In Christian tradition, truth is not a concept that “works” but an incarnation that lives.
—Parker J. Palmer, To Know As We Are Known, 14.
In Christian tradition, truth is not a concept that “works” but an incarnation that lives.
—Parker J. Palmer, To Know As We Are Known, 14.
Because God, in the Incarnation, takes on our full humanity, we can be certain that on the Cross God took in Christ’s suffering and death, profoundly and completely. This means that in the midst of our suffering, God similarly (by adoption) takes on the full weight of our human plight and bears our traumas fully, in solidarity with us.
— Jones, “Practical Theology in Two Modes,” in Bass and Dykstra, eds., For Life Abundant, 204.
The incarnation does not diminish God, does not reduce God to narrow human terms. Instead, it explodes the boundaries of the human enterprise; it infinitely enlarges the self and the world.
—Parker J. Palmer, To Know As We Are Known, 64.
Many Christians speak of God. A large number of those Christians would affirm that God is Trinity: one being, three persons. Some have learned this from creeds and catechisms, others from hymns. Very few, I suspect, have given sustained thought to what it means that God is Father, Son, and Spirit. This is what C. Baxter Kruger delivers in The Great Dance.
Kruger uses the metaphor of dancing (perhaps picked up from C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity?) to describe the life of Father, Son and Spirit. This life is woven through creation like a great river. The goal of God is to draw everyone into this river, this dance.
I used the word “everyone” on purpose. Kruger has left Calvinism with is doctrine of limited atonement (or more generously stated, “definite atonement” or “particular redemption”) behind. He preaches the good news of the great dance like an evangelist:
The Father himself set his love upon you before the foundation of the world and predestined you to be adopted into the very Trinitarian life of God. And his own beloved Son, Jesus Christ, has come and accomplished his Father’s dreams for you and the human race. And even now the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with your spirit that this is the truth. (from his essay, “Why I Left Calvinism Behind“)
A fully realized doctrine of the Trinity demands a careful understanding of Jesus’ Incarnation, something which Kruger provides with clarity and passion. Drawing on the work of the Torrance brothers, he explains how the Incarnation was the work of God hammering our sin-gnarled humanity back into its original shape. This work began at birth and continued to and including his obedient death.
Kruger does well to sidestep ontological arguments (homooousia, anyone?) and stresses a relational understanding of the Trinity. This is immensely helpful for modern readers. If God chose to reveal himself in relational terms (Father-Son), then why would we want to privilege Greek philosophical categories foreign to scripture?
My only difficulty with this book was the way Kruger handled suffering, a topic reserved for the final chapter. Suffering is the result of believing the lie of the enemy and divorcing yourself from the great dance. While this is true in part, surely there’s more to it than that. Kruger speaks of the “philanthropy of the Triune God” (33)—that joy that runs through ordinary life which we experience in motherhood and fatherhood, gardening and cookouts, carpentry and friendships. How do we explain the lives of people who suffer deeply and constantly precisely for their participation in the great dance? The Apostle Paul spoke about joy in suffering, rejoicing in trials.
That caveat aside, The Great Dance is a rare book that makes deep theological insight readable and enjoyable. The Great Dance is something any Christian could read to deepen their faith in the triune God.
—C. Baxter Kruger, The Great Dance: The Christian Vision Revisited (Victoria, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2000).
Thomas F. Torrance taught these two classes at Edinburgh University from 1952 to 1978. This volume, Incarnation, contains the notes of Torrance’s Christology class as edited by Robert T. Walker. The book is dense and full of historical theological detail. Consuming Incarnation on the printed page was challenging enough—I can’t imagine having to grasp this material in lecture format alone!
Torrance begins with a careful description of his “scientific method” which is probably not what you’re assuming. For Torrance, a subject has to be studied according to its own internal logic. The Christ has given himself to be understood by scripture. Rather than import some modernist framework for understanding how Jesus is fully God and fully man, Torrance stays with the logic of scripture.
The most important theme of Incarnation is the atoning nature of the hypostatic union. Even though the second volume in this series is dedicated to Soteriology—Atonement, Torrance repeatedly emphasizes how the union of God and man in one person was a crucial element in the salvation of humanity. If your Christology is wrong, your Soteriology falls apart. The unassumed is the unredeemed.
Incarnation is full of detailed historical arguments, from Scripture to Patristics to the Reformation. Every view is carefully explained and evaluated. In order to better grasp this material, I have summarized and offered some reflections on each section.
In the end, Torrance’s theology leads to doxology. You can’t help but be inspired to worship the God-man who assumed our fallen human nature in order to redeem humanity.
—Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, Robert T. Walker, Ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008).
