Journal for Christian Theological Research


Thomas F. Torrance's understanding of the relationship between incarnation and atonement is deeply shaped by his understanding of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed and Greek patristic theology, particularly that of Athanasius. The soteriological emphasis of Nicene theology and the soteriological orientation of Athanasius in his whole approach to the doctrine of the Son and his cosubstantial relation to the Father are central points in Torrance's Christology. He gives a supreme place to the Nicene homoousion and interpreting from this foundation he sees atonement as taking place within the incarnate being of Jesus Christ. An examination of the modes of atoning redemption which underlie the scriptural account as well as early patristic theology shows their significance concerning the relation of incarnation and atonement. The ontological mode of atoning redemption, when seen in the light of the incarnation, lays emphasis on the full humanity of the Redeemer Jesus Christ and that he actualised kinship with humankind through the incarnation and claimed our sins and guilt and provided atoning redemption in himself, bringing us back into union and communion with God the Father. Whereas this mode could be seen as countering and refuting such heretic ideas as Arianism and Apollinarianism, the dramatic mode of atoning redemption speaks against ideas like Deism, where God is too far removed from our world to intervene, or such notions of God and our world as we find in Isaac Newton and his closed system. While the former stresses the complete humanity and thus the kinship of the Son of God with us and the latter the complete divinity of the human Jesus Christ, the priestly or cultic mode of atoning redemption interpenetrates both of the others by emphasising the significance of the divine and human natures being in union in the incarnate logos. All three modes are, therefore, essential in the understanding of atonement in relation to the incarnation.