Wednesday, September 7, 2011

T.F. Torrance: The Vicarious Humanity of Jesus Christ, pt. 8

Conversion

The Gospel calls us to repent and believe, even to make a “personal decision” for Christ. That is something each of us must do for ourselves. No one can substitute in that “ultimate act of man in answer to God,” no one, that is, notes Torrance, “except Jesus.” If we fail to allow Jesus Christ to substitute for us at the point of conversion, argues Torrance, we make his substitutionary atonement “partial” and, thereby, empty it of saving significance (Torrance, 1992:84).
In regard to our need of conversion, Torrance likens our fallen humanity to the prodigal son, who ran away from his father into the “far country” (Lk 15:11ff). By making himself one with us in our fallen and estranged humanity as it was running away from the Father, Jesus Christ “reversed its direction and converted it back in obedience and faith and love to God the Father.” In the incarnation, Jesus assumed our sinful humanity, and laid hold of us, even in the depths of our fallen minds where we were alienated and estranged from God, and “altered them from within and from below in radical and complete metanoia, a repentant restructuring of our carnal mind,” converting it into a “spiritual” mind.  As Torrance notes, in our fallenness, we were unable to escape from our self-will and the sin ingrained in our minds, so that we were unable to repent. Yet, Jesus Christ laid hold of our fallen minds, turning them around through his “vicarious repentance,” when he bore God’s righteous judgements on our sinful minds and, as the firstborn of every creature, “resurrected our human nature in the integrity of his body, mind and soul from the grave” (Torrance, 1992:84, 85).
Comment: Against Apollinarianism, that is, the wrong belief that the human mind was NOT assumed in the incarnation, Torrance follows the Chalcedonian fathers in rightly asserting the assumption of the human mind in the incarnation. The eternal Son assumes the sinful human mind and converts it back to the Father in “radical and complete metanoia.”
In regard to this great transformation of the human mind in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, Torrance continues:
It is significant that the New Testament does not use the term regeneration (paliggenesia), as so often modern evangelical theology does, for what goes on in the human heart. It is used only of the great regeneration that took place in and through the Incarnation and of the final transformation of the world when Jesus Christ will come again to judge the quick and the dead and make all things new. That is to say, the Gospel speaks of regeneration as wholly bound up with Jesus Christ himself.
Thus, for Torrance, conversion, or the “new birth,” does not apply to what happens in the heart of the individual believer but, rather, to the regeneration (paliggenesia) that takes place in the incarnation and the final transformation that will occur when Christ returns.
Comment: “Conversion” is not an emotional experience or a radical change in heart as the repentant sinner tearfully trods the sawdust trail beneath the billowing dome of the revival tent; it is about what happens in the regeneration of the human mind in the incarnation. May I suggest that we think of conversion “christologically” rather than “anthropologically”?
In this regard, Torrance (1992:85, 86; cf. J. Torrance, 1996:75) describes a conversation he had when he was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. When asked “if” he was “born again,” Torrance replied affirmatively. When asked “when” he had been born again, Torrance replied that he had been born again “when Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary and rose again from the virgin tomb, the first-born from the dead.” When asked to explain, Torrance replied: “[Jesus] took my corrupt humanity in his Incarnation, sanctified, cleansed and redeemed it, giving it new birth, in his death and resurrection.” That is, our “new birth,” “regeneration,” or “conversion” has taken place in Jesus Christ himself, so that when we speak of these terms, we are referring to “our sharing in the conversion or regeneration of our humanity brought about by Jesus in and through himself for our sake.” Torrance continues:
In a profound and proper sense, therefore, we must speak of Jesus Christ as constituting in himself the very substance of our conversion, so that we must think of him as taking our place even in our acts of repentance and personal decision, for without him all so-called repentance and conversion are empty.
Comment: Our conversion or “new birth,” is a sharing in the conversion of the human mind wrought in the healing assumption of Adamic flesh in the incarnation. Our new birth is a prior act of sheer grace, whereby, through no merit of our own, we are given to participate in the “conversion” of Jesus Christ.
Because Jesus Christ is its “substance,” conversion in a “truly evangelical sense” calls for a turning away from ourselves toward Christ. As Torrance (1992:86) argues, we must be converted from our “in-turned notions” of conversion to a doctrine of conversion grounded in, and sustained by, Jesus Christ himself.
In regard to the relationship between grace and human salvation, Torrance adheres to the Reformed tradition of election, with its stress upon the priority of God’s action in salvation over against that of human free will (Habets, 2008:350 n. 92). For Torrance, atoning reconciliation is a sheer act of grace on the part of God on behalf of all humanity. Because atoning reconciliation takes place in the hypostatic union of divine and human natures in the one person of Jesus Christ, Torrance is critical of those who base salvation upon a personal “decision” for Christ. He regards the Arminian assertion that the atoning reconciliation of Jesus Christ is available to sinners only “if” they repentant and believe as “unevangelical,”  for it throws believers back upon themselves for their salvation and has the effect of telling “poor sinners” that, in the last resort, they are responsible for their salvation (Torrance, 1992:93).
In contradistinction to the evangelical insistence on connecting conversion to the individual believer’s personal decision of faith, Torrance locates conversion in the incarnation, wherein Jesus Christ acts in our place, that is, vicariously, even in regard to the personal decision of faith and repentance. When Jesus received the baptism of repentance from John the Baptist, it was not because the sinless Son was in need of repentance. Rather, Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River as a sign of the conversion of human nature wrought in his cleansing, sanctifying assumption of fallen Adamic nature. Thus, as Athanasius, in his Contra Arius (Torrance, 1988a:190 n 152) asserted, when Jesus Christ, as man, was “washed” in the Jordan River, we were “washed.”
References
Habets, M. 2008. The Doctrine of Election in Evangelical Calvinism: T. F. Torrance as a Case Study. Irish Theological Quarterly, vol 73. pp. 334-354.

Torrance, J.B. 1996. Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace. Downers Grove, IL: IVP. 130 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1988a. The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church. London: T & T Clark. 345 pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1992. The Mediation of Christ (rev. ed.). Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard. 126 pp.

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