaea in AD 325, which affirmed that Jesus Christ is truly (alethos) God, in an affirmation of faith against the Arians.
(ii) The Council of Constantinople in AD 381, which affirmed that Jesus Christ was perfectly (teleos) man, against the Apollinarians whose teaching impaired the perfect humanity of Christ.
(iii) The Council of Ephesus in AD 431, which affirmed that Jesus Christ is one person, against the Nestorians who divided Christ into two persons.
(iv) The Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, which affirmed that in Jesus Christ there are two distinct natures in one person, and that in the one person of Christ they were hypostatically united ‘unconfusedly, incontrovertibly, indivisibly, inseparably’, or ‘without confusion, change, division or separation’. This was affirmed against the Eutychians and Monophysites.
(v) The Council of Constantinople AD 680, which asserted that Jesus Christ possessed a human will as well as a divine will, against the Monothelites, who asserted that in Jesus Christ there was only one single will.
Those are the five main stages in the Patristic doctrine of Christ, but to them we must add two more from modern times, which we shall consider in due course.
(vi) The Reformation, which sought to state the whole historic doctrine of Christ in East and West more in terms of Christ’s saving and reconciling mission, that is, in more dynamic terms.
(vii) Early Scottish theology (as in the teaching of Robert Boyd of Trochrig), and the theology of Karl Barth in our own day (after the assessment of the vast documentary study of the historical Jesus), where anhypostasia and enhypostasia are brought together to give full stress upon the historical Jesus Christ as the very Son of God. (Thomas F. Torrance, “Incarnation,” 196-97)
We see then the significance of Christ’s deity and humanity to lie in regard to his work of revelation and reconciliation. He who reveals God to man, and reconciles man to God, must be both God and man, truly and completely God, and truly and completely man. If the Son was to redeem the whole nature of man, he had to assume the whole nature of man; if in the Son man is to be gathered into the fellowship and life of God, it must be by one who is truly and completely God. Only he can be mediator who is himself the union of God and man, only he can be pontifex [‘bridge-maker’] who is himself the pons [‘bridge’]. (T. F. Torrance, “Incarnation,” 190)
Sorry JW’s, Mormons, Muslims, Higher Critics, Bahai, etc., etc. Salvation needs both prongs of the hypostatic union to be just that. If not, all of humanity is hopeless.
One point (of many) of note here is the relationship between reconciliation and revelation; Jesus is both at once, He reveals God to humanity, as He assumes Humanity into His life, bringing the necessary reconcilation — in order to know God (we have both ontology and epistemology dealt with in the person of Christ).
Here is T. F. Torrance on ‘Dogmatic theology’, and how it was conceived in the first place (he gives two points, I am only going to provide his first point in the quote below):
When Reformed theologians at the end of the sixteenth century first developed positive theology as a dogmatic science (it was they who coined the term ‘dogmatics’) they rejected two primary principles in Roman theology. (i) They rejected the idea that the criterion of truth is lodged in the subject of the knower or interpreter. In all interpretation of the scriptures, for example, we are thrown back upon the truth of the word of God, which we must allow to declare itself to us as it calls in question all our preconceptions or vaunted authorities. The Reformed theologians had to fight for this on a double front: against the humanist thinkers who held the autonomous reason of the individual to be the measure of all things, and against the Roman theologians who claimed that the Roman church (the collective subject) was the supreme judge of all truth. What Reformed theology did was to transfer the centre of authority from the subject of the interpreter (the individual or Rome) to the truth itself. . . . (T. F. Torrance, “Incarnation,” 257)
So here, Torrance is highlighting a very fundamental truth, which even today provides critique of what we call “Reformed theology,” and that is the centrality of Christ as both the object and subject of theology. You will notice that Torrance speaks of scripture as the objective canon through which we are thrown back upon the word of God; in other words, I think he could be alluding to folks like Calvin, and his understanding of scripture as the spectacles by which we encounter the living Word, Christ. He is countering any kind of theological engagement that might place ‘me’ at the center, me and my speculation, that is; and offering an objective framework of theology that radiates outward from Christ the center. Christ alone should set the parameters and logic of ‘talk’ about Him, we fall into danger when we develop traditions and confessions that start with questions that ‘we struggle’ with; instead of allowing Christ to determine such platitudes.
