Friday, July 21, 2017

T.F. Torrance: “The Communion of the Spirit,” pt. 2

Torrance, T.F. 1959. The School of Faith: The Catechisms of the Reformed Church. London: James Clark & Co. 298 pp.
The Spirit and the Church
Because the Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of Christ” and is sent in the name of Christ, the Spirit operates especially wherever the name of Jesus is preached and wherever people gather in his name (p. cxvii). Thus, the Church is the primary locus of the Spirit’s activity. The Church is the “inner circle” of Christ’s identification with humanity, for in the Church, the Son’s filial relationship with the Father “is made consciously to echo within mankind in a filial relation of obedience to God” (pp. cxvii, cxviii). As steward of the mysteries of God, the “economic” purpose of the Church is the election of one community in place of all for the blessing of God upon all (pp. cxx, cxxi). In the language of Barth, the Spirit gathers a community of believers in faith, builds it up in love and sends in out in hope, carrying the same message of forgiveness that Jesus brought to earth when he took the form of a servant in his mother’s womb.
Comment: “Election” is not exclusive, as in conservative Calvinism, where the few are chosen and the many are lost. Election is inclusive. God called Israel to bring blessing to the nations. God calls the Church for the same purpose. God “elects” for the purpose of bring blessing to all.
By the Spirit, the Church participates in the “New Humanity of Christ in order that through the same Spirit at work in the fellowship of the Church mankind as a whole may share in the New Humanity of Christ and therefore in the new creation.” As a corporate entity, the Church is the “one” for the “many.” As such, notes Torrance, “the Church is to be looked on as the new humanity within the world, the provisional manifestation of the new creation within the old” (p. cxxi).
The Church’s participation in Christ is the special work of the Holy Spirit. Within the Church, the Spirit creates “real reception and participation in the life and love of God in Christ.” In communion with Christ by the Spirit, the Church “presses out toward universal fullness in all creation.” That is, the Church moves forward “from the particular to the universal, from the nucleus to the fullness, from the one hundred and twenty at Pentecost to all mankind” (pp. cxxi, cxxii).
Christ has ordained that he will be met and known through the Church’s proclamation of the “Word.” It is the mission of the Spirit that, through the communication of the “Word,” “men may hear not only the words of other men who communicate it, but the Words of the living God, the Words that are Spirit and Life” (pp. cxxii, cxiii). Through the encounter with the Word, proclaimed by the Church in the power of the Spirit, “each man may through the Spirit share in the faith and obedience of Christ, and himself live the life of faith and obedience to Him” (p. cxxiii; emphasis mine).
Torrance asserts a “three-fold dimension” to the operation of the Spirit. First, there is a universal dimension of the Spirit’s activity. As a correlate to the inclusion of all humanity in the atoning reconciliation effected in the incarnation, the Spirit’s activity is universal in scope. In regard to the universal dimension, however, Torrance notes that “we can hardly speak of it as a Communion” (p. cxxiii). (One can only wish that Torrance had elaborated further on this dimension of the Spirit’s work. Alas, he did not.) In addition, there is a corporate dimension of the Spirit’s activity, that is, “a Communion of mutual participation through the Spirit in Christ and His graces.” Finally, there is a personal dimension of the Spirit’s activities within the corporate communion of the Church, wherein the Spirit ministers to the individual believer (p. cxxiv).
In view of the corporate and personal dimensions of the Spirit’s ministry to the Church, Torrance (p. cxxiv) writes eloquently:
That is the doctrine of the Church as the Communion of Saints, in which each shares with the other and all share together in the life and love of God in Jesus Christ. In that Communion no one can live for himself alone, or believe or worship alone, for he is nothing without his brother for whom Christ died, and has no relation to Christ except in Christ’s relation with all for whom he died.
Torrance’s assertion of the importance of the corporate body in relation to the life of the individual believer is confirmation of the “onto-relational” character of his theology, where entities do not exist in isolation but find their identities within the nexuses of relations in which they exist. In short, we are created for community.
As a “Communion in the Spirit,” through whom the Church participates in Christ, notes Torrance, the Church is subject to an “irresistible compulsion” by the Spirit, in which “the Church is turned outward to all for whom Christ became incarnate and lived and died that they might be gathered into the life of God.” Thus, the Church cannot live unto itself, for by the Communion of the Spirit, it is made to transcend itself in proclaiming the “mystery” in which it is entrusted. The boundaries of the Church must be open to all, for “the range of the Communion of the Spirit cannot be limited and bound to the Church, but through the universal range of the Spirit the Church is catholicised and universalised and made to reach out to the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (p. cxxiv).
Comment: For the Torrances, who were born of missionary parents, the Church can never be a closed society of individuals seeking a common religious experience. The Church exists for the world, not merely for itself. In its proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Church must transcend itself and open its boundaries in order to enter the “field” of the Spirit’s ministry, a field that is universal in range.
Nevertheless, while the Church is elected “for the world,” notes Torrance, it finds itself in tension with the world, “for in the world, the Word of God is as yet resisted, and the Spirit of God is abroad convicting of sin, righteousness and judgement” (p. cxxiv). Thus, by participating in the New Humanity of Christ, sharing in his obedience and love through the communion of the Spirit, the Church, by being Church, “calls the world into question, proclaims to it the Gospel which claims the world for God and which therefore resists and judges the will of the world to isolate itself from the love of God” (pp. cxxiv, cxxv). Thus, by its participation in the “self-sanctification of Christ,” the Church finds itself separated from the world. At the same time, by its participation in the “reconciliation of Christ,” the Church is thrust into the world with the message of reconciliation. The Church’s separation from the world, even as it is thrust into the world, creates a tension that will only be resolved with the return of Christ, when he comes again to take up His reign and to judge and renew His creation. Yet, this tension is itself a sign of the end, for it indicates that the Spirit is moving forward in triumph and consummation.
Thus, there is a correlation between the communion of the Spirit and union with Christ that carries within it the eschatological hope of the renewal of all creation. In union with Christ, believers may experience and enjoy their adoption as sons and daughters of God. In communion with the Spirit, the Church goes forth with its message of emancipation and renewal, when finally “the universal range of Christ and His Spirit will be coincident with the Communion of the Spirit, that is, the sphere wherein all who share in the Spirit share in Christ’s Sonship.” As Torrance notes, the universal communion of the Spirit has its “provisional and proleptic form” in the historical Church. In the consummation of all things, however, “the Church attaining to the fullness of Christ will be coincident with the whole Kingdom spanning the new heaven and the new earth.”
Amen. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

