All posts in “T.F. Torrance”

The Problem with Apologetics (T. F. Torrance)

T. F. Torrance in Plain EnglishWhat follows is an excerpt from my new book, T. F. Torrance in Plain EnglishHere I draw out the implications of one of Torrance’s primary insights: kata physin, which simply means knowledge in accordance with the reality we come to know. This axiom is the subject of chapter two in my book, and this excerpt follows it in what I call a “sidebar,” which directly addresses the problem with apologetics. Sidebars such as this serve to draw out conclusions from major ideas, and they are therefore useful tools I implement in the book for clarifying ideas. Enjoy!

You can purchase T. F. Torrance in Plain English on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords ($9.99 eBook, $16.95 paperback).


Sidebar: Apologetics

(From T. F. Torrance in Plain English)

After discovering that Torrance’s theology engages natural science, many Christians today might wrongly imagine this means Torrance was an apologist. The truth, however, is that Torrance was actually quite critical of the task of apologetics, and this is the direct result of his dedication to the concept of kata physin. 

If true knowledge of God is knowledge in accordance with God’s nature, then apologetics is a false start because it applies a foreign rationality to God’s nature in the attempt to prove that God exists. By taking a foreign rationality and applying it to God, apologetics tries to prove God as if God were not God, as if God were a man or a star in the sky that might be proven through human rationality. Apologetics, therefore, abstracts God into a philosophical construct, which leads me to wonder: even if apologetics could “prove” God exists, which God would it prove? It is highly unlikely it would be the Christian God and Father of Jesus Christ, and so what then is the point of proving an empty, abstract deity, who is ultimately just a logical construction of our best thoughts?

Naturally, then, Torrance’s primary issue with apologetics is that it contradicts the fundamental axiom of his scientific theology, that true knowledge is knowledge in accordance with the nature of what we seek to know. Apologetics begins with what is rational to humans, and not that which is inherent to God’s own rationality as revealed in Jesus Christ. Human rationality must be disciplined by God’s rationality and not the reverse. God is not the object of human control; we are subject to God’s gracious will to reveal Godself. Torrance writes:

Thus the only kind of evidence for God that will satisfy us is one appropriate to divine nature, appropriate to one who is the ground of His own Being and the Source of all other being, to one whose Being is Spirit and whose nature is love… It is this profoundly simple fact, that knowledge of something and the demonstration of its reality must be in accordance with its nature, that lies behind the formation and deployment of the supreme instrument in all scientific knowledge, the appropriate question. (God and Rationality, 53)

For Torrance, apologetics is a false enterprise because it relies on asking the wrong kind of questions. It attempts to prove an abstract deity with a rationality alien to the given knowledge of God from the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. Where apologetics asks speculatively, “Does God exist?”, theology focuses on Jesus Christ as God’s self-revelation, as the only true point of contact between God and humanity. Theology asks, “Who is this God revealed in Jesus Christ?” The difference is drastic. There is no logical bridge from humanity up into the knowledge of God, yet God has established, in Jesus Christ, a point of contact through Whom we know God. Thus, it is only by God that we come to know God. Torrance writes:

I cannot test whether there is a bad smell about by my ear. I cannot verify the presence of a chemical element in some compound by religious experience. Nor can I demonstrate a proposition in astrophysics by some line of reasoning in aesthetics. All that would obviously be irrational, just as irrational as it would be to put God to the test in some sort of way in which we put nature to the test in carrying through a physical experiment or to demand of Him that He disclose His reality to us through a radar telescope. (Ibid., 93)

The core idea behind kata physin is the notion that every reality has its own intrinsic rationality to know it by. Apologetics ignores this fact by applying a humanistic, philosophical, or an abstractly logical rationality onto the being of God, thus essentially subjecting God to the provability of human hands. In this sense, Torrance might heartily agree with Bonhoeffer’s famous remark, “A God who could be proved by us would be an idol” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Volume 11, 260). When we attempt to prove God by a rationality alien to Godself, we ultimately produce a God fashioned after whichever rationality we implement; that is, God becomes an idol. Apologetics is a fundamentally flawed enterprise, since it fails to acknowledge God’s transcendent otherness. Torrance writes:

The transcendent rationality of God, however, is ultimate and as such can be known only out of itself. If God really is God He confronts us with absolute priority. In the nature of the case, He can be known only on the free ground of His own self-subsistent Being and through the shining of His own uncreated Light. The Truth of God cannot be demonstrated from other ground or derive support from lesser truths for He is the ultimate ground and support of them all… Knowledge of the ultimate rationality of God is reached at the point where our human reason becomes enlightened from beyond the limits of created rationality and where an infinite extension of intelligibility beyond ourselves is disclosed… (God and Rationality, 97)

We cannot illuminate God with human insights any more than we could brighten the moon with a flashlight. The doctrine of justification by grace alone should lead us to recognize God’s provability by grace alone. Works of the intellect cannot prove God without falling back into selfjustification. God is known when God’s uncreated light reaches us from beyond our humanity, enlightening our rationality with the divine rationality of God’s self-revelation. God alone proves Godself if God is proven at all, just as God alone reveals Godself if we have any true knowledge of God’s innermost being.

