Friday, 24 August 2007

T. F. Torrance and heavenly mediation

The recent post on Badiou led to some interesting discussion about the theological idea of mediation – and I admitted that I’m extremely unenthusiastic about T. F. Torrance’s notion of Jesus’ “high-priestly mediation in heaven.” In case anyone wants to continue this discussion, here’s a re-post of one of my comments:

The Letter to the Hebrews interprets Jesus’ saving work typologically via a range of cultic categories. I think we can accept and appreciate all this – but it’s another thing to reify these very categories, so that (as in Torrance’s theology) they are turned into pure mythology.

My own impression is that we can do full justice to the soteriological message of Hebrews, without getting involved in this kind of reification. The writer to the Hebrews uses various cultic and Jewish-Alexandrian categories to articulate the significance of what took place in Jesus. But if we reify these categories, we end up with an inversion of the whole message – i.e., the death and resurrection of Jesus are eclipsed, and the action of God is removed from real history and located instead in some distant Platonic “heaven.”

To my mind, that’s exactly what happens in Torrance’s theology: his mythological portrayal of a “high-priestly mediation in heaven” actually results in the opposite of what the Letter to the Hebrews intends – i.e., it leads away from the sheer eventfulness of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Thus, while Torrance believes he is improving on Barth at this point, he is in fact radically undermining the whole impulse of Barth’s doctrine of reconciliation!

I have a lot of admiration for Torrance’s work – but I reckon his conception of a mediation that takes place “in heaven” is a theological dead end.


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