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.
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.
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!
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).