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
The “outworking” of sanctification is more than a noetic (“intellectual”) process, wherein we become aware of who we are in Jesus. We are reconciled not only to look toward Jesus as our example, but also to participate in his relationship with the Father in the Spirit. For Torrance, atonement is not the goal of the incarnation; rather, the telos (goal, end) of Christ’s atoning work is communion. As J.B. Torrance asserts, “In love God created us for ‘sonship,’ to find our true being-in-communion, and in Jesus Christ gives us that gift of communion through the Spirit, of being daughters and sons of the Father.”
Comment: When Torrance says that the goal of the incarnation is not atonement, he means "atonement" in the sense of an external transaction (satisfaction, penal substitution, example). In this case, he is not referring to atonement as "at-one-ment."
Comment: In regard to the reason Jesus came, we rightly assert that Jesus came into the world to save sinners ((Mark 10:45). We must not stop there, however. According to Jesus, eternal life is knowing the Father and the one whom he sent (John 17:3). Therefore, the over-arching reason that Jesus came was to bring us home to the Father. In other words, as Torrance insists, the goal of the incarnation is not atonement (in an external sense) but communion in the Father-Son relationship through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Radcliff draws on JB Torrance to describe three theological models that differentially relate to the outworking of sanctification. First, the Harnack model represents liberal theology, wherein Jesus is seen as a moral teacher that we are too imitate. Second, the existential model, represented by evangelicalism and Protestantism, recognizes the God-humanward movement in Christ’s atoning death on the cross, yet, because it has no concept of the human-Godward movement of the vicarious humanity of Jesus, our response is burdensome, for it is detached from participation in Christ. Third, the incarnational-Trinitarian model of the Torrance tradition appreciates both the God-humanward movement and the human-Godward movement, wherein the Christian life is viewed as “the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father” (JBT).
Radcliff cites T.A. Noble’s book on the Trinity to assert that if we are to take Jesus as an example, we do better to imitate his relationship with the Father in which we share by the Spirit. As we share in that relationship, the outworking of our sanctification follows. Noble offers an interesting analogy of a man falling in love with a woman to illustrate how the desire for communion may express itself in transformed life. The man finds that his relation with the woman turns him out of himself, as she brings out the best in him. The man does not actively seek this change for the better; he seeks the woman! His transformation is the by-product of the relationship. For Noble, it is “objective experience of the real and living God” that results in the subjective transformation we call sanctification.
Comment: Noble’s analogy of lovers transformed in relationship is noteworthy.
Sanctification conceived in terms of a participatory relationship challenges the external, legal view of sanctification found in Puritanism, whether old or new. As JB Torrance lamented, Puritan preachers sought to instill obedience in their congregations through law and the fear of consequences of disobedience, thereby subordinating God’s filial (relational) purposes to an over-arching legal framework. As Radcliff notes, the Puritans preached law first in order to instill fear, then offered the Gospel as “solace” to those who chose to embrace Christ.
Comment: The Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards is said to have instilled such terror in his hearers that the congregants literally howled and wailed in fear of hell and damnation. This kind of preaching, which is still with us today, presents the Gospel as a threat, rather than as “good news.” As my partners in Africa tell me, this is common fare in their countries, where the Father is portrayed as the “punishing God.” Of course, they learned this kind of preaching from white evangelical-Protestant missionaries. (For this reason, I am committed to bringing incarnational-Trinitarian theology to east Africa and south Asia.)
The Puritans, both old and new, prioritize law over relationship. For the stern-jawed Puritan, it is law rather than grace that leads to repentance. According to J.I. Packer, for example, “Holiness sets its sights on absolute moral standards and unchanging moral ideals, established by God himself.” In regard to “law-breakers,” notes Packer, God can do nothing other than visit them in “displays of retributive judgment, so that all … may see the glory of his moral inflexibility.” Compare that to Radcliff’s inspiring assertion that repentance involves fixing our eyes on Jesus. Wow! What a difference!