We will begin to unpack Torrance’s thought in regard to “the communion of the Spirit” as we continue in Radcliff’s book in the next post.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

T.F. Torrance: The Communion of the Spirit, pt. 1

Torrance, T.F. 1959. The School of Faith: The Catechisms of the Reformed Church. London: James Clark & Co. 298 pp.
For Torrance, the Reformed doctrine of “communion of the Spirit” is better understood as “union with Christ through the Communion of the Spirit.” The combination of “union with Christ” and “the communion of the Spirit” lies at the foundation of the Church’s hope and forms the heart of its eschatology (p. cvi).
According to Torrance, the communion of the Spirit is a correlate of the union of God and humanity wrought out in the life and work of Jesus Christ. The Spirit actualizes subjectively in the life of God’s people what has been accomplished objectively for them once and for all in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. As Torrance notes, “Because the Communion of the Spirit is correlative to the incarnational union in Christ, we have to think of it as two-fold in relation to the human life and the work of Christ” (p. cvi). In keeping with his resistance to dualisms, Torrance describes a “unity-in-distinction,” where “union with Christ” and “communion of the Spirit” are not two, separate realities but, rather, distinct aspects of a single reality.
Torrance interacts with 16th-Century theologian John Craig to explicate the correlation between union with Christ and the communion of the Spirit. In his Catechism of 1581, Craig asserts both a carnal union and a spiritual union with Christ. “Carnal union” refers to “Christ’s union with us and our union with Christ which He wrought out in his birth of the Spirit and in His human life through which He sanctifies us is worked out for us.”  Craig’s carnal union appears to be equivalent to the hypostatic union of the Eternal Word and humanity (i.e., the incarnation), as worked out in the obedient life of Jesus Christ. Because Christ was “made man like us,” notes Craig, “life and righteousness are placed in our flesh.” Craig argues that “those who are joined with Him spiritually” are sure of this life (School of Faith, pp. cvi, cvii).
Craig’s assertion of what appears to be two unions, “carnal” and “spiritual,” raises an important question for Torrance:
Is the spiritual union another union, a union in addition to our carnal union with Christ, or is it a sharing in the one and only union between God and man wrought out in Jesus Christ? That is a very important question, for if the spiritual union is an additional union, then our salvation depends not only  upon the finished work of Christ but upon something else as well which has later to be added on to it before it is real for us (p. cvii).
Torrance argues that in both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism “something else,” in fact, is added to the union with Christ accomplished in the incarnation. In Catholicism, union with Christ is effected through baptismal generation and participation in the sacraments (including penance). In Protestantism, notes Torrance, “union with Christ … is effected by faith or by conversion through which alone what Christ has done becomes real for us.” For example, in the Westminster tradition of Federal Calvinism, man is said to acquire “a saving interest” in Christ through entering into a personal covenant with him. As Torrance notes, “Both these forms of the same error lead to a doctrine of man’s co-operation in his own salvation; and so involve a doctrine of conditional grace.” Therefore, argues Torrance, “[I]t must be insisted that there is only one union with Christ, that which He has wrought out with us in His birth and life and death and resurrection and in which He gives us to share through the gift of His Spirit” (p. cvii; emphasis added).
Comment: For Torrance, there is one union of Christ constituted in two relations: ontological and pneumatological.
For Torrance, “carnal union,” as described by Craig, includes Christ’s entire “life and work of saving obedience, so that when we speak of a spiritual union with Christ, that means that through the Spirit we are given to share in the covenanted obedience of Christ …” In this view, the Spirit’s work is not additional to the work of Christ but rather is the means by which we participate, or share, in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. Torrance argues:
In his obedient human life, Jesus Christ was not only the Son of God drawing near to us in the flesh, but in and out of our flesh he lived a life of perfect obedience and trust and confidence toward God the Father, a perfectly faithful life, in which his obedience and faith toward God were part of his vicarious and atoning life, part of his sanctified human nature. It is in that very human nature, with its faith and obedience, that we are given to participate through the Communion of the Spirit, and that is the very foundation of our faith in Him and the ground of our obedience to the Father” (pp. cviii, cix).
For Torrance, in view of Christ’s vicarious faith, we are not saved “by the act of believing.” Rather, it is Christ’s own act of believing that saves us. In other words, contra evangelicalism, it is not faith “in” Christ that saves us; rather, it is the faith “of” Christ that saves us. For Torrance, we cannot talk seriously about “justifying faith” as a condition of our salvation, for we rely “wholly upon the vicarious faith of Christ and not upon ourselves even in the act of faith.” It is only as we rely on the vicarious faith of Christ that we are truly free to believe without the “ulterior motive of using faith to secure our salvation” (p. cix). This last point is important, for if faith is exercised solely to avoid punishment, or even “hell,” then personal faith is not an outwardly turned assent to the Father’s love, as revealed in Jesus, but merely an inwardly turned attempt at self-preservation. For Torrance, faith must rest on “thanksgiving” for all that Christ has done for us, both from the side of God and from the side of man.
