Coming back to Torrance: a review of Incarnation

I was reading around in preparation for teaching on Christology last week and ended up spending time in T.F. Torrance’s collected lectures published as Incarnation:The Person and Life of Christ (Paternoster). Every time I come back to Torrance I am reminded just how significant a theologian he was.  His work is shot through with careful attention to the Scriptures, passion for the Gospel, and fluid clarity characteristic of a seasoned lecturer.

Take the following passage on Christ’s assumption of fallen flesh:

When the Word became flesh, he became all that we are in our opposition to God in our bondage under law – that is the amazing act of gracious condescension in the incarnation, that God the Son should assume our flesh, should enter a human existence under divine judgement, enter in the situation where the psalmist cried Eli, Eli lama sabachthani, so that the Word or Son of God himself gave out the same cry when overwhelmed with the divine judgement upon our flesh (61).

Incarnation comprises Torrance’s lectures on Christology and Soteriology delivered in his classes on Christian dogmatics at New College during the years 1952-1978. Torrance had gathered his notes during the years 2001 and 2002, but before they could be edited for publication he suffered the stroke that brough both his scholarly career to an end and the process of bringing these lectures to print. Thankfully for the editorial work of Robert Walker we, together with Torrance’s students who heard them first hand, can benefit from his immense learning, insight, and strength of faith.

The volume makes at least two contributions. First, it offers the most systematic and complete presentation of Torrance’s thought available. While he had hoped to do so, he had never produced a dogmatics. Second, it provides a fine introduction to Torrance’s theology that will surely open the way for readers to mine the depths of earlier publications. If you have read any of Torrance’s other works, then you know that for all its liveliness and depth, it is not light going; it is challenging – immensely rewarding to be sure – but challenging. One hopes these published lectures would give readers encouragement to engage Torrance’s other works, which undoubtedly will reward.

If they are anything like me, readers of Torrance’s lectures just may find a sense of home, a resonance with the Gospel long-proclaimed in the Church but rarely heard clearly resounding in the academy.

The stark actuality of Christ’s humanity, his flesh and blood and bone, guarantees to us that we have God among us. If that humanity were in any sense unreal, God would be unreal for us in him. The full measure of Christ’s humanity is the full measure of God’s reality for us, God’s actuality to us, in fact the measure of God’s love for us. If Christ is not man, then God has not reached us, but has stopped short of our humanity – then God does not love us to the uttermost, for his love has stopped short of coming all the way to where we are, and becoming one of us in order to save us. But Christ’s humanity means that God’s love is now flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, really one of us and with us (185).

Amen indeed.


4 thoughts on “Coming back to Torrance: a review of Incarnation

  1. Yes, I was afraid I was the only one who appreciated Torrance around here :-). Incarnation was/is excellent, and your comment here is right on:

    If they are anything like me, readers of Torrance’s lectures just may find a sense of home, a resonance with the Gospel long-proclaimed in the Church but rarely heard clearly resounding in the academy.

    This is what initially attracted to TFT, ever since I first read his Mediation, and what continues to attract me to him (to me Torrance makes Barth better).

    After Incarnation everyone needs to read his “Atonement” (the companion vol to Incarnation), very good thus far (alot thicker, the page count)!

    Thanks for sharing this Kent, your students are lucky to have someone using TFT to teach them about Jesus through.

  2. Great stuff, Kent. Torrance has reshaped my thinking about God tremendously.

    I’ve got to agree with Bobby that Atonement ought to be read along with Incarnation. I’ve just finished reading them both straight through about a week ago and have to say that they belong together. Though I think the stuff in Incarnation represents what might be considered Torrance’s most characteristic contributions in terms of the saving reality of the Son’s unbreakable union with humanity in Jesus Christ, Atonement carries that through to its full implications in terms of the remission of sins, the indwelling of the Spirit, the canonizing of the apostolic tradition, and the building of the church. What you’ve said above about Incarnation being “the most systematic and complete presentation of Torrance’s thought available” I think can truly only be said about Incarnation and Atonement taken together.

  3. Pingback: T. F. Torrance on the meaning of Christ’s humanity – Inhabitatio Dei

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