Packer rightly asserts that God is not “morally indifferent,” and we should not act toward him as if he were. However, Packer also asserts that we must seek to please God “by consecrated zeal in keeping his law,” accompanied by regular self-examination to identify our shortcomings. In contrast, Radcliff rightly argues that we are not forgiven so that we may have a second chance at keeping the law. She draws on TF Torrance to assert that the Church is not a group of individuals who follow common moral principles; the Church is a community-of-persons ontologically transformed in Christ, who share by the Spirit in his relationship with the Father. Here again, we see the Torrances assertion that our standing vis-à-vis God is relational, not legal. In the “identity-forming” ministry of the Spirit, notes Julie Canlis, we discover that we are sons and daughters of our Father. The Spirit directs us out of ourselves and away from our own attempts at perfect performance toward our relationship with the Father in Jesus. As Canlis writes, “The Holy Spirit ushers us into adoption, not workaholism; the Spirit tells us not so much what to do, but who we are.” Well said! For TF Torrance, an external conception of holy living by adhering to laws is excluded by Paul’s language of the Church as the “body of Christ.” The church “inheres” in Jesus; it does not follow abstract rules. Again we see the assertion that our standing with our Father is relational, not legal.
Comment: The images in the New Testament that describe the Church are organic, not abstract and legal. We are “the body of Christ.” We are the branches who are nourished by the Vine. We are stones built up into a holy Temple, etc.
Following Torrance and Hauerwas, Radcliff argues that law can become a substitute for relationship. Law becomes an end in itself, a program to be achieved rather than a life to be lived in relationship to the Triune God. Because of the capacity of the human heart for deception, notes T.F. Torrance, we may seek to justify ourselves before God and neighbor by a formal, impersonal fulfillment of law in which we remain internally untouched and uncommitted. For Torrance, this de-humanizing endeavor leads to insincerity and hypocrisy.
Comment: Law keeping can easily degenerate into “form” without “substance.” Tragically, law keeping may allow us to turn a blind eye to the joys and perils of a relationship with the Living God. To encounter the Living God in relationship is to be changed, and change can often be painful! (“What the caterpillar calls the ‘end of the world,’ God calls a butterfly.”)
For JB Torrance, we fulfill the law not through adhering to static rules, “but dynamically through the presence of the Spirit in us and our participation in Christ.” Likewise, notes Radcliff, Barth believes that ethical behavior is a matter of following God’s will by the Spirit through participating in Christ. Similarly, Bonhoeffer asserts that the Christian life comes not from being turned inward upon ourselves but rather being turned out of ourselves in relationship with God. [Contrast this with the neo-Puritan insistence upon the inward term of introspection and self-examination.] I think we can briefly summarize all this by saying that godly living is not the consequence of law keeping, but the fruit of relationship. The outworking of sanctification comes not from knowledge of good and evil (i.e., “ethics”) but from our union with God through Jesus in the Spirit.
Radcliff cites David Torrance, who laments that probably ninety per cent of the sermons preached today emphasize cumbersome exhortations to do what is “right,” so that congregants get tired, weary and frustrated—and ultimately slip away. Radcliff sees this tendency in a new book by the arch-Calvinist, John Piper, who provides a formula for “fighting” against sin, one that consists primarily of exhortations that rely on willpower and struggle. As Radcliff argues, this obscures Christ as the ground of our sanctification in whose intimate communion with the Father we participate by the Spirit.
In contrast to Piper, David Torrance calls for preaching that is centered on Jesus, so that we might come into relationship with the Father. JB Torrance argues that the preacher’s task is not to throw people back upon themselves (as in Piper’s exhortations to willpower and struggle), but to turn people out of themselves toward Christ, so that we might share by the Spirit in his relationship with the Father. As JB Torrance argues, “God’s primary purpose for humans is ‘filial,’ not ‘judicial,’ [i.e., ‘relational’, not ‘legal’] where we have been created in the image of God to find our true being-in-communion, in ‘sonship,’ in the mutual personal relations of love.” As Radcliff notes, “In the outworking of sanctification, God’s primary purpose for humanity is not to adhere to external rules and regulations (judicial) but to participate by the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father (filial)” (p. 186).
- · The goal of the incarnation is not atonement [in an external sense], but communion with the Triune God of grace.
- · The outworking of sanctification is not a matter of law keeping but of participation in the Son’s relationship with the Father by the Spirit.
- · Neo-Puritanism prioritizes law over grace and reduces sanctification to a wearing struggle.
- Law keeping without relationship is form without substance, leading to insincerity and hypocrisy.
- · Christian living arises as we turn away from ourselves to Jesus and the truth of our identity in him, so that we may share in his relationship with the Father by the Spirit and grow into who we are “in him” (Radcliff).
Let me conclude with a great quote from the 19th C. South African pastor Andrew Murray. It is an excellent antidote to the inward turn of the neo-Puritanism of Packer, Piper and others. I read it this morning in his devotional book, Humility:
"Being occupied with self, even amid the deepest self-abhorrence, can never free us from self. … Not to be occupied with your sin, but to be occupied with God, brings deliverance from self."