Thursday, August 17, 2017

A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 15

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.
In the second half of her book Radcliff begins to explore the “liberating implications” of soteriology in the Torrance tradition, particularly in regard to sanctification, where “humanity is not only set free from the burden of attempting to achieve salvation, but also from the burden of attempting to achieve sanctification.”
In evangelicalism, Christians often appear to live as though saved by grace but sanctified by works. In other words, Jesus has done his part (justification), now we must do ours (sanctification). “All this I did for thee; now what wilt thou do for Me?” For Radcliff, a burden is created when sanctification is separated from its ground in justification and made a subsequent step in the so-called “order of salvation” (ordo salutis) of Protestant and evangelical theology. In contrast, she notes that “[t]he Torrances affirm the liberating reality that sanctification is rooted definitively with justification in the vicarious humanity of Christ” (p. 124). In the Torrance tradition, sanctification is a joyful, liberating “participation” by the Spirit in all that Jesus has done for us. Radcliff contrasts this liberating view of sanctification with the burdensome view of an introspective legalism (self-examination for fruits of repentance) in conservative evangelicalism and a resurgent Puritanism.
In Reformed theology, according to Radcliff, where the atonement is strongly associated with justification, sanctification is detached from its ground in justification and made a “second work.” In the Westminster theology of the English Puritans, according to T.F. Torrance, the focus is on man’s actions, man’s obedience, man’s duty to God and neighbor and man’s religion. This bifurcation of justification and sanctification resulted in a form of preaching that directed believers’ attention away from Jesus toward their own efforts at achieving sanctification.
In some Pentecostal-holiness traditions, sanctification is detached from justification by a “second blessing,” where the truly blessed receive a state of “entire sanctification.” (Said the bun-topped old lady, “Why, I ain’t sinned in purt’ near thirty year!”). As Tom Smail argues, this bifurcation divides Christian life into salvation as a gift to the sinner and the fullness of the Spirit as a reward to the saint, while maligning the central gospel principle that salvation is from beginning to end “all of grace.”
In the Torrance tradition, sanctification, like justification, is fully realized in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, as lived out through the whole course of his obedient life. The Spirit’s descent upon Jesus at his baptism was for our sanctification, while Jesus life of perfect obedience to the Father was for our sanctification. As J.B. Torrance writes: “The Son of God takes our humanity, sanctifies it by his vicarious life in the Spirit (John 17:17-18), carries it to the grave to be crucified and buried in him, and in his resurrection and ascension carries it into the holy presence of God.” As Radcliff notes, this “once-for-all rooting of sanctification with justification in the vicarious humanity of Christ” is crucial; otherwise, we are thrown back upon ourselves to achieve sanctification.
For T.F. Torrance, when sanctification is rooted in justification, there is no need for believers to try to achieve it on their own steam. Radcliff offers a great quote from T.F. Torrance (Theology in Reconstruction, pp. 161-2):
Justification by grace alone remains the sole ground of the Christian life; we never advance beyond it, as if justification were only the beginning of a new self-righteousness, the beginning of a life of sanctification which is what we do in response to justification. Of course we are summoned to live out day by day what we already are in Christ through his self-consecration or sanctification, but sanctification is not what we do in addition to what God has done in justification.
The “outworking” of sanctification comes through participating by the Holy Spirit in Christ. The Spirit turns us out of ourselves to share in the sanctification realized for all in the incarnation. Apart from participation as koinonia, or “communion” with the Triune God of grace, we are turned back upon ourselves to apply to our lives the sanctification that is already accomplished for us in Jesus. Radcliff quotes J.I. Packer, who describes sanctification in terms of mortifying the flesh, self-humbling, self-examination and “avoiding situations that stoke sins boiler.” Packer believes that we can achieve all this by fixing our eyes on Jesus. As Radcliff rightly argues, however, this appears to make Jesus an example that we strive to emulate rather than the incarnate ground of our sanctification in which we participate by the Spirit. Perhaps we can succinctly describe the difference as “emulation” versus “participation.” According to Radcliff, Packer’s approach is typical of conservative evangelism.
As Radcliff notes,—and this is where more thinking is needed, because she is really on to something—sanctification is not an autonomous effort assisted by the Spirit. In her words, “Although we are called to live out our sanctification, the Holy Spirit does not aid us in the external, logico-causal application of Christ’s definitive sanctification.” This would be to detach sanctification from the vicarious humanity of Jesus, so that the reality of our sanctification is merely a potential that we must actualize through our own efforts. In the Torrance tradition, note Radcliff, [S]anctification is a reality in which we participate, rather than a potentiality to be actualized.” She quotes Deddo: “What is complete and actual in Christ is truly and really ours even if it does not yet appear to be so. Our lives are hidden in Christ (Col 3:3) … The Christian life is living out and manifesting the present reality of our union with Christ.”
Radcliff concludes the chapter by asserting:
The Holy Spirit does not enable the autonomous believer to work out his own sanctification; the Holy Spirit enables the believer to participate in Christ’s definitive sanctification. This liberates humanity from the burden of depending upon our own endeavors for the outworking of sanctification in our lives (p. 140).

