16 February 2008

A Presentation of Chapter 2, “The Mediation of Reconciliation” in Thomas F Torrance’s The Mediation of Christ by Michael Pailthorpe.[Download “mediation_of_reconciliation_ch2.doc” DOC]

T.F.Torrance and The Mediation of Reconciliation

A review of chapter 2, The Mediation of ChristIntroduction Thomas Forsyth Torrance, as Dr Alan Harley pointed out in his paper last month, is careful to avoid dualism in his theological method. This, for Torrance, is a recurring theme of this book and of the relationship he seeks to formulate between theology and science throughout his other major works as a rejection of Aristotelian dualism. Albert Einstein, an influential person upon Torrance’s thinking, once said, “Science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind”. Influenced by Einstein and Clerk Maxwell, Torrance saw theology as a science where the object determined the nature and method as opposed to a universal method of inquiry. I hope here to present summaries of his thought in Chapter 2 of The Mediation… as well as highlight important nuances and also provide at least some form of criticism.  For Torrance, in some sense, dualisms and dichotomies run counter to the gospel. For just as incarnation and atonement are “one and inseparable” “In him the Incarnation and Atonement are one and inseparable, for atoning reconciliation falls, within the incarnate constitution of his person as Mediator…” (p63, see also, T F Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons, [T&T Clark, 2001] p144) …so too, Torrance reaffirms that revelation and reconciliation belong together and are the “obverse” of each other: “When the Word of God became man, he came to his own, but his own did not receive him, for although they derived their being from him they had rebelled against him and fallen into darkness and enmity to God. Hence in his incarnation the Word of God penetrated into our sinful and distorted existence, into our personal darkness and mental alienation from God, even into the disintegration of human being in death. He came to share our lost and contradictory existence in order to save and reconcile us to God, and to regenerate and restore us through union with himself in his vicarious humanity as true sons and daughters of the heavenly father who hear him, love him and obey him. Divine revelation and divine reconciliation are the obverse of each other. It is precisely in this acutely personal way that we encounter Jesus Christ, the revealing and reconciling Word of God, in the gospels and epistles of the New Testament: he calls us, as he called his disciples in the days of his flesh, to renounce ourselves and take up our cross and follow him. Since revelation and reconciliation belong together, we are unable to hear the Word of God addressed to us in the Holy Scriptures or to interpret those Scriptures aright except through reconciliation with God in Christ in which our hearing of the Word of God and our understanding of it are transformed by it and operate in the obedience of faith. Here we see further into the kind of reorganisation of the human consciousness that results from the movement of God’s revealing and redeeming activity in his incarnate Son – that is, in the transformation of our hearing that we may really understand the truth as it is in Christ. Only through personal meeting with Christ the Word and Son of God and being reconciled to the Father through him are we in a position properly to appreciate the semantic reference of biblical statements and discern the truth to which they direct us beyond themselves in the Holy Trinity.”  (T F Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons, [T&T Clark, 2001] p41-42) Revelation and reconciliation belong together; hence, the first two chapters of The Mediation of Christ build together an argument that will lead us into an understanding and a fresh presentation or interpretation of the gospel message.  In the obverse nature of revelation and reconciliation we find a relational epistemology that Torrance is putting forth that corresponds to the nature of that which is to be known. In the sense, that to truly know someone or something it cannot be done externally or abstractly from that person or thing. For people this knowledge is a posteriori, relational, reciprocal and done in friendship. To further this Torrance explains, “It is a fundamental principle that we may know something only in accordance with its nature, then we may know it only as we allow its nature to prescribe to us the mode of knowing appropriate to it and to determine for us the way in which we must consciously behave toward it. Personal beings require from us, therefore, personal modes of knowledge and behaviour, that is, the kind of knowledge that comes through a rapprochement or communion of minds characterised by mutual respect, trust and love. It cannot be otherwise with our knowledge of God. If we are really to know God in accordance with his nature as he discloses himself to us, we require to be adapted in our knowing and personal relations toward him – that is why we cannot know God without love, and if we are estranged without being reconciled to him. Knowing God requires cognitive union with him in which our whole being is affected by his love and holiness. It is the pure in heart who see God.” (p25-26) Here Torrance establishes the role of askesis or ascetic theology. There cannot be, then, a separation of a holy life from holy knowledge. An immoral person cannot make a good theologian, and here too, we find the relationship between our theory and our practise. Praxis and theology are not dualistic but