In the incarnation, the king has come to reclaim his people for his Kingdom. Jesus is the mighty one who paradoxically exercises his might through submission to violence. Jesus’ preaching, healing, and exorcising power are all attacks on the power of Satan. His entire life was a conflict with the powers of this world. In Jesus, the light of God invades the darkness and releases the prisoners who sit therein.
The Father is grieved by the state of his creatures. Humans are so deeply under the power of sin that they can not extricate themselves. This is why God in Christ acts graciously, never blaming the sick for their sins before helping them. When Jesus encounters the sinner, there is a struggle between God and an evil will, a will that resists salvation. It is precisely here where God enters, taking this “human being and existence upon himself” (242). This is how Jesus sets us free from the power of sin and death.
This is no easy thing for God—he “hazards and stakes his own existence and being in the salvation of men and women” (243). This brings us to the mystery of evil. Evil is more than mere negation, the absence of good. It is positive opposition to God. Evil is ultimately irrational.
The gospel writers allot half of their manuscripts to Christ’s passion. It is here where we will see the depth of humanity’s estrangement from God. Let’s unpack this idea in six ways.
Whenever Jesus proclaimed his word, that word was an assault upon the enemies of God and whenever he acted in forgiveness and healing that act was in deliverance of men and women from enslavement to the power of Satan, the prince of evil. (237)
When Jesus exorcised demons his power against the works of darkness was plainly visible. Torrance brings up an important point here: his words, his forgiveness of sin, and his healing acts were just as much an assault against Satan as his exorcisms! When Jesus forgives, the darkness trembles. When Jesus heals, the prisoners who sit in darkness are called out of their cells.
Mankind is not only estranged from God but estranged from true humanity, determined and controlled in their self-will by evil power that destroys their very being: they are subjected to evil existence and live in the shadow of death and destruction. (242)
This perspective is important. Humanity-in-sin isn’t making a free choice to rebel against God, they’re undermining and destroying their own humanity. The only way to be fully human is found in Christ.
The very wrath of God is a sign of hope, not of utter destruction – for if God chastises us then we are sons and daughters, and not bastards, as the scripture puts it. (249)
This is hard to understand from the human side. Pain is never welcome. Still, just as a child responds to the healthy discipline of a parent, we (in the end) respond to God’s discipline. His discipline is a sign of his love. The opposite of love is not discipline, but apathy.
Sin is the negative correlative of faith. (253)
You would think that the negative correlative of sin is good deeds. This betrays a misunderstanding of what sin truly is. Sin is more than certain acts, it is a fundamental resistance in human nature to God. The opposite of this resistance to God is a running to God—faith.
The Reformers approached the hypostatic union from a different angle than the church fathers. The Patristic emphasis on abstract being was pushed to the side in favour of a more relational understanding.
The Lutheran and Reformed traditions look at the incarnation differently. The Lutherans emphasize the union of divine and human, while the Calvinists emphasized the person of the Son of God as God and man. These are two “complementary and overlapping aspects of the truth” (215). Both traditions focused more on the dynamic movement of grace in the incarnation than defining a state in time. This allowed the Reformers to bring the life and obedience of the Son into the incarnation and look forward toward the atonement.
Pre-Christian philosophers defined space as a container—a space that was distinct from what filled it like a bucket is distinct from the water it contains. The Greek fathers rejected the container theory of space and insisted that God could be present with us without leaving his throne. They stated that God makes his own space and cannot be boxed in by an idea of a finite container.
The Lutherans and Calvinists differed here. Lutherans operated with the container view while the Calvinists held the relational view. For the Lutherans, Jesus left somewhere to be incarnate. For the Calvinists, Jesus’ presence filled the universe even as he lay in a manger. This was the problem the Lutherans called the extra-Calvinisticum.
Calvinists protested the Lutheran view that the incarnation confines Jesus within his human nature. There is truth on both sides. “Now that the incarnation has taken place, we must say that the Son is none other than Jesus, and is identical with him” (220). On the other hand, with the Calvinists we cannot deny the eternal transcendence of the Son.
The Reformers affirmed the Chalcedonian doctrine: “two natures without change, and without confusion, without division or separation” (221), but cast the union in a more relational light. Again, the Lutheran and Calvinist traditions differed on the nature of this communion.
Lutherans emphasized the union of two natures in communion where “the human nature is assumed into the divine nature” (221). Calvinists emphasized the “assumption of human nature into the divine person of the Son” (222). There was a direct union between human nature and the Son, but a union mediated by the Spirit between divine and human natures.
Lutherans spoke of a mutual participation of the divine and human natures but we must qualify this by stating that “God became man in Christ, but man did not, or did not also, become God” (222).
