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T. F. Torrance on justification and orthodoxy

WTM has a solid quote from T. F. Torrance on justification and its relation to orthodoxy:

Justification is God’s word of truth and its revelation is truth. This word justification does not have to do simply with righteous living but with righteous understanding, for righteousness is God’s right or truth as well as his holiness and involves knowing as well as doing, and thus to do righteousness is the same as to do truth. (Compare Jesus’ statement, ‘you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.’) The revelation of righteousness is the word that puts us in the truth and as such tells us that we are in un-truth. Justification says “let God be true, but every man a liar’, as Paul puts it with reference to Psalm 51. This word of justification which puts us in the truth denies all self-justification and denominates it lying, or un-truth. If God’s justification of the ungodly means that no one can boast of their own righteousness, then it also means that no one dares to boast of their own orthodoxy, for to claim orthodoxy is to claim to be in the right, to be in the truth; it is a boasting of the right, whereas in point of fact justification by putting us in the truth, reveals that we are in the wrong, in un-truth.

Thomas F. Torrance, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, Robert T. walker, ed. (InterVarsity, 2009), 105.

7 Comments

  1. Hill wrote:

    Is not the entire paragraph a claim to orthodoxy, namely what justification is (as opposed to what it is not)? Or is it a kind of Socratic gesture?

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 9:37 am | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    I don’t think Torrance has any problems with claims to orthodoxy, only “boasting” therein, which I take to mean a sort of excessive self-assurance of one’s theological correctness.

    Or rather, he rejects claims to “orthodoxy” in which this term means a sort of closed epistemic possession.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 9:42 am | Permalink
  3. Hill wrote:

    That seems a bit slippery. So you can think you are right (something like this seems to be inherent in any concept of orthodoxy), but you can’t “boast” about it? I’m not sure what kind of work this is trying to do. In other words, I think boasting may be a theological category, but I think it is substantially underdetermined. The reason this is slippery is because arguments of this type are typically deployed when one can no longer rationally defend one’s position. It can function as a kind of theologically rarefied niceness police.

    I’m not sure how your claim that he has no problems with claims to orthodoxy is consistent with:

    “…for to claim orthodoxy is to claim to be in the right, to be in the truth; it is a boasting of the right, whereas in point of fact justification by putting us in the truth, reveals that we are in the wrong, in un-truth.”

    If this is simply a kind of poetic statement, then that’s fine, but it seems to me that any concept of orthodoxy requires thinking oneself to be right, or at the very least presumes a kind of heterogeneity in the quality of various beliefs (or beliefs about beliefs, as in the quoted paragraph).

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 9:56 am | Permalink
  4. Hill wrote:

    I’m not trying to be a nitpicker… just getting the wheels turning this morning.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 9:57 am | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    I think the point is that “orthodoxy” conceived rightly is a divine gift, not an achievement of our own, or something we can assimilate or possess. It is continually something we discover as we remain in dialogue with God’s revelation in Christ. As such it is not something we can boast about, just as we cannot boast about God’s action to save us.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 10:03 am | Permalink
  6. Hill wrote:

    I’m on board with that… it just seems a good bit different than what Torrance is saying.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    I don’t think so. We just need to pay attention to the nuances of his language. We cannot boast in “our own” orthodoxy in the same sense that we cannot boast in “our own” righteousness. That is what Torrance means by “claiming” it. At least that’s what I read him saying, in light of his explicit analogy with justification.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 10:57 am | Permalink

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