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.

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...