Thursday, June 22, 2017

Alexandra S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 2

Radcliff describes Torrance theology as filial rather than judicial; ontological rather than external and objective rather than subjective. She will work this out as she goes.
In Chapter 1, “The Father as Covenant Not Contract God,” Radcliff takes up the familiar assertion from James Torrance that God is a covenant God, not a contract God.
In plain language, she states, “Prior to any contribution that we could make, God chooses the whole of humanity for salvation in Christ. This liberates us to offer ourselves back to God whole-heartedly in freedom.” In contrast to the “horrible decree” (decretus  horribilis) of double predestination, where only a few are “elected” for salvation and everyone else is  toast, Radcliff’s assertion that  whole of humanity is chosen in Christ makes me want to break out in song.
Radcliff identifies three streams of Calvinism: conservative, liberal and evangelical, with the Torrances in the latter, along with Thomas Erskine, Edward Irving, John McLeod Campbell and Karl Barth. Evangelical Calvinism has the vicarious humanity of Christ and union with Christ at its center, and claims continuity with John Knox and the Scots Confession of 1560.
Evangelical Calvinism stands in marked contrast to the Federal theology of conservative Calvinism dominant in North America. According to Federal theology, God made a covenant with Adam. If Adam obeys, he lives; if not he dies. As “federal head” of the human race, Adam’s disobedience brings the curse of death upon everyone. (Here comes the bad part) Subsequent to Adam’s disobedience, God makes a new covenant, wherein, “out of his love,” God elects some to be saved (leaving the vast majority of humanity to roast).  In order to forgive humanity, God must satisfy his righteousness and justice. Thus, Jesus becomes a penal substitutionary sacrifice to atone for the sins of the elect.
 If Radcliff (and my paraphrase) are correct, then obviously this scheme means that God’s must be conditioned in order to forgive. God must have his pound of flesh before he can spare at least a few. In short, Jesus has to die before God can (reluctantly) forgive. Note that this scheme makes atonement prior to forgiveness (which, of course, is the wrong order).
The Torrances believe that Federal theology is a distortion of Calvin’s theology. Federal theology presents a covenant of works for all and a covenant of grace only for the elect. In other words, God is related to all humanity in terms of law but only to the elect in terms of grace. Per James Torrance, “In the federal scheme, the focus moves away from what Christ has done for us and for all humanity to what we have to do IF we would be (or know that we are) in covenant with God.” Thus, primacy is given to law over grace. Of course, this leads to a lack of assurance, for the burden of salvation is thrown back upon our shoulders, as we self-exam for fruits of repentance. (I am getting depressed just thinking about all this! Pass the Prozac!)  
The Torrances often assert that this kind of theology privileges human logical constructs over revelation and, hence, distorts the “how” of God’s ways with us. For the Torrances, the “who” question takes priority over the “”how” question (following Bonhoeffer). In order to understand how God works in salvation history, we must first understand who God is. “Christ cannot be known from his works; rather, we understand God’s work from knowing the Person of Christ, who is the revelation of God the Father.” Hence, revelation takes priority over logical constructs about the nature of God and salvation. In short, we must look to “Who” God is, as revealed in Jesus, in order to understand “how” God’s acts in salvation history.
Comment: RC Sproul is a prime example of a theologian who privileges logical constructs over revelation (my opinion). I read his book on the five points of Calvinism many years ago (I actually took a seminary class on that subject!). Given the accuracy of his assumptions (?), he constructs a perfectly logical system to support the tenants of TULIP, wherein unbiblical notions like “limited atonement” are the logical consequence. The problem, however, is that limited atonement does not align with the plain sense of scripture, wherein God loves the world and wishes none to perish.
In contrast to Sproul (and Aquinas), the Torrances assert that knowledge of God must be derived from God’s self-revelation in Jesus, not by fallen human rationality (logical-causal constructs). Knowledge of God must be developed “according to the nature” of the Object of study. Since Jesus is “of one nature or being with the Father,” a proper “scientific” theology will develop its knowledge of God according to his self-revelation in Jesus.
Radcliff has a lovely section on “Revelation through the Son.” She describes Jesus as “the very expression of the Father’s heart,” noting that Jesus is not the kinder, gentler side of the “angry god” of Jonathan Edwards’ infamous sermon. The mission of the Father and Son are one, notes Radcliff. Jesus is not an intermediate who steps between us and the Father, so that we are not instantly incinerated by a wrathful deity who can’t stand the sight of us. Rather, the reconciliation that Jesus effects is the expression of the Father’s heart. (You gotta love it!). In short, “There is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ” (TFT).
Filial over Judicial
When we look to God through the lens of Christ, we see that God’s ways with us are primarily filial (relational), not judicial (legal). Simply stated, in Jesus we learn that God is “Father,” not the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle or Aquinas (who constructs a logical system of thought about God derived from creation, not from Jesus).
The Torrances believe that a legal framework, as in the Westminster Confession of Faith, presents God primarily as Judge and Lawgiver and only Father to those who satisfy the pertinent legal requirements. Thus, God must be “conditioned” into being gracious. In other words, God only likes you if you behave properly, and even then, you can’t be sure! Radcliff brings in John McLeod Campbell’s assertion of a filial, not legal, relationship between God and humanity. Campbell observed that the legal framework of Federal Calvinism left his parishioners unsure of their salvation, for they were constantly compelled to self-exam for fruits of repentance. Do I have enough faith? Is it “saving” faith? Did I repent correctly? Is God pleased with my imperfect obedience? …. The results of this legal framework were a bunch of unhappy, depressed Christians. (This was before the invention of Prozac. No wonder the Puritans had such grim faces and dressed as if they were always going to a funeral.)
For the Torrances, following John McLeod Campbell, God’s primary relationship with us is not legal but filial (i.e. “noting or having the relation of a child to a parent.” Definitions provided at no extra charge!) As J.B. says, “God’s primary purpose for humanity is ‘filial,’ not just ‘judicial,’ where we have been created in the image of God to find our true being-in-communion, in ‘sonship,’ in the mutual relations of love.” Substituting a legal framework for a filial relationship, Federal theology (as in Westminster Confession) yields an impersonal view of human beings as the objects of justice. Humans are portrayed more as “workers,” driven by a “work ethic.” (I think of Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism).  In contrast, the Torrances filial understanding of God’s ways with us portrays us as objects of God’s love. We are sons and daughters created for communion.
For those who like charts:

