T. F. Torrance as Missional Theologian

Sherrard, Joseph.  T. F. Torrance as Missional Theologian: the Ascended Christ and the Ministry of the Church. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress Academic, 2021.

I initially approached this book with some skepticism.  Whenever someone uses the term “missional,” it is often to baptize some new, edgy idea.  Moreover, Thomas Torrance does not make one think of “missional theology.”  I was intrigued.  This book far surpassed my expectations.  The problem with missional theology is not that it tries to be missional.  Its problem is that it largely ignored the Trinity.  To be sure, some astute readers might point out Barth’s phrase of the “Mission Dei.”  Understanding what Barth meant by that might be a more daunting task.  

Whatever else Sherrard might say about missional theology, this book is a fine primer to Torrance’s theology.  As any reader of Torrance knows, the chief culprit is dualism. Dualism infected the Western world by Plato through Newton.  It was halted by James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein.

The hero of this story, as is the case with all of Torrance’s works, is Athanasius.  Athanasius was primarily influenced by the Markan tradition in Alexandria and the way of science in Alexandria.  This way of science is “kataphysical,” to use Torrance’s phrase.  We know a thing by submitting our minds to its inherent rationality.  According to Torrance, Athanasius employed this in his understanding of the Father-Son relationship.

Pre-Nicean Dualisms

Origen, Clement, and Alexandria understood the problem of dualism.  Unfortunately, they addressed dualism by reinforcing its basic assumptions.  Athanasius countered this, according to Torrance, with the claim that the revelation of Christ “exerted its own inner logic upon the term logos.”  Logos was no longer a Middle Platonic concept; it was now the Ha-Debar.  Logos did not mediate between God’s being and man’s being.  Rather, it was enousia logos; the logos internally inheres in the ousia of God (Contra Arianos II.1).  The relation between God and the logos is an internal relation.

Torrance and Calvin

Calvin was able to move somewhat beyond Augustine’s dualism of the mundus intelligibilis and the mundus unintelligibilis. This is best seen (though, to be sure, this is probably more illustrative of Torrance than of Calvin) with the fact that one cannot detach grace from God and make it inhere in a creature, such as we see in Roman Catholicism.  Grace is identical with Christ.

Barth

For the most part I do not care about this section because I do not care about Barth.  There are some perceptive comments on liberalism that are worth mentioning, though. Older liberalism upheld the same pernicious dualism.  Only now it was a dualism of correspondence between the divine and subjective structures in man’s self-consciousness.

At this point Sherrard pivots from the doctrine of God to the ministry of the ascended Christ to his church, as per the subtitle. In line with good Reformed theology, Sherrard points us to the threefold office of Christ as prophet, priest, and king. It is this framework that is “determinative” for “the church’s participation in Christ’s ministry.” Torrance does modify the traditional Reformed schemata in several ways. Torrance sees Christ’s offices as already embedded in the narrative of Israel by three Hebrew words: paddah, kipper, and Go’el. 

Torrance tends toward a “munus duplex” in some places, as the prophetic office is subsumed into the priestly one. If “homoousios” function as a cipher for his doctrine of God, the vicarious priesthood has a similar role for his Christology. Even if his account is overstated at points, he makes a number of important gains: his take on the vicarious humanity emphasizes the role of man to God in the mediator. Moreover, the humanity of Christ safeguards the reality of divine revelation.

Unlike some missional accounts, Torrance links the ascension of Christ with the Church’s ministry.  The church does not need to be “incarnational” for the sole reason that Jesus has ascended and give His Spirit.

The final chapters of the book contain some technical discussions about anhypostasia and enhypostasia and how they relate to the ministry of the church. As hinted at above, any discussion of “being incarnational” runs aground on the terms an/enhypostasis.

Conclusion

This book is a fine primer to the theology of Torrance.  Many of us who began our study of Torrance did so on the doctrine of God.  Sherrard’s work reminds us of other riches in Torrance’s corpus.

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