"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Monday, March 23, 2009

Torrance on the Incarnation



T.F. Torrance went to be with the Lord over a year ago. But I just picked up an adaptation of some of his final lectures in book form called "Incarnation." In it, the learned theologian explores what to him was the highest part of theology: Christology. In my experience of learning theology with a Christological focus, I more and more sympathize with the language used by the early church that knew the doctrines surrounding salvation as implications of the Person and Work of Christ. In reading Torrance, I think I have a teacher to teach me further how to do this.


These below, are the first few lines of a "Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ," that I am starting on as my devotional reading:


"Our task in christology is to yield the obedience of our mind to what is given, which is God's self-revelation in its objective reality, Jesus Christ...We cannot compare the fact of Christ with other facts, nor can we deduce the fact of Christ from our knowledge of other facts. The fact of Christ comes breaking into the continuity of our human knowledge as an utterly distinctive and unique fact, which we cannot understand in terms of other facts, which we cannot reduce to what we already know. It is a new and unique fact without analogy anywhere in human experience or knowledge.

And yet Jesus Christ gives himself to be known as the object of our experience and knowledge, within our history and within our human existence - but when we know him there, we know him in terms of himself. We know him out of pure grace as one who gives himself to us and freely discloses himself to us. We cannot earn knowledge of Christ, we cannot achieve it, or build up to it. We have no capacity or power in ourselves giving us the ability to have mastery over this fact. In the very act of our knowing Christ he is the master, we are the mastered. He manifests himself and gives himself to us by his own power and agency, by his Holy Spirit, and in the very act of knowing him we ascribe all the possibility of our knowing him to Christ alone.


But let us note: it is only when we actually know Christ, know him as our personal savior and Lord, that we know that we have not chosen him but that he has chosen us; that it is not in our own capacity to give ourselves the power to know him...we acknowledge that in knowing God in Christ, we do so not by our own power, but by the power of God."

4 comments:

Andrew said...

It seems a little hyperbolic, BUT I might be reading it wrong, we do fit Jesus into our view of other facts, Romans 1-2 seems clearly to indicate the value of Natural Theology or Common Grace. It is true that Christ is the centre of everything but this seems different than that. Surely history and philosophy are important. I'm not trying to start a fight, just trying to understand.

Excited to see the rest of the series, it sounds like a good book, I just wondered about that one part.

Jared Nelson said...

I see what you are saying. Torrance has done much work in a theology of science and so values natural theology/natural law. And certainly there are things in natural theology that reveal God to us such as morality, some of the attributes of God. What Torrance is getting at, I think, is similar to Augustine on the Trinity: We cannot explain the Incarnation in natural terms. It is not part of the revelation of nature, it has no true analogy in nature. The Trinity and Incarnation are things that require revelation of a special nature in order to be known. Aquinas makes a similar distinction in saying there are things known by nature and not special revelation: such as parts of human anatomy. There are things known by special revelation and nature: God exists and has a moral law. And there are things known only by special revelation: the name of God, the Trinity and the Incarnation.

The book is recommended by Greek Orthodox professors as well as Protestant if you want to take a look at it. It's great so far, and fairly ecumenical. Torrance participated in a Reformed-Orthodox dialog between the Church of Scotland and Greek Orthodox, and uses Athanasius as his guide in Trinitarianism.

Matthew Lush said...

Jared, great post. Those opening words truly do deserve to be meditated upon. That last paragraph you cited was just great!

Andrew said...

Thanks for clearing that up Jared, it makes sense now. I'll have to add it to my summer reading list (after Chesterton, and Etienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain - those Catholic books you discussed looked really good).

I would've loved to sit in at a meeting of the Greek Orthodox Church and the CofS meeting, that would've been really cool. The Church of Scotland and Greek Orthodox Churches are some of the few churches I'd think of betraying Rome for - in short, they're good.