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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