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Thomas Torrance’s Mediations and Revelation by Titus Chung


Titus Chung,   Thomas Torrance’s Mediations and Revelation.

Farnham, U.K.; Ashgate, 2011. Pp. xx + 205. Hardcover, US$77.60. ISBN 978-14094-0570-2.

Chung’s purpose is to explore the logic and substance of revelation in the work of Thomas F. Torrance, highlighting throughout the book the role of mediation in all of Torrance’s thought, not privileging any one tome but acknowledging that Torrance’s most explicit discussion is the sustained argument found in the latter’s The Mediation of Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992).

In his investigation Chung carefully distinguishes between mediation (biblically understood) and immediacy.  While he never quotes Kierkegaard to the effect that immediacy is paganism, he plainly endorses Kierkegaard’s assessment. And while he never formally states the difference between mediation and inference or deduction, he is evidently aware that according to Hebrew logic any deity that is inferred or deduced or concluded is  eo ipse an idol, since the identifying characteristic of the Holy One of Israel is the self-disclosing speech/act that renders all inference not only unnecessary but also impossible.  In short, immediacy and inference alike presuppose a deity other than Yahweh. The living God is known non-immediately (only the creaturely realm can be known immediately) yet non-inferentially, since human recipients of God’s grace are included by the Spirit in the divine/human Son’s knowledge of the Father.

Accurately reflecting Torrance’s concern in his many discussions of mediation, Chung begins his exposition with a discussion of Israel and its ardent, oft-anguished wrestling with God wherein its life with God and its disciplinary suffering under God formed it as the “womb” that nurtured and gave birth to Jesus. In Israel’s history under God there were fashioned the categories – such as sacrifice, priest, king, sin, salvation – by which Jesus Christ was to be understood and the language in terms of which he was to be described, announced and commended.

As Chung moves from a discussion of Israel as the locus of God’s self-revealing activity to the locus of the Word incarnate, Chung probes Torrance’s reiterated distinction between anhypostasia and enhypostasia. Enhypostasia means that Jesus Christ is human with the humanness with which all humankind is human, apart from which he would lack representative and substitutionary significance. Anhypostasia means that in order for the Son or Word to become incarnate he must be incarnate in a particular human individual. Apart from anhypostasia no incarnation has occurred; apart from enhypostasia, the incarnation possesses no significance for anyone beyond Jesus of Nazareth.

Chung’s exploration of the foregoing forms the bridge to his examination of dualism and Torrance’s hallmark aversion to it. In his theological work spanning almost seven decades few matters drew Torrance’s ire more than the dualism that he regarded as having disfigured theology for centuries. Dualism – between fact and meaning, soul and body, eternity and time, act and being – warped theology and above all theo-epistemology wherein a hiatus appeared between our knowledge of God and God’s knowledge of himself. Humankind’s knowledge of God was distorted by assorted speculations instead of rightly being seen as an implicate of God’s knowing himself, the latter a predicate of God’s own intra-Trinitarian life.

In light of the above Chung fittingly guides readers to Torrance’s searching, searing criticisms of Arius in the realm of Christology and Newton in the realm of physics. Athanasius (Torrance never relaxed his admiration for the latter’s homoousion apart from which Torrance always insisted the gospel would have been lost) remained as pivotal for Torrance in theology as  Maxwell, Einstein and Polanyi did in science, not least because of the lattermost’s sustained argument for the presence of a personal yet non-subjectivistic element in all knowing, scientific included. Newton’s dualism divorced God from the world and rendered God unknowable as surely as Arius’ Christology rendered Jesus Christ neither divine nor human and therefore divorced from both at once.

Chapter three, “The Epistemological Realism of Theological Science,” traces Torrance’s epistemological debt to Albert Einstein, particularly Einstein’s insistence that science progresses not by guesswork concerning the cosmos but rather as aspects of the objective world under investigation become transparent to patterns of intelligibility that inhere them; almost exude them, as it were. Science is possible only because there is a match-up between patterns of intelligibility in the natural world and the pattern or structure of human intelligence. Apart from this correspondence no one could think truthfully about the natural world. Inspired by Einstein, Torrance went beyond him in relating the correspondence between patterns of intelligibility in the cosmos and of intelligence in humans to the rationality or intelligence of the Logos, the second person of the Trinity, the one through whom all things have been made (John 1:3) and therefore whose inner principle or rationality has been imprinted upon God’s creation. As theologian Torrance maintains that only the Logos (Incarnate) is the sufficient ground for the phenomenon Einstein spotlighted.

