Thursday, September 28, 2017

A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 19

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
Per Radcliff, there is an eschatological reserve (“time lag”) between the ascension and the parousia in which sin is an ongoing reality, both in the world and in the Church. At the same time, we are given a new “eschatological orientation” in the risen humanity of Jesus, so that, in the here and now, we are privileged to share by the Spirit in Christ’s communion with the Father. This means that a “holy life” does not stem from introspective self-examination or muscular moral effort; a holy life stems from our free and liberating participation by the Spirit in the Father- Son relationship.
Man Turned in Upon Himself
For the Torrances, sin is “man turned in upon himself” (homo incurvatus in se). Sin is the rejection of God in favor of personal autonomy. (In the words of C.S. Lewis, sin is man’s desire “to set up shop on his own.”) Robert Jensen suggests that pride, sloth and falsehood fall under the conceptual umbrella of homo incurvatus in se. As Radcliff argues,
Essentially, sin is homo incurvatus in se (man turned in upon himself). Although we have been reconciled for relationship, to share by the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father, there is an irrational mystery that people choose to make themselves their own center.
For Barth, sin is driven by two errors: a misunderstanding of God as a despot and a misunderstanding of humanity as self-determining. Paraphrasing Torrance, since we are created to find our “center” in relationship with God, sin violates our center, so that we become “ec-centric” (“off-center”). Barth describes this as “man rotating about himself.” As Radcliff argues, the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to turn us out of ourselves (homo excurvatus ex se), so that we are re-oriented (by the Spirit) to find our lives in Jesus, and in his relationship with the Father. Our “re-orientation” by the Spirit, in which we are turned out of ourselves toward Jesus (homo excurvatus ex se), is the foundation of a holy life. Radcliff’s assertion is in marked contrast to the neo-Puritan insistence on an introspective turn inward to look for vestiges of sin.
Comment: In many self-help programs based on the Twelve Steps, there is a strong emphasis on a “moral inventory” that requires a significant amount of introspection and self-examination. Twenty-five years ago, when I was a therapist, I led a weekend workshop where the participants spent the weekend in introspection and self-examination, writing their findings down, so that they could lay it all at the foot of the cross at the end of the workshop. I was amazed at the level of fear expressed by the participants. The notion that they were supposed to look inside in order to “inventory” all their character defects, shortcomings and sins was absolutely terrifying for almost everyone. In view of Radcliff’s argument for a turn away from ourselves toward Jesus, I am wondering about the therapeutic efficacy of the “moral inventory” of Twelve Step programs. Given that many (most?) people in these programs are burdened with low self-esteem, would it not be better to ask them to turn away from themselves in order to see who they are in Jesus. I don’t know. Just thinkin’.
Back to Radcliff. For the Torrances, God’s purpose for humanity is filial (having to do with sonship, or relationship), not legal. We are reconciled for relationship, not for a second chance to keep the law. As we participate by the Spirit in the “right-ness” of the Father-Son relationship, we are enabled (by the Spirit) to reflect the reality of who we are in Jesus. In short, our humanity is not determined by Adam (despite the Calvinists’ insistence on “total depravity”); rather, our humanity is determined by the risen Jesus, as we participate by the Spirit in his sanctified humanity. Although we live in the “eschatological reserve,” with the ongoing presence of sin, we also live in the power of Pentecost, notes Radcliff (p. 171). At Pentecost, argues TF Torrance, Jesus shared the Holy Spirit with humanity, so that humanity might share by the Holy Spirit in Christ.
Comment: For me, here is the advantage of viewing justification and sanctification as objectively realized for everyone in the vicarious humanity of Jesus assumed in the incarnation. Because we are justified-sanctified “in him,” we can regard holy living as the consequence of participation, rather than the result of puritanical effort. If I am understanding this correctly, and I think I am, this is extremely liberating. It allows me to lay down the heavy yoke of moral effort (which I’m no good at anyway!) and take on Jesus’ light yoke instead. It will be interesting to see how this actually “lives out” for me.
To continue: Radcliff asserts that “sin is driven by not knowing what has been objectively achieved for us in Christ.” (That’s a nice assertion but sin can also be driven by “wine, women and song,” or so they tell me!) In a sermon, Torrance preached that we behave as though we are not dead to sin because we do not believe we are dead to sin. Radcliff cites 2 Peter 1:9, where those who do not practice godliness have forgotten that they have been cleansed by sin. As a former therapist, I would argue that sin involves more than a lack of knowledge of our ontological reality in Jesus (as important as that is). Behavior, good or bad, is driven by a multitude of psychological, emotional and behavioral factors.
