Thursday, June 29, 2017

A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 4

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.
Human Freedom
Torrance’s assertion of universal election as a fait accompli raises the issue of human freedom (per Radcliff). Does God’s sovereign decision to elect all humanity in Christ repudiate human autonomy?
No. Despite the post-Enlightenment insistence that we are all freely self-determining autonomous, individuals, we really are not as free as we may think (apart from Jesus, that is). Paul says we are “enslaved to sin” (Romans 6). Luther calls it the “bondage of the will” and Calvinists like to talk about how we are” dead in trespasses and sins” and can do nothing to save ourselves. “Dead men can’t even reach for the life ring,” as the Calvinists like to say.
However, the Torrance tradition insists that the human will is liberated. In the incarnation, Jesus assumed the fallen human will and bent it back to God, thereby setting humanity on a new footing. (As I think of it, we are no longer “in Adam,” we are “in Jesus.” By the way, “we” means everybody, even the brother-in-law you can’t stand!) In Jesus, our self-will is overridden, judged and forgiven, then “recreated and determined by love” (TFT).
Thus, the fait accompli of universal election does not undermine human freedom; rather, it recreates and establishes it, for now we are free to choose Jesus. TFT says, [Election] does not mean the repudiation of human freedom but its creation and the repudiation of bondage.” As Radcliff writes, “God does not undermine our human freedom but rather establishes it because we are liberated from our enslaved, sinful condition to participate in the very life of God” (p. 35).
Comment: As I understand all this, the human will is no longer fallen; it is recreated and made new in Jesus. All are set free from the bondage of the will to turn to Jesus. Neither does the five-point Calvinist notion of “total depravity” still obtain, because sinful, Adamic flesh is healed from its corruption and disease in the incarnation (hypostatic union).  Thus, Luther’s “bondage of the will” is no longer the case, and the Calvinists’ TULIP is short another letter.
Faith entails a genuine human decision, per Torrance, but at its heart is the prior divine decision to choose us. In other words, we can only make a decision for Jesus because Jesus has already made a decision for us. As Radcliff notes, “The relationship between the divine decision already decided and the decision of the human being in response is constituted by the Holy Spirit.” Thus, the human decision of faith has no independent action apart from the prior divine decision of election.
Radcliff does not elaborate on the Spirit’s role at this point. That comes in Chapter Three, and I am really looking forward to getting there in this blog, because I have a lot of questions, despite all the reading I’ve been doing lately on the Holy Spirit.
Universal vs Limited Atonement
The Torrances’ theology of universal atonement, or universal reconciliation, is challenged by Federal theologians (conservative Calvinists) who hold a doctrine of limited (or, “definite”) atonement, where Christ dies for the elect only (with “elect” narrowly defined as the chosen few.) Radcliff quotes a few Calvinists who say that assurance is possible only with the doctrine of limited atonement, because the elect are certain that Christ’s sacrifice is efficacious for them. On the other hand, these same Calvinists assert that a doctrine of universal atonement cannot offer assurance (huh?), because redemption is only a potentiality, since some do not choose faith in Christ. Gibson & Gibson claim that proponents of universal atonement (the Torrances) cannot, if being consistent, offer a belief in the “sincere offer” of salvation for every person. All that can be offered is the opportunity or possibility of salvation. Since salvation is only a possibility and assurance of salvation is lost (according to the Calvinists), we are thrown back upon our own response as the subjective ground of salvation.
Comment: The conservative Calvinists argue that universal atonement offers only the “possibility” of salvation, for not all choose Christ. What they fail to mention is that the doctrine of limited atonement makes salvation an impossibility for the vast majority of humans who have ever lived!!! Go figure.
Radcliff does a good job of countering these claims of the conservative Calvinists, which, in my view, are more properly directed at Arminianism than the Torrance tradition. For the Torrance’s, as we have already seen, salvation for all is not a “possibility”; it is a fait accompli. Jesus fulfills both sides of the covenant on behalf of all humanity. Our response to what Christ has already done contributes nothing to our salvation (this is good Reformed theology, by the way). Salvation does not depend upon our response, because Christ, our Substitute and Representative, has already made the perfect human response in place of, and behalf of, all. Our human response is a matter of living in accordance with this reality but it does not accomplish the reality.
To be sure, the doctrine of limited atonement cannot and, historically, has not offered assurance, as anyone knows who has read James Torrance’s “Introduction” to John McLeod Campbell’s The Nature of the Atonement. In the doctrine of limited atonement, Christ dies for the elect. That’s all well and good. But how do we know we are among the elect? Only by the hard work of producing fruits of repentance, and if you are like me, that can be really “iffy” sometimes. As Radcliff notes, “Definite [limited] atonement leaves people worrying whether they are one of the chosen few for whom Christ died, whereas universal atonement offers assurance that all are included in Christ’s perfect response in our place” (p. 45).
The doctrine of limited atonement cannot offer assurance, because it throws our religious efforts back upon ourselves. Whereas the gospel is the end of religion, limited atonement builds its awful structure right back again. As TFT observes, “For generations of people in the Kirk faith was deeply disturbed and shaken by the doctrine thundered from the pulpits that Christ did not die for all but only for a few chosen ones—as assurance of their salvation withered in the face of the inscrutable decree of divine predestination.” Yikes! More Prozac please!
For more on universal vs limited atonement, see my previous post here .