Finally, Torrance writes about the call for repentance as the call for a new kind of rationality. We are called to embrace God’s logic of God’s Self, not a human logic of God reduced down to our own terms. Repentance implies a turning away from our own rationality to embrace God’s inherent rationality. Thus, Torrance writes:

Michael Polanyi reminds us in his Gifford lectures that we cannot convince others by formal arguments, for so long as we argue within their framework, we can never induce them to abandon it… That applies to theological communication as much as scientific controversy, and yet this is precisely the erroneous line taken so often by apologetics, whether by the theologian or the preacher… The only proper road to take at that point is to persuade those operating from the other frame to look away at the realities we seek to indicate, and to persuade them to take, in face of it, the kind of ‘heuristic’ [personal] step forward which we always have to make in any genuine scientific discovery, for only then will they discern and know for themselves what we are speaking about. That is to say, in theological language, we have to bear witness to the divine Truth, and try to get from others a genuinely open hearing, but if they take the heuristic [personal] step which they must if they are really to know, it will involve on their part a self-critical act in reconstruction of their prior understanding, i.e., what the New Testament calls metanoia [repentance]. (Theology in Reconstruction, 27-8)

We should not attempt to make the process easy for unbelievers, in the sense that we have to down-play the biblical call to repentance. Instead, Torrance thinks we must give witness to the truth of the Gospel without dumbing it down by attempting to remove the inherent offense of the good news. Torrance writes:

That is the real difficulty about the Truth of God as it is in Jesus, not a difficulty about language or history in the last resort, but an offense which reaches its climax in the Cross… The last thing we must ever attempt to do is to eliminate the real difficulties that confront us in the nature of the Truth itself, and so try to make it easy for people to believe and understand—in so doing, we make it next to impossible for them… If there were no offense, we would find nothing new in the Scriptures, hear nothing we could not and have not already been able to tell ourselves. That which challenges us, which calls us in question, is the radically new, the element we are unable to assimilate into what we already know, without a logical reconstruction of all our preconceptions and a repentant re-thinking of what we already claim to know. But that is the element in the Scriptures which makes them the means of bringing the Good News—yet in the nature of the case it is Good News, not of some cheap grace that heals the hurts of God’s people too lightly, but of radical and complete reconciliation to God through the Cross of Jesus Christ. That is the only message that really strikes home to the human heart and meets at last the desperate plight of man. (Ibid., 29)

Torrance’s scientific axiom that we know in truth only in accordance with what we seek to know (kata physin) means the rejection of apologetics as a false start. His scientific theology does not fit within the modern Christian “culture war” against science, but it does offer us a helpful way forward that is faithful to the Gospel and its call for repentance. Instead of diluting the Gospel with reductionistic logic, with mere human sensibilities, we must bear witness to God’s own transcendent rationality and call men and women to repent and know God on God’s terms.

(From T. F. Torrance in Plain English, pages 61-66.)

You can purchase T. F. Torrance in Plain English on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords ($9.99 eBook, $16.95 paperback).

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“T. F. Torrance in Plain English” – Table of Contents

I am very pleased to announced the release of my new book, the second in my “Plain English Series,” T. F. Torrance in Plain English. 

258 pages, $9.99 eBook and $16.95 paperback.

Buy it now on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords!

This book is also now available on my new store page.

About the book

T. F. Torrance was my first “theological love,” and his work ignited in me a passion for studying theology. He was also my introduction to Karl Barth. For both of these reasons I owe Torrance a tremendous debt.

It was a pleasure to return to Torrance after my study of Barth and to re-examine his many profound contributions which had inspired me so greatly when I first took up an interest in theology. His work inspires me no less today then it did then.

Torrance was arguably Barth’s most important student, since he not only wrote two important books on Barth’s theology (Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology and Karl Barth: Biblical and Evangelical Theologian) but was instrumental in putting the Church Dogmatics into English. He was also likely the most important and influential English-speaking Reformed theologian of the 20th century, with a vast range of interests both scholarly and systematic. His engagement with the natural sciences and the philosophy of science is perhaps his most unique contribution, though there are many more important insights such as his doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ, and his profound work on the doctrine of the Trinity.

Without a doubt, Torrance is a significant figure for theology today—an individual worth careful attention both for the professional and the amateur alike.

