The resurrection and the person of Jesus Christ

This post from Torrance scholar Myk Habets summarizes chapter two of Thomas F. Torrance's book "Space, Time and Resurrection." Myk wrote this post for a meeting of the Torrance Reading Group. For additional chapter summaries, click on the number: 1, 3, 45.

The Resurrection by Ricci (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Chapter 2 of Space, Time and Resurrection is very much focused on the person of Jesus and as such it is an exercise in pro-Chalcedonian Christology, with all that this entails. Within recent theology the theme of sharing in the mind of Christ is most forcefully made by Thomas Torrance. Sharing in the mind of Christ takes on a heuristic force in Torrance’s work, pointing the reader back to Jesus Christ himself who’s life, thoughts, prayers, and particularly worship, become ours in a Trinitarian event of transposition. Drawing heavily on John McLeod Campbell’s theology, Torrance contends that the believer is brought “within the circle of the life of Christ,” to know, love, and worship God.2

According to Torrance, to reject the view that the believer is granted, in justification, access to the mind of the incarnate Christ is to fall foul to Apollinarianism, with its rejection of a real human soul and rational mind in Christ.3 By means of the Holy Spirit we have access through Christ to the Father, who creates a oneness of mind and will between believers and the triune God. Torrance argues that until the Spirit interprets the historical actions of God in Christ, revelation has not yet occurred. Torrance draws one corollary from this axiom:

The Christ who is the whole fact of faith is thus the Christ of the Gospel period extended into a further period through the Holy Spirit. The whole Christ is thus not the bodily Christ but the Christ of actual event carried out into the actual experience and faith of the Church by the indwelling mind of Christ, the Holy Spirit, who indwells the believer.4

This leads Torrance to the concise statement: “The significant thing about the Lordship of Christ, the Deity of Christ, is that it may be confessed by people only in the power of the Holy Spirit.”5 This familiar theme of keeping Word and Spirit in closest proximity is developed particularly well by Alvin Plantinga, when, in the context of a discussion of epistemology he writes:

A principal work of the Holy Spirit with respect to us human beings is the production in us of the gift of faith . . . Now faith is not just a cognitive affair: its being ‘sealed upon our hearts’ is a matter of will and affect; it is a repair of the madness of the will that is at the heart of sin. Still, it is at least a cognitive matter. In giving us faith, the Holy Spirit enables us to see the truth of the main lines of the Christian gospel as set forth in Scripture. The internal invitation of the Holy Spirit is therefore a source of belief, a cognitive process that produces in us belief in the main lines of the Christian story.6

The Spirit produces faith in the believer and persuades them that God’s word is true. So, salvation is like Scripture—trust in Scripture is induced by the Spirit, it is rational, and can be held as a warranted true belief. Thus, belief in God and Scripture does not require evidence, although it might benefit from it.7 Because Christ is the true Man, his life forms the paradigm for ours. Christ is our leitourgos (Heb 7:28; 8:1–3), who, as the term suggests, completes the work (ergon) of the people (laos).8 Salvation consists in being incorporated into Christ by the Spirit in order to participate in the Son’s worship of the Father. Consequently, Christ is not only the initiator of salvation but also the model and the perfector of it.

As a royal priesthood the church is created to offer “spiritual sacrifices” (pneumatikai thusai) to God (1 Pet 2:5), which Torrance links with the Pauline concept of “rational worship” (logikÄ“ latreia) found in Rom 12:1. What unites both concepts is the twofold work of Christ and the Spirit. The sacrifice of Christ has cleansed our conscience from fear and anxiety for legal justification, and the Spirit has liberated us from the dead works and carnal ordinances of ritual so that worship comes to stand for the life of the people, the living sacrifice that is spiritual worship. This leads Torrance to the conclusion that “Latreia is worship of God in Spirit and in Truth (John 4.22f).”9