We are objects of justice
We are objects of love
We are workers
We are sons and daughters
We are driven by a work ethic
We enjoy communion

The legal framework of Westminster Calvinism leads to legalism, depression and burnout, whereas the filial framework of the Torrance tradition leads to communion, joy and participation (the sentence is mine, not Radcliff’s, but she would agree). As Radcliff notes, this comparison of legal and filial “resonates with the parable of the prodigal son, in which the Father forgives his son before he has even had a chance to repent, and does not wish for his son to relate to him in terms of work and servanthood, but welcomes him back as family” (p. 21).
According to Radcliff, “The Father’s purposes are primarily filial rather than judicial. His love sought our salvation so that we might be adopted as sons and daughters in order to live in loving communion with him. This is of the utmost importance for people who lack joy, peace, and assurance in salvation” ((p. 22). Amen!
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.
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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Alexandra S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 1

With this post, I intend to return to blogging on a regular basis. For the past three years, I have spent most of my time writing teaching material for pastors and church leaders in east Africa and south Asia. I am ready to return to a more academic level of study, and blogging is an important part of that process.

I have just finished reading Radcliff’s book on theology in the Torrance tradition (reference below), and she has inspired me to return to the laptop for blogging. Her book is one of the best—and clearest—I have read on the Torrances' theology. If you do not have it, get it! Her explication of sanctification in the Torrance tradition is more than worth the price of the book, not to mention all the other clearly related subject matters she includes.