As Torrance is underscoring, we can only have positive theology when we approach Christ, through Christ, by the Spirit. It is only when we sit under Christ, and not over, that we can ever be said to be ‘doing theology’. Someone may ask, and rightly so, how is it possible to do such theology, how can I get out of the way? Indeed, this is the problem, but it is all about the Incarnation, and the vicarious humanity of Christ, that we must start with. We must start there, and not ‘out here’; we must not engage in Descartes’ cogito ergo sum (‘I think therefore I am) style of theology, where man’s rationality is center-stage. This is a problem for much of Christian theology, and in fact, it could be questioned, if we do not start with Christ as the object and subject of theology, if we are even doing Christian theology at all?
When we cry out to the Father, and beseech His salvation; when we are finally confronted with the grossness of our self-loving narcissitic lives, as we behold the beautiful face of Christ, where does that cry initiate? Is it our own, or is it a cry that has been echoing down the corridor of time that we humbly join in with? When we reach out in faith, appropriating the gift of salvation for ourselves; is this our reaching, alone, or is it the reach of someone else that shapes our own personal reach?
Guess who has the answer to the above questions (besides scripture directly):
. . . what according to the gospel is the decision required of me? In the kerygma I am certainly challenged to make a decision, but the gospel announces to me that in Jesus Christ God has already taken a decision about me; it announces that my existence has already been invaded and brought under the sovereign rule of God’s grace in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ; it announces that the kingdom of God has overtaken me in Christ, and that my destiny has been laid hold of by Christ and determined by his crucifixion. Therefore the gospel challenges me to appropriate the decision which God has already made about me in Christ, it challenges me to cast my lot in with Christ and share in the history of Christ who has given himself in sacrifice to be my saviour. The kerygma certainly challenges me to take a decision, but that is a decision to appropriate and trust in a decision which God has already made about me in the life, death, and resurrection of the historical Jesus Christ. Thus the decision about which the New Testament gospel speaks has its whole focus and content in the decisive action of God in the historical Jesus — that is the objective reality of my decision in faith, and apart from that objective reality my so called decision simply rests in mid-air. (T. F. Torrance, “Incarnation,” 26)
Again, the above would be an implication of the incarnation, and its vicarious nature — for us. It is this kind of thinking about salvation, ‘for us’, that safe-guards a truly christocentric (Christ-centered) approach to thinking about things salvific. It allows for genuine human ‘freedom’ (as defined by Christ’s humanity within His life), while positing the shape of that freedom, first and primarily in Christ’s humanity . . . so that we are not ‘determinative’ of His humanity, but rather, He is the ‘subject’ of ‘our’ humanity (so that when He assumed our humanity in the incarnation, he assumes a ‘fallen humanity’, but immediately ‘sanctifies’ this humanity ultimately taking ‘us’ to the cross, thus spreading the ‘seeds’ of glorification in His resurrection and ascension) — redeemed as it were.
If the above is not the case, as Torrance’s last clause underscores, and ‘we’ were able to appropriate salvation apart from Christ (say for example through an created ‘quality’ or ‘grace’); then there would be no ‘objective’ basis for our reception of salvation. In other words, there would be a bunch of fragmented autonomous people (apart from Christ and God’s life) determining their own destiny; instead of God doing so. Beyond this, there would be no real union with God through Christ; and Christ’s humanity would be shaped by us, and not vice versa. In other words, if Christ’s vicarious humanity ‘for us’ was shaped by ‘us’ (and not vice versa) then we end up with a Christ determined by human history (bottom — up approach instead of a top — down); we relegate God’s life to the forces and controls of His own creation, instead of vice versa. If this were to happen, then the “manity” of Jesus could never really bring us into God’s life; since in this scenario His humanity would merely be ‘us’ pinned onto His divinity, thus leaving us with a Christ who only had the ‘appearance’ of a man (e.g. Docetism), but truly never really was (He only played one in the divine drama). And we really would not want that . . . make sense 😉 ?
