God has saved you, therefore respond (salvation and sanctification in Torrance theology)

This is the first of 11 posts reviewing The Claim of Humanity in Christ, Salvation and Sanctification in the Theology of T. F. and J. B. Torrance by Dr. Alexandra S. Radcliff. For other posts in this series, click a number: 2, 34, 5, 67891011.

Dr. Radcliff's very fine book is based on her dissertation written in earning a PhD at St. Mary's College (School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews) in Scotland, where she studied with Alan Torrance. Her examiners were theologians Tom Noble, Paul Molnar and Andrew Purves.

As suggested by its title, the book summarizes the incarnational Trinitarian theology of Thomas F. (TF) and James B. (JB) Torrance, particularly in the areas of soteriology (salvation) and sanctification (holiness and Christian living). The book also offers suggestions for how Torrance theology might be clarified and expanded, particularly related to the outworking, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, of our sanctification, which already is accomplished in and through Jesus' vicarious humanity. Along the way, Dr. Radcliff addresses objections lodged by various theologians to Torrance theology. An interesting aspect of the book is the way she shares insights from her background in the Charismatic-Pentecostal movement.

Because the book is well written and provides helpful definitions of technical terms, I find it to be a good "primer" on Torrance theology. On that basis, I recommend it to the readers of this blog and others who wish to learn more about the incarnational Trinitarian theology this blog represents, which is in alignment with the theology of the Torrance brothers and the theology embraced by Grace Communion International (GCI).

In this post and the ones that follow, I will look at Dr. Radcliff's main points, providing illustrative quotes as we go.

A radical claim

Dr. Radcliff (pictured at right) begins by noting that TF's and JB's theology (what she refers to as "Torrance theology") has, at its core, a distinctive, "radical claim":
All humanity has its true being in Christ. The whole of humanity is redeemed by Christ's vicarious person and work. Humanity is wholly claimed in Christ prior to anything that we can contribute. This also places an unconditional and all-embracing claim upon humanity; God's grace demands our all. Yet, sanctification is not a daunting, arduous endeavor. We are liberated to grow into the ontological [pertaining to being] 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)
In this way, Radcliff summarizes TF's and JB's teaching that all people, by virtue of who Jesus is and what he has accomplished on behalf of humanity, have their true being in Christ. In and through the vicarious (representative, substitutionary) humanity of Jesus, God already has reconciled himself to all people (it is an objective, accomplished reality). The Torrances thus believe in universal reconciliation (Radcliff calls it universal atonement). In and through the humanity of Jesus Christ (who is one in being with the Father), God has included all people in his life and love. However, as we will see, the Torrances do not teach a doctrine of universalism.

The outworking of that reality

As Radcliff notes, what has been accomplished for all humanity in an objective sense in Christ, must be personally (subjectively) realized. She states it this way: "God's purposes are fully accomplished [but] not yet fully manifest" (p. 188). The time between the full accomplishment and the, yet future, full manifestation (parousia) is a period she calls "the eschatological reserve." This is the time between Jesus' first advent and his promised return (second advent). It is during this time "between the times" that the Spirit is forming and transforming the body of Christ to participate with Christ in his ongoing work in the world. It is through this participation that believers are personally (subjectively) conformed to Christ and (in that sense) sanctified.

A convenantal not a contractual God

Fundamental to Torrance theology is the understanding that...
God the Father is revealed in his Son as a convenantal God, not a contractual God, with primarily filial rather than judicial purposes for humanity. 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. (p. 15)
When people view God as a "contractual God," they tend to understand salvation and sanctification as grounded in a transaction based on obedience to law. According to this view, God forgives us for breaking the law only upon our repentance, and then having saved us, he empowers us to keep the law, thus bringing about our sanctification. This legalistic/transactional view of salvation and sanctification, which is championed by several theologies (including five-point Calvinism), stands in contrast with Torrance theology, which sees God not as a "contract God" but as a "covenant God" whose principal concern is not obedience to law, but establishment of a filial relationship with us. Whereas the contract viewpoint sees salvation as legal (forensic) and thus external to us, the covenant viewpoint sees salvation as relational (participatory) and thus internal to us.

