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.