January 26, 2015

Justification in Christ

This post continues our look at what Dick Eugenio (in Communion with the Triune God) says concerning Thomas F (TF) Torrance's view of the "how" of salvation. Last time we looked at participation in Christ. This time we'll look at justification in Christ.

According to Eugenio, TF was "adamant that justification should be expounded in the light of the vicarious person and work of Jesus Christ" (Communion with the Triune God, Kindle ed, loc 1987). For TF, justification is what Jesus Christ accomplished for us, emphasizing "Jesus Christ" above "for us" so as not to lose in our thinking the priority of who Jesus is and what he has done in an objective sense for all of humankind. In upholding that Christ-centered perspective, TF is critical of those who give priority to subjective/personal decision in justification, believing that doing so "promotes the human act, rather than the mediatorial and vicarious ministry of Jesus Christ" (loc 1987).

Does TF's Christ-centered approach to justification mean that he sees no role for personal faith? The answer is that TF does see an important role for our personal response of faith, but one that is subordinate to and included in Jesus' own faith (what Scripture refers to as "the faith of Christ").

In his sermons, TF often called people to personal faith in Jesus. But in doing so, he was careful to place personal faith in the context of Christ's own faith. Though to some this might sound like double-talk, it's not. In his vicarious humanity (serving as our substitute and representative), Jesus had faith in the Father, by the Spirit, on our behalf (and he still does!). This is vital to understand because, it's Jesus' faith in God, not our own, that ultimately justifies humanity.

On this important point TF quotes from Scottish minister James Fraser of Brae who stressed, "the correlation of our faith with the faith of God and the faith of Christ," because "human faith derives from, rests on, and is undergirded by divine faithfulness" (loc 1987). Thus TF views justification as entirely Christ's work on our behalf--a work God imputes to us by grace. By the grace of God we are enabled to participate in (personally experience and share in) the faith of Christ himself--the faith by which we are justified before God. The point is this:  "justification is accomplished in Christ by Christ for us" (loc 2012). Said another way: Jesus is responsible for our justification from start to finish. He even justifies our weak and flawed personal faith in him!

Thus, according to TF, it's wrong-headed to think of justification as some sort of a transaction that God accomplishes apart from himself. The truth is that justification, like all aspects of our salvation, is a function of the very being of God, in the person of his incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. Said another way, quite simply, yet profoundly: Jesus is our justification! It is in Christ, by him and through him, that we are justified.

So where then does our personal faith come in, if at all? The answer is that we personally (some say "subjectively") experience that justification--we enjoy it personally--as we, by the Spirit sent from Jesus, put our trust in the One who, by his own faith, has justified us. "Justification happens in Christ and consequently in us" (loc 2028).

Eugenio concludes the section of his book that addresses TF's perspective on the "how" of salvation in the person and work of Christ with this important observation:
Torrance's understanding of salvation in Jesus Christ is grounded in the reality of the incarnation of the Son, who, as fully human, is also homoousios [of one being] with the Father. As the Son, his descent [via the incarnation] to created space and time is a salvific movement accomplished by the Triune God in drawing himself near to us in revelation and reconciliation. Likewise, his ascent [via the resurrection] as fully human to the throne of God in his ascension is a salvific movement accomplished from the side of humanity and on behalf of humanity. God's initiative in electing us to salvation is characterized by a double movement: God in Christ's humanward movement and human in Christ's Godward movement. Jesus Christ vicariously redeemed us not only from the side of humanity, but from the side of God (loc 2035).

January 19, 2015

Universalism vs. participation in Christ

This post continues our look at Thomas F. (TF) Torrance's trinitarian doctrine of salvation as summarized by Dick Eugenio in Communion with the Triune God. This time we'll look at TF's rejection of universalism and his teaching concerning participation in Christ.

