Knowing God by God in Christ in Incarnation and Resurrection

Thomas Torrance has made the point that the Incarnation of God is a novum, that there in fact is no genuine analogy from creation from whence we can conceive of such a mysterious thing as God become man. As such, if we are going to think scientifically about God, and in particular, about God become man, that we will allow that reality, that revelation itself unfold and impose upon us its resurrectionown measures and categories of understanding from which we will come to a genuine knowledge of God. What this means then is that we will be unable to start from a general theory of God and attempt to integrate that with who we see revealed in Jesus Christ; in other words, natural theology will not work, instead we will have to work from what TF Torrance calls an epistemological inversion, meaning that knowledge of God is contingent upon His willingness to reveal Himself to us rather than our ability to discover Him through profane modes of human inquiry. Thomas Torrance writes:

The mystery of Christ is presented to us within history — that historical involvement is not an accidental characteristic of the mystery but essential to it. That is the problem.

Let us first put it this way, recalling the bi-polarity of our theological knowledge. If God has become man in the historical Jesus, that is an historical event that comes under our historical examination so far as the humanity of Jesus is concerned, but the fact that God became man is an event that cannot be appreciated by ordinary historical science, for here we are concerned with more than simply an historical event, namely, with the act of the eternal God. So far as this event is a fact of nature it can be observed, and so far as it is historical in the sense that other natural events are historical, it can be appreciated as such; but the essential becoming behind it cannot be directly perceived except by an act of perception appropriate to the eternal event. That act of perception appropriate to an eternal act, or divine act, would surely be the pure vision of God, which we do not have in history. Here on earth and in time we do not see directly, face to face, but see only in part, as through a glass enigmatically, in a mystery. We see the eternal or divine act within history, within our fallen world where historical observation is essential. Faith would be better described then as the kind of perception appropriate to perceiving a divine act in history, an eternal act in time. So that faith is appropriate both to the true perception of historical facts, and also to the true perception of God’s action in history. Nor is it the way we are given within history to perceive God’s acts in history, and that means that faith is the obedience of our minds to the mystery of Christ, who is God and man in the historical Jesus. What is clearly of paramount importance here is the holding together of the historical and the theological in our relation to Christ.

If the two are not held together, we have broken up the given unity in Christ into the historical on the one hand, and the theological on the other, refracting it into elements which we can no longer put together again. We then find that we cannot start from the historical and move to the theological, or from the theological and move to the historical without distortion, and nor can we rediscover the original unity. We can only start from the given, where the historical and the theological are in indissoluble union in Christ.[1]

As corollary with this, and in terms of applying this approach to the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ; likewise, there is no analogy available to us in nature from whence we can construct an analogue towards being able to think a God-man into resurrection. Instead, all we can do, by an analogy of faith, as it were, is to think this reality from what has been given to us and for us in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And so if the resurrection, if the Incarnation are allowed to dictate and set the terms from whence we think God become man, and what He has done for us in resurrection and re-creation, we will end up doing theology, and in fact living the Christian life under much different constraints than what is commonly conceived of in Western Christianity in general, and in North American evangelicalism in particular. George Hunsinger writes about this, and how important it is for the resurrection itself to take on the magisterial place it ought to have in our thinking about God in Christ rising again from the dead over against historicist/apologetic modes of knowing and thinking resurrection as is so commonly the case, again, in North American evangelicalism:

The position to be taken here is that an event extraordinary in kind will, of necessity, involve modes of knowledge and significance that are also extraordinary. From the standpoint of the church’s faith, although ordinary ways of knowing, including modern critical methods, need not be ruled out, they cannot be allowed to control the discussion, nor can their relevance be more than secondary. Likewise, Christ’s resurrection is necessarily of uncommon significance. While its revelation may overlap with other, more familiar forms of religious experience, it will necessarily displace and transcend them by virtue of its own singularity. In short, the church’s faith in Christ’s resurrection, as attested by the apostles and affirmed by the creed, cannot be understood, if the resurrection’s uniqueness is not allowed to determine the modes of knowledge and significance appropriate to it. Otherwise, the nature of the resurrection will be determined in advance by resort to inapplicable categories.[2]

I hope the significance of this is appreciated by you!

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation, 6-7

[2] George Hunsinger, Evangelical Catholic And Reformed: Doctrinal Essays on Barth and Related Themes (Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015), Loc. 3874, 3879, 3884 Kindle.

1 thought on “Knowing God by God in Christ in Incarnation and Resurrection”

  1. Absolutely love what Torrance says here. This is my struggle I have with the modern apologetics movement, they attempt to go from the historical to the theological. His words are eminently relevant!

    “If the two are not held together, we have broken up the given unity in Christ into the historical on the one hand, and the theological on the other, refracting it into elements which we can no longer put together again.”

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