Torrance appeals to John McLeod Campbell’s definition of worship as the presentation of “the mind of Christ” to the Father, for what God accepts as our true worship is Christ himself.10 “Worship of the Father in spirit and in truth is the life of the Son in us that ascends to the Father in such worship.”11 Outside of Christ nothing is acceptable to the Father, so prayer and worship can only be offered in and through Christ. “All our prayer and praise and worship are sinful and unworthy but through the Holy Spirit breathed upon us they are cleansed in the sacrifice of Christ and absorbed into intercession and praise and worship within the veil.”12

The Spirit thus creates the bond between the believer and Christ and takes what is ours to Christ and what is Christ’s to us so that his prayer and his worship of the Father becomes ours. In the light of this perhaps the most specific statement regarding worship that we find in Torrance is the following: “Jesus Christ is our worship, the essence of it and the whole of it, and we may worship God in Spirit and in Truth as we are made partakers of his worship.”13 In his 1938 Auburn lectures on Christology, Torrance established a point that has been a hallmark of his theology since: “Christ himself must be his own interpreter.”14 By this, Torrance went on to explain, he meant “in effect, the activity and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, who comes after the Ascension of Christ, as the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Truth, sent by Christ, in order to interpret Christ to the Church.”15 This knowledge, Torrance is clear to point out, is not “another knowledge” from that of the Gospels and Epistles, for these writers too were under the influence of the Holy Spirit and were writing post-Ascension, post-Pentecost.

God can only be known by encountering him and his saving work in space and time. The ascension connects us to the incarnation, and to the historical Jesus, and so to a word and act of God inseparably implicated in our space and time. Thus, all true knowledge of God is mediated through the historical Jesus. But the obverse is also true: that through the historical and crucified Jesus we truly meet with the risen and ascended Lord; we meet with God in his transcendent glory of majesty, and we really are gathered into the communion of the Son with the Father, and of the Father with the Son, and are raised up through the Spirit to share in the divine life and love that have overflowed to us in Christ Jesus.16 

We can only think of these two aspects of the ascension through the Spirit. The Spirit becomes the crucial epistemic linchpin of soteriology. The Holy Spirit links the historical Jesus with the ascended Lord and through the communion of the Spirit we can identify the historical absence and spiritual presence of Christ. Torrance writes: “Through the Spirit Christ is nearer to us than we are to ourselves, and we who live and dwell on earth are yet made to sit with Christ ‘in heavenly places’, partaking of the divine nature.”17 

God’s self-revelation and self-communication in the incarnation cannot be understood apart from God’s self-giving to us in the Spirit. Hence, as Barth and Torrance have maintained, revelation and reconciliation go together. It is in and through the Holy Spirit that “we are united to Christ the incarnate Son of the Father and are made through this union with him in the Spirit to participate, humans though we are, in the Communion which the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit . . . are in themselves.”18

Torrance insists that the Holy Spirit interiorizes the knowledge of God within us, but He does this by actualizing within us God’s own witness to Himself. The Holy Spirit is the eternal Communion of the Father and the Son and therefore when He is sent into our hearts by the Father in the name of the Son we are made partakers with the Son in His Communion with the Father and thus of God’s own self-knowledge.19 This description summarizes the pneumatic work of God in reconciliation in terms of both epistemology (knowing) and ontology (being). The Holy Spirit brings knowledge of Christ, and through Christ of the triune communion. Through the gift of the Spirit of Christ, who is also the Spirit of God, we are drawn into a holy communion in which God by the Spirit, “is made present to us within the conditions of our creaturely existence in such a healing and creative way as to open our hearts and minds to receive and understand his self-revelation as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”20

TFT reads the resurrection theologically and scientifically, by which he means theologically: in line with all of Scripture and the conciliar tradition and scientifically: after Einstein adopting a relational view of time and space as opposed to the older Newtonian receptacle view. Here we might pick up the implication that theology has often begin with the resurrection – the stated starting point for Karl Barth – and TFT may be showing that influence here. If he is, he does so with more nuance than Barth, and he develops that with the idea of a “double duality”, that is, a pro-Chalcedonian awareness of the two natures in the one Person of Christ on the one hand, and on the other hand, with the duality of Christ’s righteous existence in a fallen and hostile world. 

