Space, Time and Resurrection

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Thomas F. Torrance
T & T Clark Cornerstones
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury Academic
    , December
     256 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Thomas F. Torrance’s book, Space, Time and Resurrection, is a reissue of the book first published in 1976. For this Cornerstone 2019 edition, Paul D. Molnar has written a helpful introduction situating key features in the broader context of Torrance’s work and times. The book continues to be very relevant and Molnar considers it a classic. Space, Time and Resurrection is also a sequel to Torrance’s previous book, Space, Time and Incarnation (T & T Clark, 2005), where he focuses on the Incarnation. Here, the focus is on the Resurrection, Ascension, and Parousia (Advent) placed in the context of Incarnation, which serve together as a continuous historical redemptive unit. 

Torrance begins by making no apologies for taking divine revelation seriously. That revelation includes the Protestant Old and New Testaments, which are inspired and passed along through the community of the Christian Church, and for whom Jesus Christ is God’s Word made flesh communicated through the Christian gospel. This is an objective and cognitive revelation with a message meant to be understood intelligibly (1-2). Consequently, we must interpret the bible and gospel events in light of their own theological and cultural linguistic framework, rather than an alien framework that dismisses the possibility of the supernatural (contra Rudolf Bultmann) (4-5). Torrance’s thesis is that, just as the incarnation really occurred in space time history, so did the resurrection—including the ascension and 2nd advent/Parousia (advent) of Christ. A key word is objective in contrast to merely subjective. In other words, the resurrection—along with the incarnation—are historical events, not merely alive in the thought-life of Christ’s followers. In taking this position, Torrance is primarily seeking to exposit the New Testament’s own self-understanding, and its witnesses to the events and understanding they came to believe. In this regard, the author discusses the importance of both theology and science for a proper understanding of Incarnation and Resurrection. For Torrance, a positivistic approach, that physical resurrection cannot happen in history, is philosophically alien to both to the biblical accounts, and a legitimate understanding of scientific theory. 

The incarnation and resurrection are two unitary ultimates on which the Christian faith stands. They form the basic framework of understanding for the interaction of God and mankind in space and time (20-22). The author elucidates this further to include the crucifixion of Christ as a similar historical event between the two, where Jesus Christ functions as mediator between God and man, the paschal lamb slain to atone for sin and guilt. The resurrection functions as the Divine Father’s “amen” to the self-offering and sacrifice of the Divine Son (46-49). The resurrection is seen on God’s side as accepting Christ’s self-offering for our salvation, overcoming the estrangement of human sin, as well as the powers of darkness (49-52). The resurrection, with the crucifixion, is viewed as an act of both divine judgment on sin as well an act of divine forgiveness of sin. It is God’s Yes and No for the justification of the sinner, and a telling deathblow against sin and death (61-62)! Christ’s death and resurrection then lead to our peace and reconciliation with God through Christ, and function as “the Archimedean point” for theology. All knowledge of God is oriented to and from this focal point of resurrection (74). This also has implications for human existence, including restoration to fullness of life and bodily redemption from perishability (74).

Nevertheless, two other points need to be declared—that of the Ascension and Parousia. The Ascension is Christ’s rising to the Father’s place outside of our space and time and a resumption of divine enthronement at the Father’s side to exaltation, power, and glory (111, 130-135). From there, Jesus executes the munus triplex, his office and prophet, priest and king (112-122). However, another essential element still needing to take place is the Parousia, the return of Christ. The Kingdom of God and Christ was inaugurated through his death and resurrection, but awaits its complete eschatological realization (146) “when the time of our world will be torn aside.” Consequently, just as the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection are located in time, so it appears the Parousia enters time, but will set into place a new order. 

Torrance’s own thought is most indebted to John Calvin and Karl Barth. Torrance has a very Christocentric focus and Reformed perspective in his theology. This is illustrated by his use of the triplex munus, an emphasis of Calvin’s. He also sounds very much like Barth, reciting Barth in places, including his use of Barth’s dialectic of redemption and judgment, God’s YES and NO, and the overcoming of Nothingness—Barth’s term for evil. Also, underlying Torrance’s approach in incarnation and resurrection, is the hypostatic union, that Jesus Christ is both fully divine and human. The incarnation is a presupposition of the resurrection. Similarly, the divinity of Christ is a presupposition of the incarnation and resurrection. In contrast to kenotic views of Christ’s earthly existence, which see Christ as laying aside in some manner certain divine capabilities, Torrance affirms a complete divinity—all attributes included. 

This is an important read, but one not without potential criticisms. Though Torrance is obviously up on his scientific theory, he may not sufficiently address commonly held assumptions of naturalism, scientific law, and determinism to deter detractors of a physical and historical resurrection. One needs to show—not declare—such assumptions as unscientific. Determinism is still very much in vogue in many circles. Another possible issue is that he insufficiently addresses the nature of the resurrection body, which appears in scripture as a spiritual body, different than a mortal physical body (1 Cor. 15.43-43). This does not necessarily detract from his main message, “resurrection in space and time,” but leaves things unsettled, such as the nature of resurrection itself. Thirdly, while affirming and emphasizing Jesus’s full divinity in the hypostatic union, Torrance also applies the so-called Calvinistic extra—that Jesus rules the universe even in his earthly existence, with all his eternal attributes included. However, Torrance fails to explain Jesus’s apparent lack of certain divine attributes, such as omnipotence, aseity, immutability, and immortality, as potential counter-arguments to Jesus’s functioning in full divinity, all attributes included (124). Finally, though a name index was included at the back of the book, a subject index was not included—which would be helpful. All in all, this book is as important today as when it was first published and merits wide readership. I concur that Space, Time and Resurrection is deserving of classic status.

About the Reviewer(s): 

John Mauger is a doctoral student in Religion at Claremont Graduate University.

Date of Review: 
May 22, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Thomas F. Torrance is Emeritus Professor of Christian Dogmatics at the University of Edinburgh.



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