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.
(This is one of my favorite posts on this book. Hope you enjoy it.)
For TF Torrance, our salvation is definitive. It is an objective reality. Nothing remains to be done. (“It is finished.”). What the future awaits is the full manifestation of that reality. While the word “apocalypse” has a negative connotation today, notes Radcliff, for Torrance, it is positive, for it is associated with the final “unveiling” of God’s redemptive purpose. According to Torrance:
Apocalypse is the unveiling to faith of the new creation as yet hidden from our eyes behind the ugly shapes of sinful history, but a new creation already consummated and waiting for eschatological unfolding or fulfillment in the advent presence of Christ.
Thus, notes Radcliff, TF is less concerned with “last things” than the significance of the resurrection for the present.
For Torrance, the Church is the “new humanity within the world, the provisional manifestation of the new creation within the old.” In the Church, we get glimpses of the glory of the new creation (even if the glimpses are often dim). Thus, we need a greater appreciation of the significance of the resurrection for the present. For example, the Reformers said that the believer is “at the same time both righteous and a sinner” (Latin: simul justus et peccator). For Torrance, justus is our primary reality, for we are “made right” in the incarnation of Jesus. If we focus on peccator (sinner), as seems to be the case in much preaching, then we are in danger of undermining the transformative power of the resurrection here and now. Until the parousia, we remain peccator (sinner), but that is a secondary reality; it is not an ontological reality. Our ontological reality is primary; we are justus; we are “made right” in Jesus here and now, although our “right-ness” is largely hidden until the parousia. To assert “sinfulness” as our primary reality is to discount the ontological healing accomplished for all humanity in the incarnation. In short, to know who we are, we should not look at Adam; we should look at Jesus. (So say I. I think Radcliff would agree.)
OK. Now get this from Radcliff: “The significance of Christ’s resurrected humanity is also maligned when Paul’s description of struggling with sin in Romans 7:14-25 is interpreted as normative Christian experience,” for it does not adequately reflect Christ’s transformative power. Wow! I need to chew on that for a while! Many view this passage as Paul articulating his present experience as a Christian. However, this interpretation is disputed by those who think Paul is either talking about his pre-Christian experience or life under the law (I think NT Wright fits with the latter. In fact, Wright thinks that Paul is actually talking about Israel’s experience under the Law).
So, the question is whether Paul is describing normative Christian experience. If so, he is in league with the Puritans, who describe the sanctified life as a hard-fought war or bruising experience (bring out the hair shirts and whips!). Radcliff argues that Paul’s description is not the normative Christian experience, for this is not how believers are intended to live. Romans 7 should be contrasted with Romans 8, which shows that the alternative to life under the law (Rom 7) is life in the Spirit (Rom 8). For Barth, the heart of Paul’s argument is that we have been liberated from sin. The struggle of Romans 7 is a description of our past situation, not our present reality in Jesus. As Radcliff astutely notes, the focus on the struggle of Romans 7 as normative may arise from external views of the atonement that fail to account for humanity’s transformation in the vicarious humanity of Jesus. In external views of the atonement, we are merely “declared” to be in the right, as the righteousness of Jesus is “imputed” to us. Our ontological reality remains that of sinner, so that we must strive for holiness. In the Torrances’ ontological view of atonement, however, we are in reality made right in Jesus. Rather than striving for holiness, we are liberated to participate by the Spirit in the holiness and right-ness of Jesus.
NOTE: Radcliff offers much more exegesis than I am allowing here. I am simply providing a summary of her comments on Romans 7.
Jesus’ death on the cross marks the death of sinful Adamic humanity. Adam died on the cross with Jesus. We are no longer “under Adam”; we (everyone!) is “in Jesus.” If we fail to recognize this, we are thrown back upon ourselves to struggle with sin. In regard to believers, to think of the Church as a company of justified “sinners” is to discount the ontological reality of our transformation in Jesus and to make sanctification a remote possibility that we must strive to achieve. “According to the Torrances understanding of salvation,” notes Radcliff, “humanity is ontologically transformed through the vicarious humanity of Christ. Christ became incarnate to be an example of us, not just for us. [Great line!] This means that humanity is truly holy and we are liberated to grow into that reality as we participate in Christ by the Spirit.” Thus, it is better to describe the believer as a “saint who sins” than a “sinner who is forgiven,” for our primary ontological reality (though hidden until the parousia) is “saint,” not “sinner.” In a sermon, T.F. Torrance affirmed the congregation’s identity in Jesus:
Don’t you see, in God’s sight, you are already secluded in the heart of Jesus Christ, you are already a new creature though to all outward appearances you may be far from it, you are already a saint though you know yourself to be a sinner. That is the glorious paradox of the Gospel.
Again, from Karl Barth:
We who were once children of wrath … are saints. We are holy … This is no time for false modesty … Hold your head high! You have dignity. You have worth … you have been redeemed in the blood of His Son and sanctified by the power of His Spirit through Word and Sacrament.
Even Luther says that each of us is just as much a saint as St. Peter himself and “accursed” be the one who does not call himself a saint and glory in it! To fail to do so is to slander Christ and baptism. Both Barth and Luther assert that there is no arrogance in such claims, for our boast is not in ourselves but in Jesus. As Radcliff assets, “It is a false humility to make sinfulness our primary identity because it is a rejection of what God has done for us in Christ.” To be sure, our holiness is not of our own achievement but, rather, is a participation in the holiness of Jesus.
Comment: Again, we find implications for pastoral counseling, since many Christians have been taught to view themselves as “miserable sinners,” who must approach the throne of grace hat-in-hand. For those whose self-worth is already in the gutter, the news that our primary reality is that of saint might just bring some much-needed relief. So saith Saint Martin!
Radcliff concludes the section with a comparison of the uplifting view of humanity in the Torrance tradition with that of neo-Puritanism. J.I. Packer, for example, calls for “a progress into personal smallness that allows the greatness of Christ’s grace to appear.” As I see it, Packer is playing a zero-sum game. The smaller we get, the bigger Christ becomes. As Radcliff notes, believers are often unaware of our identity because of the misunderstanding that we must abase ourselves to glorify God. She argues that Packer has no concept of humility and dependence upon God’s grace that does not involve shame and debasement. (She is really onto something here!) In contrast, the Torrances affirm both the reality of our ontological identity in Jesus and our dependence upon grace.
Comment: One more comment on pastoral counseling. People who are hurting because they are ridden with shame, guilt and self-contempt do not need to be told to make themselves small. The world has already helped them do that. They need to hear that they are new creations in Christ, that they are saints, that they are the beloved children of the Father, that they no longer stand as sinners in the Father’s eyes …. That comes from someone who worked as a therapist in a megachurch for ten years: me!
Till next time, amigos!
For more on the ontological transformation of our humanity in Jesus, go here .