One of the things that frustrates me when I read Torrance scholars is that, often, they do not just come out and tell it like it is. They say “we” are reconciled, “we” are adopted, but they don’t define “we.” I am never certain whether they are talking about believers only or all humanity. (Excuse me while I take a Skype call from Sri Lanka. I do a lot of that kind of thing). OK. Back to the book. Radcliff is an exception. She starts with a cosmic bang. She writes, “[In the Torrance tradition] the whole of humanity is chosen by God the Father for salvation in Christ and the whole of humanity is redeemed” (p. 1). You don’t get any plainer than that. Thank you, Alexandra!

Radcliff earned her doctorate at St. Andrews in Scotland under the supervision of a number of renouned Torrance scholars. She writes from within the Pentecostal-Charismatic tradition. Hence, sanctification will be a major theme in her book. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to speak in tongues to enjoy this great book!)

Much of her book addresses the issue of sanctification, and this sets her book apart. She is rightly concerned about a return to Puritan theology among Federal Calvinists and conservative evangelicals, where sanctification is described as the muscular effort of moral will, a strenuous effort to produce the fruit of repentance in one’ life, so that one may have some assurance at least that they are among the chosen. 

In contrast to the muscular effort of Puritanism, Alexander writes, “sanctification is not a daunting arduous effort.” Rather, sanctification in the Torrance tradition is “liberation.” Specifically, “We are liberated to grow into the ontological reality of who we are in Christ as we freely share by the Holy Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father” (p. 1). Particularly in Part Two of her book, Radcliff contrasts the burdensome version of sanctification in Puritanism (and conservative evangelicalism) with the liberating view of sanctification in the Torrance tradition.

In addition to addressing the issue of sanctification, Radcliff addresses the strong criticism of the Torrance tradition among Federal theologians. According to the Calvinists, she says, the Torrance tradition of theology is:
  • ·       Internally incoherent
  • ·       Leads to a license to sin
  • ·       Fails to offer assurance of salvation
  • ·       Undermines our human freedom and response
  • ·       Implies universalism
  • ·       Depends upon privileged knowledge
  • ·       Conflates the atonement into the incarnation
  • ·       Fails to take seriously Christ's death and human sin and
  • ·       Undermines the Creator and creation distinction.
(Frankly, this makes me wonder if these “critics” have actually read Torrance! How would you answer these criticisms? Read the book and Radcliff will show the way!)

In this book, Radcliff (1 addresses the above criticisms and 2) explores the implications for sanctification in the Torrance’s soteriology, particularly in view of the current movement in Federal Calvinism and conservative evangelicalism to recover Puritan theology for today.

I shall continue to post as I go over this book again with a Holmesian magnifying glass.


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.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Knowledge of God and the Homoousion of the Spirit

Here is a great quote on knowledge of God, commensurate with Torrance tradition.
"If the Spirit is not God, without qualification, then God is not known in the biblical sense, where knowledge is not the mastery of information but transformation through engagement with, and surrender to, an “other” who is person. If the Spirit is not God, our knowledge of God is no more than a matter of “reading off” facts about God from the face of Jesus, confusing knowledge as the accumulation of information with that biblical “knowing” which is transmutation. Human knowledge of God, it must be remembered, is precisely the difference, the transformation, arising in the knower through her self abandonment to the Person of God. Where the homoousion of the Spirit is neglected, knowledge of God (so ­called) is a one­-sided cerebralism or “informationism” in which orthodox truths (abstractions by definition) are assimilated while the heart remains unaltered by the concrete Truth which is reality."
Victor A. Shepherd, Thomas F. Torrance and the Homoousion of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Torrance and the Pre-history of the Incarnation

Greetings Everyone,

If you are doing research on T.F. Torrance, please check out my recently published academic article entitled, 'The pre-history of the incarnation of Jesus Christ in the christology of T.F. Torrance,' published in South Africa in In Die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi. Click here .

Also check out my article published in 2013, entitled 'Kataphysical inquiry, onto-relationality and elemental forms in T.F. Torrance’s doctrine of the mediation of Jesus Christ.' Click here .

I hope you find these articles useful. Please consider making a small donation to AsiAfrica Ministries, Inc. Click here .