The book is broken up into nine selected “major ideas” from Torrance’s scientific and evangelical theology. Between these major ideas I include various “sidebar” reflections on issues that naturally arise from these major ideas. I have spelled out all these in detail below. The sidebar chapters worked to answer difficult questions, or to draw out the practical implications of Torrance’s theology.

The book is different from my book on Barth in a number of ways. I struggled perhaps most of all with the structure of the book, since Torrance never produced a “systematic theology” though which he might be neatly summarized. His vast number of essays and books contain such wide interests that it was difficult to concisely summarize him. The book does, however, offer a reading of Torrance that I think is beneficial to introduce the subjects which I have found to be the most helpful in my own study. No attempt at a conclusive survey was made, but I hope it succeeds as an introductory study (which ultimately encourages you to read Torrance for yourself).

With all that said I am very pleased with this book, and I hope it is both helpful and inspiring for you to read.

I was honored and humbled by all of the positive feedback I received from Karl Barth in Plain English, and I hope this book is just as helpful.

Outline


Chapter 1: A “scientific” theology, or “theological science”

Sidebar: Non-dualist thought (cosmological and epistemological dualisms explained)

Chapter 2: Knowledge according to nature (kata physin, Torrance’s chief epistemological axiom). (This chapter also includes a reflection of Torrance’s “stratified” model of knowledge.)

Sidebar: The place of experience in theological knowledge

Sidebar: Apologetics (more properly contra-apologetics)

Chapter 3: A “reformulated” (or “new”) natural theology. (Special attention is given to Barth here.)

Chapter 4: One in being and act (homoousion, or the consubstantiality of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

Sidebar: Triune at-one-ment (addressing Christ’s cry of abandonment on the cross).

Sidebar: Election

Chapter 5: The “ground and grammar” of theology (the Trinity)

Sidebar: The Filioque clause

Chapter 6: The twofold agency (mediation) of Christ (the Godward and humanward acts of Christ)

Sidebar: The Bible as witness

Chapter 7: The vicarious humanity of Christ, or Christ’s saving life (with special attention to the sacraments).

Sidebar: Fallen humanity

Chapter 8: Threefold atonement

Sidebar: Universalism and limited atonement (both rejected as “twin heresies”)

Chapter 9: “With Jesus besides God.” Union and participation (Theosis) as the capstone of Torrance’s theology. (Special attention is given to the ascension.)

Sidebar: The resurrection (its nature).

Conclusion: How to preach the Gospel


Total pages: 258 (about 20,000 more words than Karl Barth in Plain English)

Price: $9.99 for eBook, and $16.95 for paperback

Buy it now on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords!

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I Was “Born Again” 2,000 Years Ago (T. F. Torrance)

 

Shortly after becoming the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the esteemed theologian Thomas F. Torrance was asked whether or not he was “born again.” Naturally he said yes, he was born again. But then he was asked, “When were you born again?” Torrance startled his inquisitor with this reply,

 

“I still recall his face when I told him that I had been born again when Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary and rose again from the virgin tomb, the first-born of the dead. When he asked me to explain I said: ‘This Tom Torrance you see is full of corruption, but the real Tom Torrance is hid with Christ in God and will be revealed only when Jesus Christ comes again. He took my corrupt humanity in his Incarnation, sanctified, cleansed and redeemed it, giving it new birth, in his death and resurrection.’ In other words, our new birth, our regeneration, our conversion, are what has taken place in Jesus Christ himself, so that when we speak of our conversion or our regeneration we are referring to our sharing in the conversion or regeneration of our humanity brought about by Jesus in and through himself for our sake. In a profound and proper sense, therefore, we must speak of Jesus Christ as constituting in himself the very substance of our conversion, so that we must think of him as taking our place even in our acts of repentance and personal decision, for without him all so-called repentance and conversion are empty. Since a conversion in that truly evangelical sense is a turning away from ourselves to Christ, it calls for a conversion from our in-turned notions of conversion to one which is grounded and sustained in Christ Jesus himself.” 1

 

This quote summarizes so well what attracts me to the theology of Thomas F. Torrance (and the same could be said for Karl Barth). The objective nature of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ is central for Torrance, but it is not central to the point of losing all subjectivity. Perhaps better than any theologian I’ve read, Torrance balances this exceptionally well. The objective work of God does not cancel out the need for a personal response. In Jesus Christ God has acted fully and completely on our behalf for our salvation, and apart from Him we would not be saved. However, this does not exclude our participation in Christ’s humanity, or response within His vicarious response.

Torrance would often say, “all of grace means all of man”. We tend to think that either “all of grace” means “none of man”, or that “some of man” means “some of grace”. Torrance rightly affirms both aspects, offering a profoundly evangelical presentation of the gospel in which salvation is wholly by God’s grace—but it is grace which does not destroy our human nature and response, but completes it.

Feel free to borrow Torrance’s reply the next time someone asks you when you were “born again”!

