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.
(this is my chart, not Radcliff’s)
(this is my chart, not Radcliff’s)
determines all for life and love
objective relation of union: Jesus unites all humanity to himself in the incarnation.
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.
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.