April 20, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Here is something my wife Rebekah just posted on her blog, still murmurings. She is working feverishly to complete her thesis, one chapter of which is devoted to the Christology of T. F. Torrance. Here are some of her thoughts on this seminal theologian.
I thought that I would introduce to you my friend Tom Torrance, a brilliant Scottish systematic theologian who died only a couple of years ago, leaving a hefty bibliography and many baffled students! Two of his most recent works have been published posthumously, compilations of his lectures entitled Incarnation and Atonement – I have mainly used these as the basis for my study.
What is so significant about Tom Torrance? First of all, he builds off of Gregory of Nazianzus’ (330-389) statement, “the unassumed is the unhealed” in his emphasis on the unity of Christ’s person and work in reconciliation. That is, Christ as true God and true human in one indivisible person, is the “permanent union between God and man.” There is reconciliation between God and humankind not only in Christ’s his death on the cross, but also in his person as he became ‘flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone.’
Torrance also took a cue from Calvin in maintaining that the whole life of Christ, the whole course of his obedience is part of our reconciliation and redemption. This is because Christ the mediator is not only acting on the part of God in faithfulness to humankind, but also acting on the part of humankind in perfect obedience and faithfulness to God. As descendants of Adam, the firstborn of humanity, we have inherited his disobedience and unfaithfulness in the flesh, which we also actively take part in daily. However, Christ became incarnate to inaugurate a new humanity, and lived in perfect covenant faithfulness and righteousness so that we may be granted a new inheritance (his inheritance!) of eternal life. His obedience has become our obedience, his faithfulness, our faithfulness. Eventually, this dynamic reconciliation came to a climax in the exercise of Christ’s perfect obedience to death on a cross, where the powers of death were finally defeated, and redemption was complete.
How has Torrance’s ideas made a difference to me? How has it influenced the way that I would preach the gospel? I deeply appreciate how Torrance’s focus from the beginning to the end of his Christology ever remains on Christ (as you would suppose, but this isn’t always the case!!). It’s amazing how anthropocentric the gospel can be made, often concluding with, “so what are you going to do about this?” Not that this reflection shouldn’t be made, but often we skip too quickly to application, without taking time to truly meditate on the amazing person of Christ, both truly God and truly human, who invites us to participate in his righteousness, not create our own. Let us be honest with ourselves and truly acknowledge that we absolutely do not have anything to offer God apart from Christ – our hands are empty, our spirits weak. We cannot ascend to the heights to see and know God, we are chained to the depths of our own sinfulness. While we strain our necks to get a glimpse of him, we hear a voice urging us to bring our gaze to the One who sits beside us, enfleshed in our same humanity, slugging around in our muck, but bearing the true face of our Father. Because of him, we do not need to cling to righteousness, perfect obedience, right prayer, intellect, or even redemption. We cling to Christ because he isall of these things: he is atonement, he is our obedience, he is our faithfulness, he is true knowledge of God.
When our messages, our stories are grounded in the true reality of Christ, the dichotomy between faith and works is lessened. For his faith is the source of our faith, and his works cover our works – the call then becomes to participate in what Christ is already doing, in his reality, not create realities of our own (see Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics). As someone who is constantly dealing with guilt, expectation, perfectionism, this is truly good news!
So I hope that this gives you a thirst for more Torrance. If so, I would highly recommend adding The Mediation of Christ to your summer reading list – it is a good synopsis of his Christology.
April 19, 2010 § 9 Comments
School is finally over, and I can begin to read books for enjoyment again! I typically go into summer with high hopes of reading lots of books and practicing my Greek and Hebrew, neither of which happen with any regularity. This summer I’ve decided to compile a list of books I want to have read by the time next semester starts. Here is my tentative list:
N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope (I actually just finished this one, but it was technically a summer read, so I’ll leave it on my list)
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. II/2 (I’m well into it already, and it is rather breathtaking so far)
T. F. Torrance, Incarnation and Atonement (my wife has been writing a chapter of her thesis on these two new books by the great Scottish theologian, and I’ve been eying them enviously the whole time)
Alan Lewis, Between Cross and Resurrection: Theology of Holy Saturday (I started this one during Lent, but sadly I didn’t have the time to finish it)
Miroslav Volf, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (mostly because it’s relevant to my potential thesis topic)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (seems like required reading for anyone who loves Bonhoeffer, which I do, very much!)
Emil Brunner, The Mediator (I found this one at a book sale and I’ve heard good things)
And fear not, now that I’m finished school, I plan to post more frequently, as it may be my only theological outlet for four months.
