Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 13

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.
According to Radcliff, ‘The Torrances believe that a response of faith by the Spirit is necessary for the subjective actualization of our objective ontological union with Christ” (emphasis mine). Critics argue, however, that the Torrance’s insistence on Jesus’ vicarious faith undermines the importance of our personal, subjective response of faith to Jesus. As one critic argues, the Torrance’s insistence on the objective reality of justification accomplished for all in Jesus appears to render personal faith superfluous. Thomas Smail, in an oft-cited criticism, argues that while we cannot believe “by ourselves,” we must believe “for ourselves.” Notice that Smail avoids semi-Pelagianism by asserting that our response in the Spirit is not autonomous, while at the same time asserting that we must respond “for ourselves.” As much as I like Smail’s book on the Holy Spirit, I disagree with his assessment. As I understand the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ, we do not believe “for ourselves,” because Jesus has already believed for us. In union with Christ through the incarnation, we participate subjectively by the Spirit in Christ’s faith “for us,” and even our participation is not “for ourselves,” for it is the work of the Spirit in us.
As Kye Won Lee’s notes in his book on Torrance (Living in Union with Christ), however, there is “something like an enigma” in relation to what God has objectively accomplished for all in Jesus and our subjective response to it. Those of us who have wrestled with Torrance can easily understand that statement! Radcliff concurs that there is an enigmatic quality to Torrance’s assertion that our human response is a participation in Christ’s response. However, as she notes, this would not be troubling for the Torrances, for God’s self-revelation in Jesus takes priority over human rational thought. For me, at least, there is much about the incarnation-atonement, and our subjective relationship to it, that remains a mystery; yet, I remember the Barthian assertion that “mystery precludes mastery.” I think the Torrances would say “amen” to that.
In practical terms, for the Torrances, we participate in the vicarious humanity of Jesus through the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion (The Lord’s supper). As Torrance notes, “in eating his body and drinking his blood, we are given to participate in his [Jesus] vicarious self-offering to the Father.” The sacraments point to the objective reality of salvation by grace alone (sola gratia, as the Reformers put it). Baptism indicates Christ’s once-and-for-all finished work of death and resurrection, while Holy Communion indicates our continuing participation in Christ. As Radcliff notes, both sacraments rule out any notion of human co-operation in salvation. In short, “[T]he sacraments bring to expression our participation in Christ’s all-sufficient response” (p. 98).
Comment: I can easily see how baptism and Holy Communion are the means by which we participate in Christ. But we only get baptized once (usually) and we don’t take communion except when we are in church (usually), so how do we participate the rest of the time? Do I only participate on weekends, or is it a full time deal? Radcliff will spend a good deal more ink in her book dealing with the subject of sanctification as participation in the Triune life of God.
Works and Final Judgement
Those who argue for a greater appreciation of the work of the Spirit in Torrance’s theology also argue for a greater appreciation of the role of personal faith, as well as the place of “works” in view of the “final judgement.” For example, proponents of the New Perspective (which is a broad and varied camp) insist that the Spirit has a role in inspiring us to good works in order to be justified at the final judgement. Even N.T. Wright states that we shall be judged on the basis of the entirety of a life lived.
In contrast, the Torrances assert that the “final judgement” of sinners was enacted at Calvary. On the cross, Jesus is both “God the judge judging sin” and man the judged submitting perfectly to God’s holy judgement.” As Barth puts it, Jesus is “The Judge judged in our place.” Thus, God’s “problem with sin” was solved on the cross, for the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world. Since the “final judgement” of sin has already taken place on the cross, the second coming of Christ will be the unveiling of that judgement, wherein our “rightness” with God, fully accomplished in Jesus and now hidden with God in Christ, will finally be revealed. Hence, we have assurance of salvation, for in the parousia of Jesus Christ, judgment will be the unveiling of a “positive verdict” that was pronounced two thousand years ago.
None of this is to suggest, however, that works are irrelevant. To be sure, there are no conditions for grace but there are obligations of grace. In the Torrance tradition, works by the Spirit are a response to grace, not a condition for grace. As James Torrance often asserts, the indicatives of grace are prior to the imperatives of grace. Once we get this, it starts popping up everywhere. Here’s a chart:
Indicatives and Imperatives of Grace
My chart, not Radcliff’s
I am the Lord who saved you from Egypt
therefore, you shall have no other gods …
As I have loved you – John 13:34a
so you shall love one another – John 13:34b
If I the Lord have washed your feet – John 13:14a
you should was one another’s feet – John 13:14b
We are set free from sin-Rom 6:7
therefore, we must not let sin reign-Rom 6:12
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people … Titus 2:11
It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions … Titus 2:12
By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us- 1 John 3:16a
And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren- 1 John 3:16b

(Note: I invite you to bring in more examples in “Comments.”)
As Radcliff notes, our “works” by the Spirit are a joyful, obedient response to grace. Our works in the Spirit are the fruit of participation in Christ by the Spirit. As I see this, the focal point of obedience is not in us but in Jesus. Thus, as JB Torrance says, rather than turning inward to examine ourselves for fruits of repentance (as in Puritanism), we fix our eyes upon Jesus, who lived a life of perfect faith and obedience for us. Radcliff summarizes much of this nicely:

According to the Torrances scheme of salvation, Christ lived a life of perfect obedience by the Spirit, submitting to God’s judgment upon sin, which means that an unconditionally positive verdict has been made upon humanity. The last judgement will be a full unveiling of this irrevocable decision. This gives us assurance of salvation and freedom from having to earn it ourselves (p. 104).