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Monday, June 26, 2017

A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 3

Election of all in Christ
The title of this section makes me want to cheer! All humanity is elect in Christ.
Radcliff cites Ephesians 1:4-6. James Torrance believes this passage refers to all humanity, because verse 10 refers to Christ’s mediatorial headship over all, where God the Father “sums up all things in Christ.” I have often wondered about this passage, because the letter is addressed to the church. So when Paul says “we,” is referring to believers only, or to all humanity? I will go with the latter, following JBT and Irenaeus long before him.
For TFT, election is a fait accompli in Christ. For those who do not “parlez vous francais,” that means that it’s a done deal. (But you already knew that, didn’t you?). Torrance says:
In as much as no one exists except by the Word of God by whom all things were made and in whom all things  consist, and in as much as this is the Word that has one and for all enacted the eternal election of grace to embrace all men, the existence of every man whether he will or not is bound up inextricably with that election—with the cross of Jesus Christ.
God claims all humanity in Christ. In Christ, we are all judged. In Christ we are all chosen. That seems pretty plain to me.
Election is Grace
What is the relation of grace to election? Which is prior in God’s mind? According to the Calvinists, election precedes grace. God first elects a few from the mass of sinful humanity, then he offers them grace. (This is a rather ungenerous view of God.) In Arminianism, it’s the other way round: grace precedes election. God offers grace to all (I like that part), but then he only elects those whom he foreknows will decide for Jesus. (I don’t like that part.) This puts the burden for salvation back on our shoulders, for salvation is only actualized when we walk the sawdust trail and shake the preacher’s hand, while the choir sings the tenth stanza of “Just as I am.” We used to do that when I went to the Southern Baptist church. That was before I became a heathen Episcopalian. (Today I am a trans-denominational.)
Calvinism limits election. It turns what should be the good news of God’s election of all in Jesus into a nightmare. Out of the 100 billion (?) people who have ever lived, most of whom have never heard the name of Christ, God “mercifully” elects a few for salvation. I just can’t get my head around that kind of theology. According to this view, as I once heard Ken Blue say, the world is nothing but a “vast slaughterhouse.”
The Calvinists detach election from Jesus and move it into eternity past in the inscrutable will of God, whose purposes are unclear. As TFT often notes, this means there is a different God behind the back of Jesus, creating a lack of assurance for salvation and turning us back onto our own efforts to produce fruits (proof) of election. This amounts to a lot of hard work, and even then you can’t really be sure you’re in. Arminianism, on the other hand, make election conditional: “God’s electing foreknowledge is caused by the faith of the elect.” In other words, if you decide for Jesus, you’re in. Again, this puts the burden of salvation on our shoulders rather than on Jesus. When election is made either prior to or subsequent to grace, it is detached from its foundation in Jesus, and we are all left wondering whose in and who ain’t.
In the Torrance tradition, following my hero Karl Barth, grace is neither prior to nor subsequent to election. Rather, election is grace. As Radcliff notes, following TFT, the election of all humanity in Jesus offers assurance that we are all included in God’s love. David Fergusson writes:
Included in the election of the risen Christ is the election of every man, woman and child. Each individual is determined by the love of God.
The Calvinist doctrine of election is derived from logical-causal thinking. If not everyone is saved, as the Bible may (?) indicate, then obviously Jesus did not die for everyone, or else there would be a deficiency in the atonement. So clearly, Jesus must have died for the elect only (narrowly defined), and that brings you inevitably to the unbiblical doctrine of limited atonement.
Comment: If you think about it, the Calvinists are beginning with “man as sinner,” and they build their system from that. This is why the Torrances insist we must begin with the “Who” question: “Who is Jesus,” and derive the “how” from God’s self-revelation in his Son. It’s the difference between beginning your thinking with the first Adam or the Second Adam. I know which I choose. (In the Westminster Confession of Faith, their awful doctrine of election is in chapter three. They don’t get to Jesus till chapter eight. By then, most folks are already toast. Ugh!)
As Barth says, “The doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel because of all words that can be said or heard it is the best.” Compare that to the “horrible decree” of the Calvinists! As Radcliff notes, as she will often in this book, our election in Jesus means “people do not have to depend upon their own religious efforts to provide evidence for their salvation. Rather, we are liberated to freely devote ourselves back to God.” The Gospel is good news folks. It’ time some people realized it!
Conclusion (per Radcliff, p. 33)
“The Torrances believe that God has elected all [contra Calvinism] of humanity unconditionally [contra Arminianism] in Christ. Election is not prior to grace, as found in Federal Calvinism, nor is grace prior to election, as found in Arminianism. For the Torrance’s, God’s election and grace must not be placed within man-made logical-causal categories but rather guided by God’s self-revelation of his filial purposes in Christ. This gives assurance of salvation because we do not have to worry whether we are one of God’s elect. Nor do we have to wear ourselves out trying to bear fruit that is the evidence of our salvation. God’s election of humanity in Christ means that we are all included in his plan of redemption.”
For more (a lot more!) on Torrance’s doctrine of election, see my previous post here.
Please consider a small tax-deductible donation to AsiAfrica Ministries, Inc. We are working hard to bring incarnational-trinitarian theology to east Africa and south Asia. We could use some help! Click here . (Put “God for Us” in message area).