Jesus is Justification
There are a number of implications of Torrance’s view of union with Christ as a fait accompli effected in the incarnation. First, it is through participating in Christ that we partake of his benefits, “for unless He gives Himself to us first [in the incarnation], His blessings are not ours,” notes Torrance (p. cx). In simpler terms, this means that we cannot separate the work of Christ from his person. Thus, justification is fully accomplished in the union between God and humanity actualized in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. As Torrance argues, “[I]t was through his becoming one with us first in his Incarnation that Christ wrought our justification for us.” In other words, Jesus is our justification. Since all are included in the humanity assumed by the Eternal Word in the incarnation, all are justified (i.e., “made right”) with God in Jesus. Justification is not effected by a subsequent act of personal faith “in” Jesus, but by the vicarious faith “of” Jesus, as lived throughout the whole course of his incarnate life. Thus, we can confidently assert that all humanity was “made right” (i.e., “justified”) with God “in Jesus” two thousand years ago.
As Torrance notes, however, the Westminster theology (of conservative Calvinism) reverses matters by insisting first on justification and “justifying faith” prior to entering into union with Christ. Torrance insists that this changes the meaning of both justification and faith (so that justification is conceived in strict legal terms of “imputed” righteousness, rather than in ontological terms of being “made righteous”), while making the existential (personal) decision of faith uppermost. In this view, a judicial (legal) and cognitive relation displaces the Communion of the Spirit. Torrance notes that the priority given to justification as a “forensic” (legal) act displaced the central importance of the doctrine of union with Christ in post-Reformation Protestantism (p. cxi)
The Range of the Spirit’s Ministry
Another important implication of Torrance’s doctrine of union with Christ concerns the “range” or “scope” of the Spirit’s ministry. Does union with Christ include all people, or only the “elect” (narrowly defined)? As Torrance notes, this is of fundamental importance to the doctrine of the Spirit. The matter at stake concerns the biblical teaching that the Spirit has been “poured out on all flesh” (Acts 2:17). The interpretation of this passage depends upon how one understands the doctrine of union with Christ. If all are included in the union established between God and humanity in the incarnate Jesus, then we must conclude that the range of the Spirit’s ministry is universal; that is, it includes all humanity. On the other hand, if only the “elect,” or only those who have  made a personal decision of faith “in” Christ, are in union with God, then the range or scope of the Spirit’s activity is limited rather than universal. Our understanding of the range of the Spirit’s ministry depends upon our understanding of the incarnation. Did the Eternal Word enter into a generic relationship with humanity simply by becoming one particular man (so that his humanity has no transforming relation with our humanity), or did the Eternal Word enter into an ontological relation with all humanity in the assumption of our human flesh?
To answer these questions, Torrance reminds us that the Eternal Word who assumed human flesh from the Virgin Mary is “he in whom all men cohere for He is the Creator who gives them being and through His Spirit holds them in being.” Thus, there is an ontological relation between the Eternal Word and all humanity As Torrance argues, “[T]he Son and Word of God became man by becoming one particular man, but because He is the Creator Word who became Man, even as the incarnate Word He still holds all men in an ontological relation to Himself. That relation was not broken off with the Incarnation” (p. cxii). The New Living Translation sums this up nicely: “in him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28). Torrance writes:
The Biblical teaching is quite explicit that in Christ all things are really involved in reconciliation, that He is not only the Head of believers but the Head of all creation and that all things visible and invisible are gathered up and cohere in him—from which we cannot exclude a relation in being between all men and Christ. … [A]s the Head of all men [Christ] died for all men, so that all men are involved already objectively in His human life and in His work in life and death, i.e. not 0nly on judicial and transactional grounds, but on the ground of the constitution of His Person as Mediator (p. cxiii).
Thus, human beings have no being apart from Christ as man. If Christ had not come, notes Torrance, that is, if the incarnation had not taken place, so that man’s estrangement with God were allowed to stand, humanity would disappear into nothing (cf. Barth’s das Nichtige, or the “not-ness.”). The incarnation, including the cross, affects all humanity, even the entire creation, so that creation itself  is set on a new basis with God, “the basis of a Love that does not withhold itself but only overflows in pure unending Love” (p. cxiv).
There is a sense, therefore, in which we must think of all humanity as “ingrafted” into Christ by virtue of his incarnation and atoning work (p. cxvii). It is in correlation to the universal inclusion of all humanity in Christ that we are to think of the range of the Spirit’s ministry. The hypostatic union, or what Craig’s Catechism calls the “carnal” union of God and humanity in Christ, establishes the “field” of the Spirit’s activity. Thus, we must take seriously the biblical assertion that the Spirit has been “poured out on all flesh” and operates on “all flesh.” In short, the hypostatic union of God and humanity in Jesus Christ establishes the field of the Spirit’s ministry, a field that is universal in scope.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 11