Monday, July 24, 2017

A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 12

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.
With this post, we begin to explore Radcliff’s excellent contribution in regard to the place of personal response in the soteriology of the Torrance tradition, the ministry of the Spirit, and the nature of sanctification.
Radcliff cites several critics who argue that the Torrances’ assertion that all humanity is included in the vicarious humanity of Jesus undermines the subjective aspect of union by the Spirit. The critics insist that no one is justified accept by (personal) faith “in” Jesus. In other words, until a person believes, they are not justified. This is, of course, contrary to the Torrance tradition, where all are justified in the incarnation and life of Jesus Christ.
As she often does in this book, Radcliff counters that the insistence on “personal faith in Jesus” throws us back upon ourselves for salvation. Torrance sees this problem in the entire Westminster theology (of conservative Calvinism), where “the main focus of attention is upon man’s appropriation of salvation through justifying faith.” The Westminster tradition is concerned with man’s action, man’s faith, man’s duty toward God.
One Union in Two Relations
As Radcliff notes, there is only one “union” with Christ; that is, humanity is objectively in united  to Jesus via the incarnation (hypostatic union), wherein the eternal Word, who created all things and in whom “we live and move and exist” (NLT) assumes fallen humanity and unites it forever to his divinity (while purifying and cleansing our fallen flesh throughout his incarnate life).
Comment: The doctrine of the “hypostatic union,” formulated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D., asserts that Jesus Christ is “one person in two natures” (divine and human). As the Torrances assert, the union of divinity and humanity in the incarnation of Jesus Christ is an atoning union, wherein all humanity is reconciled to God in Jesus. In short, all are included in the incarnation.
Now let’s go back and bring in some material from Chapter 1 of Radcliff’s book. Quoting TF Torrance:
“[T]here is only one union with Christ, that which he 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 the Holy Spirit.”
In other words, “union with Christ” is effected in the incarnation (hypostatic union), as lived out through the whole course of the Son’s obedience to the Father. For Torrance, any notion of “two” unions could present God’s grace as conditional and throw us back upon ourselves to accomplish the spiritual union. For Torrance, the spiritual union is not additional to the union with all humanity effected in the incarnation (hypostatic union). There is only one union, where the spiritual union is understood as a “participation” in the one union established in the incarnation. According to TFT, “If the spiritual union is an additional union, then our salvation depends not only on 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.”
Comment: In view of his persistent resistance to dualisms of all kinds, TF Torrance does not assert a separation between the work of the Son and the work of the Spirit. While the “work” of the persons of the Trinity can be distinguished, they cannot be separated. As Augustine argues, “the works of the Trinity in the history of salvation are undivided” (opera trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt).
Nevertheless, the one objective union with Christ achieved in the incarnation has two aspects, expressed in two “relations.” There is an ontological “relation” to Christ and a pneumatological “relation” to Christ. Note that we are describing two “relations,” not two “unions.” Again, there is only one “union.” Our ontological union, accomplished for all humanity in the incarnation (hypostatic union) is a fait accompli. It cannot be undone. “However,” as Radcliff rightly notes, “we can live in ignorance or denial of this or we can live in agreement with it and enjoy its reality.” For the Torrances, it is the role of the Spirit to open us up within our subjectivities for Christ, so that we live out of ourselves and in him. Humanity’s objective union with Christ, established in the incarnate life of Jesus, is subjectively (“personally”) actualized in us by the Spirit.
Therefore, we must hold two things together, as J.B. Torrance argues:
First, he [Jesus] has already taken our humanity into the Holy of Holies, the presence of the Father in his own person. Second, he comes to us today by the Holy Spirit to take us with him into the Holiest of All.
JB may seem a little confusing here. What does he mean, Jesus has already taken humanity into the Most Holy Place, yet he comes today by the Spirit to take us in?
As Radcliff notes, JB Torrance (following Calvin) identifies three “moments” of the one work of salvation. First is the “eternal moment.” This is the moment in eternity past when the Father determined to include humanity in his love. Second is the “historical moment,” two thousand years ago when Christ lived and died and was raised again for us and for our salvation. Third is the “moment of [personal] experience,” when the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ and brings us to personal faith and repentance.
Trinitarian Pattern
(this is my chart, not Radcliff’s)
Eternal moment
determines all for life and love
Historical moment
objective relation of union: Jesus unites all humanity to himself in the incarnation.
Experiential moment
Subjective relation of union: Spirit subjectively actualizes in us what has been objectively accomplished in Jesus.

