Christ, Then Us. The “First Christian”

Myk Habets, friend, brother in Christ, colleague in all things Evangelical Calvinist, Jesusholywrote his PhD dissertation at the University of Otago back in 2006, it was on the doctrine of Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance (the title of the published version with Ashgate). In Chapter 2, Incarnation: God Became Human, Myk gets into identifying more than just this theme of theosis in the theology of Thomas Torrance, but an actual doctrine of theosis. I read Myk’s book (twice) back a few years ago (and even reviewed it for the The Pacific Journal of Baptist Research, which Myk serves as the senior editor for; you can read that review here), and found it very enlightening, and even formative towards a deeper grasp of Torrance’s thinking on many things; in particular, the issues revolving around Christology and salvation (theosis). And it is this area that I want to broach throughout the rest of this blog post.

Torrance believed that Jesus, as the homoousion (God-man) person that he is, and in his vicarious humanity for us, serves as the bridge, the nexus, the locus wherein there is a Godward to manward and manward to Godward movement (a movement of grace in line, with how Torrance would term it, the ‘logic of Grace’); and thus Jesus is the primary point and reality of all things (cf. Col. 2:3), He alone has primacy over all of creation (cf. Col. 1:15ff). Because of this reality, and because Torrance believed that Jesus is the archetype humanity and the ‘image of God’ (Col. 1:15) for us, he could believe and articulate this kind of thinking (as explicated by Myk Habets):

Torrance’s earliest mention of theosis occurs amdist a discussion of christology, when, commenting on the relevance of the hypostatic union for men and women he writes, ‘And in this God-Man we partake in grace, as members of his body, reconciled to God through him and in him, and even it is said, are incomprehensibly partakers of Divine nature!’ Here as early as 1938-39 we have a bold statement on the orthodoxy of theosis and how it functions within Torrance’s theology. As Yeung observes:

When God became man He was no less God, for He was not diminished by the development of the body, but rather ‘deified’ the body and rendered it immortal. ‘Deification’ did not mean any change of human essence, but that without being less human we are by grace made to participate in divine Sonship. (Yeung, Being and Knowing, p. 113)

Because of Christ’s hypostatic union a trinitarian movement is accomplished in his life from the Father through the Son in the Spirit, along with a doxological ‘return’ in the Spirit through the Son to the Father. This movement takes place first in the Son and then in believers by the Spirit of the Son. We share in the love of God through the grace of Christ in the communion of the Holy Spirit. This is what Torrance calls the evangelical, doxological theology the trinitarian life and love that God is. This constitutes an internal relation as the Son is homoousios with the Father and the Spirit and hence this trinitarian structure is at the same time christocentric, ‘for it is only through Jesus Christ that we know the Father and only through him that we receive the Holy Spirit. Everything depends on the indivisible inner relation in being of the Son and the Spirit to the Father …’. [Myk Habets, Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance, 62-3.]

This is what Myk Habets, and I, mean, as Evangelical Calvinists, when we use the language of a ‘Christ conditioned’. Everything starts and ends in Christ. The ‘eternal life’ that we have received in salvation, is the ‘eternal life’ that Jesus first received first for us, in His vicarious humanity. We experience this kind of life (the kind that Jesus has by nature), as we participate in and from Jesus’ humanity by grace and adoption into God’s life. Salvation, then, cannot be said to be something that is present in you (accidents), or something that you activate because of ‘effectual grace’ (monergism); in a Christ conditioned purview, everything is personlised, realized, and actualized for us, in and through the humanity of Jesus Christ (his ‘priestly’ humanity). And so we look to Jesus, continuously, and not ourselves. Because He first loved us, that we might love Him.