Tag Archives: Mystery

Redemption & Limited Atonement

Redemption is a comprehensive term regarding our salvation through justification, expatiation, and reconciliation in Christ. It is eschatological and teleological. It is the consummation of Gods’ redeeming purposes in the new creation. It tells us that glorification is an essential part of our salvation.

In Atonement Torrance runs through the uses of the words for redemption in the scriptures. He shows that Lutron implies a price of Atonement - TF Torrancerelease or emancipation. Luo means to destroy, to release, or to loosen. Lutrosis, implies a deliverance out of oppression and from guilt and punishment and it also carries eschatological connotations. As we look at these three ways of speaking about redemption it becomes clear that “redemption is the mighty act of God’s grace delivering us out of the power of darkness into the glorious liberty of the sons and daughters of God.”[2] Humanity is redeemed from the power of darkness, the law, and the bondage to sin. This act of redemption is completed and actualized by the pouring out of the Spirit to the church so that the church can participate in the atonement that Christ has undertaken on its behalf. It is through the Spirit that we are incorporated into him; it is through the incarnation that God is incorporated into us. Thus at Pentecost, double incorporation occurs, meaning that redemption has been completed.

For Torrance humanity is justified before God in the person and work of Christ (by the hypostatic union), also humanity has been reconciled to God for eternity in the person and work of Christ (by the hypostatic union). It would also seem to follow that humanity is redeemed because of Christ’s atoning person and work. But we should stop and ask, who did Christ die for? In other words, is the atonement limited? Torrance wants to say that it is not. First we must admit that if incarnation and atonement cannot be separated then Christ represents in his death all whom he represents in his incarnation.[3] Thus taking on human nature, Christ represents all men and women without exception in his atoning work. So if Christ represents all humanity in his atoning death, we might want to make a distinction between the sufficiency and the efficacy of his death. In other words Christ death was sufficient for all but efficacious only for the elect. This view is the logical conclusion of the doctrine of absolute predestination. However to take this view is to deny that Christ represents all in the incarnation. By separating Christ’s atoning representation into terms like efficaciousness and sufficiency we separate Christ’s person from his work. However by denying that God can freely elect some and choose not to elect others is to deny God freedom. We also end up denying God freedom by asserting that God must necessarily save all. Torrance concludes that pitting hypothetical universalism against limited atonement is an instance of “man’s proud reason” subjecting the “great mystery of atonement” to the “rationalism of human thought.” He concludes that we must think of atonement as a sufficient and efficacious reality for every human being.[4] However it is the baptism of the Spirit, that effects our incorporation into Christ. Thus objectively atonement is universal but subjectively atonement is actualized through the Spirit.

At least that is what Torrance seems to say….


[1] Torrance, Atonement: the Person and Work of Christ, 172.

[2] Torrance, Atonement: the Person and Work of Christ, 177.

[3] Torrance, Atonement: the Person and Work of Christ, 182.

[4] Torrance, Atonement: the Person and Work of Christ, 189.


Mystery & Atonement

The concept of “mystery” plays an important role in T.F. Torrance’s atonement theology. In chapter one of Atonement he outlines his approach to the doctrine of atonement. He begins by describing the liturgy of the day of atonement in the Old Testament. As he describes what happens, he says that the most important part of the deed of atonement is done within the veil, beyond human sight.[1] He says that “The inner mystery God ordained to be completely veiled from human eyes.”[2] This is important because it leads Torrance to believe that “the innermost mystery of atonement and intercession remains mystery: it cannot be spelled out, and it cannot be spied out.” The mystery of the act of atonement leads TorrTF Torranceance to believe that we cannot have “any mere theory of the atonement.”[3] He explains that there is no logical relation between the death of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. For him one cannot reason, a priori, to the fact of atonement in the death of Christ. One can merely “follow Christ, and think only a posteriori,” understanding that the atoning deed on the cross is a mystery.


[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Atonement: the Person and Work of Christ, ed. Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2009), 2.

[2] Torrance, Atonement: the Person and Work of Christ, 2.

[3] Torrance, Atonement: the Person and Work of Christ, 4.

Good Friday – The Mystery of the Cross

The cross is a mystery. In some sense we know what the Cross is all about, but in another sense T.F. Torrance is right when says that “the innermost mystery of atonement remains mystery: it cannot be spelled out, and it cannot be spied out.”

What God has done for us on the cross cannot be fully captured in mere human words.

We must never evacuate the cross of its mystery and incomprehensibility. However, that is not to say that we can’t apprehend the cross. I once heard a metaphor about atonement being like a basketball. The analogy was that the atonement was like the full size of the basketball and our understanding the atonement was like trying to grip the entire ball in our hands – its impossible. However, it is possible to get some sort of grip on it. That grip is good enough to allow us to use it (the atonement or the ball) for various sorts of things – in the case of the atonement, for relating to God, for preaching, for encouraging one another, etc.

So in a very real sense – we can (and do) know the significance of the cross.

On this, Good Friday, I want to share some reflections that T.F. Torrance makes on the significance of the cross:

This is what we believe to be the significance of the cross of Christ – in him we believe that God himself has come into the midst of our human agony and our abominable wickedness and violence in order to take all our gilt and its just judgment on himself. That is for us the meaning of the cross. If I did not believe in the cross, I could not believe in God. The cross means that while there is no explanation of evil, God himself has come into the midst of it in order to take it upon himself, to triumph over it and deliver us from it. (Preaching Christ Today, 28)

That is the significance of the cross. May we come to understand that truth in a deeper way on this Good Friday.

Giotto, “The Crucifixion”