According to Radcliff, the scriptural admonition to “fix our eyes on Jesus” is the essence of repentance (“a change of mind”). It is a turning outward, away from ourselves (homo excurvatus ex se), toward Jesus. As I like to say it, this turn toward Jesus is “moving from self-centeredness to Christ-centeredness.” It is finding our center in Jesus, not in self. As Radcliff argues, “This challenges an introspective, anthropocentric notion of repentance whereby we are turned in on ourselves to examine our sinfulness and endeavor to offer satisfactory grief” (p. 173). She contrasts this outward turn toward Jesus with the neo-Puritanism of J.I. Packer, who describes repentance in terms of confessing and forsaking sins, altering thoughts, habits and attitudes and “binding one’s conscience to God’s moral law” (and more!). In the Torrance tradition, by contrast, we need not rely on the adequacy of our own moral effort because our repentance is a sharing in Jesus’ perfect vicarious repentance on our behalf. Where Packer describes repentance in terms of displeasure and life-long pain, JB Torrance describes it as a “joyful” activity. This is because, as Radcliff notes, JB conceives of repentance as turning away from ourselves to Christ, in whose intimate communion with the Father we are free to participate.
Comment: Following Radcliff, if sin involves an inward turn toward self, one could argue that that the Puritan insistence on introspection and self-examination may actually make matters worse!
As we live in the “eschatological reserve,” the Church is directed away from itself toward those things which are above, so that we may hold on to what is true of us in Jesus, for our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:1-3). Not only are we directed to Christ, we are directed to share in Christ, and in his mind and truth (1 Cor 2:16: “We have the mind of Christ.”). As Radcliff notes:
This means that our beliefs should be shaped by the truth of God rather than our own human experience. In the context of sanctification, this means that what we believe should be informed by the truth of our identity as saints in Christ, as opposed to our earthly experiences of sinfulness (p. 174). Write it down folks. That’ll preach!
Comment: Radcliff’s assertion finds support in cognitive therapy, where changing our beliefs about ourselves is an important part of the therapeutic process.
Radcliff concludes this section by examining the “pattern” of the apostle Paul’s letters. Since sin is driven by a misunderstanding of God and humanity (per Radcliff), it is necessary to have correct knowledge in order to live holy lives. Paul reminds his readers of “who they are” in Christ, then exhorts them to live accordingly. Richard Hayes (like Barth) argues that Paul exhorts his readers to view their “obligations and actions in the cosmic contest of what God has done in Christ.” This, of course, accords well with JB Torrance’s well-known assertion that the “indicatives of grace are prior to the imperatives of law.” Finally, Andrew Murray asserts that “[t]he whole Christian life depends on the clear consciousness of our position in Christ.” In an extensive quote, Murray exhorts us to “get hold of” the reality of our union with Christ, for “man’s acts are always in accordance with his idea of his state.” For Murray, a man who knows he is a king will act like a king.
Comment: Andrew Murray (South African pastor) was roughly contemporary with George MacDonald. Murray’s devotional writings are well-worth a look.
As Radcliff rightly notes, knowing “who we are” in Jesus does not necessarily mean we will always live holy lives. However, the idea that our perceived identity is significant for how we act finds support in Paul’s frequent affirmations of our identity in Christ. Per Radcliff, “Scriptural exhortations to godly behavior are often preceded by directing the early Christians to the truth of their identity in Christ.” She cites a sermon by TF Torrance, who argued that our new life in the vicarious humanity of Christ leads to a change in moral behavior. Torrance preached that our identity as saints is the basis for a holy life. It is the glorious paradox of the Gospel that, while, to all outward appearances we remain sinners, we are, in fact, new creations in Christ. When we are turned out of ourselves by the Spirit (homo excurvatus ex se), we find our identities in the vicarious humanity of Jesus, where our primary ontological reality is “saint.”
Comment: I continue to see many implications for pastoral counselling in Radcliff’s excellent work.
Key points
·       Holy living stems from our participation by the Spirit in the Father-Son relationship.
·       Holy living arises are we are turned out of ourselves by the Spirit to fix our eyes on Jesus.
·       Sin is “ec-centric.” It seeks to find its center in self, not in God.
·       Repentance is a change of mind, as we turn away from ourselves to fix our eyes on Jesus.
·       Self-perception influences behavior. We must see ourselves as “saints” in order to live holy lives.

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