Radcliff, A.S. 2016. The Claim of Humanity in Christ: Salvation and Sanctification in the Theology of T.F. and J.B. Torrance. (Princeton Theological Monograph Series 222), Eugene, OR: Pickwick. 208 pp.
Torrance soteriology is “radically Christocentric,” notes Radcliff. Everything necessary for our salvation is complete in Jesus. But as Radcliff notes, this claim does not go uncontested. The Torrances are criticized for what some perceive as insufficient attention to the role of the Spirit in salvation, as well as the place of the subjective (personal) response to Jesus. Some accuse the Torrances of “christomonism,” which I assume means that they think the Torrances give insufficient attention to the role of the Father and Spirit in their theology. As Radcliff notes, however, this is unfair, for “the Torrances present an unmistakably Trinitarian scheme of salvation, whereby humanity is drawn by the Spirit to participate in Christ’s intimate relationship with the Father” (p. 85).
Yet, while the Spirit’s role in Torrance theology is “pervasive,” it is “elusive.” Jesus lived a vicarious life “by the Spirit.” We are included in the Father-Son relationship “by the Spirit.” But there is not much explanation of what “by the Spirit” means. Of course, this may properly have to do with the “’self-effacing” nature of the Spirit, whose primary role is to testify about Jesus. It also has to do with the mystery of salvation, for we are not privileged to peek into the modus operandus of the Spirit.
For the Torrances, Jesus is the “appropriate axis” of theology, for the fundamental axiom of TF Torrance’s scientific theology is that the Object of study must be known “in accordance with its nature”” (kata physin). Hence, Jesus, who is of “one nature with the Father” (homoousios to Patri),”is the controlling center of a proper scientific theology. Of course, the Spirit is also “of one nature with thee Father,” but the Spirit did not become incarnate and speak the word of God as man within the limits of human understanding.. Therefore, the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, is the starting point for a scientific theology. Alas, I digress. Moving on!
Radcliff goes on to discuss the mutual mediation of Christ and the Spirit in Torrance theology. Jesus mediates the Spirit to us by vicariously receiving the Spirit for us, in his humanity, at his baptism, then subsequently pouring out the Spirit on us at Pentecost. On the other hand, the Spirit mediates Jesus, because it is by the Spirit that Jesus takes on our humanity in the womb of Mary, and it is by the Spirt that Jesus lives a vicarious life of perfect faith and obedience, is resurrected and ascends to the Father. This last point needs clarification, for it brings us to a troublesome aspect of Torrance’s radically Christocentric theology.
In the Torrance tradition (in harmony with Chalcedonian Christology), the Eternal Word is the “subject’ of the incarnation. As I think of, if we could look into the eyes of Jesus of Nazareth, we would look directly into the eyes of the Eternal Word (Logos) made flesh. The Eternal Word (Logos) assumes our humanity at the incarnation and bringshis holiness to bear upon the sinful flesh assumed in order to heal and cleanse it.
Here’s the problem. It sounds like Jesus can reach deep down inside and draw on his divinity whenever he needs to resist temptation or perform a miracle. If that is the case, then Jesus is not human like you and me, because we have no reserve of divinity to draw on when we are tempted or when we lay hands on the sick, for example. (Thus, we do not have a High Priest who can identify with our weakness.) On the other hand, if we say that Jesus resisted temptation and performed miracles “by power the Spirit,” then we have something we can all grab hold of, because the same Spirit indwells us. Do you see the problem? Critics argue, and I agree, that it would have been great if the Torrances had been clearer as to what the Spirit’s role is in regard to the vicarious humanity of Jesus. Perhaps this would have facilitated a greater understanding of the Spirit’s role in our lives. This is a weakness (one of a very few, in my opinion) in the Torrance tradition, and an area where more work is needed.
While many have noted this weakness, others, like Gary Deddo, argue that to attempt to explain the “how” of the Spirit’s work is incoherent in the Torrance tradition, where the “Who” question takes precedence. I agree with Deddo to the extent that TFT would eschew any attempt to look into the modus operandus of the Spirit. At the same time, I would like a clearer articulation of the Spirit’s role in salvation, although that may not be possible at present.