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 14

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.
What is the place of “knowledge” of God in the radical Christology of the Torrance tradition?
Torrance describes our reception of salvation in terms of a subjective “realization” or “actualization” of what has been objectively accomplished for us in Jesus. In contrast to the tendency to make repentance a matter of confession and penance, Radcliff asserts that metanoia means “a change of mind.” In this regard, repentance is better understood as changing our minds about “Who God is,” so that we may live out of that reality. The Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of Truth.” Repentance is an opening of our minds, by the Holy Spirit, to the realization of Who God is as revealed in Jesus. For me, that has to be game-changer (that is, a “life-changer”).
Critics argue that the Torrance’s emphasis on repentance as a “realization” of something already accomplished denies the “necessity” of faith. I see this as a misunderstanding of the Torrance tradition (as well as Barth). Faith and repentance are important in the Torrance tradition—yes, even “necessary.” Yet, for Torrance, faith is not a condition for salvation, for salvation is already objectively accomplished for all in Jesus. Nevertheless, faith is necessary in order to live out of that reality. The gospel summons us to a response. Jesus tells us to “repent and believe the good news.” We must “know” the truth in order to be set free by the truth.
The Spirit is the “Spirit of Truth.” As Torrance argues, the Spirit’s job is to convict people about the truth of who Jesus is. This where preaching and evangelism come in. According to Torrance:
Those outside the Church are to be regarded in the sphere where this [objective] reconciliation has not yet been subjectively actualized but is nevertheless objectively accomplished for them in Jesus Christ.
In other words, there is no “in-group,” “out-group” dichotomy, for all are included in the reconciliation fully accomplished in Jesus. Those outside the Church, however, do not know yet that they are included. Does this mean, however, that the only difference between believers and “not-yet’ believers” is simply a matter of “knowledge.” Critics argue that the Torrance tradition makes faith merely “noetic” (head-stuff). They argue that, for Torrance, we receive salvation merely by “believing” it. This criticism is untenable, however, for the Spirit of Truth is also the Spirit of adoption. As Radcliff argues (p. 107), “The anhypostatic [God-humanward] movement of the Spirit revealing the truth of God to humanity is accompanied by the enhypostatic [human-Godward] movement of the Spirit raising humanity up to participate in God’s triune life.” In plain language, the Spirit both reveals the truth about Jesus to us, while lifting us up to participate in the Father-Son relationship.
Comment: In the Torrance tradition, revelation and reconciliation are dual aspects of a single, unitary reality. In terms of Christology, Jesus is both the revelation of God, and the reconciliation of God and humanity. In terms of Pneumatology, the Spirit both reveals the truth of God and enables us to us cry “Abba, Father.” Hence, revelation and reconciliation are inseparable in the Torrance tradition. (Radcliff doesn’t tell you all that. I threw it in for free. I know she won’t mind!)
My Chart


God-humanward movement
human-Godward movement
God-humanward movement
illumination, awakening
human-Godward movement

As Myk Habets rightly notes, “knowing” in the Torrance tradition is “participatory knowledge” in which one “indwells” the subject. As Hart argues, “knowing” is personal. It is the difference between “knowing God” and “knowing about” God. Thus, in the Torrance tradition, as Radcliff argues, salvation cannot be reduced to a merely noetic concept. “[T]he Torrance’s articulation of the enhypostatic [human-Godward] movement whereby humanity is drawn by the Spirit into God’s triune life is profoundly personal and relational.”
Here’s how I sum it up: “Knowing” is “noetic” and “relational.” The Spirit of Truth is the Spirit of adoption. The Spirit testifies about Jesus, while enabling us to cry “Abba, Father,” and, thus, participate in Jesus’ relationship with the Father.
One more thing. Given that knowledge is both noetic and relational, Radcliff notes that T.F. emphasized the noetic while J.B. emphasized the relational. In case you wanted to know.
Comment: Back in the late ‘80’s (I think), there was an ongoing debate about “Lordship salvation.” “Can I have Jesus as Savior but not as Lord?” “Can I make my personal decision of faith (in order to get “in”) and then go about my business, as if nothing has changed?” The answer is “No!” or, “Nein! as Barth might say. The God we seek to know is the Lord God, who will be known only on his own terms. As an inseparable part of his revelation, the Lord God draws us into relationship by his Spirit and thereby transforms us. To “know” God is to be changed.
Revelation and reconciliation are distinct (not separate) aspects of a single, unitary, movement of grace that is, at once, God-humanward and human-Godward. You don’t get one without the other. Jesus embodies both movements.
As Radcliff argues, God is known both intellectually and experientially. (These are not mutually exclusive means of participation.) The Reformed tradition, of which the Torrance’s are a part, however, places a premium on propositional truth. Radcliff notes that T.F. was skeptical of both mysticism and charismatic experience. He is critical of the charismatic-Pentecostal emphasis on experiences of the Spirit, for it seems to leave out Jesus and the Father. T.F. is spot on here, for much charismatic jumpin’ up and down preaching seems to leave Jesus out all together. To paraphrase Tom Smail, in lieu of a one-sided emphasis on the experiences of the Spirit, there must be a greater appreciation of “Abba, Father” and Jesus is Lord.”
Radcliff, however, appeals for a greater appreciation of the role of personal “experience” as an important aspect of participation. This is quite natural for her, since she comes from the charismatic-Pentecostal tradition. For Radcliff, charismatic experience can be regarded as a “direct consequence of being drawn by the Spirit into God’s triune life.” Her emphasis on charismatic experience, and later, sanctification is what makes this book unique.
Comment: Most of the Christians I have worked with over the last ten years come from the charismatic-Pentecostal tradition. That should not be surprising since my ministry is to the Global South, where this tradition is spreading like wildfire. Charismatic-Pentecostals tend to be skeptical of “intellectual” approaches to knowledge. I think Radcliff makes a good point, however, when she notes that their personal “experience” of the Holy Spirit tends to trump “intellectual knowledge.” I have been around many wild-eyed, tongues-speaking charismatics in recent years, and I can only admire their zeal and commitment, rarely seen in other traditions. But Radcliff gets it right, I think, by asserting a need for a greater appreciation of the experiences of the Spirit, while not making them as an end unto themselves. The experiences of the Spirit are means to participate in the Father-Son relation.
Thus, let’s remember that knowing God involves the mind, heart and will, for God is not an object to be examined in the detached intellectual manner of academia. God wants it all—mind, heart and will!
In the Torrance tradition, soteriology may perhaps be encapsulated in the term, theosis (or, theopoiesis). The classic statement of this doctrine is from Athanasius, who said “God became man that we might become God.” For Torrance, however, theosis is not ontological but relational. T.F. understands theosis as communion rather than a change in our being. As Radcliff notes, theosis is not deification but more properly participation, where, “humanity’s ultimate end is to be drawn by the Spirit to share in the Son’s intimate relationship with the Father.” (In that statement we find the meaning and purpose of our lives!)
T.F. is aware of what he calls the danger of “vertigo.” That is, theosis should not be construed in any way to mean that humanity becomes God. Although we are united to Christ, and thereby participate in the divine life of the Holy Trinity, the Creator-creature difference remains. We share in the life of God through the humanity that Jesus assumed in the incarnation, while remaining the humans we are created to be.
For more on faith and knowledge in the Torrance tradition, click here for three previous posts.

