The relation between Incarnation and Atonement
The book "Atonement, the Person and Work of Christ" compiles the lectures of T.F. Torrance. In the introduction, the book's editor, Robert Walker, notes that the "linchpin" of Torrance's Trinitarian, incarnational theology is his understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ:
"He who is the eternal Son of God, of one being with the Father, is he who is now also man and the fact that the same person who is fully and truly God is now fully and truly man, means that his person is and constitutes in itself...the union of God and humanity... In his one person, therefore, God and man, God and all humanity, are now irrevocably and eternally united. God and man can now no more be separated from one another in Christ than the person of Christ can be undone, or the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection be reversed" (pp.xxxvii-xxxviii).Torrance understands this union of God and humankind in the person of Jesus to be an "event, a becoming, the action of God in beginning and continuing to be a human being" (p xxxviii). This dynamic event started with the conception of Jesus in Mary's womb, continued in his birth and his earthly life, which led to the cross, the tomb, the resurrection and now continues in his ascension which includes his sending of the Holy Spirit. All this is a continuing, eternally living event - "God acting and man acting, one person performing the work of salvation" (p. xxxix).
Torrance is thus careful to emphasize that the person (being) and the work (doing) of Jesus, as the union of God and humanity in one person, are inseparable. Jesus Christ is one person, the God-man, performing the work of salvation in his own person on behalf of all humanity.
In this blog we often note the biblical, orthodox Christian doctrine of the continuing humanity of Jesus. This doctrine tells us that Jesus did not shed his humanity at the resurrection or ascension - indeed, as Torrance notes, Jesus Christ forever remains human. Said another way, there is now a human being permanently included in the inner-communion of the Holy Trinity. This human being is the eternal Son of God (become human) - the very one who created and now sustains all humanity. And it is on this basis of the union of humanity with God in Jesus Christ, that we understand that what happens to Jesus (in his humanity) happens to and for us all.
As so Paul declares in 2Cor. 5:15 that Jesus "died for all and therefore all died." What happened to Jesus in his humanity happened to all humanity because Jesus, as our creator and sustainer is become our representative and substitute. This is the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Jesus. As Paul goes on to note, through Jesus, "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them" (v19). As Torrance notes, this reconciliation is not merely what Jesus does, but who Jesus is (as fully God and fully human). All this for us!
[For a similar view of the atonement from C.S. Lewis, click here.]