The theology of T.F. Torrance is a catholic theology in the true sense. Not only has he been in conversation with theologians from East and West, from the Early Church to the contemporary leading theologians, but he is also catholic in the sense that in general his theological convictions are in agreement with the great doctrines of the Ecumenical Councils. In that light it is the more remarkable that on a few, though not unimportant, doctrines he is in disagreement with the mainstream theological tradition. One such point is his conviction that Christ assumed a fallen human nature, whereas the standard doctrine maintains that Christ assumed an unfallen human nature. Torrance, of course, had good reasons for believing that his adjustment of the doctrine was necessary. In fact, one of Torrance’s core motives is his resistance against a logic of reconciliation in terms of ‘external relations’. Sin goes deeper than that; it’s a matter of ontology. Our very nature is deeply affected by sin. Therefore, Christ’s redemptive work must be conceived ontologically as well. He assumes not merely our human nature, but our fallen nature, corrupted by sin. By doing that, from birth to resurrection and ascension, he heals our fallen nature.
I’m very sympathetic to Torrance’s theological intentions. However, there are a few problems with his point of view. To make clear what I mean, I will have to appeal to soms logical distinctions. Despite his being acquainted with the latest developments in science, Torrance didn’t make use of contemporary developments in semantics and logic. I will raise a few questions that emerge in applying modal logic to Torrance’s proposal. That doesn’t mean that these problems are insuperable. To eliminate these problems, however, some additional work has to be made. That, at any rate, is what I’m saying.
Let us think about the conception of Christ’s human nature as a fallen nature. The way Christ’s human nature should be understood, is of course a matter of great complexity and intense debate. But what is ‘a human nature’? Roughly it is something like this: ‘a human nature is the set of properties which are essential for being human’. The qualification ‘essential’ is important in this respect. My ‘sitting in a chair’ is not the kind of (accidental and contingent) property that is essential. What we mean by ‘essential’ is not even a universal property, but stronger than that: a property which the person or thing in question has in every possible world. If we apply this to the way Torrance views Christ’s human nature, it raises several questions. Does he mean bij ‘fallen nature’, that ‘being fallen’ is an essential property? That however seems very implausible, because it would make the Fall necessary, instead of contingent. Torrance certainly couldn’t have wanted to claim that. Or could perhaps the distinction of Thomas V. Morris between ‘kind-essence’ and ‘individual essence’ help here? If we, on the other hand, interpret the ‘fallenness’ of Christ’s human nature as an accidental property, we run into new questions as well. How are we to understand that a nature consists not only of essential, but also (partly) of accidential properties? Moreover, it seems that Torrance needs more than an accidental property for his claim that Christ heals our nature by assuming it, because it would make the healing accidental as well. That is in congruence with the mainstream christian tradition, but does it sufficiently express what Torrance wanted to claim: a kind of ontological healing?
In short, the way Torrance speaks of Christ’s assumption of a fallen human nature raises several questions in the sphere of (modal) logic and ontology. But then, there is more to ask. For example, how does the ‘healing’ work? Torrance, for example, speaks of ‘sanctifying’ and ‘perfecting’ our nature (Theology in Reconstruction, 248). Somewhat more specific, he says that Christ is in the position to ‘transfer what is his to our human nature in him’ (ibid., 246). In another passage, he focuses on our willing, saying that Christ ‘laid hold upon our wayward human will, made it his very own, and bent it back into obedience to, and in oneness with, the holy will of God’ (ibid., 157). Despite the vivid imagery, new questions arise. Is it correct to speak of human nature , not only as having a will, but as willing (cf. an intriguing post on Out of Bounds last month)? Moreover, even if we grant that Christ somehow ontologically bent our human will back, into obedience to God’s will, why don’t we see much more fruit in humanity, in the past and present? How can we account for that?
Once more, I’m very sympathetic with Torrance’s intentions. But for the moment I’m not quite sure whether it is possible to give a satisfying explanation of his particular way of construing Christ’s redemptive work.