Of course none of the above really makes any sense without the work of the Holy Spirit; thankfully Torrance proceeds accordingly.
H. R. Mackintosh [one of Torrance’s beloved professors] used to remind his students that ‘Jesus was not a Christian’. A Christian is a sinner whose sins have been forgiven, who knows himself or herself to have been saved by Christ. But Christ was not a sinner who needed forgiveness. Our approach to Christ must be a Christian approach: we must not try to look at Jesus in such a way as to gain entry into his religion, that is into his own private relation to God the Father. We can approach Jesus only as sinners who need the mediation of Christ in order to go to the Father, so that in the analogical relation set up between us and Christ, we can approach Christ only in acknowledging his uniqueness and sinlessness on the one hand, but on the other hand, only in yielding ourselves to him, in obedient conformity to his saving grace and as sinners desperately in need of him. Christ is utterly unique, but what corresponds to him on our part, is a Christian attitude, the attitude of forgiven and reconciled sinners. [brackets mine] (T. F. Torrance, “Incarnation,” 11)
Here is a quote from Robert T. Walker (T. F. Torrance’s nephew, and editor of Torrance’s posthmously published work Incarnation), he is unfolding, in an “editor’s introduction,” how his uncle understood the vicarious nature of faith through the humanity of Christ’s life. I think this is brilliant, and also think it dovetails nicely with Martin Luther’s understanding of the ‘vicarious’ nature of Christ’s life for us; which I have noted ELSEWHERE. Here we go:
iv.) faith involves living by the faith of Christ — Torrance points out the significance of the Greek wording of Galatians 2.20, ‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ We have been brought to know God. Our old way of living in which we did not know God has been put to death with Christ. We now live, we have faith, we interpret the scriptures and do theology, and yet it is not us but Christ who lives in us. The real believer is Christ and we live by and out of the human faith of Christ.
v.) faith is living by the ‘vicarious humanity’ of Christ — a key part of Torrance’s theology is the fact that everything that Jesus did in his humanity he did for us and everything that Jesus is he is for us. It is all ours through union with him in faith. What we could not do for ourselves God has come to do for us as man. The person of Christ is not just God acting for salvation, it is God acting as man for us. Christ’s life of ‘passive obedience’, in which he suffered the judgment of God and atoned for our sins on the cross, means that we are freed from them. Christ’s life of ‘active obedience’, in which he positively fulfilled the Father’s will, means that his human righteousness is ours and is a fundamental part of our justification. Jesus has completed all the parts of our salvation in the whole course of his life. His human life he lived for us and in our place. The relation between our faith and Christ’s, our life now and his vicarious humanity for us, is exactly that described in Galatians 2.20 and described elsewhere in Paul as life in union with Christ.
vi.) faith is union with Christ through the Spirit — for Torrance, the Christian life is one of union with Christ in which in faith we live out of his faith and his righteousness. Having no righteousness in ourselves, we are united to him so that we may live out of his. Our faith is the knowledge, given to us in the Spirit, that he has accomplished our salvation in his person and work and that we are saved purely by his unconditional grace.