For more on theosis and the “”wonderful exchange’’ see my previous post here

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).

Monday, July 24, 2017

A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 12

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.
With this post, we begin to explore Radcliff’s excellent contribution in regard to the place of personal response in the soteriology of the Torrance tradition, the ministry of the Spirit, and the nature of sanctification.
Radcliff cites several critics who argue that the Torrances’ assertion that all humanity is included in the vicarious humanity of Jesus undermines the subjective aspect of union by the Spirit. The critics insist that no one is justified accept by (personal) faith “in” Jesus. In other words, until a person believes, they are not justified. This is, of course, contrary to the Torrance tradition, where all are justified in the incarnation and life of Jesus Christ.
As she often does in this book, Radcliff counters that the insistence on “personal faith in Jesus” throws us back upon ourselves for salvation. Torrance sees this problem in the entire Westminster theology (of conservative Calvinism), where “the main focus of attention is upon man’s appropriation of salvation through justifying faith.” The Westminster tradition is concerned with man’s action, man’s faith, man’s duty toward God.
One Union in Two Relations
As Radcliff notes, there is only one “union” with Christ; that is, humanity is objectively in united  to Jesus via the incarnation (hypostatic union), wherein the eternal Word, who created all things and in whom “we live and move and exist” (NLT) assumes fallen humanity and unites it forever to his divinity (while purifying and cleansing our fallen flesh throughout his incarnate life).
Comment: The doctrine of the “hypostatic union,” formulated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D., asserts that Jesus Christ is “one person in two natures” (divine and human). As the Torrances assert, the union of divinity and humanity in the incarnation of Jesus Christ is an atoning union, wherein all humanity is reconciled to God in Jesus. In short, all are included in the incarnation.
Now let’s go back and bring in some material from Chapter 1 of Radcliff’s book. Quoting TF Torrance:
“[T]here is only one union with Christ, that which he wrought out with us in His birth and life and death and resurrection and in which He gives us to share through the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
In other words, “union with Christ” is effected in the incarnation (hypostatic union), as lived out through the whole course of the Son’s obedience to the Father. For Torrance, any notion of “two” unions could present God’s grace as conditional and throw us back upon ourselves to accomplish the spiritual union. For Torrance, the spiritual union is not additional to the union with all humanity effected in the incarnation (hypostatic union). There is only one union, where the spiritual union is understood as a “participation” in the one union established in the incarnation. According to TFT, “If the spiritual union is an additional union, then our salvation depends not only on the finished work of Christ but upon something else as well which has later to be added on to it before it is real for us.”
Comment: In view of his persistent resistance to dualisms of all kinds, TF Torrance does not assert a separation between the work of the Son and the work of the Spirit. While the “work” of the persons of the Trinity can be distinguished, they cannot be separated. As Augustine argues, “the works of the Trinity in the history of salvation are undivided” (opera trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt).
Nevertheless, the one objective union with Christ achieved in the incarnation has two aspects, expressed in two “relations.” There is an ontological “relation” to Christ and a pneumatological “relation” to Christ. Note that we are describing two “relations,” not two “unions.” Again, there is only one “union.” Our ontological union, accomplished for all humanity in the incarnation (hypostatic union) is a fait accompli. It cannot be undone. “However,” as Radcliff rightly notes, “we can live in ignorance or denial of this or we can live in agreement with it and enjoy its reality.” For the Torrances, it is the role of the Spirit to open us up within our subjectivities for Christ, so that we live out of ourselves and in him. Humanity’s objective union with Christ, established in the incarnate life of Jesus, is subjectively (“personally”) actualized in us by the Spirit.
Therefore, we must hold two things together, as J.B. Torrance argues:
First, he [Jesus] has already taken our humanity into the Holy of Holies, the presence of the Father in his own person. Second, he comes to us today by the Holy Spirit to take us with him into the Holiest of All.
JB may seem a little confusing here. What does he mean, Jesus has already taken humanity into the Most Holy Place, yet he comes today by the Spirit to take us in?
As Radcliff notes, JB Torrance (following Calvin) identifies three “moments” of the one work of salvation. First is the “eternal moment.” This is the moment in eternity past when the Father determined to include humanity in his love. Second is the “historical moment,” two thousand years ago when Christ lived and died and was raised again for us and for our salvation. Third is the “moment of [personal] experience,” when the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ and brings us to personal faith and repentance.
Trinitarian Pattern
(this is my chart, not Radcliff’s)
Eternal moment
determines all for life and love
Historical moment
objective relation of union: Jesus unites all humanity to himself in the incarnation.
Experiential moment
Subjective relation of union: Spirit subjectively actualizes in us what has been objectively accomplished in Jesus.