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.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Alexandra S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 2

Radcliff describes Torrance theology as filial rather than judicial; ontological rather than external and objective rather than subjective. She will work this out as she goes.
In Chapter 1, “The Father as Covenant Not Contract God,” Radcliff takes up the familiar assertion from James Torrance that God is a covenant God, not a contract God.
In plain language, she states, “Prior to any contribution that we could make, God chooses the whole of humanity for salvation in Christ. This liberates us to offer ourselves back to God whole-heartedly in freedom.” In contrast to the “horrible decree” (decretus  horribilis) of double predestination, where only a few are “elected” for salvation and everyone else is  toast, Radcliff’s assertion that  whole of humanity is chosen in Christ makes me want to break out in song.
Radcliff identifies three streams of Calvinism: conservative, liberal and evangelical, with the Torrances in the latter, along with Thomas Erskine, Edward Irving, John McLeod Campbell and Karl Barth. Evangelical Calvinism has the vicarious humanity of Christ and union with Christ at its center, and claims continuity with John Knox and the Scots Confession of 1560.
Evangelical Calvinism stands in marked contrast to the Federal theology of conservative Calvinism dominant in North America. According to Federal theology, God made a covenant with Adam. If Adam obeys, he lives; if not he dies. As “federal head” of the human race, Adam’s disobedience brings the curse of death upon everyone. (Here comes the bad part) Subsequent to Adam’s disobedience, God makes a new covenant, wherein, “out of his love,” God elects some to be saved (leaving the vast majority of humanity to roast).  In order to forgive humanity, God must satisfy his righteousness and justice. Thus, Jesus becomes a penal substitutionary sacrifice to atone for the sins of the elect.
 If Radcliff (and my paraphrase) are correct, then obviously this scheme means that God’s must be conditioned in order to forgive. God must have his pound of flesh before he can spare at least a few. In short, Jesus has to die before God can (reluctantly) forgive. Note that this scheme makes atonement prior to forgiveness (which, of course, is the wrong order).
The Torrances believe that Federal theology is a distortion of Calvin’s theology. Federal theology presents a covenant of works for all and a covenant of grace only for the elect. In other words, God is related to all humanity in terms of law but only to the elect in terms of grace. Per James Torrance, “In the federal scheme, the focus moves away from what Christ has done for us and for all humanity to what we have to do IF we would be (or know that we are) in covenant with God.” Thus, primacy is given to law over grace. Of course, this leads to a lack of assurance, for the burden of salvation is thrown back upon our shoulders, as we self-exam for fruits of repentance. (I am getting depressed just thinking about all this! Pass the Prozac!)  
The Torrances often assert that this kind of theology privileges human logical constructs over revelation and, hence, distorts the “how” of God’s ways with us. For the Torrances, the “who” question takes priority over the “”how” question (following Bonhoeffer). In order to understand how God works in salvation history, we must first understand who God is. “Christ cannot be known from his works; rather, we understand God’s work from knowing the Person of Christ, who is the revelation of God the Father.” Hence, revelation takes priority over logical constructs about the nature of God and salvation. In short, we must look to “Who” God is, as revealed in Jesus, in order to understand “how” God’s acts in salvation history.
Comment: RC Sproul is a prime example of a theologian who privileges logical constructs over revelation (my opinion). I read his book on the five points of Calvinism many years ago (I actually took a seminary class on that subject!). Given the accuracy of his assumptions (?), he constructs a perfectly logical system to support the tenants of TULIP, wherein unbiblical notions like “limited atonement” are the logical consequence. The problem, however, is that limited atonement does not align with the plain sense of scripture, wherein God loves the world and wishes none to perish.
