A Birthday Post (mine): On TF Torrance’s Knowledge of God and Different Ways to be “Christ-centered”

The following quote from Thomas Forsyth Torrance is one of those that either endears you to him, or repels you from him; for me, of course, it has been the torranceportraitformer! Either way though the principle reality of what he communicates about the mystery of God, and the need for His revelation in order for us to know God holds true for no matter who you are in the Christian world; no matter what your theory of Divine revelation is. Why then does what TF communicates in this following quote repel some? Because, as many of you know, for Torrance the only point of contact between God and man is Christ Jesus; soteriologically, epistemologically, ethically, etc.—and not in just a formal christocentric way, but also in a principled material christocentric way. All “Christian” theologies will typically affirm that they follow a Christ-centered approach, but what is meant by that is left to a formal not material meaning.[1] Christ for the ‘formal Christ-centered’ theologies is not determinative of all revelation in a direct way as He is for those who follow a material Christ-centered approach (or what Muller in reference to Barth calls an ‘principial-intensive’ Christ-centered approach). This is why what Torrance says in the following quote will repel some; because folks know what Torrance means about knowledge of God in the critically-realist way he intones. Here’s Torrance:

By its very nature divine revelation is what Karl Barth called ‘a self-contained novum‘, for it has its reality and truth wholly and in every respect within itself, and so can be known only through itself and out of itself, on its own ground and through the power of its own self-evidence and self-authentication. It is as such that revelation proceeds from God to man, breaking sovereignly into human life and thought, calling into question what people claim to know, and directing their thinking beyond themselves altogether. It creatively evokes an entirely new mode of consciousness, in faith and understanding, conditioned by a new relation to God initiated and set up, not from man’s side at all, but from the other side of the boundary between man and God. The knowledge of God given in this way through divine revelation is not from the known to the unknown, but from the hitherto unknown to the known. It is a mystery so utterly strange and so radically different that it cannot be apprehended and substantiated except out of itself, and even then it infinitely exceeds what we are ever able to conceive or spell out. Far less may it be assimilated into man’s familiar world of meaning and be brought into line with the framework of its commonly accepted truths, for the radically new conception of God proclaimed in the Gospel calls for a complete transformation of man’s outlook in terms of a new divine order which cannot be derived from or inferred from anything conceived by man before. In point of fact it actually conflicts sharply with generally accepted beliefs and established ideas in human culture and initiates a seismic reconstruction not only of religious and intellectual belief but of the very foundations of human life and knowledge.[2]

God in this Torrancian frame is so unknowable, so ineffable, that without God’s accommodation to us in Christ there is no prior bridge to be built; there is no natural theology, or general revelation; there is no word to be spoken, no analogy to be had prior to God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. Some people might object and say: “yeah, but what about the Old Testament?” The Old Testament, if understood ‘Christianly’, has no reality without the reality of Jesus Christ; either logically or chronologically. 1) Logically: Christ is the eternal Logos who provides creation with a telos or purposive existence; without that there is no Scripture (no paper, no ink, no people to write Scripture, etc.). 2) Chrono-logically: Christ precedes Scripture (to dovetail with point 1) as the eternal Logos, the eternal Son who graciously with the Father and Holy Spirit created the world within which all of its contingencies (including Scripture) could happen.

The upshot of all of this is that knowledge of God, even as we have it in Scripture, has no reality apart from Jesus Christ. Since Jesus Christ, as the eternal Logos, God’s Son, cannot be separated from the eternally Triune life of God, it is not possible to conceive of God in any meaningful way apart from Christ. The result is that to be formally Christ-centered in approach, and not materially Christ-centered is akin to thinking of Christ’s person separate from his works (which much of classical Western theology, even parts of Palamite Eastern theology does).

Torrance’s offering is pretty radical if we take its full weight under consideration.

[1] Dick O. Eugenio, Communion with the Triune God: The Trinitarian Soteriology of T.F. Torrance (UK: James Clarke&Co., 2014), 17-20.

[2] T. F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons, 19.

 

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5 thoughts on “A Birthday Post (mine): On TF Torrance’s Knowledge of God and Different Ways to be “Christ-centered”

  1. Happy birthday! Great post. To me, this is the linchpin in making the turn to EC. Once a principial Christocentrism is adopted, everything changes. It seems also to be much the reason why Barth and TFT are so incomprehensible to many, because they sought to set all Christian epistemology on a completely different ontological foundation. It is a totally different rationality, and that’s why it appears so ‘irrational’ to many.

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