The nature of the resurrection event

This post from Torrance scholar Roger Newell summarizes chapter four of  "Space, Time and Resurrection" by T. F. Torrance. Roger wrote this post for a meeting of the Torrance Reading Group. For addtional chapter summaries, click on the number: 12, 3, 56, 78.

"Christ Appearing to the Apostles after the Resurrection" by Czechowicz 
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Key points

Chapter four in Space, Time and Resurrection seeks to “think together” the relation between the new order of being which is the New Creation and the present order which is passing away, and the new humanity launched by the resurrected Christ and our humanity that continues within on-going space-time. In that regard, here are key points in Torrance's presentation:

1. The resurrection of Jesus is an event in continuity with past history while also opening history into a New Creation on the other side of decay and death, judgement, in the fullness of a new world and new order. “How can we think these things together?” (86)  

2. Redemption is an act of recapitulation (anakephaliosis) that involves a dual movement that penetrates backwards in time into the roots of evil, death and hell, and also forward in time as our fallen existence is gathered up and restored in Christ in ontological relation to God. (86)

3. If the resurrection of Jesus is not the recreating and restoring of his (and our) humanity into the same sphere in which humans belong, including our physical order, then redemption is an empty vanity that achieves nothing in the human world in which we actually live. (Thus it is "no" to all docetic views of a risen ghostlike Christ). (87)

4. Though a historical event, the resurrection cannot be comprehended (“caught”) within the structures and limitations of space and time, infected as they are by sin and selfishness. Nor can it be interpreted out of the canons of secular credibility. (88) 

5. Our present time is crumbling away and running into nothingness. The resurrection is a new kind of historical event that resists and overcomes this trajectory of decay. More real than any of us, the risen Jesus encounters us in the present and waits for us in the future. (88-89)

6. There is a parallel of continuity and discontinuity here, akin to the Virgin Birth, in which there is an incursion of the New Creation into our sphere of existence. (89)

7. While resurrection happened once for all time, it remains a continuous live happening within history. (90)

8. As a decisive intervention by God, resurrection continually points us from the regressive flow of corruption and decay to the future and the full disclosure of our real being in Christ. (90)

9. To think adequately about Resurrection requires that we enter an eschatological framing of God’s purposes in creation and redemption. To think about this adequately we must include both the Ascension and the final Parousia. (91)

10. Thinking about relations between temporal events has been famously difficult for historical thinking, with a tendency to confuse logical necessity with temporal causality in the natural sciences, leading to various kinds of determinism. In the history of Jesus we have a unique historical happening and a unique Agent. We must bear in mind that any event should be judged according to its own nature, not by foreign criteria borrowed from other fields of study. Because of Pentecost and our union with Christ through the koinonia of the Spirit, we may “penetrate inside” the fully historical happening and reality of Jesus. The time-form of our world is characterized by law (nomos) and its form of rational order. However this has been challenged by justification, which introduces a new form of rationality. The redemption of time is included in the emancipation of creation by our new relationship with God. In the fullness of time, the Son of God entered our existence under the law, to emancipate us, and in the resurrection, Christ is no longer confined to the limits imposed on our fallen world. Even as justification does not destroy the law but establishes it, so in the resurrection time is not annihilated but recreated, taken up in Christ, and sanctified. (94-98)

11. The best way of conceiving all the above is along the analogy of the hypostatic union of divine and human natures of the One Person Christ. Thus in the risen Christ there is a ‘hypostatic union” between eternity and time. God has taken up human time into the divine life. However the Ascension means this form and time of the new creation remains hidden and held back until in God’s mercy Jesus comes again. (98)

12. Meanwhile, how are we to think of human participation in redeemed time? The best way is by thinking of the Church as the body of Christ, both crucified and risen, upon which Christ has poured out his Spirit. (98)

13. Thus the church lives in two times, both the passing time of on-going secular history with its decay and death, and also the time of the risen Saviour, with new creation already perfected in Him, through the koinonia of the Spirit. The church lives and fulfills its mission within the overlap of these two ages. (99)

14. To speak thus is to enter the ‘realm of apocalyptic’; and so we speak of it “only by using language culled from the old world and the old time.” This means we must include a prayer for forgiveness, for our language is improper and must pass away with the nomistic forms of this world. (100) 