As a prelude to Radcliff’s upcoming discussion of the role of the Spirit in the Torrance tradition, I will follow this post with one on “the communion of the Spirit,” as articulated in T.F. Torrance's book, The School of Faith. Radcliff cites this material frequently in her book.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 10

Radcliff, A.S. 2016. The Claim of Humanity in Christ: Salvation and Sanctification in the Theology of T.F. and J.B. Torrance. (Princeton Theological Monograph Series 222), Eugene, OR: Pickwick. 208 pp.
Justified by Faith
At this point we need to get something straight. As Radcliff rightly states, “The gospel calls for us to receive by faith this salvation objectively achieved by Christ” (emphasis mine). Radcliff cites a number of scriptures to support this claim (John 3;16; 6:28, 29;Rom 3:28; 5:1; Gal 2:16; 3:24; Eph 2:8). In the Torrance tradition, as I understand it, a response of faith is important, even necessary. Nevertheless, while asserting the necessity of a response for salvation, the Torrances rightly insist that salvation is not dependent upon our personal (existential) decision of faith. Salvation is not conditional; it is objectively real for all in Jesus. At the same time, no one participates in the reality of salvation except by faith.
Comment: The Torrances do not deny the need for personal faith and repentance. What they adamantly do deny is that personal faith and repentance are conditions for salvation. As I often teach it, we do not repent and believe in order to be saved, we repent and believe because we are saved. Repentance, faith and, dare I say it, obedience are the appropriate responses to the grace that is already ours in Jesus. What God has done for us in Christ is far too precious to merely sluff off with a wink and a nod, while going about our business, as if Jesus had never come. But perhaps I digress. Let me move on before I break into “Rock of Ages.”
As Radcliff notes, the gospel is distorted by preaching that makes faith a condition for salvation. Douglas Campbell articulates the distortion this way: If you exercise faith then you will be saved. If not, however, then this contract is not activated and its obligations will not be honored by God.” Well said, Douglas! He rightly gets it that this arrangement is really a business deal (perhaps a form of Locke’s “individual contractualism,” as Radcliff so astutely notes (in a footnote, thank goodness!)). In this distorted view, grace is unmerited (which is correct) but it is not unconditional (which is incorrect). In this scheme, justification is regarded as extremely gracious of God (after all, he deigns to save a few of us miserable sinners), yet faith is still a condition for salvation.
Critics may argue that the evangelical view does not really make faith a condition of salvation. In theory that may be true; in practice it seems much different. As Radcliff notes, critics fail to take “serious account of the reality within the church today, where God’s acceptance of us can be made conditional upon the strength of our faith, the sincerity of our repentance, the passion of our worship, the quality of our prayer, and more.” I agree with Radcliff. I believe this is our default way of thinking about the Gospel: God did his part, now we gotta do ours! I believe this applies to conservative evangelicalism, as well as the social gospel of liberal theology. Surely, there must be something we have to do to be saved?
TF Torrance argues that evangelical Protestantism has developed a way of preaching that distorts the gospel by introducing an element of “co-redemption.” TFT calls this “the modern notion of salvation by existential decision.” Salvation is presented as a “potentiality” that must be “actualized” by a personal (existential) decision of faith. For Torrance, this makes the effectiveness of Christ’s work dependent upon the individual believer, thus throwing the responsibility of salvation back upon us.
Comment: George Hunsinger, the great interpreter of Barth, has some excellent things to say on the place of personal faith (or, existential decision) in a Barth’s objective view of salvation. See my post here.
Vicarious Faith
Per Radcliff, for the Torrances, “Justification is not a potentiality to be actualized by our faith; salvation is an accomplished reality in Christ” (p. 75). It is not faith that justifies us, but Christ in whom we have faith. This does not mean, however, that the Torrances diminish the gospel call to respond with faith. Our response, notes Radcliff is a “participation” in a response that has already been made for us. Quoting James Torrance, “Our response in faith and obedience is a response to the Response already made for us by Christ to the Father’s holy love, a response we are summoned to make in union with Christ” (emphasis mine). Our decision for Christ is a response to his prior decision for us. Our “yes” to Jesus is a response to his prior “Yes” to all humanity. As JB Torrance says, “He chose us, not we him.”
Comment: Our “response” in faith rests on Jesus prior “Response” for us. Apart from the incarnational redemption of Jesus Christ and the sending of the Spirit, we could not say “yes” to God’s prior “Yes’ in Jesus. But the priority of Christ’s response does not mean that our “yes” is meaningless or unimportant. While our salvation does not depend upon our “yes” to Jesus, we cannot participate in that salvation apart from it.
In his vicarious humanity, Jesus has faith for us. Jesus is the True Believer, on behalf of all humanity. Thus, we are liberated from the burdensome task of trying to work up “enough” faith for our salvation. We are called to have faith but it is not an autonomous, independent act. There is a “polar relation” between Jesus’ faith and ours, where our faith is laid hold of and enveloped in Jesus’ vicarious faith.
Comment: Isn’t it wonderful to know that our salvation does not depend upon our weak, faltering faith, or our inconsistent obedience. We depend only on Jesus, who lives the life of perfect faith and obedience in our place, and on our behalf. Even now, Jesus is at the Father’s side, presenting his perfect faith and obedience as a holy and pleasing offering to God, all for us and for our salvation.
Pistis Christou
Radcliff concludes this chapter with a discussion of the current debate on the proper translation of pistis christou, for example in Galatians 2:20. Is it “faith of Christ” or “faith in Christ.” From what I have read, the phrase can be translated correctly either way. For Torrance, it is the former that is correct (“faith of Christ”). Here is the KJV translation:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Although the Torrance tradition puts heavy weight on translating pistis christou as “faith (or faithfulness) of Christ,” most modern translations seem to translate the phrase as “faith in Christ.” However, even translators bring their theological biases to the table. N.T. Wright, Richard B. Hayes and Douglas Campbell are in agreement with Torrance on the assertion of “faith of Christ.” Radcliff quotes Hayes: “…it is a terrible and ironic blunder to read Paul as though his gospel made redemption contingent upon our act of deciding to dispose ourselves towards God in a particular way.”