 

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Divine Interpretation by T.F. Torrance: a Review

Book: Divine Interpretation: Studies in Medieval and Modern Hermeneutics by Thomas F. Torrance (edited by Adam Nigh and Todd Speidell) (AMAZON LINK)

Publisher: Pickwick Publications (an imprint of Wipf&Stock) (PUBLISHERS LINK)

Overview: Released only this month, this collection of essays by Torrance is a valuable addition to his current body of work. While the two essays on Barth stood out as the high points of the book, each essay was a masterful piece of scholarship.


Undoubtably, the great benefit of this book is the republication of two important essays on Karl Barth written by Torrance and published in the now out of print (and therefore very costly) volume, Karl Barth: Biblical and Evangelical TheologianI’ve wanted to read this book for some time now, but the near $100 price tag has prohibited me from getting my hands on a copy.

The essays “Karl Barth and the Latin Heresy” and “Karl Barth, Theologian of the Word”, were naturally the high point of the book for me. Yesterday I posted an article examining several quotations from the first essay. Reading my article from yesterday will give you a taste of this essay, which you can do so by clicking here.

Continue Reading…

T.F. Torrance on Universalism and Limited Atonement (as Dual Heresies)

I’ve been reading the newly released collection of essays by T.F. Torrance, Divine Interpretation: Studies in Mediaeval and Modern HermeneuticsWipf & Stock Publishers were kind enough to send me a review copy, and when I finish reading the book I will be posting my final thoughts here. But I wanted to share an important quote from the book before then.

I was excited to discover that this collection reprints an important essay Torrance wrote, which prior to this book was only available in the costly out of print study, Karl Barth: Biblical and Evangelical TheologianThis essay is entitled “Karl Barth and the Latin Heresy”, and includes some profoundly important remarks about how Torrance places Barth within the western tradition.

Especially insightful, however, is how Torrance explains the “dual heresy” of universalism on one side and limited atonement on the other. I’ll let Torrance explain more himself in this insightful quote. Comments in between quotations are my own, and bold text is also mo own emphasis. Enjoy! Continue Reading…

4 Traits that Made Karl Barth a Great Theologian (According to T F Torrance)

bundesarchiv_bild_194-1283-23a_wuppertal_evangelische_gesellschaft_jahrestagungYesterday I began reading Thomas F Torrance’s book, Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology 1910-1931I first read Barth because I had read and enjoyed Torrance, so it’s an understatement to say I’ve been excited to dive in and learn what Torrance has to say about Barth. (So far it’s been a great book.)

Torrance writes of four traits (personal characteristics) which made Barth a great theologian. Today I wanted to repeat these traits to you, as they are all great traits we can learn from. Enjoy!

#1 An Inquisitive Mind

Torrance writes, “Barth has the most searching, questioning mind I have ever known.” 1 This would be apparent to anyone who has ever read, for example, in the Church Dogmatics, the pages upon pages of questions Barth asked. Torrance estimates that if you were to put only the questions asked in the Dogmatics into a book it would fill “hundreds of hundreds of pages.” Barth asked a lot of questions!

But Barth’s ruthless questioning is not the same kind as the questioning other theologians have done, such as the questions found in Paul Tillich’s method of correlation. (More on Barth and Tillich here.) Barth’s questions are a ruthless criticism for the sake of letting the Word of God speak clearly and positively to us. These questions seek to self-critically clear the way for God’s Word to speak.

Torrance writes, “This questioning is forced upon us because face to face with God’s Word we know ourselves to be questioned down to the very roots of our being, and therefore in response to the impact of the Word we are thrown back upon self-criticism, upon a repentant questioning and rethinking of all that we have and are and claim to know.” 2 We ask questions because God’s Word has confronted us to the core of our being. We must ask questions to make a way for the Word of God to speak clearly and positively to us, to rightly hear the content of this Word. These questions seek to remove our presuppositions (or at least limit them).

We ask questions forcefully and ruthlessly, then, not because God is bound to our questions, but because God has confronted us and this demands us to question our reality and make room for the Word of God to speak. This is the sort of questioning which is rooted in a deep humility before the truth of God, a truth which lies beyond our grasp and which meets us only by grace.

#2 A Childlike Willingness to Learn and Listen

Torrance writes, “Barth has an uncanny ability to listen which is accompanied by an astonishing humility and childlikeness in which he is always ready to learn.” 3 Torrance calls this “the secret of Barth’s hermeneutics, whether he is interpreting Holy Scripture or interpreting the thought of another theologian.” 4

Barth listened and listened well to the great theologians of the church, and his critical appreciation of their work always came first and foremost from this place of listening. But this is not only how Barth read other theologians; this is Barth’s method for biblical exegesis.