Sunday, December 4, 2016

from N.T. Wright

“Something has happened, clearly, that has unleashed this new kind of power into the world. That something is the chain-breaking, idol-smashing, sin-abandoning power called ‘forgiveness’, called ‘utter gracious love’, called Jesus. It isn’t that first you have to repent and then, as a result, God may decide not to press charges on this occasion. It isn’t that somehow you thereby gain ‘forgiveness’ as a kind of transaction unrelated to the truth about the wider world. It is, rather, that forgiveness is the new reality. It is the way the creation actually is. All it requires to belong to that new creation, with that banner over its doorway, is that you should turn from the idols whose power (did you but know it) has already been broken and join in the celebration of Jesus’s victory.”

Wright, N.T. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2016), p. 384.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hunsinger: The Place of Faith in Barth's Objective View of Salvation

Reference: Hunsinger, G. 1991. How to Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology. Oxford: OUP. 298pp. From Chapter Five, “Truth as Mediated: Salvation.”
Central Question: How is what occurs in Christ related to what occurs in us? (Hunsinger)
Much attention has been given to the “objective” aspect of salvation in Barth’s thought (and in Trinitarian-Incarnational theology in general). By “objective” salvation, I mean the full, final and complete salvation for all accomplished in Jesus Christ. Less attention, however, has been paid to the subjective (or, “existential”) side of the God-human relationship. By “subjective,” I mean the role (if any) played by the individual believer in salvation. 
Both Barth and Torrance have been subjected to criticism (unjustly, I think) for “neglecting” this aspect of salvation. In my reading of these giants of theological thought, however, I find that both men attach significant importance to the subjective aspect of salvation, not as a condition for salvation but as the appropriate and―dare I say―necessary response to it. I have wrestled with the relationship between the objective and subjective aspects of salvation for many years, even decades. Finally, George Hunsinger has helped me greatly to understand Barth’s description (not explanation!) of the relationship between the objective and subjective aspects of salvation.(Hunsinger has provided an “answer” I can live with at any rate.) 
Professor George Hunsinger (Princeton) is one of the world’s leading interpreters of the thought of Karl Barth. In this post, I will share with you the salient points I have taken from Hunsinger regarding the subjective and existentialist aspects of salvation. I will be writing from notes, so the material may seem disjointed at times. I highly recommend that you read this important chapter for yourself.
A Paradoxical Relationship
Soteriological objectivism refers to that position wherein any human contribution to salvation is radically subordinated to what has taken place in Christ. Soteriological existentialism, on the other hand, refers to the opposite position, wherein what has taken place in Christ is at some point subordinated to what needs to take place in us. According to this view, salvation is not constituted or complete until something decisive takes place within us. In short, what took place in Christ does not acquire validity and efficacy until something decisive also takes place in us. (Of course, both Barth and Torrance reject soteriological existentialism as described here.)
Hunsinger identifies two points that are essential to Barth in regard to salvation: 1) What took place in Jesus for our salvation avails for all. This is the objective aspect of salvation. 2) No one participates in Christ apart from faith. This is the subjective or existential aspect of salvation. These points are not to be confused. As Hunsinger notes, “The human act of faith is in no way determinative or creative of salvation, and the divine act of grace is in no way responsive or receptive to some condition external to itself as necessarily imposed upon it by the human creature. . . . Grace therefore confronts the creature as a sheer gift. The human act of faith, moreover, in no way conditions, contributes to, or constitutes the event of salvation” (p. 106)
In regard to the relationship between the objective and subjective (existentialist) aspects of  salvation, Hunsinger identifies three “non-negotiables for Barth: 1) The real efficacy of the saving work of Christ for all; 2) the unconditioned, gratuitous character of grace and 3) the impossibility of actively participating in Christ and his righteousness apart from faith. For Barth, these points were axiomatic when the scripture is exegeted Christocentrically.