While there are three “moments” of salvation, there is only one union with Christ. However, the one “union” is expressed in two “relations”: ontological and pneumatological. This “unity in distinction” (“one union in two relations”) allows for only one work of salvation, so that we are not thrown back upon ourselves to achieve salvation by a subsequent effort of sanctification. At the same time, this approach posits a distinction between ontological and pneumatological “relations,” so that union with Christ is not collapsed into the hypostatic union with no room left for the work of the Spirit in us personally.
Radcliff continues:
We are in ontological relation to Christ because of his incarnation [hypostatic union] and vicarious humanity. However, an ontological relation alone leads to universalism. J.B. believes that universalism is precluded by the New Testament call for a human response of faith in the Spirit.
In that regard, J.B. Torrance writes:
On the grounds of our ontological relation to Christ, our Second Adam, we are called through the Holy Spirit into union with Him. Without Pentecost and without the sealing of the Holy Spirit in faith, we cannot regard ourselves as members of Christ’s Body and partakers of His blessings.
Contra numerous critics, the Torrances are not universalists. TF Torrance’s assertion of one “union” expressed in two “relations” precludes universalism, for it leaves room for a distinct (not separate) pneumatological relation, wherein the objective union accomplished in Jesus (hypostatic union) is actualized in us personally by the Spirit. Thus, we can say all are objectively included in Jesus via the hypostatic union (“incarnation”) but not all participate until the objective union is subjectively actualized in the individual believer by the ministry of the Spirit.
Comment: Given the one union with Christ that is expressed in two relations (unity in distinction), we have included everyone in Jesus, via the incarnation, while allowing for the actualization of the personal response of faith by the Spirit in order to experience our inclusion. Thus, the spiritual union is  not  collapsed into the hypostatic union. At the same time, there is no dualism (“separation”) between the work of the Son and the work of the Spirit. Both the Son and the Spirit play distinct but not separate roles in the one unitary work of salvation. This is good Trinitarian theology. Union is birthed in the Father’s heart, historically actualized in Jesus and subjectively realized in us by the Spirit.
In regard to one union in two relations, Radcliff quotes Dearborn, who argues that salvation is onto-relational. This is a beautiful concept that we do well to understand. “Onto-relations” are what Torrance calls “being-constituting” relations. In other words, “onto-relations” make us “who we are.” Contra Newton, entities exist not as isolated particles but in webs of relationships, where the relations themselves constitute the “being” of the realities in question. In human terms, our identities as “persons” are determined not only by our existence as distinct individuals but also by the relationships in which we live and move. That is to say, our identity as persons is determined as much by our relationships as it is by our genetics. We are not created to exist as isolated “individuals.” We are created for relationship with God and neighbour. To be human is to be persons-in-relationship.
An onto-relational view of salvation ascribes significance both to the objective ontological transformation of our humanity in Jesus as well as the subjective participation in that transformation by the Spirit. In other words, salvation is not automatic and impersonal, as it would be if it were accomplished solely in the incarnation absent a distinct personalizing work of the Spirit. Nor is it solely relational, as if it were merely an extrinsic encounter through “personal faith” without an ontological transformation of our humanity. In short, salvation is onto-relational because it involves an ontological transformation of our humanity in the incarnation that is realized in each us personally through our relationship to Christ in the Spirit.
Comment: OK. Let me conclude this post with a brief discussion of an issue that troubled (past tense) me for many years. With the Torrances, and Reformed theology in general, I agree that an autonomous response of faith to Jesus is impossible for those who are dead in trespasses and sins. Thus, we can only participate in our salvation by the ministry of the Spirit. No one participates in the objective reality of our union with Christ apart from the work of the Spirit.
Here’s my dilemma, or, at least what used to be my dilemma. Why does the Spirit work in John but not in Mary? Why does the Spirit call John to participate but not Mary? According to the conservative Calvinists, it is because John is “elect” and Mary is toast. According to the Arminians, it is because God foreknew that John would believe and Mary would not. So God zaps John with the Spirit but not Mary. In either of these two scenarios, it ain’t lookin’ good for Mary!
After years of struggle with this issue, I have transcended both viewpoints and entered the happy hunting ground of trans-denominationalism. Today I believe that the Spirit has been poured out on all flesh, as the New Testament indicates. Of course, I do not know all the practical implications of that. I simply believe that the Spirit is drawing all to Jesus in a way that I do not understand and certainly do not see when I watch the evening news. But I firmly believe that God wants all to be saved and none to perish. Thus, in regard to Mary, who has not yet been properly zapped by the Spirit, so that she may experience and enjoy her inclusion, I can only conclude, that, in the eloquent words of fellow blogger, Ted Johnson, the Spirit will bring in Mary “in his own perfect time.” For now, that works for me, and it is markedly better than the Calvinist or Arminian positions.
For more on the hypostatic union, click here.
For a related post on the “wonderful exchange,” click here.

