Pickwick Publications, 244 pp. $27.00
‘The unassumed is the unhealed’ is in all likelihood Gregory Nazianzus’s most famous saying, and it’s the driving force behind much of T.F. Torrances theology, and in short articulates the idea that Christ assumed ‘fallen human nature’ in the Incarnation. In this book, Kevin Chiarot explicates, analyzes and critiques Torrance’s use of this maxim in his christology. For such an important aspect of Torrance’s thought, the non-assumptus (Christ’s assuming of a fallen human nature) hasn’t received as much attention of this kind (and by that I mean monograph-ical treatment) as it should, and so Chiarot’s book is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature of Torrance’s theology. Chiarot focuses on a few key aspects of the non-assumptus in Torrance: the place of Israel in Torrance’s theology, the hypostatic union, the virgin birth, and the cross. Each of these aspects is thoroughly drawn out and examined in detail before turning to more critical analysis.
Chiarot begins the book by situating Torrance’s thinking on the non-assumptus within what he calls the ‘historical consensus’, namely, classical and Reformed orthodoxy. Chiarot examines the influences of Calvin, Barth, H.R. Mackintosh, Edward Irving and others on Torrance as well as briefly assessing contemporary scholarship on Christ’s assumption of a fallen nature. It’s also here that Chiarot lays out his own thesis statements, which are (1) the non-assumptus pervades every aspect of Torrance’s christological project, (2) the non-assumptus is joined with other aspects of Torrance’s theology like union with Christ and the human response, and (3) that the non-assumptus in Torrance is an ambiguous and potentially incoherent doctrine.
Turning to the place of Israel in Torrance’s christology, Chiarot shows how Torrance thought of Israel in a number of ways: as the ‘womb of the incarnation’, as the mediation of revelation, the mediation of reconciliation – all of which form a kind of backdrop for the Incarnation of Jesus. Chiarot’s survey of Torrance here is masterful, and if you didn’t know how Torrance thought about Israel before picking up this book, you’ll have a good grasp on it after reading this chapter. Of particular interest to me was how Chiarot detailed Torrance’s thinking on the development of the Old Testament Scriptures, seen as the ‘spiraling’ of the Word of God in and through Israel during the course of Israel’s history, as well as Chiarot’s exposition of Torrance’s distinction between the Word of God and the word of God. The immediate payoffs of Torrance’s ‘doctrine of Israel’, are, as Chiarot notes, that revelation is given a real depth, as is the vicarious nature of Christ’s atonement, which is enacted proleptically in the life of Israel.
Chiarot next turns to the virgin birth, which, for Torrance, is seen to be the very beginning of the atonement, the origin of Christ’s humanity, and the break in man’s condition of sinful autonomy – for Torrance here, the virgin birth is the ‘moment’ of the snactification of the fallen flesh that Christ assumes. The virgin birth, for Torrance, is a once-and-for-all event which can’t be seen in abstraction from the entire life of Christ. This chapter is fairly short, however, and I would have liked to have seen more from Chiarot here, since the virgin birth is such an important aspect of Torrance’s christology.
The next chapter focuses on the ‘continuous union’, or the hypostatic union. The key concept here is the homoousioun, which has both epistemological and ontological ramifications, as well as the enhypostatic/anhypostatic distinction. These are important ideas in Torrance (that’s actually something of an understatement), and Chiarot does a brilliant job of tracing their development and use in Torrance’s thought here. This section is probably the densest in the volume. The following section builds on this, and fleshes out the ramifications of the hypostatic union in the historical life of Christ, making heavy use of Torrance’s recently-ish published dogmatic lectures, ‘Incarnation’ and ‘Atonement’. For my money, the best part of this section was on Jesus’s baptism, which Torrance sees as the ground of our own baptism and as interconnected with and telescoped into the cross.
Chiarot’s exposition of Torrance is 100% on point throughout this entire volume. It’s a crash course in Torrance 101, with copious amounts of quotations and close, detailed exposition and exegesis. In fact, there is far more exposition of Torrance than there is criticism, which is my one real beef with the book. As good as the exposition is (and I’ll repeat myself here: it’s very, very good), if you’re familiar with Torrance, it will all be very familiar ground. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, except that the analysis/critiques, which end every chapter, usually make up a bare handful of pages – which is immensely frustrating when the critiques themselves are so good. Chiarot draws out some serious issues with Torrance’s christology, but given the sparse pages devoted to critique, he has the space to state or assert them and leave it at that. It’s bittersweet, of course – the reasons it’s frustrating is because I found the critiques to be so thought provoking (as an example, Chiarot argues that on Torrance’s scheme, if Christ assumes fallen human nature, then he doesn’t assume any fallen persons – and thus, only ‘fallen human nature’, which is never defined by Torrance, is healed, and not concrete humans).
Chiarot’s critiques are, in my opinion, worth the price of purchase alone. He rebuts Torrance’s attack of Westminster (or ‘federal’ theology) and argues sed contra that it is only ‘federal’ and forensic categories that can do the work Torrance wants to do here – Chiarot argues that the non-assumptus, as presented by Torrance, collapses into incoherence. But, again, these arguments aren’t fleshed out to the extent they need to be – I almost would have rather had less Torrance exposition and more critique-fleshing-out.
In summary, this is a solid volume – for those less familiar with Torrance, a good deal will be learned here. I would definitely recommend that anyone diving into this book have some working knowledge of dogmatic theology, though. For those more familiar with Torrance, there will be a lot of familiar ground retread, but the critiques, as short as they are, make the journey worth it.
**NOTE** I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for a review which in no way guaranteed a positive review