In regard to the objective “moment” of salvation, Barth asserts that the history of every human being is included in the history of Jesus Christ. Jesus enacts our salvation as a gift which is valid and efficacious for all. As Hunsinger notes, “The validity and efficacy of this gift cannot be denied without compromising (among other things) the absolutely unconditioned and therefore gratuitous character of divine grace in him” (p.108). The history of every person is in Jesus. To deny the universal efficaciousness of salvation is to deny its gratuitous character. Conversely, the history of Jesus is in every person. To deny the continual, miraculous presence of his history to every human is to deny his resurrection. According to Hunsinger, “The once-for-all event of Jesus’ history, without ceasing to be such, reiterates itself so as to be present to the history of each and every human being” (p. 109). In other words, through his vicarious humanity and resurrection, the history of Jesus is present to all.
However, the subjective (“existentialist”) aspect of salvation remains. Quoting Hunsinger:
[I]t is impossible for anyone actively to participate in Jesus Christ and the salvation he has accomplished apart from the decision of faith. . . . Faith is necessary as the only apt response to the objective validity and efficacy of salvation. It is the response of gratitude, joy, trust, love, and obedience. . . . It does not in any sense constitute, contribute to, or bring about the occurrence of salvation. It simply undertakes to enact the appropriate consequences in response to an occurrence of salvation which in itself and as such already avails in validity, efficacy, and completeness for each one and therefore for all (pp. 109, 110, emphasis added).
Thus, there is a non-constitutive character to faith with respect to salvation. Simply stated, faith does not make it so; rather, faith joyfully and gratefully accepts that it is so. Faith in no way causes, constitutes or contributes to the objective reality of our salvation. Per Hunsinger:
The non-constitutive character of one’s faith with respect to one’s salvation could not be denied without denying (among other things) not only the absolutely unconditional and gratuitous character of divine grace, but also the saving work of Christ as something finished, complete, and unrepeatable in itself (p. 110).
In other words, to require a decision of faith in order to be saved (as is common in evangelicalism) is to deny the finished work of Christ and the gracious nature of salvation. 
Obviously, there is a tension (paradox) here: if grace is unconditional, how is faith indispensible? If faith is necessary, how is grace unconditional? (p. 110). As Hunsinger explains, the tension between grace as unconditional and faith as indispensable must simply be allow to stand. Barth does not try to explain the paradoxical relationship between unconditional salvation and indispensable faith. For Barth, “mystery precludes mastery.” Thus, theology must be content with description, not explanation (p. 111). As Hunsinger notes, closely following Barth:
The unity of grace and faith occurs in such a way that grace is always universal and unconditional in its objective efficacy and validity, yet at the same time faith is always necessary and indispensable in its existential receptivity and freedom. A theology which could explain how this unity occurs as it does or how it occurs as a unity would be explaining the modus operandi of the Holy Spirit (p. 111).
COMMENT: Barth does not try to explain away the tension between unconditional grace and the necessity of faith. If I understand Barth correctly, he is simply trying to describe―not explain!―what the New Testament teaches in regard to this paradoxical relationship. It impresses me deeply that a thinker of Barth’s magnitude would simply allow the paradox to stand. He does not attempt a “rational” explanation of the mystery of the atonement as, for example, do R.C. Sproul and many other Calvinists, who reduce salvation to a logical formula (i.e., the five points of Calvinism). Nevertheless, because faith is indispensable to experience or participate in salvation, I can stand alongside an evangelical and preach “repentance and faith,” not as conditions for salvation but as the appropriate and again―dare I say―necessary and indispensable responses to the gift that is already ours in Christ. At least today, I am content to leave it at that.
Notwithstanding the indispensable nature of faith, three things must not be said in regard to the existential moment of faith: 1) The existential moment of faith must not be spoken of as making the objective moment of salvation real, as though salvation were unreal or merely abstract until the moment of its existential appropriation; 2) “Nor may the existential moment be spoken of as effecting a transition from being outside to being inside the objective moment, as though the objective moment did not already include each and every human existence within itself” 3) nor may the existential moment be spoken of as effecting a transition from a potential state of grace to a real state of grace, as though the objective moment of salvation was not already real, valid and efficacious for all (p. 113). 
