A Christian Apologetic: Torrance and “Justin Martyr,” Proving Jesus

March 16, 2012 § 7 Comments

Thomas Torrance, in his Theological Science (his theological method, and a title of one of his books), follows what he calls an epistemological inversion; in short, epistemological inversion is the approach that holds out that an object or subject (or both as in the case of Christian Theology) acts upon us (the knowers and inquirers), such that it itself opens up to us its own reality and structures of thought—this process remains an open structured event. It is from within this context that we can better understand Thomas Torrance’s appropriation of someone like Justin Martyr, and his defense of Christian reality and the Christic event itself (one and the same). Let’s follow along as Torrance engages Martyr, this quote will end with Torrance quoting Justin (which is the piece I really want to get to with this post—viz. Martyr’s “argument”):

The distinctive feature of this Word is its relation through the Spirit to historical facts and events. It is when we allow the Scriptures to direct us to these facts and events that our minds fall under the power of their truth and we are compelled to believe for they carry in themselves their own demonstration. This is not, of course, any kind of logical proof, but the kind of demonstration that arises immediately out of the facts and events themselves through their self-evidence. This is particularly well expressed in a fragment of a lost work on the resurrection that has survived through John of Damascus and attributed to Justin.

[T]he Word of truth is free, and carries its own authority, disdaining to fall under any skilful argument, or to endure the logical scrutiny for its hearers. But it would be believed of its own sake, and for the confidence due to him who sends it. Now the Word of truth is sent from God, wherefore the freedom claimed by the truth is not arrogant. For being sent with authority, it were not fit that it should be required to produce proof of what is said, since neither is there any proof beyond itself, which is God. For every proof is more powerful and trustworthy than that which it proves, since what is disbelieved, until proof is produced, gets credit when such proof is produced, and is recognised as being what it was stated to be. But nothing is more powerful or more trustworthy than the truth; so that he who requires proof of this, is like one who wishes it demonstrated why the things that appear to the senses do appear. For the test of those things which are received through the reason, is sense; but of sense itself there is not test beyond itself. As then we bring those things which reason hunts after, to sense, and by it judge what kind of things they are, whether the things spoken be true or false, and then sit in judgment no longer, giving full credit to its decision; so also we refer all that is said regarding men and the world to the truth, and by it judge whether it be worthless or no. But the utterances of truth we judge by no separate test, giving full credit to itself. And God, the Father of the universe, who is the perfect intelligence, is the Truth. And the Word, being his Son, came to us, having put on flesh revealing  both himself and the Father, giving to us in himself resurrection from the dead and eternal life afterwards. And this is Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. He, therefore, is himself both the faith and the proof of himself and of all things. [Thomas F. Torrance, Divine Meaning, 95-6; the quote from Justin, De resurrectione, 1.1f, from the Sacra Parallela of John of Damascus. E.T. from Ante Nicene Christian Library, vol. 2, pp. 341ff. This is not generally accepted as Justin's own work, but like the Cohortatio ad Graecos was at least written under his influence.]

For all those weary souls who have labored under the Evangelical mantle of ‘Fighting Fundamentalism’ and the Apologetic Faith (as Warfield called it); won’t you join me in commending yourself to a more Christian Way? A ‘Way’ that does not entangle itself in the realm of rationalist-historicism, that seeks to ‘prove’ Jesus to themselves and the world. I am sure that it is the other way around … we are in need of ‘proving’. And I think the “Martyr” quote helps us to think in this order, and not the order of the “world.”

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§ 7 Responses to A Christian Apologetic: Torrance and “Justin Martyr,” Proving Jesus

  • Wayne Fair says:

    The Sovereign Word is self-sufficient and in no need of the rationality of autonomous man.
    But (says the stubborn contrarian) that Word is also and always full of Grace as well as Truth – and in the mysterious ministrations of the Holy Spirit – blowing however and wherever He willeth, works in diverse ways (yet always with the Gospel at the center) to call forth from its dark sepulcher dead Reason to life; sometimes even using those who preach out of contention to stir up strife (“nevertheless, the Gospel is preached”, says Paul)…..sometimes in the midst of the passionate engagements of an apostle who “reasoned with them (non-believers ) daily…”.

    One must wonder: how many more have come to Christ through the simple, “rational” arguments of C.S.Lewis, using reason and history (without falling prey to their dangerous “isms”) than have been effectively reached with a neo-orthodox Gospel preached from “mainline” pulpits?

    I can’t be sure – but my money is on the former ;) . (And I say this with while maintaining great respect for Bart and Torrance.)

    Last of all, on a more “technical” note: wouldn’t you have to say that Justin’s implicit view on these matters (from writings that are more certainly his own) weighs far more on the side of engaging the Hellinistic mind than the somewhat questionable text cited above?

  • Wayne Fair says:

    Sorry, I meant “Barth” toward the end – NOT Bart Ehrman or, the more popular theologian, Bart Simpson ;) !