True to a pro-Chalcedonian theology, Christ is the sole mediator between God and humanity and so in his existence light and darkness are resolved and communion with God is established. This “double duality” is evident in the Incarnation, which is seen as a holistic event, not as a series of chronological movements, such as from humiliation to exaltation. Instead, both dualities are present all the time and the Incarnation is atoning, and we see God with us and us with God in the person of the Incarnate Son. “The exaltation of God is the obverse of the humiliation of the Son of God” (pp. 47-48).

We might speak about the kairos time of Christ as opposed to the chronos time of Christ, such that the resurrection is not simply something that follows crucifixion but is, rather, the other side of it – again, a duality where two points occupy the one place. The resurrection has to do with Christ such that Christ is the starting place to understand … Christ and all the events of Christ. “It is his own person that he communicates in his words and deeds, while his words and deeds do not only derive from his person but inhere in it” (p. 49)

The great Paschal mystery of our salvation is the single event of the life of Christ, not the events of Christ considered atomistically or in isolation. The Person of the incarnate Son of God is the subject of all events of Christ’s life as he constitutes in himself the Mediator between God and humanity (p. 50). There is no salvation, no redemptive act that has significance or effect apart from the act of Christ. Here TFT appeals to the the OT image of the Goel where the redemptive act and the person of the Redeemer are ontologically bound.

Throughout this brief introduction to the chapter, TFT is expressing the familiar trope that Christ the true human, is every man, all humanity is both represented by Christ and ontologically bound to him, in one way or another. All has been achieved in Christ before it is a reality for others, and when it is a reality for others (the resurrection as the case in point) it is only true as an experience of the resurrection of Christ that now becomes ours; the point being, Christ does not achieve something or make something possible, Christ is the achievement and he is the impossible possibility – humanity has been risen in Christ!

Like the crucifixion, the resurrection is both the judgement and vindication of Christ, and humanity in Christ, it is thus dikiasunÄ“ or our justification (p. 52). In the resurrection it is the vindication of Christ and our place in Christ that is emphasized. “The resurrection is God’s great act of Amen to the Cross.” Once again TFT articulates how the resurrection is the obverse of the crucifixion:

In the crucifixion of Christ we have on the one hand god’s judgement on sin and on the other hand Jesus’ submission to that judgment in obedience unto death. From God’s side the crucifixion is his righteous condemnation of our sin, but from man’s side it is Christ’s high priestly Amen to the Father’s judgement. But in the resurrection we have the same whole event, not only as God’s judgement but as his positive satisfaction in the obedient self-sacrifice of his Son. And here the resurrection is the Father’s Amen to Christ’s high priestly self-offering in obedience and sacrifice for sin. (p. 52)

Satisfaction must be understood according to this logic of double duality: The cross and resurrection are the same event from God’s perspective such that God the Father is satisfied with the sacrifice of the Son who was obedient even unto death (p. 53). The active obedience of the Son, the incarnate life of Christ, is an offering to the Father of an obedient life of holiness and filial love such that at the resurrection, the Son takes up again (anistemi) the life he willingly laid down at the cross. Jesus lived a holy life and throughout the incarnation turning fallen human nature back to the will of the Father such that at the cross, death could not hold him.

Anhypostatically (passive obedience), Christ was raised by the Father. Enhypostatically (active obedience), the Son raised Christ (himself) from the dead (p. 54). TFT affirms a pro-Chalcedonian Christology again in his emphasis upon the hypostatic (personal) union – a “living and dynamic union” – which ensured there was no rift, cleavage, or rupture of the Trinity at any point of the Incarnation, including at the cross (p. 55).

Emphasizing the enhypostatic nature of Christ, TFT asserts that as the resurrected Man, Second/Last Adam, he does not simply have life in himself but is now the “Source and Fountain of eternal life for others.” As such, Christ is the living Atonement. Once again we are reminded that the act and the agent cannot be separated, that Christ does not achieve atonement but Christ is our atonement.