The transition effected by the existential moment of faith is a movement from non-acknowledgement to acknowledgement. It is a transition from ignorance, indifference or outright hostility to an attitude of gratitude and surrender. There is an inner unity in the objective and existential moments of faith such that the objective does not occur without the free existential reception and response nor does the existential occur without the sovereign precedence and actualization of the objective. From the standpoint of eternity, faith contributes nothing new to the objective moment of salvation; from a personal, subjective standpoint, faith makes all things new (p. 113). Quoting Barth, Hunsinger writes:
[The phrase] “In Christ” is the key indicator of Barth’s soteriological objectivism. . . . “In Christ” means that we are reconciled to God, in him we are elect from eternity, in him we are called, in him we are justified and sanctified, in him our sin is carried to the grave, in his resurrection our death is overcome, with him our life is hid in God, in him everything that has to be done for us, to us, and by us, has already been done . . . (Barth, CD I/2, 240; cf. II/2, 117; Hunsinger, 115.)
We are incorporated “in Christ” by Christ. It is solely by his acts as Mediator; it is accomplished without reference to us (p. 115). Hunsinger notes:
In his role as the true covenant partner, Jesus Christ took the place of humankind before God in a positive sense, enacting obedience and service to God on humankind’s behalf [active obedience] . . . . By his suffering and death he thereby also took humankind’s place before God in a negative sense, assuming to himself the accusation, judgment, and punishment that were rightfully humankind’s [passive obedience] (p. 116).
As a consequence of the mediatorial work of Christ (both positive and negative; active and passive), human salvation is already accomplished. “Whether we acknowledge it or not, salvation comes to us as a gift that is already real and complete. It needs no further actualization or completion by us or even in us, for by Christ we already have our being in Christ” (pp. 116, 117; emphasis added). Our salvation is real and effective whether we know it or not, for “the great alteration of the human situation,” our reconciliation in Christ has already been accomplished. According to Hunsinger, “Our being in Christ is understood in the strongest possible terms: as an ‘ontological connection.’” It is a connection that is grounded and established not by our action but solely by his action, not in our subjective experience but solely in his experience, and thus not in ourselves but solely in him. As Barth asserts, the gospel “does not indicate possibilities but declares actualities” (CD IV/2, 275). For Hunsinger, “The gospel does not proclaim that if only we will fulfill certain conditions, salvation will then be effective for us.” Our being “in Christ by Christ” is not a mere offer or a possibility; it is a reality, an event which “in its scope is determinative of all human existence.” Our salvation is not merely potential, it is actual. Our salvation is not contingent upon the fulfillment of conditions such as making the necessary decision, undergoing various religious exercises, righting social wrongs or receiving properly validated sacraments. Our salvation is already actual and effective; we need only to acknowledge and receive it in freedom, not make it effective ourselves (Hunsinger, p. 117). Barth argues:
Is Jesus Christ only the possibility and not rather the full actuality of the grace of God? Is his intervention for us sinners anything other or less than the divine forgiveness itself? And what does this forgiveness lack in order to be effective if it has taken place in him (CD IV/1, 487. Cited in Hunsinger, 117, 118).
Rather than a mere open possibility, salvation is an effective reality because it is a “comprehensive, total and definitive” event that has taken place apart from us but not without us. Our salvation takes place because we are included in the history of Jesus Christ. “His history is as such our history,” because in his life, death and resurrection he has made our situation his own (Barth, CD IV/1, 547, 548; cited in Hunsinger, p. 118).
If we are to find the truth of our salvation and the ground of our existence in Christ, the “basic rule” is that we should look away from ourselves to Jesus. We are not to seek knowledge of our salvation in introspection or self-examination but rather we are to look away from ourselves to the reality of our salvation in Christ (Hunsinger, p. 118).
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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

God is Love: A Father Eternally Loving his Son (rev.)

I have done a complete re-write of this article, originally posted November, 2014. The new version is in plain, straightforward language and is suitable for non-theologians. To read it (with pictures!), click here .

Alexandra S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 2

Radcliff describes Torrance theology as filial rather than judicial; ontological rather than external and objective rather than subjecti...