In contrast to Sproul (and Aquinas), the Torrances assert that knowledge of God must be derived from God’s self-revelation in Jesus, not by fallen human rationality (logical-causal constructs). Knowledge of God must be developed “according to the nature” of the Object of study. Since Jesus is “of one nature or being with the Father,” a proper “scientific” theology will develop its knowledge of God according to his self-revelation in Jesus.
Radcliff has a lovely section on “Revelation through the Son.” She describes Jesus as “the very expression of the Father’s heart,” noting that Jesus is not the kinder, gentler side of the “angry god” of Jonathan Edwards’ infamous sermon. The mission of the Father and Son are one, notes Radcliff. Jesus is not an intermediate who steps between us and the Father, so that we are not instantly incinerated by a wrathful deity who can’t stand the sight of us. Rather, the reconciliation that Jesus effects is the expression of the Father’s heart. (You gotta love it!). In short, “There is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ” (TFT).
Filial over Judicial
When we look to God through the lens of Christ, we see that God’s ways with us are primarily filial (relational), not judicial (legal). Simply stated, in Jesus we learn that God is “Father,” not the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle or Aquinas (who constructs a logical system of thought about God derived from creation, not from Jesus).
The Torrances believe that a legal framework, as in the Westminster Confession of Faith, presents God primarily as Judge and Lawgiver and only Father to those who satisfy the pertinent legal requirements. Thus, God must be “conditioned” into being gracious. In other words, God only likes you if you behave properly, and even then, you can’t be sure! Radcliff brings in John McLeod Campbell’s assertion of a filial, not legal, relationship between God and humanity. Campbell observed that the legal framework of Federal Calvinism left his parishioners unsure of their salvation, for they were constantly compelled to self-exam for fruits of repentance. Do I have enough faith? Is it “saving” faith? Did I repent correctly? Is God pleased with my imperfect obedience? …. The results of this legal framework were a bunch of unhappy, depressed Christians. (This was before the invention of Prozac. No wonder the Puritans had such grim faces and dressed as if they were always going to a funeral.)
For the Torrances, following John McLeod Campbell, God’s primary relationship with us is not legal but filial (i.e. “noting or having the relation of a child to a parent.” Definitions provided at no extra charge!) As J.B. says, “God’s primary purpose for humanity is ‘filial,’ not just ‘judicial,’ where we have been created in the image of God to find our true being-in-communion, in ‘sonship,’ in the mutual relations of love.” Substituting a legal framework for a filial relationship, Federal theology (as in Westminster Confession) yields an impersonal view of human beings as the objects of justice. Humans are portrayed more as “workers,” driven by a “work ethic.” (I think of Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism).  In contrast, the Torrances filial understanding of God’s ways with us portrays us as objects of God’s love. We are sons and daughters created for communion.
For those who like charts:

We are objects of justice
We are objects of love
We are workers
We are sons and daughters
We are driven by a work ethic
We enjoy communion

The legal framework of Westminster Calvinism leads to legalism, depression and burnout, whereas the filial framework of the Torrance tradition leads to communion, joy and participation (the sentence is mine, not Radcliff’s, but she would agree). As Radcliff notes, this comparison of legal and filial “resonates with the parable of the prodigal son, in which the Father forgives his son before he has even had a chance to repent, and does not wish for his son to relate to him in terms of work and servanthood, but welcomes him back as family” (p. 21).
According to Radcliff, “The Father’s purposes are primarily filial rather than judicial. His love sought our salvation so that we might be adopted as sons and daughters in order to live in loving communion with him. This is of the utmost importance for people who lack joy, peace, and assurance in salvation” ((p. 22). Amen!
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.
Please consider a small tax-deductible donation to AsiAfrica Ministries, Inc. We are working hard to bring incarnational-trinitarian theology to east Africa and south Asia. We could use some help! Click here . (Put “God for Us” in message area).

