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.
Christ’s Person and Work (p. 53)
Western-Latin theories of the atonement focus on God’s act. Jesus sets an example; Jesus satisfies God’s honor, Jesus takes our punishment. In contrast, the Torrance tradition insists that the ‘act” of God in atonement must not be separated from the “person” of Jesus, for atonement is worked out through God’s self-giving in the person of Jesus. In order to hold together the person and work of Christ, TFT draws upon three Old Testament concepts:
- Paddah expresses God’s act of delivering Israel from bondage in Egypt.
- Kipper expresses God’s sacrificial offering (act) to blot out sin
- Goel expresses God’s person as a kinsman-redeemer, who restores those in need to their lost inheritance. For TF, this vitally important term captures the essential incarnational, ontological aspect of the atonement overlooked by western-Latin external theories.
Comment: First, notice that kipper is not a reference to turning away wrath; it is a reference to “washing” away sin” (I am not a Greek scholar, so correct me if I am wrong.) Second, all this fits in nicely with N.T. Wright’s work in The Day the Revolution Began. As Wright consistently asserts, Jesus intended for his sacrifice on the cross to be associated in the peoples’ mind with God’s mighty act of deliverance from Egypt (paddah), only now the deliverance is from the far greater powers of sin, death and the devil. For Jesus, per Wright, the cross is not a punishment imposed on Jesus by the Father. Far from it, the cross is a mighty act of rescue from bondage to sin, devil and the devil. (In other words, it’s the Exodus thing all over again, only now on a cosmic scale! Beautiful!) Again, this is a welcome return to a more Christus Victor view of the atonement, embraced for centuries by the early Church and currently advocated by N.T. Wright and Gregory A. Boyd. (Read ‘em both! They’re great.).
Now let’s look at Torrance’s notion of goel in light of the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. When the High Priest went into the Most Holy Place (“Holy of Holies”) on the annual Day of Atonement, he wore a breastplate embedded with twelve precious stones, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The names of the tribes were written on the mantle he wore. The High Priest was no longer a man performing a ritual act. The High Priest was Israel incarnate (my words). He stood in for the people as their kinsman-redeemer (goel). He was bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh. Everyone in Israel was included in his atoning act, because he was the Representative-Substitute of the nation. He acted in place of the people (substitute) and on their behalf (representative). As TFT notes, the people contributed nothing to the High Priest’s atoning act.
In a similar way, Jesus is our Kinsman-Redeemer (goel). As man, he is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. He is our Substitute and Representative. Yet, he is the Creator God incarnate. He is the Eternal Word through whom all things are made and in whom all things consist. Therefore, when he enters the Most Holy Place in heaven as our High Priest and Representative, he carries all creation with him. Get the idea! Contra the western-Latin tradition, atonement is not merely an external act. The atonement can only be properly understood in terms of the “being” or “nature” of the Person who atones.
Back to Radcliff. She writes, “The Torrances believe that redemption is not an external act of God, but worked out ontologically within the incarnate constitution of the person of Christ” (p. 53). This is where concepts like the homoousion and the hypostatic union come in. Don’t let the fancy words bug you. I know from experience that some readers abandon ship at the mere mention of words like ontological, homoousios, etc. Stay with me. It’s not as weird as it sounds. But you can light a pipe and put on a tweed jacket if you wish.
These five-dollar terms are essential for the budding theologian. I wrote my doctoral thesis on TFT based on the idea that his entire doctrine of the mediation of Christ can be boiled down to four “elemental forms”: the homoousion, the hypostatic union, incarnational redemption and the vicarious humanity of Jesus, with the latter two being correlates of the former. (Click here to read a journal article I published on all this.) Now, let’s take a moment to get this terms under control.
- Homoouison: This is a reference to the all-important assertion in the Nicene Creed that Jesus is “of one being with the Father” (Greek, homoousios to Patri). In short, Jesus is the same ‘being,” or “God-stuff,” as the Father. The Father and Son are “one in being” (homoousios), while remaining distinct in personhood. In other words, Jesus is fully God but he ain’t the Father and vice versa. In practical terms, this means that the word and act of Jesus is not merely the word and act of a nice Jewish boy and a pretty fair country preacher (contra liberal theology). Rather, the word and act of Jesus is the word and act of God, for Jesus is homoousios to Patri. Share this with your spouses. They’ll like it (?).
- Hypostatic union: This doctrine was articulated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The Chalcedonian Definition says that Jesus is “one person in two natures,” “divine” and “human,” without separation, without division, without change and without confusion (the four “withouts” are called the “four fences” of Chalcedon, in case you were interested.) “Hypostatic union,” as I understand it, is a fancy way of referring to the “union of divine and human natures in the one person” we know as Jesus of Nazareth. So it boils down to this. Jesus is fully God and fully human. Of course, we have little recourse but refer to all this as “mystery.”
So, when I say Jesus is the Eternal Word incarnate, that is a reference to the homoousion. I am saying Jesus is God; he is “of one being with the Father.” When I say Jesus is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, I am saying Jesus is human, like us. That is a reference to the hypostatic union, where Jesus is not only God, he is also human; that is, he is “of one being with us.”
Now we are in a good position to understand Radcliff, as she addresses the hypostatic union (for those who weren’t already).
Jesus must be fully God and fully human (hypostatic union) if he is to save humanity. Humanity cannot save itself; only God can save (as the Church Fathers asserted). Thus, Jesus must be God in order to save us (i.e., homoousios to Patri). At the same time, humanity is incapable of offering the perfect response of faith and obedience. Therefore, the Eternal Word must become human in order to offer the response for us (in our place and on our behalf). Thus, Jesus is human. (He is ‘of one being” with us.) As TF notes, in his incarnate person, Jesus fulfills the covenant from both sides, that is, from the side of God and the side of humanity. Jesus is the Word of God bearing upon man and also man hearing and responding to the word. Thus, atonement must be understood in terms of the hypostatic union, or, more simply, in terms of who Jesus is (in his incarnate constitution as God and man eternally united in reconciling union).
Comment: When you see the term “hypostatic union,” don’t roll your eyes and give up. Say to yourself, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Smokin’!!
Therefore, in the Torrance tradition, the incarnation, that is, the hypostatic union of divine and human natures in the one person we know as Jesus of Nazareth, as lived out through the whole course of his incarnate life, death resurrection and ascension, is itself a healing, redemptive, sanctifying union. So next time you see “Jesus saves” spray-painted on the Interstate bridge, you can take heart in knowing you probably understand that to a far greater degree than the would-be artist.
Let’s move on. According to Radcliff, “Jesus’ assumption of humanity means that, by the Holy Spirit, humanity is able to share in everything that is his, that is, perfect union and communion with God.” Notice two things about this sentence: First, she doesn’t merely say “we” share, leaving us to wonder if she is talking about believers only. She plainly says “humanity.” Second, she says in so many words that we participate by the Spirit. Coming from the charismatic-Pentecostal tradition, she’s gotta talk about the Spirit. And that’s what makes this book so good. While she is not ready to elaborate at this point in the book, she’ll get to it soon in a big way. Hang on! (I think I’ll be briefer in the next posts, so we can hurry up and get to the chapters on the Spirit and sanctification. I am looking forward to it, amigos! I got plenty o’ questions.