Space, Time and Resurrection (Torrance)

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Puritanboard Amanuensis
Torrance, Thomas F. Space, Time, and Resurrection. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, reprint 1998.

When we study the New Testament, “we try to understand that reality in its own light” and letting our mind “fall under the power of its intrinsic significance” (Torrance 5). This means the texts point beyond themselves (cf. Athanasius, CA 2.3).

Crucial topic: is the resurrection a biological fact or a special fact? This is the question that gutted liberal Protestantism. However, the “conservative” answers sometimes missed a key truth. The answer is both, but both as in a “staggered hierarchy.” Yes, Jesus was bodily raised from the dead, yet so was Lazarus, which means the resurrection of Christ cannot simply be reduced to a biological “yes.” As Torrance points out in a footnote, quoting John Wilkinson, biological answers cannot yield theological answers, yet neither can they be placed against them (Torrance 60 n16). This is analogous to the relationship between classical mechanics and post-Einsteinianism. You can’t get to the latter by means of the former, yet you need both.

We cannot interpret the resurrecting processes within the old frame of death and entropy. It requires an irruption into a newer order. Liberal Protestants, being Deists and Gnostics, simply “spiritualized” this away. In accordance with Torrance’s kataphysical theology, the resurrection “impresses'' itself on our minds and forces our minds to interpret it accordingly to its own reality.

One of the ways the resurrection safeguards man against the false teachings of Eastern religion, Gnosticism, and Neoplatonism is that it anchors the reality of man. Resurrection, among other things, heals creation. It keeps man from sliding into an ephemeral fog.

Moreover, the resurrection places the theologian into the concrete realities of space and time.

Torrance has a very explosive chapter in “The Nature of the Resurrection Event.” He deals with eschatology proper and the reality of heaven. It is at times poetic and moving. He has some very interesting discussions on the nature of time. On one hand, the resurrection takes place within the coordinates of space and time. On the other hand, it begins to redeem time. Our current time is “refracted.” It has “broken loose from God,” yet neither does it descend into pure chaos and nothingness (97). Instead of liberal Protestantism’s “two histories” (geschicte and historie), Torrance calls us back to Paul’s “Two Ages.”

His meditation on the Ascension is also quite good. Torrance brings to bear the full power of his doctrine of vicarious humanity. Christ “presents us before the Father as those who are incorporated into him...He makes an offering to God through his eternal Spirit” (115). “Christ prayed with us in the flesh and puts the ‘Our Father’” in our mouths. He eternally is before the face of the Father. We have to think in terms of representation as well as substitution (116). Christ has “so identified himself with us” that he makes “his prayer and worship ours.”

Ascension, Space, and Time

The Lutherans accused the Reformed of an “extra Calvinisticum” because they operated with a receptacle view of space (124). The problem that all want to avoid is saying that the Eternal Logos became man in such a way that part of the Logos was excluded. If you have a receptacle/container notion of space, this seems to be an inevitable conclusion.

Against this, Torrance posits “a relational view of space and time differentially or variationally related to God and man” (126). Torrance alludes to his earlier work, but he never really unpacks this claim. He gives us some hints, though. In the incarnation God and man met in man’s space. In the ascension God and humanity (of Jesus) meet in God’s space. He suggests, following modern understandings of space-time, that space and time are always space and time for something. They cannot be abstracted.

Perhaps we can look at it this way. Torrance writes, “In the nature of the case, statements regarding [the] ascension are closed at man’s end (because bounded within the space-time limits of man’s existence on earth) but are infinitely open at God’s end” (131). Perhaps this is similar to his claim that God (and maybe his decree) aren’t contained within Aristotelian notions of logico-causality.

At the end of the book Torrance goes off on a wonderful tangent and trashes dualist thought. It doesn’t really have anything to do with his thesis. It’s just fun to read. The older Newtonian/Aristotelian views saw atoms and particles being connected by means of causes. Anything that doesn’t conform to this system isn’t “real.” Torrance says that the rise of James Maxwell Clerk and electromagnetism put an end to this (185). Electromagnetism cannot be reduced to Newtonian/Aristotelianism. For example, the relationship between fields of force are just as real as the atoms.

Levels of knowledge: According to Polanyi, the sciences can be arranged in a hierarchical structure of levels. “They open upwards into wider and more comprehensive systems of knowledge but are not reducible downwards” (Torrance 188). Sometimes we have to add an “additional factor” into the field of knowledge, but this factor can only be found at a higher level. These are boundary conditions, per Einstein, “where each one is coordinated with a higher system, in terms of which it becomes explicable and intelligible” (189).

In light of all this, Torrance doesn’t completely reject the old notion of “chain of being.” To be sure, in its older forms it is crude and outdated (and probably pantheistic). Instead of being, it might be better to see a structured hierarchy of knowledge.


One should read his earlier work on the Incarnation before reading this volume. The material in here is grand, but Torrance at times doesn’t give enough argumentation or merely alludes to other sources.


Puritan Board Freshman
This sounds very interesting, where do you think the best place to start reading Torrance is? The work on the Incarnation you mentioned?


Puritanboard Amanuensis
Great, thank you very much

Here is a misunderstanding about Torrance. Some people call him a "Barthian." That's incorrect. Torrance was too powerful a thinker to be reduced to one category. Torrance thinks he is Athanasian more than Barthian (there might be some truth to that).

When it comes to constructive theology and scientific engagement, Torrance has few equals. On the other hand, he probably misinterpreted some aspects of Latin theology (though I think his basic criticism is correct).
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