This does not mean that we do nothing although it does mean that we do nothing for our salvation. For Torrance, there is an analogy here with the person Christ. The fact that the humanity of Christ owes its being entirely to the action of God in the incarnation, does not mean it is not real. The fact that Christ is all God, or that all of God is in Christ, does not mean that there is nothing of man in him, but the opposite, that all of man is in him. Torrance used to explain that in the logic of grace, ‘All of grace does not mean nothing of man. All of grace means all of man.’ The knowledge that forgiveness and salvation is all of grace liberates us out of ourselves into union with Christ, freeing us to live fully and freely out of him. All of grace means all of man, just as the action of God in Christ means all of man in Christ. (Robert T. Walker, ed., “Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ,” xlv-xlvii)
Do you catch the significance of union with Christ through his incarnation ‘for us’? Do you see the need for Christ to assume all of humanities’ brokenness, within His very life? Torrance assumes what scripture assumes, that we cannot add anything to salvation. He underscores the necessity for God, outside of us, to become God ‘inside of us’, through incarnating; and thus taking our sinfulness to its logical end (the cross), trusting (‘faithing’) the Father (on our behalf, as our mediator) to ‘redeem’ that which needs to be ‘healed’ — which Christ has become for us. Do you see how faith is ‘vicarious’ in this paradigm? We could never do the heavy lifting, thus Christ! We would never trust anybody, but ourselves (left to ourselves), to do what’s best for ‘me and mine’. Thus God, in Christ, had to take us to where only He could, as a ‘bahhing’ lamb. It is this ‘vicarious’, even substitutionary (biblically understood), notion that Torrance is pressing, and laying bare in the Apostle Paul’s letter to Galatia. Since we couldn’t die for ourselves (we would not), we cannot “trust for ourselves;” it is only then by the Spirit’s creative work, that we are able to ‘trust out of Christ’s trust’. And thus our union with Christ, or rather His union with us, becomes the basis from whence humanity can be said to be ‘saved by faith’ at all — not our own faith, but the faith of Christ poured abroad upon our heart’s through the Holy Spirit. Not an ‘alien’ (but indeed external, albeit ‘for us’) faith, but the ‘personal’ faith of Christ, as ‘man’ for us; finding its guiding shape through the divine life of the Son [anhypostasis] (begotten of the Father), through the creative ‘otherness’ of the Spirit, for us, in Christ, for us [enhypostasis].
Brilliance, upon brilliance . . . the life of God, known through Christ is staggering!
**P. S. the crazy thing is, is that this is only talking about Torrance’s thought, we haven’t even made it to Torrance himself yet! Do you like? If so, stay tuned for more meat from Torrance in the days to come — you can be sure I will be quoting and reflecting on him, profusely!**
Yes!! What a way to start the new year, I just received, in the mail, the book: Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ by Thomas F. Torrance (this book was just posthumously published and released a couple of months ago). Let me say a quick word about Torrance, on a personal note; for me, and this is saying a lot, T. F. is the greatest theologian I have ever encountered—he is my all time favorite (and if I were ever to do a PhD, it would be on the theology of Torrance). What I appreciate most about him, is his encyclopedic knowledge of theology and ideas; covering the gamut from, the ‘Patristics’, through the ‘Reformation’, and all the way through ‘Karl Barth’. And beyond this, his ability to synthetically and evangelically incorporate all of this ‘past’ into his own unique theological framework — indeed a mark of a virtuoso and theologian par excellance! Now to the book, the one I just received; I am going to quote from the jacket (as intro.), and an endorsement from Rowan Williams, and then I exhort you all to go and read some T. F. Torrance (a good place to start is Torrance’s The Mediation of Christ, for a further reading list go to Travis’ site)!
The late Thomas F. Torrance has been called “the greatest Reformed theologian since Karl Barth” and the “the greatest British theologian of the twentieth century” by prominent voices in the church and academy.
His new book on Christology addresses both heart and head through a deeply biblical, unified, Christ-centered and trinitarian theology. Torrance presents a full account of the meaning and significance of the life and person of Jesus Christ, demonstrating that his work of revelation and reconciliation can only be understood in the light of who he is — real God and real man united in one person. Torrance contends that the whole life of Jesus Christ — from his birth, through his ministry, cross, resurrection and ascension to his second coming — is of saving significance.
This volume on the incarnation is the first of two volumes based on Torrance’s lectures on Christology delivered to students in Christian dogmatics at New College, Edinburgh, from 1952 to 1978. The second volume will address the atonement [I can’t wait 🙂 ]. (from the front jacket)
. . . No other book I know in English does what this superb volume does in presenting with absolute clarity the full classical doctrine of the universal church on the person and work of Christ, bringing together biblical, patristic and Reformation perspectives in a rich harmony. . . . This book is a wonderful legacy from one of the very greatest of English-language systematic theologians. — Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury (taken from the back jacket)
Now go read some Torrance 😉 !