For more on Torrance’s critic of universalism, click here

Friday, July 21, 2017

T.F. Torrance: “The Communion of the Spirit,” pt. 2

Torrance, T.F. 1959. The School of Faith: The Catechisms of the Reformed Church. London: James Clark & Co. 298 pp.
The Spirit and the Church
Because the Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of Christ” and is sent in the name of Christ, the Spirit operates especially wherever the name of Jesus is preached and wherever people gather in his name (p. cxvii). Thus, the Church is the primary locus of the Spirit’s activity. The Church is the “inner circle” of Christ’s identification with humanity, for in the Church, the Son’s filial relationship with the Father “is made consciously to echo within mankind in a filial relation of obedience to God” (pp. cxvii, cxviii). As steward of the mysteries of God, the “economic” purpose of the Church is the election of one community in place of all for the blessing of God upon all (pp. cxx, cxxi). In the language of Barth, the Spirit gathers a community of believers in faith, builds it up in love and sends in out in hope, carrying the same message of forgiveness that Jesus brought to earth when he took the form of a servant in his mother’s womb.
Comment: “Election” is not exclusive, as in conservative Calvinism, where the few are chosen and the many are lost. Election is inclusive. God called Israel to bring blessing to the nations. God calls the Church for the same purpose. God “elects” for the purpose of bring blessing to all.
By the Spirit, the Church participates in the “New Humanity of Christ in order that through the same Spirit at work in the fellowship of the Church mankind as a whole may share in the New Humanity of Christ and therefore in the new creation.” As a corporate entity, the Church is the “one” for the “many.” As such, notes Torrance, “the Church is to be looked on as the new humanity within the world, the provisional manifestation of the new creation within the old” (p. cxxi).
The Church’s participation in Christ is the special work of the Holy Spirit. Within the Church, the Spirit creates “real reception and participation in the life and love of God in Christ.” In communion with Christ by the Spirit, the Church “presses out toward universal fullness in all creation.” That is, the Church moves forward “from the particular to the universal, from the nucleus to the fullness, from the one hundred and twenty at Pentecost to all mankind” (pp. cxxi, cxxii).
Christ has ordained that he will be met and known through the Church’s proclamation of the “Word.” It is the mission of the Spirit that, through the communication of the “Word,” “men may hear not only the words of other men who communicate it, but the Words of the living God, the Words that are Spirit and Life” (pp. cxxii, cxiii). Through the encounter with the Word, proclaimed by the Church in the power of the Spirit, “each man may through the Spirit share in the faith and obedience of Christ, and himself live the life of faith and obedience to Him” (p. cxxiii; emphasis mine).
Torrance asserts a “three-fold dimension” to the operation of the Spirit. First, there is a universal dimension of the Spirit’s activity. As a correlate to the inclusion of all humanity in the atoning reconciliation effected in the incarnation, the Spirit’s activity is universal in scope. In regard to the universal dimension, however, Torrance notes that “we can hardly speak of it as a Communion” (p. cxxiii). (One can only wish that Torrance had elaborated further on this dimension of the Spirit’s work. Alas, he did not.) In addition, there is a corporate dimension of the Spirit’s activity, that is, “a Communion of mutual participation through the Spirit in Christ and His graces.” Finally, there is a personal dimension of the Spirit’s activities within the corporate communion of the Church, wherein the Spirit ministers to the individual believer (p. cxxiv).
In view of the corporate and personal dimensions of the Spirit’s ministry to the Church, Torrance (p. cxxiv) writes eloquently:
That is the doctrine of the Church as the Communion of Saints, in which each shares with the other and all share together in the life and love of God in Jesus Christ. In that Communion no one can live for himself alone, or believe or worship alone, for he is nothing without his brother for whom Christ died, and has no relation to Christ except in Christ’s relation with all for whom he died.
Torrance’s assertion of the importance of the corporate body in relation to the life of the individual believer is confirmation of the “onto-relational” character of his theology, where entities do not exist in isolation but find their identities within the nexuses of relations in which they exist. In short, we are created for community.
As a “Communion in the Spirit,” through whom the Church participates in Christ, notes Torrance, the Church is subject to an “irresistible compulsion” by the Spirit, in which “the Church is turned outward to all for whom Christ became incarnate and lived and died that they might be gathered into the life of God.” Thus, the Church cannot live unto itself, for by the Communion of the Spirit, it is made to transcend itself in proclaiming the “mystery” in which it is entrusted. The boundaries of the Church must be open to all, for “the range of the Communion of the Spirit cannot be limited and bound to the Church, but through the universal range of the Spirit the Church is catholicised and universalised and made to reach out to the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (p. cxxiv).
Comment: For the Torrances, who were born of missionary parents, the Church can never be a closed society of individuals seeking a common religious experience. The Church exists for the world, not merely for itself. In its proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Church must transcend itself and open its boundaries in order to enter the “field” of the Spirit’s ministry, a field that is universal in range.
Nevertheless, while the Church is elected “for the world,” notes Torrance, it finds itself in tension with the world, “for in the world, the Word of God is as yet resisted, and the Spirit of God is abroad convicting of sin, righteousness and judgement” (p. cxxiv). Thus, by participating in the New Humanity of Christ, sharing in his obedience and love through the communion of the Spirit, the Church, by being Church, “calls the world into question, proclaims to it the Gospel which claims the world for God and which therefore resists and judges the will of the world to isolate itself from the love of God” (pp. cxxiv, cxxv). Thus, by its participation in the “self-sanctification of Christ,” the Church finds itself separated from the world. At the same time, by its participation in the “reconciliation of Christ,” the Church is thrust into the world with the message of reconciliation. The Church’s separation from the world, even as it is thrust into the world, creates a tension that will only be resolved with the return of Christ, when he comes again to take up His reign and to judge and renew His creation. Yet, this tension is itself a sign of the end, for it indicates that the Spirit is moving forward in triumph and consummation.
Thus, there is a correlation between the communion of the Spirit and union with Christ that carries within it the eschatological hope of the renewal of all creation. In union with Christ, believers may experience and enjoy their adoption as sons and daughters of God. In communion with the Spirit, the Church goes forth with its message of emancipation and renewal, when finally “the universal range of Christ and His Spirit will be coincident with the Communion of the Spirit, that is, the sphere wherein all who share in the Spirit share in Christ’s Sonship.” As Torrance notes, the universal communion of the Spirit has its “provisional and proleptic form” in the historical Church. In the consummation of all things, however, “the Church attaining to the fullness of Christ will be coincident with the whole Kingdom spanning the new heaven and the new earth.”
Amen. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

