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. For the other posts in this series, click on a number: 123567891011.

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).
From The Twelfth Station of the Cross
found at Église Notre-Dame des Champs
Used with permission, Wikimedia Commons.
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.

For additional insights on this topic from GCI, click here.