Last time we looked at TF's teaching that salvation involves an "atoning exchange"--the stunning truth (summarized by CS Lewis in the quote at right) that the Son of God, through the Incarnation, united our humanity with his divinity, and through his vicarious human life, death, resurrection and ascension, healed us from the inside, giving us a share in his relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Given this teaching, TF has been accused of being a universalist. But as Eugenio notes, TF rejected that accusation:
Torrance considers both universalism and [the Calvinist doctrine of a] limited atonement as twin heresies that impiously subjugate the logic of grace to a logico-causal understanding.... He argues for the ontological oneness between all humanity and Jesus Christ by virtue of the hypostatic union, which is the ground of the atoning union and atoning exchange. [Now quoting TF:] "Since in [Jesus Christ] divine and human natures are inseparably united, the secret of every man, whether he believes or not, is found up with Jesus." Such a statement is indeed quite misleading if isolated from Torrance's overall theology. What Torrance affirms is the universal scope, range, and sufficiency of Christ's atoning work, but it is not true that he is not concerned with the efficiency and efficacy of the atonement.... In the end, Torrance's ultimate stance regarding the apparent discrepancy between the universal range of Christ's atoning work and the reprobation of some... [was to state that] the damnation of sinners is a "strange mystery of iniquity" (Communion with the Triune God, Kindle ed, loc 1828).
TF acknowledged that, in the end, some might repudiate the salvation that is theirs in Christ. But this "mystery" does not overthrow the reality of the stunningly comprehensive nature of the atoning exchange accomplished in the person and work of Jesus. On this point, Eugenio quotes TF:
In Jesus Christ himself God has penetrated into our passion, our hurt, our violence, our condition under divine judgment, even into our utter dereliction, 'My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?,' but in such a profoundly vicarious way that in the very heart of it all, he brought his eternal serenity...to bear redemptively upon our passion. Furthermore, the redemption of our suffering also entails the redemption of our human weaknesses. Even the economic ignorance of Jesus Christ is vicarious, so that we may know God only according to the knowledge of the human Jesus (loc 1856).
To many, this might sound like universalism, but it is not. TF not only strongly emphasizes what Jesus has done to include all humanity in his life and love (via the atoning exchange), but also that God, in Christ, by the Spirit now invites and enables people to participate in that inclusion. On this point, Eugenio quotes TF:
In the complete union of the human and divine in Jesus Christ, vicariously and redemptively, the incarnate Son assumed our humanity and opened his mutual relation with the Father for human participation" (loc 1883, emphasis added).
The ontological union of God with humanity in the person of Christ points toward (and makes possible) our participation in that union, by which we receive personally the benefits of the atoning exchange. TF is careful not to turn this participation into a legalism (Pelagianism), by stressing the sole mediatorial role of Christ in every aspect of salvation: "Jesus already did everything for our salvation in his vicarious life and death...The only human role in the redemption drama is to share what Christ already did for us and in us" (loc 1896). Concerning that sharing, TF wrote this:
We must think of Jesus as stepping into the relation between the faithfulness of God and the actual unfaithfulness of human beings... Jesus steps into the actual situation where we are summoned to have faith in God, to believe and to trust in him, and he acts in our place and in our stead from within the depths of our unfaithfulness and provides us freely with a faithfulness in which we may share... If we think of belief, trust or faith as forms of human activity before God, then we must think of Jesus Christ as believing, trusting and having faith in God the Father on our behalf and in our place (loc 1910).  
Again, TF's strong emphasis on the objective, vicarious role of Christ in our salvation raises the charge of universalism. But that charge is mistaken, for as TF makes clear, he does not embrace universalism, emphasizing the importance of our grace-enabled, personal participation in the life and love of Christ by the Spirit. Eugenio cites as evidence some of TF's published sermons in which he preached "the need for people personally to call upon the Name of Christ" (loc 1942). As Eugenio notes, TF believed that a person cannot "stand in aloofness in relation to God." In that regard, TF wrote this:
Christ has triumphed. Yes! But that triumph can only be yours in faith.... It is the grace of God--that you can have as your own all the power of God; and can appropriate all that Christ has achieved on the Cross against sin, if only you will stretch out your hand and take it (loc 1942).
Eugenio also references one of TF's sermons in which he "explains the necessity to work out our own salvation, although he emphasizes that it is more a case of working out what has already been worked in" (loc 1958). Eugenio quotes TF on this point in another of his sermons:
If you want communion with Him, then you must be prepared to share with Him His board. You must be united with Him in mind and affections. You cannot sit down with him at His table without sitting in union of spirit and purpose with Him who came not to be ministered unto but to minister and give his life as ransom for many. You must be united to Him in His gentleness and purity, in His love and forgiveness. In short, it means that you must drink His cup, and be immersed with His baptism (loc 1958).
Next time we'll look further at this issue by reviewing, with Eugenio, what TF teaches concerning the doctrine of justification.