We will begin to unpack Torrance’s thought in regard to “the communion of the Spirit” as we continue in Radcliff’s book in the next post.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

T.F. Torrance: The Communion of the Spirit, pt. 1

Torrance, T.F. 1959. The School of Faith: The Catechisms of the Reformed Church. London: James Clark & Co. 298 pp.
For Torrance, the Reformed doctrine of “communion of the Spirit” is better understood as “union with Christ through the Communion of the Spirit.” The combination of “union with Christ” and “the communion of the Spirit” lies at the foundation of the Church’s hope and forms the heart of its eschatology (p. cvi).
According to Torrance, the communion of the Spirit is a correlate of the union of God and humanity wrought out in the life and work of Jesus Christ. The Spirit actualizes subjectively in the life of God’s people what has been accomplished objectively for them once and for all in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. As Torrance notes, “Because the Communion of the Spirit is correlative to the incarnational union in Christ, we have to think of it as two-fold in relation to the human life and the work of Christ” (p. cvi). In keeping with his resistance to dualisms, Torrance describes a “unity-in-distinction,” where “union with Christ” and “communion of the Spirit” are not two, separate realities but, rather, distinct aspects of a single reality.
Torrance interacts with 16th-Century theologian John Craig to explicate the correlation between union with Christ and the communion of the Spirit. In his Catechism of 1581, Craig asserts both a carnal union and a spiritual union with Christ. “Carnal union” refers to “Christ’s union with us and our union with Christ which He wrought out in his birth of the Spirit and in His human life through which He sanctifies us is worked out for us.”  Craig’s carnal union appears to be equivalent to the hypostatic union of the Eternal Word and humanity (i.e., the incarnation), as worked out in the obedient life of Jesus Christ. Because Christ was “made man like us,” notes Craig, “life and righteousness are placed in our flesh.” Craig argues that “those who are joined with Him spiritually” are sure of this life (School of Faith, pp. cvi, cvii).
Craig’s assertion of what appears to be two unions, “carnal” and “spiritual,” raises an important question for Torrance:
Is the spiritual union another union, a union in addition to our carnal union with Christ, or is it a sharing in the one and only union between God and man wrought out in Jesus Christ? That is a very important question, for if the spiritual union is an additional union, then our salvation depends not only  upon the finished work of Christ but upon something else as well which has later to be added on to it before it is real for us (p. cvii).
Torrance argues that in both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism “something else,” in fact, is added to the union with Christ accomplished in the incarnation. In Catholicism, union with Christ is effected through baptismal generation and participation in the sacraments (including penance). In Protestantism, notes Torrance, “union with Christ … is effected by faith or by conversion through which alone what Christ has done becomes real for us.” For example, in the Westminster tradition of Federal Calvinism, man is said to acquire “a saving interest” in Christ through entering into a personal covenant with him. As Torrance notes, “Both these forms of the same error lead to a doctrine of man’s co-operation in his own salvation; and so involve a doctrine of conditional grace.” Therefore, argues Torrance, “[I]t must be insisted that there is only one union with Christ, that which He has wrought out with us in His birth and life and death and resurrection and in which He gives us to share through the gift of His Spirit” (p. cvii; emphasis added).
Comment: For Torrance, there is one union of Christ constituted in two relations: ontological and pneumatological.
For Torrance, “carnal union,” as described by Craig, includes Christ’s entire “life and work of saving obedience, so that when we speak of a spiritual union with Christ, that means that through the Spirit we are given to share in the covenanted obedience of Christ …” In this view, the Spirit’s work is not additional to the work of Christ but rather is the means by which we participate, or share, in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. Torrance argues:
In his obedient human life, Jesus Christ was not only the Son of God drawing near to us in the flesh, but in and out of our flesh he lived a life of perfect obedience and trust and confidence toward God the Father, a perfectly faithful life, in which his obedience and faith toward God were part of his vicarious and atoning life, part of his sanctified human nature. It is in that very human nature, with its faith and obedience, that we are given to participate through the Communion of the Spirit, and that is the very foundation of our faith in Him and the ground of our obedience to the Father” (pp. cviii, cix).
For Torrance, in view of Christ’s vicarious faith, we are not saved “by the act of believing.” Rather, it is Christ’s own act of believing that saves us. In other words, contra evangelicalism, it is not faith “in” Christ that saves us; rather, it is the faith “of” Christ that saves us. For Torrance, we cannot talk seriously about “justifying faith” as a condition of our salvation, for we rely “wholly upon the vicarious faith of Christ and not upon ourselves even in the act of faith.” It is only as we rely on the vicarious faith of Christ that we are truly free to believe without the “ulterior motive of using faith to secure our salvation” (p. cix). This last point is important, for if faith is exercised solely to avoid punishment, or even “hell,” then personal faith is not an outwardly turned assent to the Father’s love, as revealed in Jesus, but merely an inwardly turned attempt at self-preservation. For Torrance, faith must rest on “thanksgiving” for all that Christ has done for us, both from the side of God and from the side of man.