As Radcliff notes, the assertion that we are saved by faith “in” Christ puts tremendous responsibility on our “personal decision” of faith in Jesus, whereas the assertion that we are saved by the faith “of” Christ takes the load off our shoulders and transfers it to Jesus, who in his vicarious humanity, includes us in his perfect faith.
For a detailed discussion of Torrance’s doctrine of vicarious faith and the translation of pistis christou as “faith of Christ, see my post here.
With the next post, we get to Radcliff’s discussion of sanctification and the work of the Spirit in the Torrance tradition. This is where the book comes into its own. Stay tuned, brothers and sisters!

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 9

Radcliff, A.S. 2016. The Claim of Humanity in Christ: Salvation and Sanctification in the Theology of T.F. and J.B. Torrance. (Princeton Theological Monograph Series 222), Eugene, OR: Pickwick. 208 pp.
Christ our Righteousness
In order to clarify how Christ’s entire life (not only his death), is of atoning significance, the Torrances draw on the traditional Reformed distinction between Christ’s active and passive obedience.
(from a previous work of mine) “The active obedience of the incarnate Son refers to the positive fulfilment in the whole life of Jesus, who, from beginning to end, lived a life of perfect filial obedience to the Father, perfectly fulfilling God’s will in our name and laying hold of the Father’s love on our behalf. The passive obedience of Jesus Christ refers to his willing submission to the judgement of the Father upon our sin, especially as manifested in his expiation of our sins upon the cross. Christ’s passive obedience, however, cannot be limited to the cross, for his passion began at his birth, so that his entire life was a bearing of the cross. Torrance follows Calvin in asserting that as soon as Christ put on the form of a servant (cf. Phil 2:7), he began to pay the price of liberation for our salvation.”
The notion that Jesus’ entire life is a filial, not legal, response to the Father’s will brings the Torrances into contention with legalistic views of atonement. For evangelicals, especially conservative Calvinists, Christ’s obedience fulfills the legal requirements of the Law. Consequently, Christ’s righteousness, legally defined, is “imputed” to the believer upon a personal confession of faith. In this view, we are declared righteous, not made righteous. Opponents refer to this as a “legal fiction,” for there is no ontological change in our being.
For the Torrances, Jesus’ filial obedience is not legal but ontological and transformative. Throughout the whole course of his obedient life, Jesus brings his purity and holiness to bear upon the sinful, Adamic humanity assumed in the incarnation, in order to cleanse it of the stain of original sin and heal its corruption and disease, while bending the rebellious human will back to the Father. Thus, in Jesus, we are not merely “declared”’ righteous; we are made righteous. In my understanding, this means that all humanity is “made righteous” in Jesus. (In my experience, this has a joyous, happy effect on evangelism. Trust me, this will preach!)
Comment: Obviously, many of us, including me and a few of you readers I know, don’t look particularly righteous. Nevertheless, we are truly “made” righteous in Jesus. While our righteousness is absolutely real—and is no mere legal fiction—it is hidden with God in Christ, waiting to be unveiled at the parousia. [This is one reason I like the New Living Translation. Instead of the word “justified,” it uses the phrase “made right.” For example, “So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law” (Romans 3:28)]
I think it is pastorally important to teach that Jesus has fulfilled the Law on our behalf and made us righteous, even if it is hidden for now. As Radcliff notes, “If Jesus fulfillment of the law is denied, it is this which can lead to legalism because we are turned back upon ourselves to achieve it for ourselves.” On the other hand, knowing that we are “made right” in Jesus takes the load of the toad! rribet!!
In Christ
Radcliff notes that the language of “imputation” is deficient. “Imputation” is an abstract declaration that is detached from the person of Christ. For Paul, redemption is personal, not merely legal. We are justified by the redemption that is “in Jesus.” Jesus “is” our righteousness, etc. As Radcliff notes, “We receive righteousness not through an external imputation of the benefits of Christ but through a personal participation in Christ’s very self” (p. 69). (This sentence would have been better if she had said we are “made righteous” rather than we “receive righteousness.”) For Radcliff, salvation is not an external transaction but a person in whom we participate. Jesus is the “content” of our salvation. As TFT argues, Christ does not give us “benefits”; he give us himself. Grace is the “impartation” of God himself.
The reason all this matters is that the Torrance tradition stands in contrast to both Protestant and Roman Catholic ideas of justification. As we have seen, Protestants assert a legal view of justification, where Christ’s righteousness, understood in terms of obedience to the Law, is imputed to us. Again, we are “declared” righteous, not “made” righteous. In Roman Catholicism, justification is transformative but it involves a process of moral effort, wherein righteousness is infused through baptism and penance. As the Torrances often note, however, this throws us back upon our own efforts (penance).
For the Torrances, justification is an empty idea unless it is understood in terms of a transformative, ontological union. Justification is transformative because humanity participates in Jesus via the hypostatic union (“the Word became flesh…”) and is lifted up to the Father in the resurrection/ascension. For the Torrances, to make justification a merely declatory change in status is to bypass the resurrection! Thus, in the Torrance tradition, justification is an actualization of what is declared. When Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven,” the man really was forgiven, as the healing made clear.
In summary, for the Torrances, justification is fully accomplished via the hypostatic union, wherein our humanity is taken up in Jesus and lifted to heaven in the resurrection. In Jesus, we are not merely declared righteous, we are really made righteous. Against Catholicism, our justification is not the infusion of righteousness by a lifelong process of moral effort but an accomplished fact in Jesus.