From here Torrance explores revelation concerning its inherent logic, which logic ‘stamps’ itself upon humans as their reason – its structure survived the Fall but its integrity concerning knowledge of God did not – is now healed by grace to facilitate a non-speculative knowledge of God that can claim to be realist in the above sense as surely as scientific knowledge is realist. The remaining chapters of the book apply the material in the first three chapters to an examination of Torrance’s understanding of scripture, preaching, sacraments and church.

Doubtlessly Chung will be challenged with respect to the use he makes of Paul Tillich. In the course of comparing Tillich and Torrance Chung suggests areas where Tillich may supply a corrective to deficits in Torrance Chung claims to have identified. Are these putative deficits actual? Specifically, has Chung misread Tillich’s notion of correlation? And has Chung failed to understand the nature of theological trajectories in Torrance and Tillich that are not merely different but disparate?

The book is marred by gravely defective English.  Punctuation is incorrect and inconsistent. Non-idiomatic English expressions jar the reader on every page: e.g., “David’s [David Fergusson’s] initial supervision was consequential in setting my research in firm footing” (Preface); “The period between the two [nineteenth-century biblical criticism and postmodernism], of which Thiemann regards as leading the discipline into a blind alley, cannot be spared the influence of either” (p. xiv); “Torrance’s discourse of baptism does not end as his scripture” (p. 162); “…the referential relation between language and the objective reality of which it signifies” (p. 112); “Tillich although is unequivocal in the tenet of ‘directedness,’ his deterministic emphasis remains very much on the structure of the question” (p. 74). Most upsetting, perhaps, with respect to non-idiomatic English and sub-academic assessment is “Torrance is not the ordinary Barthian of regurgitation.” (pp. xiv-xv)

Worse are the numerous instances where the English word used is simply incorrect: e.g., “…a window to identify dualism as the threat that has to be harnessed resolutely” (p. 43); “…it is suffice at this juncture….” (p. 188); “…so that we are able to relate to divine compulsiveness” (p. 106); “On this note, the hypostatic union of Christ and his homoousion with the Father are impinged” (p. 40);“…Torrance underpins that the ultimate ‘hearing’….: (p. 188)  (Throughout the book Chung uses “underpin” repeatedly when he seems to mean “affirm” or “emphasize” or “insist.”)

Ungrammatical sentences keep readers off-balance everywhere in the book, force a re-reading, and frequently end in an irksome opacity: e.g., “Only by the epistemic dynamic of the Spirit that such trans-formal experience is made possible, so that as human we are able to know….” (p. 105)
The misrelated modifier (not to say the pointlessness ) is evident in “Being a theologian, Torrance’s articulation is expectedly theological.” (p. 71)
Readers are similarly rattled by the non-parallelism of verb tenses: e.g., “The guiding question is whether Torrance’s explication of the work of the Spirit….We would engage Kruger and Gunton….” (p. 94).

Worst of all, and indefensible, are the countless instances where major authors such as Torrance, Gunton and MacIntyre are misquoted: e.g., “…the various sciences themselves, ranging from physicals and chemistry…: (p. 175); “…they are already on the way that leads to the really existence of God” (p. 179); “It must not conceal us that such language…” (p. 78); “…the one who prefects the creation…” (p. 101).

Much work remains to be done on this book before it can be recommended to those interested in the contribution Thomas F. Torrance has made as theologian, logician of science, and the manner in which theology is deemed ‘scientific’ in the German sense of wissenschaftlich. Torrance characteristically argued that theology, like science, was marked by its own logos. For both disciplines the method of investigating any subject is mandated neither by speculation nor by importing another academic discipline (e.g., philosophy) but by the essence, structure and inner logic of the subject under discussion as the subject-matter forges within the thinker categories for understanding it in conformity with its own inherent logic as both (science and theology) attempt to give an ordered account of a reality that lies beyond them.

Victor Shepherd
Tyndale University College & Seminary
Toronto, Ontario
Email:  victor.shepherd@sympatico.ca