‘Flesh and Blood: A Dogmatic Sketch Concerning the Fallen Nature View of Christ’s Human Nature‘, by Daniel J. Cameron, Wipf and Stock, 116 pp. $17.00
There is something of a resurgence of interest in the theology of Thomas F. Torrance happening in contemporary theology. A number of books and articles have been written on various aspects of his thought, from his eucharistic theology to his use of the patristic tradition to his influence within the context of ecumenical dialogue to his understanding of Christ’s assumption of a fallen human nature. This last point is probably the most controversial aspect of Torrance’s theology which he defended quite seriously, and is the subject of the present book under review.
Cameron’s work here is quite short; the actual text, excluding preface and bibliography, is only 85 pages. This is one of my criticisms: a book like this simply needs to be longer. There are lots of good ideas here and some crucially important for understanding the fallen nature view (FNV), but because of the short length, most of these ideas are simply noted or asserted when more sustained argumentation is needed. Consider this something of a standing criticism.
The book is composed of five chapters. The first simply sets the stage for what Cameron wants to accomplish: namely, an expostion of the FNV. The second chapter delves into the topic proper and lays out two stages of Torrance’s fallen nature theology: one weak, which entails simply that Christ assumes a fallen nature without originial sin, and one strong, which entails that Christ assumed original sin. The third chapter lays out a case against the FNV by engaging with Oliver Crisp and his resistance towards the FNV. The fourth chapter seeks to work with and against Crisp’s attacks in order to show that the FNV can fit within orthodox theology, and the final chapter gestures towards the role of the Spirit in a FNV-christology.
There is, like I said above, a lot of good here. Cameron (in the foreword) does a good little bit of historical work, showing the family resemblence but more importantly the differences between the two usual suspects who hold to the FNV: Torranceand Edward Irving. Cameron helpfully shows that despite said family resemblances, to group the two together ignores the stark differences between them (for example, Torrance argued that Irving’s christology was Ebionite since, for Irving, Christ’s sinlessness was due to the work of the indwelling Spirit and not Christ’s own nature). Cameron also quite helpfully spends some time working through classic Augustinian ways of thinking about sin and guilty, as well as setting the FNV firmly within the context of the atonement. Perhaps the most helpful point Cameron makes here is the vicarious nature of Christ’s assumption of original sin; as Cameron notes, ‘It is never his corruption or his guilt; it is always our corruption and our guilt’, (p. 55) Cameron also carefully distinguishes between persons and natures, arguing that a fallen nature doesn’t equal a sinful nature, since sinfulness is predicated of persons and not natures. Thus, for Cameron, Christ can assume a fallen nature, but since he is the second person of the Trinity (and since it is nature and not person that is assumed) Christ can remain sinless despite this assumption. A good deal of time is also spent fleshing out the role of the an/en-hypostatic distinction.
However, for all this, there are still serious issues. Persons and natures are not defined in any vigorous way; Cameron disputes the Boethius-ish definition that Crisp favors, but is only able to say that Torrance ‘appears’ to hold to a different idea, where a nature is a universal property shared by all humans which is personalized by each individual person (p. 60). Cameron criticizes Crisp for the same reason Torrance criticizes Boethius – namely, that the Boethius-ish view is a philosophical concept derived through the analysis of substance and nature. But surely human nature as a universal property is in the same boat – if anything, isn’t the idea of a universal property with personalized instantiations just as problematic (and, perhaps, fairly similar to Crisp’s)? With only a bare paragraph devoted to this issue, Cameron lands in the same spot as Torrance, which is effectively a spot with a non-definition of human nature. Perhaps Crisp and Boethius do have an overly philosophical concept of nature and person, but this is surely a step up from a non-concept. Another criticism I have is that while Cameron promises to examine the use of various Scriptures that purportedly support the FNV by Luther and Calvin, and, while the examination of the Scriptures themselves is quite helpful, there is a near total absence of references to Luther and Calvin.
While there is a lot of good contained in this short volume, I can’t help feel that it would have been even more effective had it been longer and a more coherent account of ‘natures’ and ‘persons’ been developed, and more historical-theological work done (especially since Luther and Calvin’s use of FNV Scripture was never discussed). However, the positive aspects of this volume are quite weighty, so perhaps this volume can be thought of as a ground-clearing excercise (and, in Cameron’s defence, his work here is presented as a sketch, so I may be being a little unfair here). At any rate: read this volume, and use the problem spaces sketched out as jumping-off points for further discussion and work on this topic.
**NOTE** I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for a review which in no way guaranteed a positive review