Comment: Notice that at this point we are not saying much about the Holy Spirit. Torrance’s theology is “radically Christocentric.” Some argue, I think incorrectly, that Torrance does not pay enough attention to the role of the Spirit in salvation. (I used to think that myself, but Radcliff’s book has helped me to see the light!) So, hold your horses, brothers and sisters. The Spirit’s ‘a comin! The role of the Spirit will occupy much of the remainder of Radcliff’s book, beginning next post I think… 
For more on Torrance's doctrine of justification, see my post here

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 8

Radcliff, A.S. 2016. The Claim of Humanity in Christ: Salvation and Sanctification in the Theology of T.F. and J.B. Torrance. (Princeton Theological Monograph Series 222), Eugene, OR: Pickwick. 208 pp.
Vicarious humanity
As Radcliff notes, “The cross is an ontological [having to with “being”] event because, in Christ’s death, our old humanity dies, and the whole body of sin and death is destroyed.” In other words, the cross is an ontological event because it effects us to the core of our “being.” All humanity is included—and transformed—in Christ’s death on the cross. As Paul writes, “one has died for all, therefore all have died” (2 Cor 5:14).
In the Torrance tradition, atonement includes more than Jesus' death on the cross. “Not only Christ’s death but also his entire life is of atoning significance,” notes Radcliff. Throughout the “whole course of his human life,” Jesus, the eternal Word incarnate, was healing and cleansing the corrupt flesh he took from Adam (via Mary), sanctifying it and turning it back to perfect relationship with the Father. Thus, all humanity is transformed in the incarnation.
Not all, however, are convinced by the Torrances’ notion of the vicarious humanity of Jesus. Letham argues that Jesus’ humanity has no effect on our humanity. Christ affects only his own humanity. Radcliff responds by asserting the priority of the “Who” question over the “how” question. Falling back on “mystery,” she notes that the union of divine and human natures defies logical description. For the Torrances, she argues, we must subordinate human rational categories of thought as to “how” God works in the atonement to God’s self-revelation in Jesus. While I agree, this is not a convincing answer to Letham’s assertion (one of the few times she falls short in my view).
Comment: We must affirm the cosmic dimensions of the incarnation. The Eternal Word of God, through whom all things are made and in whom all things consists, assumed our humanity. Therefore, not only do we live and move and exist in Jesus (Acts 17:28), but all creation is taken up, healed and sanctified “in him.” I don’t know if Letham would be convinced by this but it works for me!
By affirming the salvific effect of Jesus entire life, the Torrances have been criticized for not taking the cross seriously. This criticism is entirely unfounded, for the Torrances regard the cross as the “center of the Christian Gospel.” In regard to Jesus’ death, Radcliff notes, “Death is a consequence of the corruption of humanity and therefore a part of human life that Jesus has to assume in order to redeem. Christ not only saves us through his death, but from death.” (Implied in this argument is Gregory Nazianzus’ famous assertion that “the unassumed is the unhealed.”)
Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost
This section offers us another opportunity to compare the Torrance tradition to traditional, conservative evangelicalism. For evangelicals, atonement is generally presented solely in terms of the cross. John Stott’s popular book, The Cross of Christ (which I read years ago), describes the incarnation as a means to an end: Jesus assumes a human body so that he can die on the cross. Jesus’ death is presented as an external, legal transaction, whereby God is conditioned (persuaded) to forgive. In other words, if Jesus dies, the Father forgives. This places atonement prior to forgiveness, which again, is backwards. This view reduces atonement to a forensic, external transaction, while ignoring the atoning significance of the resurrection and ascension. As Radcliff notes, ‘The incarnation is not simply the means to the cross; humanity’s salvation depends upon our ontological union with Christ inaugurated by his birth into our humanity. Yet the union of God and man is not ontologically complete at the incarnation; rather, it depends upon Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension and Pentecost.” The resurrection is not simply confirmation of forgiveness of sins but the new birth of a righteous humanity in Jesus. “At Christ’s ascension,” Radcliff continues, our new humanity is raised up in Christ to share by the Spirit in his perfect relationship with the Father.” The ascension is not a mere addendum to the Jesus story; it is a significant salvific event.
Comment: The ascension is hardly mentioned in evangelical preaching. Maybe that’s because Ascension Day always falls on a Thursday, or maybe evangelicals fail to realize the salvific significance of the Ascension. The Ascension is actually part of the “wonderful exchange” that Christ’s makes with us. He humbles himself for us, so that we might we exalted with him (cf. Phil 2:5-11).
Today, as Radcliff notes, following James Torrance, the ascended Jesus continues his vicarious ministry for us. As “our great High Priest,” he continues to offer in or place, and on our behalf, the perfect worship we are unable to offer, so that we might be accepted as sons and daughters.
Finally, Pentecost too is essential to the atonement, notes Radcliff. Jesus received the Spirit in his humanity when he was baptized in the Jordan River, so that he might pour out the Spirit upon us at Pentecost and enable us to participate in the life, love and beauty enjoyed by the Father, Son and Spirit. As TF Torrance writes, “Pentecost must be regarded, not as something added on to the atonement, but as the actualization within the Church of the atoning life, death and resurrection of the Savior.”
Thus, we are saved not only by the death of Jesus, but by the whole course of his incarnate life, as lived out from birth through death, resurrection, ascension and Pentecost.
Retrospective and prospective
In the Torrance tradition, there is a “retrospective” and “prospective” aspect to atonement (with the latter not usually given consideration in evangelicalism). The cross is not merely the “retrospective” forgiveness of sins. There is a “prospective” aspect that includes adoption, communion, participation, etc. Atonement only is not the goal of God’s reconciling activity in Jesus. The goal of reconciliation is “union with God in an through Jesus Christ in whom our human nature is not only saved, healed and renewed [retrospective] but lifted up to participate in the very light, life and love of the Holy Trinity [prospective]” (TFT).
Comment: If you think about, we should begin celebrating the atonement at Christmas and carry on the celebration through Easter, Pentecost and Ascension Day. Bring out the incense and candles!!
If I understand correctly, the prospective aspect of atonement is captured in the “atoning exchange” between Jesus and us, wherein he takes our poverty, while giving us his riches. He takes our mortality, while giving us his immortality. He descends in humility, so that we may be lifted up in exaltation. Jesus takes our sinful humanity and gives us is perfect relationship with the Father. As Radcliff notes, “We are not only forgiven but, in Christ and by the Spirit, raised up to participate in the inner relations of God’s life.” As JB writes, “Jesus received the word of forgiveness for us from the Father, not only that our past sins might be wiped out but in order that we might receive the Spirit of adoption, and be restored to the status of sonship by a life of union with Christ.”
All this accords with Athanasius’ famous saying: “He became what we are, so that we might become what he is.” This is the essence of the atoning exchange (or, “wonderful exchange”) and the prospective aspect of atonement. Unfortunately, per the Torrances, the western-Latin tradition has lost sight of this essential aspect of Nicene theology.
In concluding this post, I want to bring in a portion of a great quote from Thomas Smail that Radcliff provides. It concerns the evangelical insistence on the legal-retrospective aspects of the atonement at the expense of the filial-prospective aspects. Writing from personal experience in his book, The Forgotten Father, Smail says:
Many of us have a sin-soaked guilt-ridden evangelicalism where there has been a great deal of talk about the cost of our atonement in the blood of Christ and very little upon the free and loving grace of the Father … The God people have been shown is the righteous judge who requires the propitiation [turning away wrath] which Jesus alone can offer, and who in response to it can just manage to restrain his wrath against us provided those redeemed by Christ continue to behave in a moral and religious way …
Ain’t it so!! Read Tom Smail. You’ll like him!

For many previous posts on the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, start here

Monday, July 10, 2017

A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 7

Radcliff, A.S. 2016. The Claim of Humanity in Christ: Salvation and Sanctification in the Theology of T.F. and J.B. Torrance. (Princeton Theological Monograph Series 222), Eugene, OR: Pickwick. 208 pp.
Christ’s Person and Work (p. 53)
Western-Latin theories of the atonement focus on God’s act. Jesus sets an example; Jesus satisfies God’s honor, Jesus takes our punishment. In contrast, the Torrance tradition insists that the ‘act” of God in atonement must not be separated from the “person” of Jesus, for atonement is worked out through God’s self-giving in the person of Jesus. In order to hold together the person and work of Christ, TFT draws upon three Old Testament concepts:
  • Paddah expresses God’s act of delivering Israel from bondage in Egypt.
  • Kipper expresses God’s sacrificial offering (act) to blot out sin
  • Goel expresses God’s person as a kinsman-redeemer, who restores those in need to their lost inheritance. For TF, this vitally important term captures the essential incarnational, ontological aspect of the atonement overlooked by western-Latin external theories.

