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.
In Jesus, notes Radcliff, humanity has a new “eschatological orientation.” This phrase seems to mean that our transformed humanity, via the incarnation, is objective and real here and now, but it will not be fully revealed until the eschaton (there and then; the last day). Thus, there is an “eschatological reserve,” or “time lag,” between our present objective reality as new creations in Christ and its full unveiling at the parousia.
Nevertheless, although we live in the “”eschatological reserve” (“time lag”) in a world of continuing sin and evil, “we are neither defined nor ruled by it; we are determined by the risen humanity of Christ” (p. 158). For the Torrances, rather than focus on the obvious reality of our ongoing sinfulness, we should have confidence in the ontological reality of our new humanity in Jesus. According to T.F. “[I]t is the present reality of the new creation in Christ that should consume us.”
In view of the traditional three “offices” of Christ (prophet, priest, king), the Torrances emphasize the priestly office. Christ’s priestly office focuses on Jesus’ vicarious humanity, wherein, as our High Priest, Jesus offers the perfect response of faith and obedience in place of, and on behalf of, all. A focus on Christ’s priestly office frees us from the burden of trying to attain sanctification ourselves, so that we are liberated to participate by the Spirit in Jesus’ self-offering to the Father. For this reason, notes Radcliff, “The Torrances sought to emphasize Christ’s priestly office in order to counteract attitudes that bypassed his vicarious and mediatorial role and therefore threw people back upon themselves” (p. 160).
In addition to Christ’s priestly office, Radcliff argues for a greater appreciation in the Torrance tradition of Christ’s “kingly office.” Jesus’ “kingly office” expresses his victory over sin, death and the devil, as well as the death of old Adamic humanity. Thus, Christ’s kingly office must not be overlooked in the outworking of our sanctification, for we share in his victory by the Spirit. As Radcliff argues, the death of our sinful, Adamic humanity and Christ’s victory over evil offers us confidence in the nature of our new humanity and the outworking of our salvation. She cites Paul at length, who declares that our inclusion in Christ’s death and resurrection has set us free from sin (Rom 6:2-14). Against a view of sanctification as a life-long struggle, an emphasis on the victory that is ours in King Jesus allows us to participate in our sanctification from a place of rest and assurance, rather than from the strain of puritanical effort.
In regard to the ascension of Jesus, Radcliff notes that a focus on the absence of Jesus throws us back upon ourselves to achieve sanctification. (I’m not certain but we may see this in “dispensationalism,” where we are said to be living in the “age of the Spirit.”) On the other hand, if we focus on the reality that humanity is seated in heavenly places via the ascension of Jesus, we have confidence in the objective reality of our new humanity. While we continue to live in a sinful and evil world, we are neither defined nor ruled by it; we are determined by the vicarious humanity of the ascended Jesus.
In regard to sanctification, Radcliff rightly notes that the “fruit of the Spirit” is produced in us by the Spirit, not by our own muscular moral effort. If we take seriously Jesus’ analogy of the vine and the branches, then we must assert that we bear fruit because we are in the Vine. Paraphrasing TFT, instead of living a life of incessant struggle against an external law, we should rely on the indwelling of Jesus himself, living in us by the Spirit, as the source of our strength, empowering us to live out the reality of our new humanity in him. In short, the vine does the work; the branches enjoy the fruit.
Again and again, we see in the Torrance tradition the assertion that we must fall back upon Jesus, not upon ourselves. In this regard, let’s quote Radcliff:
When sanctification is conceived in external, logico-causal categories* of endeavoring to follow Jesus’s example, it becomes a life-long struggle to battle with the sinful nature. This is an impossible task and the very reason for Christ’s vicariously taking sin upon himself in order to destroy it. Such a perspective detracts from what has been accomplished for us in the vicarious humanity of Christ (p. 163).
*Radcliff seems to be referring to “external” theories of the atonement. In this case, she is referring to the “moral example” theory, where Jesus sets us an example to follow but does not ontologically transform our humanity
Finally, according to Radcliff, “It is confidence in God’s victory rather than claiming powerlessness that surely most glorifies God ... Christ’s resurrection power is greater than the sin that held sway over our old human nature.” That is powerful stuff! Against those preachers who think they must brow-beat their congregations into something resembling what they regard as the Christian lifestyle, how much better would it be to proclaim the positive message of who we already are in Jesus and invite our hearers to live out of that reality? Just thinkin’.
Let’s conclude this chapter with another good quote from Radcliff:
The Torrance’s scheme of salvation corrects a poor perspective on humanity and of sanctification as life-long struggle. Our new eschatological orientation in Christ gives us confidence in the nature of our humanity and the outworking of our sanctification. Although there is an eschatological reserve and our holiness will not be fully manifest until the Parousia, we can take pleasure in the process of becoming who we are (p. 164).
Let’s sum up of the salient points in this important chapter:
· Our humanity has been made definitively holy in Jesus, but this truth remains hidden until the parousia.
· Sanctification is not an external process of becoming more holy; the outworking of sanctification is the progressive revelation of the holiness that is already fully ours in Jesus. We cannot make ourselves “more holy.”
· While the believer is simul justus et peccator (“at the same time righteous and a sinner”), our primary ontological reality is justus, not peccator. Our primary ontological orientation is “saint,” not “sinner.”
· Humanity is ontologically transformed through the vicarious humanity of Jesus; therefore, humanity is holy, and we are liberated to grow into this reality by the power of the Spirit.
· Our ontological reality in Jesus challenges negative views of humans as miserable sinners and the correlative view that sanctification is a life-long struggle.
· Because of the ascension of our humanity into heaven in the Risen Jesus, we are seated in heavenly places. Though we continue to live in an evil and sinful world, we are neither defined nor ruled by it; we are determined by the vicarious humanity of Jesus.