Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 13

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.
According to Radcliff, ‘The Torrances believe that a response of faith by the Spirit is necessary for the subjective actualization of our objective ontological union with Christ” (emphasis mine). Critics argue, however, that the Torrance’s insistence on Jesus’ vicarious faith undermines the importance of our personal, subjective response of faith to Jesus. As one critic argues, the Torrance’s insistence on the objective reality of justification accomplished for all in Jesus appears to render personal faith superfluous. Thomas Smail, in an oft-cited criticism, argues that while we cannot believe “by ourselves,” we must believe “for ourselves.” Notice that Smail avoids semi-Pelagianism by asserting that our response in the Spirit is not autonomous, while at the same time asserting that we must respond “for ourselves.” As much as I like Smail’s book on the Holy Spirit, I disagree with his assessment. As I understand the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ, we do not believe “for ourselves,” because Jesus has already believed for us. In union with Christ through the incarnation, we participate subjectively by the Spirit in Christ’s faith “for us,” and even our participation is not “for ourselves,” for it is the work of the Spirit in us.
As Kye Won Lee’s notes in his book on Torrance (Living in Union with Christ), however, there is “something like an enigma” in relation to what God has objectively accomplished for all in Jesus and our subjective response to it. Those of us who have wrestled with Torrance can easily understand that statement! Radcliff concurs that there is an enigmatic quality to Torrance’s assertion that our human response is a participation in Christ’s response. However, as she notes, this would not be troubling for the Torrances, for God’s self-revelation in Jesus takes priority over human rational thought. For me, at least, there is much about the incarnation-atonement, and our subjective relationship to it, that remains a mystery; yet, I remember the Barthian assertion that “mystery precludes mastery.” I think the Torrances would say “amen” to that.
In practical terms, for the Torrances, we participate in the vicarious humanity of Jesus through the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion (The Lord’s supper). As Torrance notes, “in eating his body and drinking his blood, we are given to participate in his [Jesus] vicarious self-offering to the Father.” The sacraments point to the objective reality of salvation by grace alone (sola gratia, as the Reformers put it). Baptism indicates Christ’s once-and-for-all finished work of death and resurrection, while Holy Communion indicates our continuing participation in Christ. As Radcliff notes, both sacraments rule out any notion of human co-operation in salvation. In short, “[T]he sacraments bring to expression our participation in Christ’s all-sufficient response” (p. 98).
Comment: I can easily see how baptism and Holy Communion are the means by which we participate in Christ. But we only get baptized once (usually) and we don’t take communion except when we are in church (usually), so how do we participate the rest of the time? Do I only participate on weekends, or is it a full time deal? Radcliff will spend a good deal more ink in her book dealing with the subject of sanctification as participation in the Triune life of God.
Works and Final Judgement
Those who argue for a greater appreciation of the work of the Spirit in Torrance’s theology also argue for a greater appreciation of the role of personal faith, as well as the place of “works” in view of the “final judgement.” For example, proponents of the New Perspective (which is a broad and varied camp) insist that the Spirit has a role in inspiring us to good works in order to be justified at the final judgement. Even N.T. Wright states that we shall be judged on the basis of the entirety of a life lived.
In contrast, the Torrances assert that the “final judgement” of sinners was enacted at Calvary. On the cross, Jesus is both “God the judge judging sin” and man the judged submitting perfectly to God’s holy judgement.” As Barth puts it, Jesus is “The Judge judged in our place.” Thus, God’s “problem with sin” was solved on the cross, for the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world. Since the “final judgement” of sin has already taken place on the cross, the second coming of Christ will be the unveiling of that judgement, wherein our “rightness” with God, fully accomplished in Jesus and now hidden with God in Christ, will finally be revealed. Hence, we have assurance of salvation, for in the parousia of Jesus Christ, judgment will be the unveiling of a “positive verdict” that was pronounced two thousand years ago.
None of this is to suggest, however, that works are irrelevant. To be sure, there are no conditions for grace but there are obligations of grace. In the Torrance tradition, works by the Spirit are a response to grace, not a condition for grace. As James Torrance often asserts, the indicatives of grace are prior to the imperatives of grace. Once we get this, it starts popping up everywhere. Here’s a chart:
Indicatives and Imperatives of Grace
My chart, not Radcliff’s
I am the Lord who saved you from Egypt
therefore, you shall have no other gods …
As I have loved you – John 13:34a
so you shall love one another – John 13:34b
If I the Lord have washed your feet – John 13:14a
you should was one another’s feet – John 13:14b
We are set free from sin-Rom 6:7
therefore, we must not let sin reign-Rom 6:12
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people … Titus 2:11
It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions … Titus 2:12
By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us- 1 John 3:16a
And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren- 1 John 3:16b

(Note: I invite you to bring in more examples in “Comments.”)
As Radcliff notes, our “works” by the Spirit are a joyful, obedient response to grace. Our works in the Spirit are the fruit of participation in Christ by the Spirit. As I see this, the focal point of obedience is not in us but in Jesus. Thus, as JB Torrance says, rather than turning inward to examine ourselves for fruits of repentance (as in Puritanism), we fix our eyes upon Jesus, who lived a life of perfect faith and obedience for us. Radcliff summarizes much of this nicely:

According to the Torrances scheme of salvation, Christ lived a life of perfect obedience by the Spirit, submitting to God’s judgment upon sin, which means that an unconditionally positive verdict has been made upon humanity. The last judgement will be a full unveiling of this irrevocable decision. This gives us assurance of salvation and freedom from having to earn it ourselves (p. 104).

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