Comment: First, notice that kipper is not a reference to turning away wrath; it is a reference to “washing” away sin” (I am not a Greek scholar, so correct me if I am wrong.) Second, all this fits in nicely with N.T. Wright’s work in The Day the Revolution Began. As Wright consistently asserts, Jesus intended for his sacrifice on the cross to be associated in the peoples’ mind with God’s mighty act of deliverance from Egypt (paddah), only now the deliverance is from the far greater powers of sin, death and the devil. For Jesus, per Wright, the cross is not a punishment imposed on Jesus by the Father. Far from it, the cross is a mighty act of rescue from bondage to sin, devil and the devil. (In other words, it’s the Exodus thing all over again, only now on a cosmic scale! Beautiful!) Again, this is a welcome return to a more Christus Victor view of the atonement, embraced for centuries by the early Church and currently advocated by N.T. Wright and Gregory A. Boyd. (Read ‘em both! They’re great.).
Now let’s look at Torrance’s notion of goel in light of the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. When the High Priest went into the Most Holy Place (“Holy of Holies”) on the annual Day of Atonement, he wore a breastplate embedded with twelve precious stones, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The names of the tribes were written on the mantle he wore. The High Priest was no longer a man performing a ritual act. The High Priest was Israel incarnate (my words). He stood in for the people as their kinsman-redeemer (goel). He was bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh. Everyone in Israel was included in his atoning act, because he was the Representative-Substitute of the nation. He acted in place of the people (substitute) and on their behalf (representative). As TFT notes, the people contributed nothing to the High Priest’s atoning act.
In a similar way, Jesus is our Kinsman-Redeemer (goel). As man, he is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. He is our Substitute and Representative. Yet, he is the Creator God incarnate. He is the Eternal Word through whom all things are made and in whom all things consist. Therefore, when he enters the Most Holy Place in heaven as our High Priest and Representative, he carries all creation with him. Get the idea! Contra the western-Latin tradition, atonement is not merely an external act. The atonement can only be properly understood in terms of the “being” or “nature” of the Person who atones.
Hypostatic Union
Back to Radcliff. She writes, “The Torrances believe that redemption is not an external act of God, but worked out ontologically within the incarnate constitution of the person of Christ” (p. 53). This is where concepts like the homoousion and the hypostatic union come in. Don’t let the fancy words bug you. I know from experience that some readers abandon ship at the mere mention of words like ontological, homoousios, etc. Stay with me. It’s not as weird as it sounds. But you can light a pipe and put on a tweed jacket if you wish.
These five-dollar terms are essential for the budding theologian. I wrote my doctoral thesis on TFT based on the idea that his entire doctrine of the mediation of Christ can be boiled down to four “elemental forms”: the homoousion, the hypostatic union, incarnational redemption and the vicarious humanity of Jesus, with the latter two being correlates of the former. (Click here to read a journal article I published on all this.) Now, let’s take a moment to get this terms under control.
  • Homoouison: This is a reference to the all-important assertion in the Nicene Creed that Jesus is “of one being with the Father” (Greek, homoousios to Patri). In short, Jesus is the same ‘being,” or “God-stuff,” as the Father. The Father and Son are “one in being” (homoousios), while remaining distinct in personhood. In other words, Jesus is fully God but he ain’t the Father and vice versa. In practical terms, this means that the word and act of Jesus is not merely the word and act of a nice Jewish boy and a pretty fair country preacher (contra liberal theology). Rather, the word and act of Jesus is the word and act of God, for Jesus is homoousios to Patri. Share this with your spouses. They’ll like it (?).
  • Hypostatic union: This doctrine was articulated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The Chalcedonian Definition says that Jesus is “one person in two natures,” “divine” and “human,” without separation, without division, without change and without confusion (the four “withouts” are called the “four fences” of Chalcedon, in case you were interested.) “Hypostatic union,” as I understand it, is a fancy way of referring to the “union of divine and human natures in the one person” we know as Jesus of Nazareth. So it boils down to this. Jesus is fully God and fully human. Of course, we have little recourse but refer to all this as “mystery.”

So, when I say Jesus is the Eternal Word incarnate, that is a reference to the homoousion. I am saying Jesus is God; he is “of one being with the Father.” When I say Jesus is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, I am saying Jesus is human, like us. That is a reference to the hypostatic union, where Jesus is not only God, he is also human; that is, he is “of one being with us.”
Now we are in a good position to understand Radcliff, as she addresses the hypostatic union (for those who weren’t already).
Jesus must be fully God and fully human (hypostatic union) if he is to save humanity. Humanity cannot save itself; only God can save (as the Church Fathers asserted). Thus, Jesus must be God in order to save us (i.e., homoousios to Patri). At the same time, humanity is incapable of offering the perfect response of faith and obedience. Therefore, the Eternal Word must become human in order to offer the response for us (in our place and on our behalf). Thus, Jesus is human. (He is ‘of one being” with us.) As TF notes, in his incarnate person, Jesus fulfills the covenant from both sides, that is, from the side of God and the side of humanity. Jesus is the Word of God bearing upon man and also man hearing and responding to the word. Thus, atonement must be understood in terms of the hypostatic union, or, more simply, in terms of who Jesus is (in his incarnate constitution as God and man eternally united in reconciling union).
Comment: When you see the term “hypostatic union,” don’t roll your eyes and give up. Say to yourself, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Smokin’!!
Therefore, in the Torrance tradition, the incarnation, that is, the hypostatic union of divine and human natures in the one person we know as Jesus of Nazareth, as lived out through the whole course of his incarnate life, death resurrection and ascension, is itself a healing, redemptive, sanctifying union. So next time you see “Jesus saves” spray-painted on the Interstate bridge, you can take heart in knowing you probably understand that to a far greater degree than the would-be artist.

Let’s move on. According to Radcliff, “Jesus’ assumption of humanity means that, by the Holy Spirit, humanity is able to share in everything that is his, that is, perfect union and communion with God.” Notice two things about this sentence: First, she doesn’t merely say “we” share, leaving us to wonder if she is talking about believers only. She plainly says “humanity.” Second, she says in so many words that we participate by the Spirit. Coming from the charismatic-Pentecostal tradition, she’s gotta talk about the Spirit. And that’s what makes this book so good. While she is not ready to elaborate at this point in the book, she’ll get to it soon in a big way. Hang on! (I think I’ll be briefer in the next posts, so we can hurry up and get to the chapters on the Spirit and sanctification. I am looking forward to it, amigos! I got plenty o’ questions.

T.F. Torrance: “The Communion of the Spirit,” pt. 2

Reference Torrance, T.F. 1959. The School of Faith: The Catechisms of the Reformed Church . London: James Clark & Co. 298 pp. The S...