Torrance notes, “Biblical exegesis takes place therefore in a strenuous disciplined attempt to lay ourselves open to hear the Word of God speaking to us, to read what the Word intends or denotes and to refrain from interrupting it or confusing it with our own speaking, for in faithful exegesis we have to let ourselves be told what we cannot tell ourselves.” 5

This is a lesson we can all apply for reading not only the bible and other theologians, but even Barth’s work, too. Critics like Van Til have always failed in this regard, they have failed to listen to Barth on his own terms. We will always fail to understand the bible, to understand what God is speaking to us in the Word of God, and we will always fail to understand Barth, when we fail to listen.

#3 Creativity

Torrance writes, “Another typical characteristic of Barth which we must give attention is his sheer creative power, his ability to produce something new.” 6 Torrance likens Barth to Beethoven. Beethoven is a shocking composer who often merged together various themes which, at first, seem contradictory, but which ultimately enrich the whole symphony with a multi-faceted kind of beauty. Barth might not like this analogy (he preferred Mozart), but it aptly applies to Barth’s ability to create something shocking and beautiful in his Dogmatics. It takes a creative genius to do what Barth has done in the Church Dogmatics, and I doubt anyone who reads it with the care it demands would fail to see its genius.

Interestingly, Torrance writes here what he considers to be Barth’s main theological theme: “From first to last Barth’s main theme has been the turning of God in utter grace in incredible condescension to man to be man’s God, so that what we are concerned with in the Gospel is the sovereign togetherness of God with man and the exaltation of man to share in the divine life and love.” 7

I like that a lot! If I had to summarize what I have learned the most from Barth, personally and theologically, I couldn’t find a better summary than this.

#4 Joy

Torrance writes, “There is one other aspect of Barth, both as a man and as a theologian, which we must select for mention: his joy and his humour.” 8 One of my favorite quotes from Barth sums up this point well: “The theologian who labors without joy is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this field.”

Torrance gives two examples of Barth’s joy and humor. First, he mentions Barth’s love of Mozart, and his elevating him to the status of “church father.” And second, Torrance notes a humorous comment from CD III/2, which says, “What a pity that none of these apologists consider it worthy of mention that man is apparently the only being accustomed to laugh and to smoke.” 9

Beyond these two points, Torrance notes that Barth writes with joy not because he is necessarily a joyful person, but because God is a God of supreme joy. It’s Barth’s doctrine of God, his enjoyment of the beauty and glory of God, which most establishes his joy as a theologian. Torrance calls Barth an exemplary theologian of the frui Deo, of the enjoyment of God. Joy is at the center of his theology, and anyone reading his work will find themselves confronted with the God of infinite joy.

Conclusions

There are a lot of theological insights we can learn from Barth, but Torrance reminds us that we can also learn from from how Barth practically lived and worked out his theology. Barth was not afraid of asking difficult questions, because God has first met us, at the core of our being, and questioned us in Jesus Christ. Barth was humble before the truth, and therefore willing to listen carefully to the testimony of the scriptures and to learn from other theologians. Barth was a creative genius, who worked tirelessly at constructing a new and innovative theology. Barth was a joyful and humorous person, because God is a joyful and humorous God.

In the spirit of Barth’s humanity, joy, and of his love for Mozart, I’ll leave you to enjoy three hours of Mozart’s Sonatas (or however long you want to listen). Cheers!

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Notes:

  1. Torrance, Karl Barth, 19
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., 21
  4. Ibid., 22
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., 22-23
  7. Ibid., 23
  8. Ibid.
  9. CD III/2, 83

Thomas F. Torrance on Preaching Christ Today

thomastorranceSeveral months ago I finished reading Thomas F. Torrance’s short book Preaching Christ Today. For anyone who’s never read Thomas Torrance, and perhaps feels too daunted by his academic strength, you should read this book. It is an excellent introduction to some of his most significant contributions to theology, and it highlights quite well why I love reading his work: T.F. Torrance is a scientific thinker because he is an evangelical thinker. He writes with this end in mind, to preach the gospel, to evangelize the world even in the discipline of modern science (which is often wrongly seen as an antithesis to theology). I have a lot of respect for what Torrance has done for theology, not only for the church but for my life personally. It was in Torrance that I first encountered an understanding of God that shattered all  my images of him, revealing himself to be a God of infinite grace and love. So without a doubt, this short book is an inspiring read as well. Just as Barth’s sermons to prisoners at Basel, Deliverance to the Captives, is a great starting point for his theology, so this book is great for Torrance. Today I wanted to put together several great quotes from the book that I enjoyed. (All quotes are from the 1994 Eerdmans edition.)