TFT goes on to restate the principle made earlier that the Incarnation has to be seen as a whole: “It is in the resurrection that we have the unveiling of the mystery f the incarnation: the birth and resurrection of Jesus belong inseparably together and have to be understood in the light of each other.” Elsewhere TFT has suggested that a denial of the virgin birth quickly and inevitably results in a denial of the resurrection. The assumption of a human nature by the eternal Son means that Jesus is a part of the created order and thus contingent and free and cannot be fully understood other than a posteriori, out of that created order. In the Incarnation then, there is a concealing of divinity and identity as much as there is a revelation of it.

What does TFT mean by all this? I believe he means to say that Christ is knowable only through the Incarnation and that demands an engagement with Scripture and the religious history it narrates. I also think it means that TFT is opposed to an over-reliance on what I call a substance metaphysic whereby two nature language eclipses the biblical narrative of the person of Jesus Christ. TFT wants us to read the Scriptures closely as a coherent account of the Incarnate Son of God who lives, dies, and rises as Jesus Christ and through the evangelical narrative we are to have disclosed to us who Christ is and what he has done for us and our salvation. Only then is the grammar of two natures helpful in  explicating what has been revealed. 

But equally helpful would be what I call a Spirit Christology, one that starts from below, in the economy, and moves from there to the ontological Trinity. I believe this is what TFT is doing here, albeit implicitly and using different terminology. “If the crucifixion represents the nadir of the hiddenness, the resurrection represents the high point of the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God become man” (p. 57). 

Redemption and creation come tougher in the resurrection, as does the virgin birth and resurrection. He who was born of the virgin Mary is revealed to be the Creator Word of God. TFT then articulates the ways in which the cross and resurrection complement each other as the way in which God in Christ has dealt with sin and bestowed grace. On its own, resurrection would be an empty and extravagant show of power. On its own the cross would be God’s judgement on sin. Together, sin is judged and dealt with, and new life/creation is given. With echoes of Barth, God’s "No" of judgement at the cross is met with God’s "Yes" of salvation at the resurrection:

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is now in the very forefront of the Church’s kerygma, for it is a stupendous deed, comparable only to the original creation of the universe, and indeed transcends it in significance, like the incarnation when God himself entered the creation as one of the creatures he had made in order to operate within it. (p. 59)

TFT sees the virgin birth as proleptic to the resurrection, building with it the birth of the new creation, and both virgin birth and resurrection are only understandable in light of the other. Hence we are back to the “double duality” that is a theme of this chapter. As a summary to the chapter TFT states the principle that “what Jesus Christ is in his resurrection, he is in himself.” The resurrection did not just happen to Christ (anhypostatic), but was an event he orchestrated (enhypostatic). The resurrection does not happen to Christ but is a disclosure of why Christ is. Here Act and Being cohere once more. The resurrection (along with the whole life of Christ) is set within the context of the entire life of Christ such as the entire narrative elucidates each part of the narrative. “Thus the relation of the resurrection to the person of Christ discloses to us that it is the whole Jesus Christ who is the content of the resurrection, for all of his life from birth to resurrection forms an indissoluble unity.” All dualities are reconciled in Christ Jesus and the resurrection, seen within the entire Incarnation, reveals this.

End notes

1 London: T&T Clark, 2019. 

2 Torrance, “The Mind of Christ in Worship,” 139.

3 Torrance, Theology in Reconciliation, 140.

4 Torrance, The Doctrine of Jesus Christ, 49.

5 Ibid., 55.

6 Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, 206.

7 Ibid., 374–421.

8 Torrance, Royal Priesthood, 15.

9 Ibid., 19.

10 Torrance, Theology in Reconciliation, 139.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid., 249.

13 Ibid.

14 Torrance, The Doctrine of Jesus Christ, 48.

15 Ibid.

16 Torrance, Space, Time and Resurrection, 134–5.

17 Ibid., 135.