Note: to read more about GCI's position on universalism, click here.

January 12, 2015

The significance of the resurrection and ascension of Christ in our salvation

In this post, we'll continue looking at what Dick Eugenio (in Communion with the Triune God) says concerning Thomas F. (TF) Torrance's view of the "how" of salvation, now considering the role of the resurrection and the ascension of Christ.

As noted last time, though TF emphasized the centrality of the cross in our salvation, he understood that its significance "does not entail supremacy or priority" (Communion with the Triune God, Kindle edition, loc 1754). Eugenio comments:
[For TF] the cross definitely fulfills a unique and distinct significance that other redemptive experiences of Christ do not convey, but it is only a part of the whole, not an aspect that can stand on its own apart from the virgin birth, resurrection and ascension. This is why Torrance argues that the resurrection and ascension should also be viewed soteriologically.... Just as Christ embodied in himself humanity's predicament in his whole life and ministry, in his resurrection he embodied in himself humanity's final triumph over everything he had assumed. Sin and death were both dealt with through life.... 
Apart from the resurrection...the death of Jesus Christ on the cross could not take on any sacrificial or vicarious significance. It is precisely because Jesus Christ triumphed over that which he assumed that his life and death become meaningful. [Now quoting Torrance:] "The resurrection is the fulfillment of the incarnate mission of the Son of God who has taken up our worldly existance and history into himself" (loc 17660).
In accord with the biblical and patristic witness, TF emphasized that Jesus died and rose again not merely to pay a ransom to redeem us, but so that we might forever share in his glorified, human life. That life "is grounded solely upon the reality of Christ's bodily resurrection, and it is only in our sharing in his vicarious life that we find true life" (loc 1766).

This reality was affirmed once and for all in Jesus' bodily ascension to heaven where the God-man Jesus (fully God who remains forever fully human) is in perfect, non-ending communion with the Father and the Spirit. Thus the ascension is "not an addendum, to Christ's incarnational redemption, but is an integral part of it" (loc 1780). Here we see salvation in terms of both the redemptive descent of the Son of God through the incarnation (including the virgin birth) and the redemptive ascent of the incarnate Son of God in the person of Jesus in the resurrection and ascension.

It's vital not understand that the bodily/human presence of Jesus in the incarnation and ascension establishes "the real meaning and interaction between God and humanity." Further, "the bodily ascension of Jesus Christ vindicates our humanity, rather than demolishing it. Jesus did not shed his humanity at the resurrection or the ascension. Indeed, there is now a human being (Jesus) seated in heaven at God's right hand (emblematic of authority and glory--see Romans 8:34). Our Mediator, Advocate and High Priest, as human and God, represents us in heaven. Therefore our future is not empty. "Jesus Christ has gone ahead of us, and our future is bound up with his" (loc 1792).

TF's view of the soteriological significance of the resurrection and ascension is thus tied to the biblical and patristic teaching of Jesus' continuing humanity. The atonement was not a mere "one time" transaction, which the human Jesus accomplished and then shed his humanity. No, Jesus remains human forever. His own person (as both God and human), constitutes the atonement (the "at-one-ment") of God with man, and man with God. In that sense, Jesus is the atonement. The atonement is fundamentally personal/relational, not transactional/forensic. As with the symbolism given in Israel's system of sacrifice...
...the real consummation of the atonement is the physical presence of the High Priest in the Holy of Holies sprinkling the blood of the sacrificial animal. The ascent of Christ, the sacrifice and the priest, to the presence of the Father actually constitutes an important aspect of the whole atoning process (loc 1804).  
As Eugenio goes on to note...
...Christ's vicarious work can be summed up in what Torrance calls the "atoning exchange..."' Through the incarnation, Christ took what was ours so that we may partake of what is his. In his entire atoning life, a reconciling exchange is taking place between the Triune God in Christ and humanity in Christ, [quoting TF] "between his obedience and our disobedience, his holiness and our sin, his life and our death, his strength and our weakness, his grace and our poverty, his light and our darkness, his wisdom and our ignorance, his joy and our misery, his peace and our dispeace, his immortality and our mortality" [see 2 Cor 8:9] (loc 1817).
Some wonder if TF's incarnational, holistic view of soteriology constitutes universalism. We'll look at that next time along with TF's view of "participation in Christ" as fundamental to living out the salvation that is ours in and through Christ.