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Alexandra S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 1

With this post, I intend to return to blogging on a regular basis. For the past three years, I have spent most of my time writing teaching material for pastors and church leaders in east Africa and south Asia. I am ready to return to a more academic level of study, and blogging is an important part of that process.

I have just finished reading Radcliff’s book on theology in the Torrance tradition (reference below), and she has inspired me to return to the laptop for blogging. Her book is one of the best—and clearest—I have read on the Torrances' theology. If you do not have it, get it! Her explication of sanctification in the Torrance tradition is more than worth the price of the book, not to mention all the other clearly related subject matters she includes.

One of the things that frustrates me when I read Torrance scholars is that, often, they do not just come out and tell it like it is. They say “we” are reconciled, “we” are adopted, but they don’t define “we.” I am never certain whether they are talking about believers only or all humanity. (Excuse me while I take a Skype call from Sri Lanka. I do a lot of that kind of thing). OK. Back to the book. Radcliff is an exception. She starts with a cosmic bang. She writes, “[In the Torrance tradition] the whole of humanity is chosen by God the Father for salvation in Christ and the whole of humanity is redeemed” (p. 1). You don’t get any plainer than that. Thank you, Alexandra!

Radcliff earned her doctorate at St. Andrews in Scotland under the supervision of a number of renouned Torrance scholars. She writes from within the Pentecostal-Charismatic tradition. Hence, sanctification will be a major theme in her book. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to speak in tongues to enjoy this great book!)

Much of her book addresses the issue of sanctification, and this sets her book apart. She is rightly concerned about a return to Puritan theology among Federal Calvinists and conservative evangelicals, where sanctification is described as the muscular effort of moral will, a strenuous effort to produce the fruit of repentance in one’ life, so that one may have some assurance at least that they are among the chosen. 

In contrast to the muscular effort of Puritanism, Alexander writes, “sanctification is not a daunting arduous effort.” Rather, sanctification in the Torrance tradition is “liberation.” Specifically, “We are liberated to grow into the ontological reality of who we are in Christ as we freely share by the Holy Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father” (p. 1). Particularly in Part Two of her book, Radcliff contrasts the burdensome version of sanctification in Puritanism (and conservative evangelicalism) with the liberating view of sanctification in the Torrance tradition.

In addition to addressing the issue of sanctification, Radcliff addresses the strong criticism of the Torrance tradition among Federal theologians. According to the Calvinists, she says, the Torrance tradition of theology is:
  • ·       Internally incoherent
  • ·       Leads to a license to sin
  • ·       Fails to offer assurance of salvation
  • ·       Undermines our human freedom and response
  • ·       Implies universalism
  • ·       Depends upon privileged knowledge
  • ·       Conflates the atonement into the incarnation
  • ·       Fails to take seriously Christ's death and human sin and
  • ·       Undermines the Creator and creation distinction.
(Frankly, this makes me wonder if these “critics” have actually read Torrance! How would you answer these criticisms? Read the book and Radcliff will show the way!)

In this book, Radcliff 1) addresses the above criticisms and 2) explores the implications for sanctification in the Torrance’s soteriology, particularly in view of the current movement in Federal Calvinism and conservative evangelicalism to recover Puritan theology for today.

I shall continue to post as I go over this book again with a Holmesian magnifying glass.


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.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Knowledge of God and the Homoousion of the Spirit

Here is a great quote on knowledge of God, commensurate with Torrance tradition.
"If the Spirit is not God, without qualification, then God is not known in the biblical sense, where knowledge is not the mastery of information but transformation through engagement with, and surrender to, an “other” who is person. If the Spirit is not God, our knowledge of God is no more than a matter of “reading off” facts about God from the face of Jesus, confusing knowledge as the accumulation of information with that biblical “knowing” which is transmutation. Human knowledge of God, it must be remembered, is precisely the difference, the transformation, arising in the knower through her self abandonment to the Person of God. Where the homoousion of the Spirit is neglected, knowledge of God (so ­called) is a one­-sided cerebralism or “informationism” in which orthodox truths (abstractions by definition) are assimilated while the heart remains unaltered by the concrete Truth which is reality."
Victor A. Shepherd, Thomas F. Torrance and the Homoousion of the Holy Spirit.

Academy of Bible and Theology

Dear Readers, Recently, I launched a new project called the Academy of Bible and Theology (click  here ), sponsored by AsiAfrica Mini...