While there are three “moments” of salvation, there is only one union with Christ. However, the one “union” is expressed in two “relations”: ontological and pneumatological. This “unity in distinction” (“one union in two relations”) allows for only one work of salvation, so that we are not thrown back upon ourselves to achieve salvation by a subsequent effort of sanctification. At the same time, this approach posits a distinction between ontological and pneumatological “relations,” so that union with Christ is not collapsed into the hypostatic union with no room left for the work of the Spirit in us personally.
Radcliff continues:
We are in ontological relation to Christ because of his incarnation [hypostatic union] and vicarious humanity. However, an ontological relation alone leads to universalism. J.B. believes that universalism is precluded by the New Testament call for a human response of faith in the Spirit.
In that regard, J.B. Torrance writes:
On the grounds of our ontological relation to Christ, our Second Adam, we are called through the Holy Spirit into union with Him. Without Pentecost and without the sealing of the Holy Spirit in faith, we cannot regard ourselves as members of Christ’s Body and partakers of His blessings.
Contra numerous critics, the Torrances are not universalists. TF Torrance’s assertion of one “union” expressed in two “relations” precludes universalism, for it leaves room for a distinct (not separate) pneumatological relation, wherein the objective union accomplished in Jesus (hypostatic union) is actualized in us personally by the Spirit. Thus, we can say all are objectively included in Jesus via the hypostatic union (“incarnation”) but not all participate until the objective union is subjectively actualized in the individual believer by the ministry of the Spirit.
Comment: Given the one union with Christ that is expressed in two relations (unity in distinction), we have included everyone in Jesus, via the incarnation, while allowing for the actualization of the personal response of faith by the Spirit in order to experience our inclusion. Thus, the spiritual union is  not  collapsed into the hypostatic union. At the same time, there is no dualism (“separation”) between the work of the Son and the work of the Spirit. Both the Son and the Spirit play distinct but not separate roles in the one unitary work of salvation. This is good Trinitarian theology. Union is birthed in the Father’s heart, historically actualized in Jesus and subjectively realized in us by the Spirit.
In regard to one union in two relations, Radcliff quotes Dearborn, who argues that salvation is onto-relational. This is a beautiful concept that we do well to understand. “Onto-relations” are what Torrance calls “being-constituting” relations. In other words, “onto-relations” make us “who we are.” Contra Newton, entities exist not as isolated particles but in webs of relationships, where the relations themselves constitute the “being” of the realities in question. In human terms, our identities as “persons” are determined not only by our existence as distinct individuals but also by the relationships in which we live and move. That is to say, our identity as persons is determined as much by our relationships as it is by our genetics. We are not created to exist as isolated “individuals.” We are created for relationship with God and neighbour. To be human is to be persons-in-relationship.
An onto-relational view of salvation ascribes significance both to the objective ontological transformation of our humanity in Jesus as well as the subjective participation in that transformation by the Spirit. In other words, salvation is not automatic and impersonal, as it would be if it were accomplished solely in the incarnation absent a distinct personalizing work of the Spirit. Nor is it solely relational, as if it were merely an extrinsic encounter through “personal faith” without an ontological transformation of our humanity. In short, salvation is onto-relational because it involves an ontological transformation of our humanity in the incarnation that is realized in each us personally through our relationship to Christ in the Spirit.
Comment: OK. Let me conclude this post with a brief discussion of an issue that troubled (past tense) me for many years. With the Torrances, and Reformed theology in general, I agree that an autonomous response of faith to Jesus is impossible for those who are dead in trespasses and sins. Thus, we can only participate in our salvation by the ministry of the Spirit. No one participates in the objective reality of our union with Christ apart from the work of the Spirit.
Here’s my dilemma, or, at least what used to be my dilemma. Why does the Spirit work in John but not in Mary? Why does the Spirit call John to participate but not Mary? According to the conservative Calvinists, it is because John is “elect” and Mary is toast. According to the Arminians, it is because God foreknew that John would believe and Mary would not. So God zaps John with the Spirit but not Mary. In either of these two scenarios, it ain’t lookin’ good for Mary!
After years of struggle with this issue, I have transcended both viewpoints and entered the happy hunting ground of trans-denominationalism. Today I believe that the Spirit has been poured out on all flesh, as the New Testament indicates. Of course, I do not know all the practical implications of that. I simply believe that the Spirit is drawing all to Jesus in a way that I do not understand and certainly do not see when I watch the evening news. But I firmly believe that God wants all to be saved and none to perish. Thus, in regard to Mary, who has not yet been properly zapped by the Spirit, so that she may experience and enjoy her inclusion, I can only conclude, that, in the eloquent words of fellow blogger, Ted Johnson, the Spirit will bring in Mary “in his own perfect time.” For now, that works for me, and it is markedly better than the Calvinist or Arminian positions.
For more on the hypostatic union, click here.
For a related post on the “wonderful exchange,” click here.

For more on Torrance’s critic of universalism, click here

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

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...