Who over how --- the revelation of God in Jesus

Given the relational/participatory nature of salvation and sanctification, it's vital we begin not with the "how" (How are we saved? How are we sanctified?) but with the "who"---Who is Jesus Christ who both saves and sanctifies us? As Radcliff notes...
We understand God's works from knowing the person of Christ, who is the revelation of God the Father. We must therefore look to who God is in order to understand how he acts.... We cannot seek to understand God according to prior anthropological systems of logic. The method of knowing in theology must be appropriate to the subject of inquiry. (p. 18)
Thus, to understand God (and, ultimately, his acts), we must begin with who Jesus is. This is because Jesus alone reveals the true nature and will of God. Once we are clear on who Jesus is, we can then see how God acts for our salvation and sanctification by looking to what Jesus has done (and continues to do by the Spirit). Dr. Radcliff (referencing the writings of John McLeod Campbell that were embraced by the Torrances) comments:
Jesus' activity in salvation is one with the Father; the Son was not placating the wrath of the Father in order to receive forgiveness for humanity. The reconciliation that Jesus brings about is the very expression of the love of the Father.... This does not deny a judicial element to atonement, but it means that is must be subsumed and only understood within God's overarching filial purposes for humanity. (p. 20)
The flaw with a largely legal/forensic view of the atonement is that "it demands works from humanity for salvation." In contrast, "the Torrances believe that the Father's dealings with us [both in salvation and sanctification] are not primarily in terms of law but rather in terms of Fatherhood and sonship." His purposes for us are thus "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" (pp. 21-22).

The nature of God's covenant with humanity

Fundamental to Torrance theology is the understanding that because God made a covenant with all humanity, he does not relate to us in contractual terms. A contractual relationship would mean that God forgives us (and so saves us) only after we repent, whereas a covenant relationship means that God first forgave us then, as a result, we repent (which as we will see, means participating in Jesus' repentance on our behalf). 

The covenant that God made first with Abraham, then with Israel, and now in Christ with all humanity, is unilateral (vs. bilateral) and unconditional (vs. conditional). This means that the covenant is made with humanity entirely from God's side. We, the beneficiaries, do not fulfill certain covenant conditions in order to gain God's favor in return. The reality, seen clearly in the person and acts of Jesus, is that humanity has God's favor, God's love, already. Indeed, God "fulfills both sides of the covenant for our salvation in Christ" (p. 24). As JB notes, "The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the God who has made a covenant for us in Christ, binding himself to man and man to himself in Christ" (p. 24).

It is thus God's unconditional grace toward humanity that serves as the basis for our salvation. God saved us, in Christ, because he loved us, not in order that we might do something to get him to love us. The same God of love, by grace, sanctifies us, not by what we do, but by what he, in grace, has done for us already in and through Jesus. Radcliff puts it like this:
It is God's unconditional grace that leads to living a holy life that [ultimately] upholds the law. Paul writes that it is under grace that sin has no dominion (Rom 6:14). Grace teaches us to reject ungodliness (Titus 2:11-14).... Paul asserts that we are free from the law and that godly living is a friut of the Spirit (Galatians 5). Godly living fulfills the law but this is the fruit of the Spirit rather than our own efforts.... (p. 25)

The logic of grace 

As Dr. Radcliff notes, the Torrances teach that... 
There are no conditions placed upon humanity for grace, but there are obligations of grace. The "logic of grace," TF believes, is that "all of grace" does not mean nothing of man but rather "all of man." Likewise, JB argues that although God makes the covenant for us, it demands a response from us. God's claim of humanity places a radical claim upon humanity. However, it is essential to distinguish that the obligations of grace are not conditions of grace. (p. 26)
She also notes JB's assertion that "the indicatives of grace are always prior to the obligations of law and human obedience" (p. 26). In similar fashion, TF notes that...
God has already provided the perfect human response in our place through Jesus. This means that our response is a participation in a response already made, which liberates humanity from any demands to earn God's grace and allows us to offer ourselves back to God in freedom.  (p. 26)
As Radcliff goes on to note, this means that the proper declaration of the gospel is this:

God has saved you. Therefore respond. 

As we will see in future posts looking at Radcliff's helpful book, that response is our participation in the response Jesus, in his humanity, has already made on our behalf. From start to finish, including all aspects of our salvation and sanctification, it is about Jesus, not us---it is about grace---it is about what the covenant God of love and grace has, in Christ, done for us. Amen.