Jesus is Justification
There are a number of implications of Torrance’s view of union with Christ as a fait accompli effected in the incarnation. First, it is through participating in Christ that we partake of his benefits, “for unless He gives Himself to us first [in the incarnation], His blessings are not ours,” notes Torrance (p. cx). In simpler terms, this means that we cannot separate the work of Christ from his person. Thus, justification is fully accomplished in the union between God and humanity actualized in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. As Torrance argues, “[I]t was through his becoming one with us first in his Incarnation that Christ wrought our justification for us.” In other words, Jesus is our justification. Since all are included in the humanity assumed by the Eternal Word in the incarnation, all are justified (i.e., “made right”) with God in Jesus. Justification is not effected by a subsequent act of personal faith “in” Jesus, but by the vicarious faith “of” Jesus, as lived throughout the whole course of his incarnate life. Thus, we can confidently assert that all humanity was “made right” (i.e., “justified”) with God “in Jesus” two thousand years ago.
As Torrance notes, however, the Westminster theology (of conservative Calvinism) reverses matters by insisting first on justification and “justifying faith” prior to entering into union with Christ. Torrance insists that this changes the meaning of both justification and faith (so that justification is conceived in strict legal terms of “imputed” righteousness, rather than in ontological terms of being “made righteous”), while making the existential (personal) decision of faith uppermost. In this view, a judicial (legal) and cognitive relation displaces the Communion of the Spirit. Torrance notes that the priority given to justification as a “forensic” (legal) act displaced the central importance of the doctrine of union with Christ in post-Reformation Protestantism (p. cxi)
The Range of the Spirit’s Ministry
Another important implication of Torrance’s doctrine of union with Christ concerns the “range” or “scope” of the Spirit’s ministry. Does union with Christ include all people, or only the “elect” (narrowly defined)? As Torrance notes, this is of fundamental importance to the doctrine of the Spirit. The matter at stake concerns the biblical teaching that the Spirit has been “poured out on all flesh” (Acts 2:17). The interpretation of this passage depends upon how one understands the doctrine of union with Christ. If all are included in the union established between God and humanity in the incarnate Jesus, then we must conclude that the range of the Spirit’s ministry is universal; that is, it includes all humanity. On the other hand, if only the “elect,” or only those who have  made a personal decision of faith “in” Christ, are in union with God, then the range or scope of the Spirit’s activity is limited rather than universal. Our understanding of the range of the Spirit’s ministry depends upon our understanding of the incarnation. Did the Eternal Word enter into a generic relationship with humanity simply by becoming one particular man (so that his humanity has no transforming relation with our humanity), or did the Eternal Word enter into an ontological relation with all humanity in the assumption of our human flesh?
To answer these questions, Torrance reminds us that the Eternal Word who assumed human flesh from the Virgin Mary is “he in whom all men cohere for He is the Creator who gives them being and through His Spirit holds them in being.” Thus, there is an ontological relation between the Eternal Word and all humanity As Torrance argues, “[T]he Son and Word of God became man by becoming one particular man, but because He is the Creator Word who became Man, even as the incarnate Word He still holds all men in an ontological relation to Himself. That relation was not broken off with the Incarnation” (p. cxii). The New Living Translation sums this up nicely: “in him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28). Torrance writes:
The Biblical teaching is quite explicit that in Christ all things are really involved in reconciliation, that He is not only the Head of believers but the Head of all creation and that all things visible and invisible are gathered up and cohere in him—from which we cannot exclude a relation in being between all men and Christ. … [A]s the Head of all men [Christ] died for all men, so that all men are involved already objectively in His human life and in His work in life and death, i.e. not 0nly on judicial and transactional grounds, but on the ground of the constitution of His Person as Mediator (p. cxiii).
Thus, human beings have no being apart from Christ as man. If Christ had not come, notes Torrance, that is, if the incarnation had not taken place, so that man’s estrangement with God were allowed to stand, humanity would disappear into nothing (cf. Barth’s das Nichtige, or the “not-ness.”). The incarnation, including the cross, affects all humanity, even the entire creation, so that creation itself  is set on a new basis with God, “the basis of a Love that does not withhold itself but only overflows in pure unending Love” (p. cxiv).
There is a sense, therefore, in which we must think of all humanity as “ingrafted” into Christ by virtue of his incarnation and atoning work (p. cxvii). It is in correlation to the universal inclusion of all humanity in Christ that we are to think of the range of the Spirit’s ministry. The hypostatic union, or what Craig’s Catechism calls the “carnal” union of God and humanity in Christ, establishes the “field” of the Spirit’s activity. Thus, we must take seriously the biblical assertion that the Spirit has been “poured out on all flesh” and operates on “all flesh.” In short, the hypostatic union of God and humanity in Jesus Christ establishes the field of the Spirit’s ministry, a field that is universal in scope.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 11

