Thursday, July 13, 2017

A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 9

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 our Righteousness
In order to clarify how Christ’s entire life (not only his death), is of atoning significance, the Torrances draw on the traditional Reformed distinction between Christ’s active and passive obedience.
(from a previous work of mine) “The active obedience of the incarnate Son refers to the positive fulfilment in the whole life of Jesus, who, from beginning to end, lived a life of perfect filial obedience to the Father, perfectly fulfilling God’s will in our name and laying hold of the Father’s love on our behalf. The passive obedience of Jesus Christ refers to his willing submission to the judgement of the Father upon our sin, especially as manifested in his expiation of our sins upon the cross. Christ’s passive obedience, however, cannot be limited to the cross, for his passion began at his birth, so that his entire life was a bearing of the cross. Torrance follows Calvin in asserting that as soon as Christ put on the form of a servant (cf. Phil 2:7), he began to pay the price of liberation for our salvation.”
The notion that Jesus’ entire life is a filial, not legal, response to the Father’s will brings the Torrances into contention with legalistic views of atonement. For evangelicals, especially conservative Calvinists, Christ’s obedience fulfills the legal requirements of the Law. Consequently, Christ’s righteousness, legally defined, is “imputed” to the believer upon a personal confession of faith. In this view, we are declared righteous, not made righteous. Opponents refer to this as a “legal fiction,” for there is no ontological change in our being.
For the Torrances, Jesus’ filial obedience is not legal but ontological and transformative. Throughout the whole course of his obedient life, Jesus brings his purity and holiness to bear upon the sinful, Adamic humanity assumed in the incarnation, in order to cleanse it of the stain of original sin and heal its corruption and disease, while bending the rebellious human will back to the Father. Thus, in Jesus, we are not merely “declared”’ righteous; we are made righteous. In my understanding, this means that all humanity is “made righteous” in Jesus. (In my experience, this has a joyous, happy effect on evangelism. Trust me, this will preach!)
Comment: Obviously, many of us, including me and a few of you readers I know, don’t look particularly righteous. Nevertheless, we are truly “made” righteous in Jesus. While our righteousness is absolutely real—and is no mere legal fiction—it is hidden with God in Christ, waiting to be unveiled at the parousia. [This is one reason I like the New Living Translation. Instead of the word “justified,” it uses the phrase “made right.” For example, “So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law” (Romans 3:28)]
I think it is pastorally important to teach that Jesus has fulfilled the Law on our behalf and made us righteous, even if it is hidden for now. As Radcliff notes, “If Jesus fulfillment of the law is denied, it is this which can lead to legalism because we are turned back upon ourselves to achieve it for ourselves.” On the other hand, knowing that we are “made right” in Jesus takes the load of the toad! rribet!!
In Christ
Radcliff notes that the language of “imputation” is deficient. “Imputation” is an abstract declaration that is detached from the person of Christ. For Paul, redemption is personal, not merely legal. We are justified by the redemption that is “in Jesus.” Jesus “is” our righteousness, etc. As Radcliff notes, “We receive righteousness not through an external imputation of the benefits of Christ but through a personal participation in Christ’s very self” (p. 69). (This sentence would have been better if she had said we are “made righteous” rather than we “receive righteousness.”) For Radcliff, salvation is not an external transaction but a person in whom we participate. Jesus is the “content” of our salvation. As TFT argues, Christ does not give us “benefits”; he give us himself. Grace is the “impartation” of God himself.
The reason all this matters is that the Torrance tradition stands in contrast to both Protestant and Roman Catholic ideas of justification. As we have seen, Protestants assert a legal view of justification, where Christ’s righteousness, understood in terms of obedience to the Law, is imputed to us. Again, we are “declared” righteous, not “made” righteous. In Roman Catholicism, justification is transformative but it involves a process of moral effort, wherein righteousness is infused through baptism and penance. As the Torrances often note, however, this throws us back upon our own efforts (penance).
For the Torrances, justification is an empty idea unless it is understood in terms of a transformative, ontological union. Justification is transformative because humanity participates in Jesus via the hypostatic union (“the Word became flesh…”) and is lifted up to the Father in the resurrection/ascension. For the Torrances, to make justification a merely declatory change in status is to bypass the resurrection! Thus, in the Torrance tradition, justification is an actualization of what is declared. When Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven,” the man really was forgiven, as the healing made clear.
In summary, for the Torrances, justification is fully accomplished via the hypostatic union, wherein our humanity is taken up in Jesus and lifted to heaven in the resurrection. In Jesus, we are not merely declared righteous, we are really made righteous. Against Catholicism, our justification is not the infusion of righteousness by a lifelong process of moral effort but an accomplished fact in Jesus.

Comment: Notice that at this point we are not saying much about the Holy Spirit. Torrance’s theology is “radically Christocentric.” Some argue, I think incorrectly, that Torrance does not pay enough attention to the role of the Spirit in salvation. (I used to think that myself, but Radcliff’s book has helped me to see the light!) So, hold your horses, brothers and sisters. The Spirit’s ‘a comin! The role of the Spirit will occupy much of the remainder of Radcliff’s book, beginning next post I think… 
For more on Torrance's doctrine of justification, see my post here

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