Carnal union with Christ in the theology of T.F. Torrance
Rankin, William Duncan
This thesis examines and critiques the doctrine of carnal union with Christ in the theology of Scottish theologian Thomas Forsyth Torrance. Torrance's teaching on union with Christ in general and carnal or incarnational union with Christ in particular is unfolded within the wider context of his christocentric dogmatics and its genetic development. Extensive use is made of Torrance's unpublished Auburn and New College lectures on the subject. The teachings of Athanasius, Calvin, and Barth on union with Christ, since Torrance professes such a great debt to their influence on his own thought in this area, are also surveyed, and lines of continuity and discontinuity with Torrance's teaching are traced. I demonstrate that, although developed from a variety of historical sources and not so readily seen from his published works, a unique development of the ancient theological couplet of anhypostasia and enhypostasia exists at the heart of Torrance's christology. This couplet lies behind Torrance's understanding of the person of Christ and his union with humankind. He develops his doctrine of carnal union with Christ under these twin rubrics of anhypostasia and enhypostasia. I contend that while Torrance seeks to resolve the tension between these juxtaposed categories, it is not clear that he has adequately resolved the antithesis. Part of the tension is due to a lacuna in the anhypostatic rubric. Specifically, the abbreviated version of salvation history for carnal union with Christ that Torrance develops from the nonassumptus is less overtly trinitarian than that of its enhypostatic counterpart. I demonstrate that Torrance's doctrine of carnal union with Christ omits clear reference to the role of the Holy Spirit in this anhypostatic aspect of the incarnation, creating confusion in the minds of critics over the relevance of both the Holy Spirit and human response in Torrance's theology. This lacuna begs clarification in a theology that is otherwise known as overtly trinitarian. Furthermore, I contend that Torrance's doctrine of carnal union with Christ introduces an element of contingent necessity into the nature of the incarnation. Torrance's construction demands that God must incarnate in just this way, setting up a carnal union with Christ that includes all humankind in its universal range, because the Logos who assumes humanity is the creator: Christ is not only a man but Man. I argue this contingent necessity endangers the freedom of God and truncates the voluntary nature of Christ's person and work, as well as valid human response, in the anhypostatic rubric. Because of these potential difficulties, clarification beyond mere appeal to the other juxtaposed category of enhypostasia is required. Thus, I conclude that it is not acceptable for Torrance to leave doubt about either the significance of the Holy Spirit or human response in even one strand of his theological tapestry.