Deep within his Big Paul Book, N.T. Wright (foot)notes his disagreement with the classic Reformed doctrine of the active and passive obedience of Christ. More precisely: it’s not so much that he disagrees with the fact that Christ was both actively and passively obedient – this is to my mind beyond dispute – but rather that he disagrees with Christ’s active obedience as something which merits righteousness which is then reckoned, credited or imputed to believers. Actually, even more precision is called for here, because Wright doesn’t especially really disagree with the idea that believers are reckoned to be righteous (this is, again, not really disputable). What he disagrees with is how that conclusion is reached, which, for the classic Reformed, is the imputation of Christ’s active obedience.
Perhaps the sharpest way to phrase a major difference between Barth and Torrance on the Trinity is that Torrance had no place for the subordination that Barth built into his doctrine of the Trinity. This is, of course, not news to readers of Barth: his understanding of the eternal subordination of the Son is one of the key distinctions of his theology. Torrance resisted this subordinationism on the grounds that Barth had read elements of the economy into the immanent Trinity, and set out to correct Barth on this point. The plainest way to state the differences between the two here is this: Barth follows the Cappodicians in assigning (for lack of a better term) monarchy (or principle of Godhead) to the Father alone, while Torrance follows Athanasius in assigning monarchy to the Trinity as a whole. Indeed, for Torrance, this just is the definition of monarchy, ‘the one ultimate principle of Godhead, in which all three divine Persons share equally, for the whole indivisible Being of God belongs to each of them as it belongs to all of them’ (Torrance, Trinitarian Perpsectives, p. 112) Continue reading
T.F. Torrance followed his mentor Karl Barth in a strident rejection of natural theology as a factor in man’s knowledge of God. While both affirmed that both God and the world he created are perceptible or apprehensible, the way that they affirmed it was a marked departure from how it had been classically conceived. Torrance, in particular, spent a good deal of time working through classical natural theology, both its roots and its consequences, and though he was appreciative of it, he was for the most part quite critical of what he took to be serious problems inherent within it. For Torrance, natural theology as a way of arriving at a knowledge of God via abstracting from sensory experience was destined to die the same death as empiricism and logical positivism. Torrance held that the idea of that scientific knowledge proceeds via the abstraction from sensory or observational data (what Sellars might call ‘observation reports) was roughly equivalent to classical natural theology and so the same weaknesses in empiricism were weaknesses in classical natural theology. Continue reading
‘Justification by Christ alone calls in question all systems and orders, and calls them in question because Jesus Christ alone is central and supreme in the one Church of God. In any true theological system, Justification is by reference to Christ alone, for conformity to Christ as the Truth of God for us is the one ultimate principle of unity.’ (Thomas Torrance)
In his gloss on the Scottish Confession of Faith, T.F. Torrance spends a good deal of time on the doctrine of justification. This is interesting, because as Karl Barth notes, ‘the doctrine of justification is never discussed in the Scots Confession,’ (The Theology of the Reformed Confessions, p. 130). What Torrance picks up on is the expression of the nature and consequences of the doctrine. We now will turn to the nature of the doctrine.
One of the things I’ve picked up on in reading Barth and Torrance is that some of the most interesting aspects of their work lies in the areas where they parted ways. Perhaps the place where this departure is sharpest is on the issue of the subordination of the Son to the Father, and the implications this has for a doctrine of God as a whole (I’ve discussed the human aspect of Christ’s eternal obedience before here, and this has bearing on the topic at hand). What I find most striking, however, is the force with which both present their arguments and reasons – there are good and solid theological reasons for following either Barth or Torrance on this.
There is a common song that is sung in modern theology, a song with two main themes: (1) that Christ assumed a fallen human nature, and (2) Karl Barth is in large part to blame (or thank) for this. This song has become something of an orthodoxy in contemporary theology and has largely gone unquestioned. Torrance picked up this theme and ran with it, citing Gregory’s famous ‘the unassumed is the unhealed’ maxim every chance he got. I want to suggest in this post, however, that Barth did not, in fact argue that Christ assumed a fallen human nature (FHN), and that this fact placed on more coherent (as well as orthodox) grounds than Torrance as far as christology goes. Continue reading
‘T.F. Torrance and Eastern Orthodoxy: Theology in Reconciliation‘, eds. Matthew Baker and Todd Speidell
Wipf & Stock, 360 pp. $33.60
With any luck, if you’re reading this blog, T.F. Torrance doesn’t need any introduction, but I’ll do a quick one anyway. Torrance was, quite simply, ‘the man’. That should suffice, I think.
Torrance’s proficiency in church history, philosophy, science and theology is well known, but if there was one thing that stands out about him, it’s his ecumenical work, and it’s that particular aspect of his accomplishments with which I am least familiar, so for me, this was a quite a fun learning experience.
This is an important volume, for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a collection of substantial, critical, appreciative and respectful engagement. There has been lots of engagement with Torrance, but to have a single book with so much engagement is, to me pretty significant. Second, it’s critical. While it’s appreciative, it points out some serious issues in Torrance, ranging from theological to scientific. For my money, it’s this aspect that is the most important, for reasons I’ll explain shortly.