NightFlight said…
So there is a oneness between humanity and Christ, so that whatever is true of Him is true of us.
Unknown said…
Hi Ted:
Thanks for sharing the first review of Alexandra Radcliff's book. This seems to align well with Gary Deddo's essay clarifying GCI theology. Alexandra sums up his lengthy paper well: "God has saved you, therefore respond."
Looking forward to the next installment and then picking up the book to encounter it in full.
Always appreciate what you share with us.
Mike Urmie
Oklahoma City
Ted Johnston said…
Hi Mike. I think there is general agreement between what Alexandra writes and what Gary Deddo has written on the same topics, though at certain points, Gary would use somewhat different language.
Ted. Thank you for this post and the ones to come on Radcliff's excellent book. I have read the book twice, done twenty + blog posts on it and I still return to it for instruction and inspiration. I encourage all your readers to get Radcliff's book. If you are a fan of the Torrance tradition, you will find this book illuminating and inspiring. We praise you Lord Jesus. You are the incarnate Savior of the world.
Steven Sell said…
When I read the Old Testament I see a contractual God where God demands obedience from is people. How do we explain this where it doesn't seem that there is a contradiction between Old and New Testaments. Ted thanks for all that you do, in this blog and else where.


Steven Sell
Ted Johnston said…
Thanks for your comment Steven. You express a common and important question. The short answer is that the God of the Old Testament and of the New Testament is the same God who is a *covenant* God, not a *contract* God. For the long answer, I recommend Gary Deddo's essay "Covenant, Law and God's Faithfulness." You can read it online at https://www.gci.org/god/covenant-law-and-gods-faithfulness.
In the OT, God does not say, "If you obey me, I will be your God." Rather, God says, "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt. Therefore, you shall have no other gods before me..." In other words, God says "I have saved you; therefore obey." Obedience is not a condition for grace (as in a contract); obedience is the appropriate response to grace. Grace is always prior.
Anonymous said…
My name is Steve - I can't figure out your comments system! A few thoughts/questions on the first part of your review:

1. You say, or she says, that those who emphasize a legal/forensic atonement “demand works for salvation”. My book shelf is lined with such men and none of them would ever take such a position (FF Bruce, Lloyd-Jones, Philip E Hughes, Leon Morris, G Fee, J Murray, and others). So, who are some of the people you’re talking about?

2. I find it odd that you would refer to the author as Alexandra - unless you know her personally and we know that you know her personally. The usual practice is to use the last name when referring to an author under review or being cited as a source – why the change?

Thank you for this first offering on her book. I look forward to reading the others. Torrance (TFT – I’ve read very little of James) can be unclear sometimes and it looks like her book would be a great place to get the basics of his thought clearly stated.
Ted Johnston said…
Thanks Steve for your comment. First, in response to your second point, I apologize if referring to Dr. Radcliff as Alexandra was offensive or otherwise inappropriate. I mean no disrespect. As to your first point, here is a more complete quote of her point which you call into question:

"JB [Torrance] considers the Federal scheme [i.e. the basic thrust of Federal Theology, also referred to at times as Five Point Calvinism] can lead to the perception of humanity more as workers than as sons. 'What our doctrine of God is, that is our anthropology. The counterpart of the contract God of the covenant of wors is the individual with his/her legal rights---and a work ethic! The counterpart of the trine Godof grace is the human person created for communion' [quoting JB Torrance]. This resonates with the parable of the prodigal son, in which the father forgives his on before he has even had a chance to repent, and does not wish for his son to relate tohim in terms of work and servant hood, but welcomes him back as family (Luke 15:11-31). The difficulty woth an oeverarching legal framework is that it demans works from humanity for salvation. An overarching filial context declares that God has created humanity for communion. The Torrances believe that the Father's dealings with us are not primarily in terms of law but rather in therms of Fatherhood and sonship" (pp. 21-22).

Hope this clarifies her point.
elmarr said…
If "the god of the Old Testament" were a "contract god" (note: small letters not as a sign of disrespect but that this is a fiction), then he is not very good at managing contracts. The contract, after all, would have been canceled within less than six weeks when the Israelites reneged. All bets would have been off and the "Moses option" (to restart with him) would have been seriously considered (note - since Moses was a direct descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that would not have negated the promises to them.) All you need to do is skim a children's history of Israel to see breach after breach piling up.
Let alone Paul's letter to the Romans where he argues that in spite of everything, God had still not "given up" on Israel.
As a contract worker and one who manages contracts all the time, would that I could land a contract like this one (if it were one).
To be more serious though, do keep in mind that a covenant, whilst not driven by conditions, does have obligations, and the failure to fulfill the obligations can result in much heartache, as so many failed marriages have shown, let alone the history of the Israelites.