Quotes:

“This is the end to which my own life has been dedicated. What I have been trying to do is to show how the gospel can be taught and preached in ways that are faithful to the apostolic faith as it was brought to authoritative expression in the Nicene Creed, and at the same time may be taught and preached today in ways that can be expressed and appreciated within the scientific understanding of the created universe upon which God has impressed his Word and which under God was have been able to develop in modern times. Far from being hostile to one another, Christian theology and natural science are complementary to one another.” (Preface, vii)

“The real Jesus of history is the Christ who cannot be separated from his saving acts, for his person and his work are one, Christ clothed with his gospel of saving grace. The so-called Jesus of history shorn of theological truth is an abstraction invented by a pseudo-scientific method.” (P. 9)

“What overwhelms me is the sheer humanness of Jesus, Jesus as the baby at Bethlehem, Jesus sitting tired and thirsty at the well outside Samaria, Jesus exhausted by the crowds, Jesus recuperating his strength through sleep at the back of a ship of Galilee…for that precisely is God with us and one of us, God as ‘the wailing infant’ in Bethlehem, as Hilary wrote, God sharing our weakness and exhaustion, God sharing our hunger, thirst, tears, pain, and death… He does not override our humanity but completes, perfects, and establishes it.” (p. 13)

“In giving his own dear Son to die for us in atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, God has revealed that he loves us more than he loves himself.” (p. 28)

“In him we believe that God himself has come into the midst of our human agony and our abominable wickedness and violence in order to take all our guilt and our just judgement on himself. That is for us the meaning of the cross. If I did not believe in the cross, I could not believe in God. The cross means that, while there is no explanation of evil, God himself has come into the midst of it in order to take it upon himself, to triumph over it and deliver us from it.” (p. 29)

“Faith in Christ involves a polar relation between the faith of Christ and our faith, in which our faith is laid hold of, enveloped, and upheld in his unswerving faithfulness.” (p. 31)

“In far too much preaching of Christ the ultimate responsibility is taken off the shoulders of the Lamb of God and put upon the shoulders of the poor sinner, and he knows well in his heart that he cannot cope with it.” (p. 35)

“During those years what imprinted itself upon my mind above all was the discovery of the deepest cry of the human heart: Is God really like Jesus? This came home to me very sharply one day on a battle field in Italy, when a fearfully wounded young lad, who was only nineteen and had but half an hour to live, said to me, ‘Padre, is God really like Jesus?’ I assured him as he lay upon the ground with his life ebbing away that God is indeed really like Jesus, and that there is no unknown God behind the back of Jesus for us to fear, to see the Lord Jesus is to see the very face of God.” (p. 55)

That last quote always gets to me! This is why I read theology and attempt what little I can to write it, because the world needs to know this simple truth. God really is like Jesus! And few theologians have shown this fact better than Thomas F. Torrance.

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T. F. Torrance on the Passible Impassibility of God

thomastorranceT. F. Torrance writes in dialogue with Jurgen Moltmann, towards the end of his (incredible!) work, The Christian Doctrine of God: One God Three Persons (LINK), on the tough issue of God’s Impassibility (which simply means the inability of God to suffer). In the light of the incarnation and the crucifixion of Christ, how can one still say that God is impassible?

Jurgen Moltmann claims that this is impossible, writing that an impassible God is a “demon”. 1 But classically, especially in western theology, the impassibility of God is one of the primary attributes of Gods nature.

I have often been interested in the sort of dialogue that T. F. Torrance has had with other theologians, especially with Jurgen Moltmann. Both men have tremendously impacted my spiritual and theological perspectives. Torrance’s nuanced understanding of the impassibility of the passible God is one that I found interesting when I read it, because it gives a balanced perspective on the issue. The following quotes are from the final chapter in The Christian Doctrine of God. 

Torrance begins following Cyril of Alexandria in saying that God suffered impassibly in the death of Christ, therefore calling the impassible passibility of God a paradox.

“The emphasis tended to be laid sometimes on one side of the paradox, and sometimes on the other, but Cyril was always concern not to detract either from the integrity of human nature or from the integrity of divine nature. On the one hand the notion of divine passibility would appear to call in question the steadfastness or immutability of God in face of the pressure of outside forces upon him as if he could be moved by what is other than God. On the other hand the notion of divine impassibility would evidently exclude the possibility of any real movement of God in a loving and vicarious self-identification with us in the incarnation and redemption which would posit a deep gulf between God as he is in himself and God as he is towards us. On the other hand, therefore, we cannot but hold that God is impassible in the sense that he remains eternally and changelessly the same, but on the other hand, we cannot but hold that God is passible in that what he is not by nature he became in taking upon himself ‘the form of a servant’. He became one of us and one with us in Jesus Christ within the conditions and limits of our creaturely human existence and experience in space and time, although without in any way ceasing to be God who is transcendent over all space and time. That is surely how we must think of the passibility and impassibility of God: their conjunction is as incomprehensible as the mode of the union of God and man in Christ. Just as in creation and incarnation God acted in entirely new ways while remaining unchanged in his divine nature, just as he became man without ceasing to be God and became creature without ceasing to be creator, so he became passible without ceasing to be impassible in another sense.” 2

So it seems that for Torrance the paradox of Gods impassible passibility is similar to the dual nature of Christ as wholly God and wholly man. Just as Jesus Christ is fully God and man in one person, while taking up our human flesh He remains divine, so God has become passible in Jesus Christ, while remaining eternally impassible. He therefore has assumed both natures. He has at once truly reached the human race, while nevertheless remaining truly God as He is in His eternity, unchanged and self-moved.

