Sunday, June 18, 2017

Alexandra S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 1

With this post, I intend to return to blogging on a regular basis. For the past three years, I have spent most of my time writing teaching material for pastors and church leaders in east Africa and south Asia. I am ready to return to a more academic level of study, and blogging is an important part of that process.

I have just finished reading Radcliff’s book on theology in the Torrance tradition (reference below), and she has inspired me to return to the laptop for blogging. Her book is one of the best—and clearest—I have read on the Torrances' theology. If you do not have it, get it! Her explication of sanctification in the Torrance tradition is more than worth the price of the book, not to mention all the other clearly related subject matters she includes.

One of the things that frustrates me when I read Torrance scholars is that, often, they do not just come out and tell it like it is. They say “we” are reconciled, “we” are adopted, but they don’t define “we.” I am never certain whether they are talking about believers only or all humanity. (Excuse me while I take a Skype call from Sri Lanka. I do a lot of that kind of thing). OK. Back to the book. Radcliff is an exception. She starts with a cosmic bang. She writes, “[In the Torrance tradition] the whole of humanity is chosen by God the Father for salvation in Christ and the whole of humanity is redeemed” (p. 1). You don’t get any plainer than that. Thank you, Alexandra!

Radcliff earned her doctorate at St. Andrews in Scotland under the supervision of a number of renouned Torrance scholars. She writes from within the Pentecostal-Charismatic tradition. Hence, sanctification will be a major theme in her book. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to speak in tongues to enjoy this great book!)

Much of her book addresses the issue of sanctification, and this sets her book apart. She is rightly concerned about a return to Puritan theology among Federal Calvinists and conservative evangelicals, where sanctification is described as the muscular effort of moral will, a strenuous effort to produce the fruit of repentance in one’ life, so that one may have some assurance at least that they are among the chosen. 

In contrast to the muscular effort of Puritanism, Alexander writes, “sanctification is not a daunting arduous effort.” Rather, sanctification in the Torrance tradition is “liberation.” Specifically, “We are liberated to grow into the ontological reality of who we are in Christ as we freely share by the Holy Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father” (p. 1). Particularly in Part Two of her book, Radcliff contrasts the burdensome version of sanctification in Puritanism (and conservative evangelicalism) with the liberating view of sanctification in the Torrance tradition.

In addition to addressing the issue of sanctification, Radcliff addresses the strong criticism of the Torrance tradition among Federal theologians. According to the Calvinists, she says, the Torrance tradition of theology is:
  • ·       Internally incoherent
  • ·       Leads to a license to sin
  • ·       Fails to offer assurance of salvation
  • ·       Undermines our human freedom and response
  • ·       Implies universalism
  • ·       Depends upon privileged knowledge
  • ·       Conflates the atonement into the incarnation
  • ·       Fails to take seriously Christ's death and human sin and
  • ·       Undermines the Creator and creation distinction.
(Frankly, this makes me wonder if these “critics” have actually read Torrance! How would you answer these criticisms? Read the book and Radcliff will show the way!)

In this book, Radcliff 1) addresses the above criticisms and 2) explores the implications for sanctification in the Torrance’s soteriology, particularly in view of the current movement in Federal Calvinism and conservative evangelicalism to recover Puritan theology for today.

I shall continue to post as I go over this book again with a Holmesian magnifying glass.


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.


  1. So good to have you back Martin. Bless you for your service to the African people, but I missed your posts. You were an important voice as I began to peel back the layers of misguided "evangelical" doctrine. Will read when I get home from work. Big Jesus hug!

  2. Good to hear from you Franco. Let's keep learning together!


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