15. The apocalyptic image of the millennium, which is the time of Christ, the New Man and the church, already participates in this time as it lives in union with Christ. But it remains hidden from our sight with the Ascension, as it remains the other side of the time of this world, still waiting for its full actualization in its physical existence. But the church is already participant in that new creation, and Christ knocks on the door, especially in the Lord’s Table where we taste the powers of the age to come.(100)

16. When individual believers die, they go to be with Christ in his immediate presence. From the perspective of the new creation there is no gap between this and the on-going processes of the fallen world where the believer is laid to sleep in the earth. But looked at from the perspective of time that decays, there is a lapse of time between them. How do we think these together? Only by thinking of them exclusively in Christ the one in whom human nature and divine are hypostatically united. (102)

17. If we think christologically, we reject the mythologizing of biblical eschatology and the fixation of the Kingdom of Christ within the old structures. That is why Calvin said it would be an insult to literalize Christ’s 1000 year rule on earth, even in a glorified form. Meanwhile, we live between the times, awaiting the final consummation when what took place intensively in Christ himself will be actualized extensively in the broad field of creation and history. (102)

18. In waiting and expectation the church can only lift up its head in thanksgiving and joy for its redemption draws nigh. We have no right to be gloomy or despair for this world has been redeemed and sanctified by Christ and he will not let it go. Our involvement in the suffering of creation ought not stifle this supreme note of resurrection triumph. (105)

Insights and questions

(the following is keyed to the numbering of the key points above)

1. How do we ‘think together’ creation and new creation without falling into a confusing muddle? The pattern behind Torrance here is surely Chalcedonian Christology, (451 A.D.) which holds together the humanity and divinity of Jesus “without confusion" (no to Apollinaris), "without change" (no to Eutyches), "without division" (no to Nestorius), and "without separation” (no to Nestorius).

2. There is a related concern in Christian ethics between the passing (nomos) order of the present (Moses) and the order of the New Creation which is coming (the Sermon on the Mount). How are these related? How does the church live in the boundary between these two orders, the one which is dying and the one which is embodied in the coming age? 

3. Re: #4 canons of secular credibility: see N. T. Wright's book. The Resurrection of the Son of God, (p. 28-9) where he says that there is no such thing as detached objectivity, as Enlightenment worldview is too often presented.

4. Re: #10, temporal relations and causality: Torrance probably has in mind here the notion of a closed continuum of natural cause and effect which was the scientific basis upon which Bultmann launched his de-mythologization project, rejecting the notion of bodily resurrection outright in a modern world that has electric light switches.

5. Re: #15 participating in the age to come: TFT mentions the Lord’s Table in this regard. Can one also mention when one participates in forgiveness of one’s enemies? Or perhaps the extraordinary nonviolent civil rights movement led by Dr. King in the US finally granting full legal status regardless of race? Or what of the nonviolent reunification of Germany in 1989? Are these not glimpses of the church leading the way, interrupting the present social order with participation in the new order which is on the way? 

6. Re: #17 and false millennial notions: Does this apply to Patriarch Kyril’s Christian nationalist project whereby he has embraced and blessed the invasion of Ukraine? Or, similarly, the Zionist project from the 19th century to our present day whereby the Old Testament promises to Israel are understood not as fulfilled in Christ, but as intended for separate historical fulfillment by a reconstituted Jewish nation?  

7. Re: #18 and the Resurrection note of triumph: has Torrance crossed the line into triumphalism? In God's Presence, Frances Young points out that when we suffer, we look for sympathy from people who have suffered too. However, sympathy from those who continue to be overwhelmed by suffering can only take us so far--we need compassionate help from those who have in some way overcome the suffering. Young comments:

"Many compassionate actions do not require emotional identification with the sufferer, as for example, a doctor who performs a sophisticated medical procedure. What is required is the ability to improve the patient’s situation. Hence an act of compassion often goes beyond mere emotional reproduction of another’s grief.... Compassion requires a love which transcends anxiety; that is calm and calming. A God who merely was a replica of suffering humanity would be a God incapable of being a Redeemer. Thus divine compassion surpasses human compassion precisely because God is not bowled over by our suffering. 'You, Lord God, lover of souls, show a compassion far purer and freer of mixed motives than ours; for no suffering injures you' (St. Augustine)." (God’s Presence, 382-383)