  • Duane says:

    Yes, I begin to wonder regarding your recent post on the inerrancy of Scripture and the like, certainly would not necessarily go there in a witnessing scenario, and yet could entertain that it could be true, if I grasp what you are saying, that we should not worry our heads about whether Scripture is inerrant or not, or whether it is historical or not. It may be beneficial to growth to simply “let go and let God”. But being involved currently with a Facebook group “Christianity & Islam Nexus”, I’m using Scripture as it is written to testify that Jesus is Messiah and that He is God. They ask many very good questions, to which all of their answers are “One God”. So knowing that Qur’an supports the Scriptures from Torah, at least through the Gospels, I’m using it all. Tonight I started with the Garden, and ended in the Garden. I write as a proclaimer of Scripture, with minimal commentary. I do not worry my head that what I’m writing may not be historically accurate, as Torrance says he did not, yet I assume that it is, he wrote as if it is, and write as if it was evidence admissable in a court of law. What am I supposed to do? Say “God is a Trinity, Jesus is the Logos of God, became flesh and dwelt among us and lived and died to bring us into communion with God. Learn it, love it, live it. period”? I don’t see how you get Jesus Messiah out of the Old Testament, if it is not trustworthy. Even if I’ve drunk the koolaide and I’m fine with that, how on earth do I tell others, well, I do not know how I know, I just do, and you should too. Try it you’ll love it. Peace, love and macadamias.”
    By the way, please do come and at least lurk at the group to check it out. We are quite outnumbered, and I would not mind some constructive criticism. And if you feel led, you might lend a hand. Not there to argue, just to share. FaceBook Christianity & Islam Nexus: http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/322912861078441/341968435839550/?notif_t=group_activity

  • Bobby Grow says:

    Wayne,

    Torrance wasn’t neo-Orthodox, neither was Barth. Brunner was. Maybe you failed to notice, we are appealing to Patristics, not neo-Orthodox; well at least partially. Evangelical Calvinism does not preach a neo-Orthodox Gospel, I’m not Mainline (I’m Conservative Baptist by confession), and I’m pretty much as conservative as you can get (theologically).

    I reject, with a long line of Christian thinkers, an intellectualist anthropology; and so I won’t endorse a non-Christian prolegomenon, all the way down into apologetics. It is not an argument to appeal to CS Lewis or anyone else; indeed, I know the Lord can use a donkey’s ass to proclaim his Word, and he always makes our crooked words straight, but not the other way around. My moves are simple methodological re-ordering relative to the classical theistic understanding. So NO, I’m not neo-Orthodox, I’m just not a classical theist! I know plenty of theologians (personally) who are not even fans of Barth or TFT who likewise are contra the methodology of classical theism and substance metaphysics. I guess you didn’t read that article I linked to on correlation, that should suffice in response to your continued mis-pressing of the Hellenic mantle, as if its all enveloping and inescapable through Christ. Again, a method that sees Christ as primary over creation has no problem taking various grammars and making them Christian (it’s not the other way around). The Logos enfleshed has no reality w/o the Logos without flesh (this is the patristic doctrine of an/enhypostasis). Anyway, Wayne, we obviously thoroughly disagree … and I really don’t see fruit coming from our interaction, much more any way (same as with Hermonta on my other thread … you all know what I believe by now, in gist, so why keep acting as if you’re going to make any head-way with me in the other direction?).

  • Bobby Grow says:

    Duane,

    I am an inerrantist still (just qualified). I think these kinds of things are still important, I just think they need a genuinely Christian Dogmatic re-framing.

    Unfortunately I can’t visit that forum; I am highly pressed for time and don’t even read other blogs anymore (save 3).

  • Wayne Fair says:

    Sorry to have offended you, Bobby.

    Thank you for helping me grow in my understanding of Torrance and the Glory of our Lord!

    Yes, I did read that linked blog – and for me, taking words and radically redefining is the Achilles heel of your position; as words are so re-defined, so is The Word- and rational continuity and communication break down.

    I could (as is my wont) go into greater detail, but I won’t – and I won’t challenge you any more.

    God richly bless you!

  • Bobby Grow says:

    Wayne,

    I didn’t invent the process of Christian reification; your gripe is with the early ecumenical Chruch councils, they are the ones who recontexualized pagan words, not me. I simply am trying to participate by way of retrieval and constructive work within the Christian grammar that the Lord has provided for his Church. There is no disjunction between a rational communication of things and the approach I advocate (I am surprised to hear you say that given the fact that you apparently have been reading TFT’s Ground and Grammar). The disjunction is that I don’t think rational=apologetics as the basis for communication with the world. So I start with Christian assumptions, and work within that circle of communication; the correlation comes in through the reality that creation has been conditioned Christically … there is no point of correspondence outside of this reality; the work has already been done in Christ. He hasn’t left us as orphans in need of trying to figure out how we can have a rational conversation about him starting with our own modes of what being rational means. He has already given us the, in himself, the substance of things hoped for; and as Christians we need to be about the business of taking captive every thought and system that would exalt itself against the knowledge of him; and that includes, from my perspective, modernist rationalist (and even classical Hellenic ones) modes of articulation. I attempt to think from the analogy of the Incarnation; wherein all things have been made new in the ONE man Jesus Christ. The bridge between God and man has one mediator, and its not us.

    I don’t necessarily feel challenged by what you’ve been saying, Wayne; the emotion is more one of frustration. Because it seems that you are presuming too much in how you are attempting to think of my position (the neo-Orthodox caricature serves as a really good example of that). Maybe you should start your own blog, Wayne; you have a lot of good things to say, and I think others could benefit from it greatly.

    Grace to you, and peace!

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