The Centrality of Israel and the Vicarious Humanity of Christ for Thomas F. Torrance’s Theology

This post will be a kind of an introduction to the theology of Thomas F. Torrance (Scottish theologian spanning from the 20th and 21st centuries). What I am going to share from him is a very succinct offering on how the nation of Israel functions as a centerpiece in mediating Christ to the world for Torrance. Further, this quote will highlight the role that the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ plays in christcenteredTorrance’s theology; maybe you have never really thought about that particular doctrine. TFT has a very unique place for that doctrine (as does Karl Barth), and it plays such an important role for him that it can and should be seen as the touchstone of his broader hermeneutic. It is for this reason, really, that I want to share this with you, so that you can see how Torrance himself talks about the vicarious humanity of Christ.

So without further ado (since the quote is lengthy), let’s hear from TF Torrance:

By singling out Israel from among the nations for this vicarious service and subjecting it to its long ordeal in history, God adapted Israel to his purpose in such a way as to form within it a womb for the incarnation of his Word and a matrix appropriate forms of thought and speech for the reception of his revelation in a final and definitive form. And so in the fullness of time Jesus was born of Mary, out of the organic correlation of revelation and response in the life and language of man, to be the Word of God heard and expressed in the truth and grace of perfect human response to God the Father. In Jesus, God’s eternal Word graciously humbled himself to participate in finite being, submitting to its limitations and operating within its struggles and structures, thus fulfilling God’s revealing and redeeming purpose of his incarnate life as Man on earth and in history. Such was the life and mission of Jesus Christ the Word made flesh, who mediated between God and man, reconciling them in and through himself, and so established a correlation and correspondence between God’s self-giving and man’s receiving in man and a true  and faithful response could be yielded by man to God. Thus, in effecting his self-communication to man, the Word of God assimilated the hearing and speaking of man to himself as constitutive ingredients of divine revelation. In him God’s articulate self-utterance became speech to man, through the medium of human words, and speaks as man to man, for in him God assumed human speech into union with his own, effecting it as the human expression of the divine Word.

Jesus Christ himself, then, is in the hearing and speaking man included in the Word of God incarnate, and he is that in a final and definitive way. In him we do not have to do simply with the word of God and response of man, brought together in some kind of “Nestorian” dualism, but with the indivisible, all significant middle term, the divinely provided response in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. Once and for all he has become God’s exclusive language to man and he alone must be man’s language to God. Here there operates, as it were, a theological form of Fermat’s principle, in accordance with which the selection of one among other possible paths in the formulation of natural law sets the others aside as unentertainable and actually impossible. In himself God is transcendently free and able to create other possibilities, but the actual incarnation of his eternal Word once and for all in our contingent existence in Jesus Christ excludes every other way to the Father and stamps the vicarious humanity of Christ as the sole norm and law, as well as the sole ground of acceptable human response to the Father. Let us note also that in Jesus Christ word and deed, language and event, were inextricably interwoven in his revealing and redeeming activity. His words were done as well as spoken and his deeds spoke as much as his words, for in him God’s Word has become physical, historical event, while the very fact and existence of Jesus Christ was and is itself Word of God to mankind. Jesus Christ is the one place on earth and in history where full reciprocity between God and man and man and God has been established in such a way that God’s Word and Truth come to us within the undiminished realities of our spatiotemporal existence and we human beings may really hear his Word and meet him face to face. In fact the real text of God’s self-revelation to mankind has once and for all been provided in the humanity of Jesus Christ, the Word of God personally incarnate in the flesh.[1]

Cashing Out

As we read this we see that for Torrance, Jesus Christ is the mediator between God and man (sounds like the Apostle Paul as well, in I Tim. 2.5-6); that Jesus is both the Godward to manward movement, and the manward to Godward movement for all of humanity. That Jesus, the eternal Word of God (Jn. 1.1) is God’s perfect response for us, and He is this for us in an ontic sense; in other words, for Torrance, Jesus in His vicarious humanity is the only real human being, that He is the human par excellence, that He is the imago Dei ‘the image of God’ (Col. 1.15) whose image Adam and Eve were originally created in, and whose image fallen humanity (taken up by Christ in the incarnation) is re-created in, in His resurrection.

The implications of this are manifold; some of those are: 1) Jesus Christ in His vicarious humanity is the ground towards which original creation was always intended; 2) Jesus Christ in His vicarious humanity is God’s grace temporally expressed in objective and personal reality for us; 3) Jesus Christ in His vicarious humanity does for us what we cannot do, and yet He does it for us from within the broken, frail, and defective location that we find ourselves in within our fallen humanity; 4) Jesus Christ by the anointing of the Holy Spirit is ‘born again’ for us, He believes for us, He repents for us, He dies for us, He is buried for us, He resurrects for us, He ascends for us, He intercedes as Priest for us, He is coming again for us to take us to where He is for us currently at the right hand of the Father. There are many more implications we could discuss, but these are good starters. We could have a huge discussion about Torrance’s idea in regard to Jesus assuming our fallen humanity (but remaining without sin of course by the Holy Spirit), but we won’t right now.

Further Reading

Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ.

Thomas F. Torrance edited by Robert T. Walker, Incarnation (Volume One) & Atonement (Volume Two).

And for a critical (he does not have a favorable view of this doctrine in TFT’s theology) and constructive engagement of TFT’s thinking about the vicarious humanity of Christ:

Kevin Chiarot, The Unassumed is the Unhealed: The Humanity of Christ in the Theology of T.F. Torrance.

[1] T.F. Torrance, Reality and Evangelical Theology: A fresh and challenging approach to Christian revelation (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1982), 87-9.

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