January 8, 2015

Why did Jesus have to die?

In this post, we'll continue looking at what Dick Eugenio (in Communion with the Triune God) says concerning Thomas F. (TF) Torrance's view of the "how" of salvation. Our focus this time is the Cross of Christ.

Why did Jesus have to die? Various theologies answer in differing ways. According to Eugenio, TF's answer is that though the Cross of Christ is essential to our salvation, it is part of a larger story.

TF embraced what Eugenio refers to as an incarnational, holistic view of salvation (soteriology). This Trinitarian, incarnational theological perspective seeks to account for the full biblical and patristic witness concerning a stunning reality: The incarnate God-man Jesus saved us (and continues to save us) by assuming all our human experience, including our death.

On the cross, Jesus did not merely die to pay a penalty (though his substitutionary death includes that). Rather, Jesus entered into death with us and for us, as one of us. Then, through his resurrection, Jesus conquered death on our behalf. Following his ascension, through his continuing High Priestly ministry, Jesus, by the Spirit, continues to share with us his resurrected, glorified human life.

Thus for TF, though the cross "occupies a central place in Christ's redemptive activity," it is not an exclusive place. For TF, the Cross of Christ should be seen as part (albeit a central, vital part) of the whole of Jesus' experience with us and for us. Through his incarnation, life, ministry, suffering, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and continuing session, Jesus reconciles all humanity to God. Eugenio quotes TF on this key point:
It was his [Jesus'] whole life, and above all that life poured out in the supreme sacrifice of death on the cross, that made atonement for sin, and constituted the price of redemption of mankind (loc 1714).
With this holistic, incarnational perspective in mind, we can now answer an important question: What happened on the cross with the God-man Jesus? Eugenio summarizes TF's answer:
Torrance's view is guided by his emphasis on the vicarious and incarnational nature of Christ's work. As an act of reconciling at-one-ment, it is simultaneously an act from God to humanity and an act from humanity to God. "This is the most astonishing part of the Christian message," Torrance adds, "the identification of the man on the cross with God himself." Biblical metaphors of ransom, sacrifice, propitiation, expiation, and reconciliation are all legitimate expressions of Christ's atoning work. They should not, however, be perceived as referring to any external transaction between God and humanity carried out by Christ, "but to what took place within the union of divine and human natures in the incarnate Son of God." As such, Torrance does not flatly reject forensic atonement metaphors. What he objects to is the Latin Heresy, or the preoccupation of Western theologians with forensic metaphors to the neglect of ontological considerations [considerations related to the nature of being].... Torrance combines both the forensic and the ontological aspects of redemption, although his emphasis clearly slides towards the ontological.... 
The prominence of the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ led Torrance to combine the themes of substitution and representation in a concept of total substitution. On the cross, Jesus as fully human and on behalf of humanity, took upon himself our sins and their corresponding judgment, in order for us to be reconciled to God. At Calvary, Jesus "penetrates the utmost extremity of our self-alienating flight from God where we are trapped in death, and turned everything round so that out of the fearful depths of our darkness and dereliction we may cry with him, 'Our Father.'"
...Reacting against the scholastic Calvinist view of penal substitution, Christ's "joyful atonement" through his death, resurrection and ascension, "is not to be understood in any sense as the act of the man Jesus placating God the Father, but as a propitiatory sacrifice in which God himself through the death of his dear Son draws near to man and draws man near to himself." "The self-offering of Christ [is] a voluntary sacrifice to his Father for us," Torrance explains so that "in our place and in our stead and for our sake, Christ took our lost cause upon himself in submitting to the judgment of God upon our sin that we might be absolved from our guilt at the tribunal seat of God" (loc 1725-1750).
Rather than a mere instrumental/forensic transaction to appease a wrath-filled God, Jesus' death on the cross gives us the decisive "window into the heart of God." Indeed, the Cross of Christ reveals the "self-giving love" of our heavenly Father who has, through his Son, by his Spirit, gone to the uttermost, bearing in his own being the greatest of burdens in order to reconcile his lost children back to himself. Let us praise the Father, the Son and the Spirit for our salvation!

Next time we'll see more about TF's holistic, incarnational view of salvation, particularly with respect to Jesus' resurrection by which he conquered death on our behalf.
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For additional insights on this topic from GCI, click here.