The Reformers also spoke of the communication of properties in the hypostatic union, but once again, they differ on the details.
Lutherans spoke of the communicatio idiomatum in three ways:
The Calvinists also spoke of the communicatio idiomatum in three ways:
The doctrine of the incarnation is a challenge to the classical immutability and impassibility of God. This is overcome when we recognize God’s freedom in choosing to share in our human life.
The Reformers stressed that humanity was not assumed into the divine nature, but into “the person of the Logos” (228). The concept of anhypostasis and enhypostasis clarify this.
En-hypostasis: The human nature of Jesus never existed alone. From its creation, the human nature of Jesus existed in hypostatic union with God.
An-hypostasis: Within the incarnation, Jesus existed as a fully human being.
These two concepts must be taken together.
It’s important to note that these two categories function like theological algebra. They help us to understand the incarnation but they do not “contain the ‘stuff’ of christology” (233).
The Reformers see the dangers inherent in the Patristic formulations of the doctrine of Christ whenever the Greek philosophical terms, inevitably used in the doctrine of Christ, came to acquire a static independence over against the direct witness of the New Testament. (214)
It almost seems paradoxical—the more accurately we attempt to describe the incarnation, the more we depend on philosophical categories foreign to the Hebrew scriptures. The narrative of revelation doesn’t respect our philosophy! This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t use our minds to deeply consider the mystery of the incarnation—it’s a caution against trying to shoehorn our relationship God into abstract categories.
If we really take the biblical view of God, then we must think of God the Father as sending the Son into our lost existence, into unutterable humiliation in order to be really one with us. We must think of God as determining himself freely to be our God, directing himself freely to share in the profoundest way in our frail life, in all its limitations and weaknesses, and even in its lostness, all in order to be our God, and to gather us into fellowship with himself. (227)
The context of this quote is in reaction to the doctrine of the immutability and impassibility of God. Immutability is the doctrine that God never changes. Impassibility is the doctrine that God does not experience emotions—pain or pleasure. Nothing could be further from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ goes to great lengths, experiencing both pain and pleasure, to rescue his creation. Immutability and impassibility have much more to do with Greek philosophy than Hebrew scripture.
In chapter 6, Torrance turns his attention directly to the hypostatic union. When we try to describe this in theological terms, we can fall into two different traps—we can emphasize Jesus’ eternal being at the expense of the historical person, or vice versa.
When patristic theologians attempted to describe this union, they didn’t say enough. They rightly guarded the doctrine from error by claiming that Jesus was fully God and fully man, but they didn’t say how these natures are united.
In developing a doctrine of the hypostatic union, we must be careful not to divorce Christology from Soteriology. Christ’s person is essential to his work. You cannot rightly expound one without the other.
We’ll start with the humanity of Jesus. The stakes are huge. If Jesus is not fully human, then God has not reached out to us in fullness. If Jesus is not fully human, then God has not revealed himself to us like we had supposed. If Jesus is not fully human, then we are not really reconciled to God since it took full human obedience and sacrifice to reconcile us.
Next we consider the deity of Christ. The stakes are just as high. If Jesus is not God, then we have no assurance that God has forgiven us of our sins. If Jesus is not God, then we don’t know precisely who or what Jesus revealed to us (“he is the revelation he brings” (188)). If Jesus is not God, then the cross is a horrible act of God against a mere human.
If Christ is not man, then God has not reached us, but has stopped short of our humanity – then God does not love us to the uttermost, for his love has stopped short of coming all the way to where we are, and becoming one of us in order to save us. But Christ’s humanity means that God’s love is now flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, really one of us and with us. (185)
When Adam first encountered Eve, he broke into poetry and cried, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23 ESV). When Torrance used this formula at the climax of his paragraph on God’s love, it made me realize the reality to which the marriage union points. Considering all the prophetic texts concerning God’s “marriage” relationship to his wayward “Israel,” this is very powerful biblical connection.
Only God against whom we sin can forgive sin, but the deity of Christ is the guarantee that the action of Christ in the whole course of his life is identical with the action of God toward us. It is not something of God that we have in Christ, but God himself, very God of very God. (187)
This is critical. When we look at Jesus we don’t see aspects of God or elements of God. We apprehend God. When Jesus teaches us, offers his life for us, forgives us of our sins, it is God himself acting on our behalf.
Everything depends upon the fact that the cross is lodged in the heart of the Father. (189)
“The cross is lodged in the heart of the Father.” What a powerful phrase. If Jesus isn’t God, then the crux of Christianity is some mad version of child abuse. If Jesus is God, then we can truly see what sacrificial love means.