Torrance continues on to say the following:

“We must be quite definite about the fact that in the Lord Jesus Christ God Himself has penetrated  into our suffering, our hurt, our violence, our sinful alienated humanity, our guilty condition under judgement, and even into our dereliction. ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Behind that cry of Jesus on the Cross there is a mysterious movement in the divine Trunity, a counterpoint between the pathos in the crucified Jesus and the pathos in God. The cry of Jesus in dereliction was followed by another cry, ‘Father into they hands I commend my spirit.’ There on the cross at the deepest point of our relations with God in judgement and suffering the incarnate Son of God penetrated into our pathos in such a profoundly redemptive way that in the very heart of it all, he brought his eternal serenity to bear transformingly upon our passion. Thus we cannot but say that in Christ God both suffered and did not suffer: through the eternal tranquillity of his divine impassibility he took upon himself our passibility and redeemed it.” 3

For Torrance, Jesus Christ became passible in order to redeem our our suffering with his impassibility, just as Jesus Christ at once came to redeem our fallen humanity by become sin for our sakes. If “the unassumed is the unredeemed” then this must be the case not only for our fallen humanity, but also for our suffering as human beings. God assumes in order to redeem. Therefore, Christ became passible, while at once remaining impassible. But nevertheless, He truly became passible just as He truly became man.

Notes:

  1. see The Crucified God (LINK)
  2. P. 250
  3. P. 251

10 Ways We Should Rethink Easter

10 ways easterTomorrow we celebrate Good Friday, and with it the very heart of the Gospel: the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. I want to present ten ways that we should think differently about Easter this year. In doing so may you rediscover the beauty of the cross, and the stunning message of the Gospel.

#1 It’s Good Friday, Not Bad Friday

The cross is not a dark event. The cross is the center of our joy and celebration. Far from being a defeat, the cross is a victory!

While from a humanistic perspective, the cross is weakness and failure. But from the Christian perspective, the cross is the greatest moment of triumph in all of history. As Athanasius says, “the death of all was consummated in the Lord’s body; yet, because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished.” 1 That’s good news! Jesus fully defeated death, in His death.

#2 Resurrection Isn’t the End

The story of Jesus doesn’t end at resurrection. While the resurrection is important, it’s not the end. The Scottish theologian T.F. Torrance help me see that the resurrection, while staggering in itself, is not complete apart from the ascension.

Robert Walker, in his introduction to Torrance’s book atonement, says “The ascension is Jesus’ taking of our humanity in His person into the presence of God into the union and communion of the love of the Trinity.” 2 Or as C.S. Lewis says, “In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend.” 3 Jesus ascended, taking us up with Him; seating us in heavenly places! 4

#3 God Didn’t Kill Jesus

crucifixionWe know for a fact in Christianity that the cross accomplished our salvation. Theories of how this happened however, are vast and wide. One of the worst, in my mind, is that of Penal Substitutionary Atonement 5 which essentially teaches that Jesus saved us from God. Meaning that Jesus was actually killed by His Father.

Did Jesus save us from God? Absolutely not! Here’s a few reasons why. 1) Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5 that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.” 2) This notion divides the Trinity and undermines the goodness of God by creating a dark side hidden behind the back of God—which ultimately goes against Jesus’ own words, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” 6 We aren’t saved from God, we’re saved from sin. 

#4 The Cross Wasn’t a Pagan Ritual

The cross isn’t a form of paganism where Jesus is sacrificed up to an angry god in the hope of appease his terrible wrath. If this is true, then paganism is true. Which would be disastrous to the Gospel: making it not a Christian Gospel, but a pagan gospel.

Jesus didn’t die in order to condition God into being gracious. T.F. Torrance writes that within the Old Testament paradigm of sacrifice and atonement, we must see that the cross is not a pagan offering for the sake of forgiveness, but rather a witness to the merciful will of God. 7 The priestly system was never pagan—in the sense that it was an offering to earn forgiveness or mercy—rather, it was and is a system to manifest and give witness to the mercy of God.