December 28, 2014

The "how" of salvation

This post continues our look at Dick Eugenio's book, Communion with the Triune God. This time we'll see how T.F. Torrance addresses the "how" of salvation. 

Baptism of Christ by Francesco Albani
As Eugenio notes, Thomas F. (TF) Torrance's favored word for salvation is reconciliation. Rather than being about forensic justice, TF sees salvation as about the restoration of relationship--an end result that has it's genesis in God's own tri-personal being. As TF is fond of saying, God does what God is. In his view, to correctly understand salvation we must begin with God's being before considering his doing (including how God saves). This theological discipline helps us grasp a stunning truth---God saves, not in an external, mechanical way, but in an intimate, personal way that expresses his own relational being (being-in-relationship). As the apostle John put it with simplicity and power: "God is love" (1 John 4:8).

Fundamental to this trinitarian perspective on the nature of God (theology) and of salvation (soteriology) is Torrance's understanding of the central importance of the doctrine of the Incarnation. That doctrine states that the eternal Son of God, who is "one in being" ("homoousios") with the Father and the Spirit, became one with humanity. Through an astounding miracle, he added our humanity to his divinity--becoming fully human while remaining fully God. Jesus, our Savior, thus saves us as both human and as God. Note Eugenio's comment on this vitally important point:
The incarnation is in itself an act of salvation, an inauguration of a new humanity. From the virgin birth to the ascension, the salvific work of the Triune God was carried out by the incarnate Christ. Every aspect of Christ's life is salvific (Kindle loc 1527).
Eugenio then quotes Torrance on this point:
Redemption begins with the very advent of Jesus, so that his conceptions and birth of the Virgin Mary are to be regarded as essential constituents in the saving activity, and his humanity is seen to be not just a means to an end. Atoning reconciliation is to be understood as taking place within the incarnate constitution of the Mediator [Jesus Christ]. His person and his work are one. That is why the New Testament can say that Jesus is redemption, he is righteousness, he is eternal life. He himself in his incarnate person is our salvation (loc 1527).
The "how" of salvation is not a "what" but a "who." "The Word became flesh" in the person of Jesus in order to redeem us. Jesus saves us through an "ontological bond" forged between God and humanity that is intrinsic to himself. The incarnation is not about God doing something "to" humanity in an external sense, but about becoming human. This is why the doctrine of the incarnation was for Torrance so vital to his soteriology. All our problems are met and dealt with by Jesus in his own being as the unique God-man.

It is in this context that Torrance finds great soteriological significance in every aspect of Jesus' life and ministry. Take, for example, the virgin birth. Eugenio comments:
How is the virgin birth of Jesus Christ related to his vicarious redemptive activity. Torrance insists that the virgin birth cannot be separated from the whole mystery of Christ, particularly from teh new life of Christ in his resurrection. Like the resurrection of Jesus from the virgin tomb (Luke 23:53), the virgin birth points to a new kind of life in the Holy Spirit, the resurrection is also the work of the Spirit raising Jesus from the dead (1 Peter 3:18). The virgin birth and the recurrection, thereare, are the christological foundations of Jesus's demand for humanity to be "born of the Spirit" (John 3:5-6). Going back to the Pauline Adam-Christ typology, as Adam's life was through the breathing of the ruach, the two beginnings of Jesus humanity are wrought in the power of the Spirit. This is also the beginning of a new humanity in us... In the virgin birth, therefore, transpired the re-creation of humanity. The new Adam has at last appeared. The virgin birth represents a break in the sinful existence of humanity, because in the birth of Jesus Christ in our depraved existence, he resisted that which was universal to all humanity (i.e., sin), sanctifying the human nature that sin corrupted and uniting it again to the holiness of God (loc 1600).
In like manner, Torrance sees Jesus' baptism as...
...a vicarious baptism, in which he identifies with us as sinners, as pointing back to his birth by the Spirit to be the Savior of the world. Christ's baptism embraces his sacrificial life and death on our behalf in complete solidarity with us. When he was anointed by the Spirit, it was into our humanity that Jesus received the Spirit, so that we too may receive "the voice of forgiveness" and adoption, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.... In his baptism, he submitted to the righteous judgment of God against sin and becoming sinner with and for us, thereby undoing the sins of humanity (loc 1685).
Next time we'll look at how Torrance, following this line of reasoning, approaches the topic of the Cross of Christ.