Tuesday, January 16, 2007

T. F. Torrance on Baptism

The following is the "payoff paragraph" of TFT's essay entitled "The One Baptism Common to Christ and His Church," which can be found in Theology in Reconciliation. If I were granted one wish that I could spend on things of an academic nature, I would use it to find out how Barth would respond this this paragraph. I guess I'll ask once I get to the next life.
On the ground of what Christ has done for us and in accordance with his promise, we are presented before God as subjects of his saving activity, and are initiated into a mutual relation between the act of the Spirit and the response of faith. Faith arises as the gift of the Spirit, while it is through faith that we may continue to receive the Spirit, and it is in the Spirit that God continues to act creatively upon us, uniting us to Christ so that his atoning reconciliation bears fruit in us, and lifting us up to share in the very life and love of God, in the communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Baptism is thus not a sacrament of what we do but of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, in whom he has bound himself to us and bound us to himself, before ever we could respond to him. But it is also the sacrament of what God now does in us by his Spirit, uniting us with Christ in his faithfulness and obedience to the Father and making that the ground of our faith. As an act done to us, baptism tells us that it is not upon our act of faith or on our own faithfulness that we rely, but upon Christ alone and his vicarious faithfulness; it also tells us that in the freedom of his Spirit God makes himself present to us and binds us creatively to himself in such marvelous ways that not only is faith called forth from us as our own spontaneous response to the grace of God in Christ, but it is undergirded and supported by Christ and enclosed with his own faithfulness, and thus grounded in the mutual relation between the incarnate Son and the heavenly Father.

2 comments:

GoobyNelly said...

"Baptism is thus not a sacrament of what we do but of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ in whom he has bound himself to us and bound us to himself, before ever we could respond to him."

So if I get this right, baptism is not about us - meaning, it does not declare anything about us except by telling us who we are in Christ according to what has been done for us.

Is there some sense in which Torrance would allow for human agency in baptism, such that it is not a reliance upon ourselves but an actual reliance upon God's saving act?

Is this act of reliance something that we must play some part in? Or is it already done for us?

I suppose I need to ask where the language and anxiety about agency stems from in the first place. I'm trying to understand the actual practice of the sacrament in light of what is happening (metaphysically?) in it.

WTM said...

Torrance is trying to get around Barth in this material (TFT gives a very quick critique of Barth on baptism in this article). The anxiety about human agency in baptism has to do with not wanting to subscribe any power of mediating grace to the human activity in baptism. The focus on everything in the proper sense being taken care of by Christ is an effort to remove human activity from salvation.

Christ accomplished both movements, mediating God’s activity toward us and our activity toward God, fully and finally expressing both.

Torrance speaks of a “dimension of depth” involved (Hunsinger has an article on these matters with this phrase in the title). At the deepest level, baptism takes place in Christ. Then, the church is baptized into Christ’s baptism. Then, the individual is baptized into the church into Christ’s baptism. But, it is Christ’s baptism that is the baptism that accomplishes something salvific.

By our baptism into Christ’s baptism, we are included in the vicarious obedience of Christ and are adopted as God’s children, etc.

This does not rule out human activity on our side – we still present ourselves to be baptized, etc. But, our human activity is taken up and made part of Christ’s activity. Or, our human activity becomes grounded in Christ.

I happen to think that Torrance is onto something with all this. But, you’ll have to wait on my thesis (and maybe my dissertation!) to hear more about this in any kind of cogent fashion.