#5 Jesus’ Death Was Real

The death of Jesus is the action of God to meet us in the pit of our human existence. What do we fear more than death? In order for salvation to be complete, God must meet us in the depths of our humanity. I feel like sometimes we pass over Jesus’ death as a real event, as if His being God made Him less human. He was God as a human, and in His humanity He fully felt the bitterness of death.

This is important to remember. The death of Jesus was a very real event. He actually felt the fear and abandonment that we feel. He entered into our Adamic fear and calamity and from that place He brought redemption. In His death, death itself is undone!

#6 Jesus Was Not Forsaken by His Father

The-Holy-Trinity-xx-Nicoletto-Semitecolo“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is not a prayer of Jesus. Every prayer that Jesus ever prayed began with “Abba, Father!” Here Jesus is not saying that the Trinity was deconstructed and destroyed. The Trinitarian relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit remained intact on the cross!

Jesus is quoting the old testament. 8 He is fulfilling prophecy. He quotes Psalms 22, the Messianic Psalm. This Psalm, more than any other, is a clear prophecy foretelling the death of Jesus, the Messiah.

#7 The Cross Wasn’t Pretty

The cross was a horrific and terrifying event. It wasn’t pretty. While it is important to see the celebratory reality of the cross (see #1), it is also important to remember how expensive the party cost God.

God paid a high price for our redemption. We celebrate joyously that sacrifice, but at the same time keeping in mind, with reverence, the enormous price that was paid. Jesus died a real death, feeling the full weigh of our sin and guilt. He suffered in our place, so that we might have life. Celebrate that, but just don’t forget the price.

#8 The Cross Reveals Love, Not Wrath

The cross reveals the love of God, it does not primarily reveal His wrath. When you think of the cross, do you see the wrath of God or His love? If wrath, you need to take another look. The cross is not about wrath, it is about love.

T.F. Torrance writes that, “The cross is a window opened into the very heart of God.” 9 We understand God through Jesus: in His life, and especially in His self-giving death. The cross reveals a God who is madly in love with the world, not a God who is furiously angry at it. “For God so loved the world…” 10

#9 The Life of Jesus > The Death of Jesus

INRIPaul writes that we are “saved by His life.” 11 The life of Jesus, and the work of Jesus should be inseparable. It’s not the cross that saves us, it’s Jesus. He embodies our salvation, and reconciliation back to God.

The cross matters, but the Christ of the cross matters even more. God did not use Jesus as a tool to fix humanity. Jesus Himself is the salvation of the human race. It is in His very person, in His hypostatic union: the joining of God and man in one body that we find salvation, reconciliation, and redemption. The new covenant is a person, not a transaction!

#10 The Cross is a Mystery

We know what the cross accomplished. We know that because of Christ we are forgiven, reconciled, redeemed, freed from sin, in union with Christ, and participants in the eternal life of God. How it all happens is a mystery.

While there are many theories as to how the cross accomplishes all these things, we cannot get to hung up on theories. It’s the person of Jesus that saves us, not our theology. We don’t have to understand the cross to benefit from it’s blessings. The bible doesn’t give us a clear formula for exactly what happened at calvary, but it does inspire us to worship God because of it.

Let’s keep the cross mysterious. We may not understand it fully, but that’s okay. No one is asking us to.

“Trust Jesus, then. After that, theologize all you want.” 12

He has done it! It is finished!

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Notes:

  1. On the Incarnation, section 20.
  2. Editor’s introduction to T.F. Torrance Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, page lii.
  3. The Grand Miracle, page 111
  4. See Ephesians 2:6 and Colossians 3.
  5. I’ve written much about this view of atonement. You can find these articles here.
  6. John 14:9
  7. See Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, pages 38-39.
  8. I’ve written more about this here.
  9. The Mediation of Christ
  10. John 3:16
  11. Romans 5:10
  12. Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, and Judgement.

The Election of Christ – T.F. Torrance

thomastorranceGod and man meet in Jesus Christ and a new covenant is eternally established and fulfilled.

In Himself, as God and man in union, Jesus Christ is the actualization of the eternal purpose of God to give Himself to humanity in pure love and grace. Here in Jesus Christ, divine election has moved into time, and have all through the life of Jesus there takes effect, in actual history, God’s election of man to be God’s man. He comes to be God for man in order to remake man for God. God has eternally willed Himself for fellowship with mankind, and willed mankind for fellowship with Himself. Jesus Christ is the reality of that will, for in Him God turns towards men and women and wills to be one with them, and in Him they are turned wholly towards God to be one with God. These are not two independent movements but one movement of redeeming love in which God gives Himself unreservedly to man and in which He gathers up humanity into the life of God in Jesus Christ. Here where God has given Himself to be man’s God once and for all, nothing can undo that decision. But here too God gives man to Himself once and for all, and nothing can undo that decision. It is an eternal election of love, an everlasting covenant.

 

Taken from Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ by T.F. Torrance pages 106 and 109 respectively.

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