April 9, 2010 § Leave a Comment
A few days ago, I concluded my two-semester Theological Foundations course, which is meant to be a broad survey of Christian doctrine. It, quite appropriately, concluded with a lecture on eschatology and the Christian hope. In other words, what is this “good news” that we keep talking about? What is it that Christians anticipate with so much joy?
In lieu of saying anything myself, I’ll simply point you to an interview that Time magazine conducted with the Bishop of Durham, acclaimed New Testament scholar N. T. Wright. It’s rather provocative, I think, and equally compelling. I won’t comment on it, since I’m still wrestling with it, but I’ll let the good bishop speak for himself.
This interview appeared shortly after the publication of his book, Surprised by Hope, which deals with the topic much more extensively. I’m in the middle of reading it, and I imagine I’ll be more able to assess his argument after I’ve read through it. All I can say is that it’s very readable and enjoyable so far, much like his Simply Christian, which I received as a wedding gift and thoroughly enjoyed. It’s always nice when an acclaimed scholar writes books that can appeal to a wider audience than his fellow scholars.
April 3, 2010 § 2 Comments
Theological discourse has been complicated as of late with debates over gender-biased language regarding God. Masculine pronominal usage has either been defended or avoided. Before “he” as a generic pronoun became taboo in regular speech, this was not an issue, but now we dare not talk about God as “he” lest we risk inappropriately assigning gender to God, who must certainly be understood as beyond both male and female. It would be perilous to use something like “he/she” or “it” since the latter abolishes all personhood from God, and the former cannot help but bring gender to the forefront of our minds as we read it, possibly even suggesting hermaphroditical properties in God. One way to avoid this has been to avoid pronominal usage altogether. So, a phrase like, “God gave his one and only Son that he might save his people from sin and bring them into his fold” becomes “God gave God’s one and only Son that God might save God’s people and bring them into God’s fold.” Cumbersome? Indeed. More skilled writers might reconstruct the sentence to avoid the reliance on pronouns: “The Father gave the Son, the only Son of the Father, so that created humanity might be saved from sin and brought into the divine fold.” Though many writers can do this with greater skill than I (William Placher being a good example), one cannot help but notice that these two sentences don’t actually say the exact same thing. So, we are in something of a dilemma: do we wish to write with readable English, unbiased language, or theological precision? Some writers can manage all simultaneously, while others fail on all three counts.
I was thinking about how the English language might accommodate this development. That’s when I remembered our delightfully ambiguous second-person pronoun: “You.” It has the advantage of being completely indiscriminate, both in gender and number. At first it was just an amusing thought, but then I remembered the words of my professor, “Good theology ought to begin and end with prayer.” Theological discourse can become so detached from its object that it becomes esoteric and irrelevant. I wonder what would happen if theologians would begin framing their theology in prayer. Our phrase could now read, “God, you have given your one and only Son that you might save your people from sin and bring them into your fold.” This would not be an attempt to convey information about God to God, but simply a means of doxology, the theologian praising God for what God has done.
I haven’t really thought much about this, and it might be wrought with difficulties, but I can’t help but think that it would bear some good fruit, not the least of which would be putting theologians in the posture of prayer as they write, i.e., a posture of humility. I can’t help but wonder how theology from the knees would differ from theology from the pulpit. I might mention Karl Rahner’s wonderful book, Encounters with Silence, which I discovered on a silent retreat, and very well exemplifies what I’m talking about here. In it, one encounters a great theologian wrestling with God and himself in prayer, moving from frustration to doxology, thankfulness to bewilderment, self-reflection to silent awe. Many books I’ve read since I started seminary have moved my heart, but this is the first one in a long time that sang.
I’ll close with a quote from it, not because it particularly proves my point, but just because I think it’s wonderful:
You must make Your own some human word, for that’s the only kind I can comprehend. Don’t tell me everything that You are; don’t tell me of Your Infinity–just say that You love me, just tell me of Your Goodness to me. But don’t say this in Your divine language, in which Your Love also means Your inexorable Justice and Your crushing Power–say it rather in my language, so I won’t have to be afraid that the word love hides some significance other than Your Goodness and gentle Mercy.
O Infinite God, You have actually willed to speak such a word to me! You have restrained the ocean of Your Infinity from flooding in over the poor little wall which protects my tiny life’s-acre from Your Vastness. Not the waters of Your great sea, but only the dew of Your Gentleness is to spread itself over my poor little plot of earth. You have come to me in a human word. For You, the Infinite, are the God of Our Lord Jesus Christ. (16)
(By the way, sorry about the sparsity of posts in March. Seminary studies tend to climax at this time, and I’ve had less time than I would have liked to devote to extraneous thoughts. As my studies wrap up, I hope to find myself with more time to pursue other thoughts than the ones prescribed to me by my assignments. In the meantime, I’ll just have to take them as they come.)