belong together and inform each other. As soon as a dualism forms it is an extreme that is unworthy and is not corresponding to the nature of God. Some of my favourite theologians emphasise this point that theology is not merely an abstract science but shines by its own light. “Rightly grasping the nature of Scripture involves both rational assent and a pious disposition of mind, will and affections. Recognition, acceptance, giving audience, devotion, a checking of distracting desire, faith, trust, a looking to Scripture for consolation: such attitudes and practices are to characterise the faithful reader of Scripture, and their absence denotes a degenerate understanding of what is involved in reading it.” (John Webster, Current Issues in Theology: Holy Scripture – A Dogmatic Sketch, [Cambridge, 2003] 69) “The first and basic act of theological work is prayer. Prayer must, therefore, be the keynote of all that remains to be discussed. Undoubtedly, from the very beginning and without intermission, theological work is also study; in every respect it is also service; and finally it would certainly be in vain were it not also an act of love. But theological work does not merely begin with prayer and is not merely accompanied by it; in its totality it is peculiar and characteristic of theology that it can be performed only in the act of prayer. In view of the danger to which theology is exposed and to the hope that is enclosed within its work, it is natural that without prayer there can be no theological work. We should keep in mind the fact that prayer, as such, is work; in fact, very hard work, although in its execution the hands are most fittingly not moved but folded. Where theology is concerned, the rule Ora et labora! is valid under all circumstances – pray and work! And the gist of this rule is not merely that orare, although it should be the beginning, would afterward be only incidental to the execution of the laborare. The rule means, moreover, that the laborare itself, and as such, is essentially an orare. Work must be that sort of act that has the manner and meaning of a prayer in all its dimensions, relationships, and movements.” (Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology – An Introduction, [Eerdmans, 1963] 160) “True knowledge of God is born out of obedience.” – John Calvin, Institutes  “Spirituality is inseparable from theology. Indeed, it could be defined as the living out of theology.” (Donald G. Bloesch, Spirituality Old & New: Recovering Authentic Spiritual Life [Apollos, 2007] 13) Israel’s partnership with God Torrance sees this relational epistemology established in the relationship between Yahweh and Israel and is expressed in “I am holy: be ye holy”. But he goes further; features of Israel’s ontology and teleology are fulfilled in Jesus Christ and are therefore analogous in our understanding of the incarnation and atonement. Three observations:  (1) The covenant established between God and Israel is one purely of grace and is made with (not holy people) but sinful people. Indeed, God provides their response for them through their liturgy. Through Israel, God’s revelation and reconciliation is thus embodied. (2) Not only did Israel embody reconciliation and revelation but it also embodied humanity at its worst. As God drew closer to Israel its rebellion and estrangement intensified and reached its climax when confronted by Jesus the Christ.  “That intensification, however, is not to be regarded simply as an accidental result of the covenant but rather as something which God deliberately took into the full design of his reconciling activity, for it was the will and the way of God’s grace to effect reconciliation with man at his very worst, precisely in his state of rebellion against God. That is to say, in his marvellous wisdom and love God worked out in Israel a way of reconciliation which does not depend on the worth of men and women, but makes their sin in rebellion against him the means by which he binds them for ever to himself and through which he reconstitutes their relations with him in such a way that their true end is fully and perfectly realised in unsullied communion with himself.            That is the way in which we are surely to interpret the Incarnation, in which God has drawn so near to man and drawn man so near to himself in Jesus that they are perfectly at one… Intense and fearful as that state of affairs would be, it would be but the obverse of the reconciliation that God was bringing to its fulfilment.” (p28-29) (3) God’s relationship with Israel is important in understanding “God’s way” of reconciliation. Torrance concludes by describing “Israel as the matrix for the Incarnation of the Word in Jesus Christ”:  “God threw a circle of reconciling love around Israel, within which Israel was called and formed to be the earthly medium and human counterpart not only of divine revelation but of divine reconciliation. Israel was thus invested with a vicarious mission and function in mediating the covenant purpose of reconciliation and redemption for all mankind.” (p32) Reconciliation through Israel and in Jesus (or, the two lambs) Is there still reconciliation of the world to God still to be found in Israel? Torrance says, yes. Their vicarious mission to be the light of world has not ceased. However, its ontological and teleological existence has become paradoxical.  Torrance argues that Israel’s scorn was intended by God to lead to the crucifixion of Jesus and obversely through the crucifixion Jesus took upon himself Israel’s scorn and disobedience to atone and reconcile.  “But it was in the bearing of that very sin that reconciliation was driven into the depth of Israel’s being and nailed there in such a way that Israel has been bound to God for ever within the embrace of his reconciling love incarnate in Jesus Christ. That is why the vicarious mission of Israel in the mediation of reconciliation to mankind did not cease with the death and resurrection of Christ but continues to have an essential place throughout all history in the reconciliation of the world to God.” (p34-35) Torrance, once again, sees analogy in Israel’s liturgy to illustrate the role of Israel in the reconciliation of the world to God and explains that on the Day of Atonement Yom Kippur two goats were incorporated into the liturgy and presented as an offering for sin at the entrance to the sanctuary. One goat slaughtered on the altar for atonement and the other the high priest conferred the sins of Israel and sent into the wilderness. Both kinds of sacrifice were incorporated and needed to explain God’s atonement for sin. Torrance reflects upon this two-fold sacrifice and sees them fulfilled in Christ as he was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness after his baptism, despised and rejected and then, of course, a slaughtered offering – the lamb that was slain. Torrance pushes this further to illustrate the relationship between Israel and the church: The Christian Church went out from the resurrection side of the Cross into history as the Church of the Lamb who had been slain but is forever triumphantly alive; but the Jewish Church went from the dark side of the Cross into history as the Church of the scapegoat, cast out and scattered over the earth under the shadow of the crucified Jesus. Each had its distinctive mission to fulfil in bearing witness to the nature of atoning reconciliation provided by God, but each in ways that were the obverse of each other and thus mutely and unknowingly supporting each other. Both participate in the mediation of God’s reconciling love through his Servant in whose vicarious passion the Holy One of Israel and the people of Israel, the Redeemer of mankind and mankind itself, are internally bound together.” (p37) The Vicarious Life and Death of the Mediator We now come to the section where Torrance is familiar through the notion of the vicarious humanity of Christ or that Christ had a fallen human nature. All that we have seen in this chapter and last is the groundwork for this doctrine. And so we find the argument of Torrance does not stem from philosophy (ancient or contemporary) but from an understanding of the Old Testament, the ontology and teleology of Israel and, of course, their liturgy.  Torrance asserts that the notion of the vicarious humanity of Christ is nothing new. That Christ assumed a fallen humanity – that the unassumed is unhealed – was expressed continually by the early Greek Fathers of the first 5 centuries. It was in the 5th century Latin theology began to reject the idea that Christ took on our fallen and sinful humanity but rather the perfect original state (pre-fall). This notion leads into the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Protestant theology has been largely influenced by Roman Catholic or Latin theology in regard to the humanity of Jesus, except for the Immaculate Conception, which Protestant theology denies. (Although, one may ascribe the fundamentalist theory of the verbal inspiration of scripture as a theory of an immaculate conception) However, Torrance’s concern is that:  “If the incarnation is not held to mean that the Son of God penetrated into and appropriated our alienated, fallen, sinful human nature, then atoning and sanctifying reconciliation can be understood only in terms of external relations between Jesus Christ and sinners. That is why in Western Christianity the atonement tends to be interpreted almost exclusively in terms of external forensic relations as a judicial transaction in the transference of the penalty for sin from the sinner to the sin-bearer.” (p40) Torrance, (I think), is saying that in this external approach to understanding the incarnation and atonement it creates dualism and dichotomy; it separates where there should be deep, ontological union (onto-relational), which has, from his earlier assertions, implications for our knowledge of God. (See also, T F Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology: Consonance between Theology and Science, [Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005], 161-178) Some examples of the patristic emphasis: “For therefore did he assume the body originate and human, that having renewed it as its Framer, He might deify it in Himself, and thus introduce us all into the kingdom of heaven after His likeness.” (Athanasius, Four Orations against the Arians, II, 70) “If anyone has put his trust in Him as a Man without a human mind, he is really bereft of mind, and quite unworthy of salvation. For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole. Let them not, then, begrudge us our complete salvation, or clothe the Saviour only with bones and nerves and the portraiture of humanity.” (Gregory of Nazianzus, First letter to Cledonius, Letter 101) “For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God. For by no other means could we have attained to incorruptibility and immortality, unless we had been united to incorruptibility and immortality. But how could we be joined to incorruptibility and immortality, unless, first, incorruptibility and immortality had become that which we also are, so that the corruptible might be swallowed up by incorruptibility and the mortal by immortality, that we might receive the adoption of sons?” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III, 19, i)  Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?  The relationship between Christians and Israel is ever present in Torrance’s explanation of the Atonement and Incarnation. Torrance wants us to rethink how we have traditionally viewed the relationship between Christianity and Israel, once again, to avoid a dualism of an Old Testament people and a New Testament people. Also of concern for Torrance, is how we present the Jewish Jesus in the gospels as opposed to a Greek or Hellenised Christology. Torrance continually sees a place for Israel in its ongoing mediation, even in the holocaust, as a witness to the forsakenness and abandonment of Christ on the cross. As Barth says, “The fact is, there is no history of Israel in itself and for its own sake. There is only the single history which, though it has its source in God’s good will in overcoming Israel – the “contender with God” – nevertheless hastens toward a goal. It hastens toward the history of Jesus Christ, the establishment of the human partner who, for his part, is faithful to the divine partner. In Israel’s history there is no message that does not point beyond itself, that does not express its character as the Word of the divine partner at work in it. Every such message strives toward its consummation in the message of the history of Jesus Christ. Already containing this message within itself, Israel’s history is to this extent already Gospel.” (Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, [Eerdmans, 1963] 20-24) The point that Torrance is making is that this history continues even today.  Reconciliation with One another in Christ Torrance thus calls for a realised reconciliation amongst the Christian churches and Israel. Christian unity is not merely an abstract or external reality nor is it an external or abstract reconciliation with God but a union with Christ. Our proclamation of reconciliation must not contradict itself by refusing to be reconciled to one another. Torrance poignantly describes this as “blasphemy against the blood of Christ”.  The Christian church must be united to Israel in their obverse roles if we aren’t we will not understand “what the fullness of the meditation of reconciliation in Jesus Christ means.” (p46) Concluding Thoughts:  One of the weaknesses of Torrance’s work (not merely chapter 2) is a lack of references and exegesis. This he says, in the introduction, makes the work more accessible. Not in my opinion. That there is salvation still to be found in Israel and Jesus had a fallen human nature are things I need to study further. Torrance, later, discusses “I, yet not I, but Christ” in Galatians in regard to the pistis Christou but as an Anglican I am confronted by Article XV where it states,  “Christ in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only except, from which he was clearly void, both in his flesh, and in his spirit. He came to be the Lamb without spot, who, by sacrifice of himself once made, should take away the sins of the world, and sin, as Saint John saith, was not in him.” Though, of course, it is in how we understand some of the scriptures that speak on this matter. That Jesus did not commit sin is agreed but what of his ability to sin? There is, at least, some scriptural ground. Romans 8:3, “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.” We may dismiss this is speculation and hold “likeness” means “like” or in the appearance of sinful flesh. Though, if we compare the “likeness” of Philippians 2:7, this is taken to mean that Jesus was completely human. However, in the context of Romans “likeness” means only appearance. There needs to be consistency, for if we applied this to Philippians 2:7 we arrive at a Docetic view of the incarnation. John Calvin explores this in his commentary on Romans 8:3, “That he came in the likeness of the flesh of sin; for though the flesh of Christ was polluted by no stains, yet it seemed apparently to be sinful, inasmuch as it sustained the punishment due to our sins, and doubtless death exercised all its power over it as though it was subject to itself. And as it behoved our High-priest to learn by his own experience how to aid the weak, Christ underwent our infirmities, that he might be more inclined to sympathy, and in this respect also there appeared some resemblance of a sinful nature.”  Calvin makes the connection to Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” How is it possible that the Christ can be tempted “just as we are” if not with a human nature just like ours? How can Jesus “sympathise” if his nature is perfect and unable to be tempted? Torrance would argue that Christ assumed a fallen human nature in order to redeem it; Christ’s human ontology had its telos in the atonement. Our fallen nature has been united to Christ’s divine nature, united to Jesus the God-man, united to his death, resurrection and ascension and thus mediated to the Father. Not merely a transaction but a continual participation – Participatio Christi – in Christ Jesus. Thoughts for discussion: 
Is Torrance attacking the theory of penal substitution?
How do we define Torrance’s view of atonement?
What are the strengths of Torrance for pastoral ministry?
Is Torrance’s view of the mediation much ado about nothing or does it really matter or make a difference?

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One Response to “February 2008: T F Torrance and the Mediation of Reconciliation”

  1. […] March 5, 2008 T. F Torrance and the Mediation of Reconciliation […]

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