Book Review: T.F. Torrance’s Incarnation

It is with much thanks to Adrianna Wright of IVP for her graciousness in allowing me to read (in part) and review T.F. Torrance’s Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (IVP, 2008).

This is a long overdue review (over a year) and for that I sincerely apologize.   I have to say at the out set I have not yet read this book in its entirety so there is just no possible way I can offer a full and complete review – so it will only at best be an inadequate partial review – why have I not read the whole thing? Well, its a big book from a theological standpoint.  It’s not light reading by any means, so though it is only 371 pages including endnotes, appendices, index and so on, there is a lot to read and chew on. It’s going to take me a while to really get through it – so instead of delaying I am writing a partial review.

In this book on Christology, Torrance “addresses both the heart and head through a deeply biblical, unified, Christ-centered and trinitarian theology.”  He “presents a full account of the meaning and significance of the life and person of Jesus Christ, demonstrating that his work of revelation and reconciliation can only be understood in the light of who he is – true God and true man united in one person.”    Torrance contends that the whole life of Jesus Christ from his birth through to his resurrection and ascension, even to his second coming are of saving significance.  (quotes from the inside cover).

One question I want to address is what is the value or purpose of reading such a deeply theological work such as Torrance or even Barth and others for the pastor and preacher? The primary value lies in nature and purpose of church dogmatics.  The editor writes “Christian dogmatics is that discipline which which attempts to express the essential content of Christian faith and doctrine as an aid to the church in her teaching and preaching” (xxii).  In sum, the purpose of reading this particular work on Christology or even a work like Barth’s Dogmatics (even if one does not agree with all the finer points being discussed), is it allows the preacher to proclaim Christ and the Scriptures in a richer and deeper way.

Essentially, it adds theological depth to the sermon or teaching.

You want to be a strong pastor/theologian?  Read Torrance, Barth and the like!  :-)

Both Torrance and Barth (Torrance was for a time, a student of Barth) sought to put forth a dogmatics of Christian Theology for the help of the pastor so he or she could faithfully proclaim the Scriptures in an articulate and unified way that was line with faithful interpretation, historical Christian teaching including the Fathers (“all the saints” xxiii) thus proclaiming Christ and bringing glory to him.

Some of the leading features of Torrance’s theology are as follows:

The heart of Torrance’s theology is the Trinity and deity of Christ…. The truth of the Trinity, ‘more to be adorned than expressed,’ and the deity of Christ belong together (xxx-xxxi).

The deity of Christ is the guarantee of reconciliation.  Because Jesus Christ is God, he not only makes God known, but what he does is the work of God.  The words and acts of Jesus and of the Father are identical.  The deity of Jesus is therefore the guarantee that the reconciliation we see and receive in his the reconciliation of God himself (xxxi).

The full humanity of Christ is of equal importance with his deity.  If Jesus is not God then it is not God that has saved us, but equally, if Jesus is not man then man has not been saved.  The deity and the humanity of Jesus are equally important and neither without the other can bring salvation (xxxii).

The humanity of Jesus is the guarantee of human reconciliation and forgiveness.  In fact, the very act of incarnation is an act of reconciliation because now in the person of Jesus Christ, there is a permanent union of God and man (an act of reconciliation or re-union) (xxxiv).

The hypostatic union of God and man in the one person of Christ needs to be understood dynamically – not statically.  It needs to include the whole life of Jesus from his birth through to his resurrection.  This ‘hypostatic union’ had to be maintained throughout the life of Jesus not just at his birth.  “Throughout it all, the hypostatic union held fast as Jesus clung to the Father in utter and obedient dependence in prayer.  And the hypostatic union emerged victorious and unscathed in the resurrection as the eternal union of God and man in Christ Jesus” (xxxvi).

The hypostatic union is at the heart of the gospel.  “The doctrine of the union of God and man in Christ is the absolute heart of the gospel.  it tells us that the full reality of God in his love has come all the way to suffering and sinful humanity and has united himself with us. It tells us that we have been accepted in the fullness of our humanity and brought as we are into union with him in Christ. It tells us that because Christ is the permanent union of God and man, his person is the indivisible and living center of our salvation for all time”   (xxxvi).

There is much much more to this work than can possibly be reviewed here – so this will have to suffice!  I highly recommend this as a work for pastors to read and consume and integrate into their thinking and theology and preaching/teaching ministry.

14 responses to “Book Review: T.F. Torrance’s Incarnation

  1. I as well had a hard time thinking of how to review this book, but I thought it was spectacular. The way he holds so many things in tension is just beautiful! Thanks for reminding me of some of the key points in this book again.

  2. This book is on my short list of books to read (as well as Torrance’s “Atonement”). I will most likely purchase them this March (thank you birthday money :-)). Not sure how you worked it Brian to get a review copy…but way to go! :-) Must have friends in high places…lol.

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  4. I actually have a review of “The Christian Doctrine of God” at http://wadholm.blogspot.com/2010/01/christian-doctrine-of-god-one-being.html but haven’t yet read the former volume. His “Mediation of Christ” is a significant read as well. I must say that once someone has taken the time to grapple with Torrance they will never preach the same again. I find he has influenced my preaching tremendously (as has Barth and Bonhoeffer…with special emphasis upon the latter).

  5. Rick,

    Yeah I got to hear Torrance lecture years also, that was a benefit. He is certainly in the genre/kind of a Barth, as you know really affected by Barth.

    My oldest son got me the new Bonhoeffer book, I have yet to pick it up to read however. Bonhoeffer was a fine personal Christian, but I am not sure he was that theologically orthodox? I have read his Christ the Centre, besides his Cost of Discipleship, etc. The latter is a classic on that subject certainly.

  6. Thanks for the review, Brian. Both of these books Incarnation & Atonement are excellent! As is all of Torrance :-) . . . I’m glad that you are benefiting from him; I know I have and am!

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  8. The Mediation of Christ left me gasping for air in a sense. My Gospel presentation became fuller, richer and more dynamic – incorporating the ideas of prayer, worship, revelation, and my relationships with others and the world into the role of Jesus as high priest. No longer was my mediator wearing the one hat of a sin-eliminating mediator, but rather the ultimate and only go-between for each and every interaction with God…and for that matter, with others.

    When I cannot pray, Jesus prays for me. When I cannot worship, He worships for me, when I cannot see God, He sees God for me.

    The Incarnation (I’m only 1/3 of the way through) is getting me just as uncomfortable and yet more delighted. The idea that I cannot ‘make a decision’ to be saved in liberating; my job, and only job, is to ‘appropriate the decision that Jesus made on my behalf’.

    I am thankful daily to the Lord for enlightening TF Torrance. James Torrance has some wonderful writings as well!

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