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.
Torrance soteriology is “radically Christocentric,” notes Radcliff. Everything necessary for our salvation is complete in Jesus. But as Radcliff notes, this claim does not go uncontested. The Torrances are criticized for what some perceive as insufficient attention to the role of the Spirit in salvation, as well as the place of the subjective (personal) response to Jesus. Some accuse the Torrances of “christomonism,” which I assume means that they think the Torrances give insufficient attention to the role of the Father and Spirit in their theology. As Radcliff notes, however, this is unfair, for “the Torrances present an unmistakably Trinitarian scheme of salvation, whereby humanity is drawn by the Spirit to participate in Christ’s intimate relationship with the Father” (p. 85).
Yet, while the Spirit’s role in Torrance theology is “pervasive,” it is “elusive.” Jesus lived a vicarious life “by the Spirit.” We are included in the Father-Son relationship “by the Spirit.” But there is not much explanation of what “by the Spirit” means. Of course, this may properly have to do with the “’self-effacing” nature of the Spirit, whose primary role is to testify about Jesus. It also has to do with the mystery of salvation, for we are not privileged to peek into the modus operandus of the Spirit.
For the Torrances, Jesus is the “appropriate axis” of theology, for the fundamental axiom of TF Torrance’s scientific theology is that the Object of study must be known “in accordance with its nature”” (kata physin). Hence, Jesus, who is of “one nature with the Father” (homoousios to Patri),”is the controlling center of a proper scientific theology. Of course, the Spirit is also “of one nature with thee Father,” but the Spirit did not become incarnate and speak the word of God as man within the limits of human understanding.. Therefore, the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, is the starting point for a scientific theology. Alas, I digress. Moving on!
Radcliff goes on to discuss the mutual mediation of Christ and the Spirit in Torrance theology. Jesus mediates the Spirit to us by vicariously receiving the Spirit for us, in his humanity, at his baptism, then subsequently pouring out the Spirit on us at Pentecost. On the other hand, the Spirit mediates Jesus, because it is by the Spirit that Jesus takes on our humanity in the womb of Mary, and it is by the Spirt that Jesus lives a vicarious life of perfect faith and obedience, is resurrected and ascends to the Father. This last point needs clarification, for it brings us to a troublesome aspect of Torrance’s radically Christocentric theology.
In the Torrance tradition (in harmony with Chalcedonian Christology), the Eternal Word is the “subject’ of the incarnation. As I think of, if we could look into the eyes of Jesus of Nazareth, we would look directly into the eyes of the Eternal Word (Logos) made flesh. The Eternal Word (Logos) assumes our humanity at the incarnation and bringshis holiness to bear upon the sinful flesh assumed in order to heal and cleanse it.
Here’s the problem. It sounds like Jesus can reach deep down inside and draw on his divinity whenever he needs to resist temptation or perform a miracle. If that is the case, then Jesus is not human like you and me, because we have no reserve of divinity to draw on when we are tempted or when we lay hands on the sick, for example. (Thus, we do not have a High Priest who can identify with our weakness.) On the other hand, if we say that Jesus resisted temptation and performed miracles “by power the Spirit,” then we have something we can all grab hold of, because the same Spirit indwells us. Do you see the problem? Critics argue, and I agree, that it would have been great if the Torrances had been clearer as to what the Spirit’s role is in regard to the vicarious humanity of Jesus. Perhaps this would have facilitated a greater understanding of the Spirit’s role in our lives. This is a weakness (one of a very few, in my opinion) in the Torrance tradition, and an area where more work is needed.
While many have noted this weakness, others, like Gary Deddo, argue that to attempt to explain the “how” of the Spirit’s work is incoherent in the Torrance tradition, where the “Who” question takes precedence. I agree with Deddo to the extent that TFT would eschew any attempt to look into the modus operandus of the Spirit. At the same time, I would like a clearer articulation of the Spirit’s role in salvation, although that may not be possible at present.

As a prelude to Radcliff’s upcoming discussion of the role of the Spirit in the Torrance tradition, I will follow this post with one on “the communion of the Spirit,” as articulated in T.F. Torrance's book, The School of Faith. Radcliff cites this material frequently in her book.

A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 15

Reference Radcliff, A.S. 2016. The Claim of Humanity in Christ: Salvation and Sanctification in the Theology of T.F. and J.B. Torrance . ...