Monday, October 06, 2014

Theological Reading– James Torrance

TorranceOn Sundays, this year, I am reading and posting each week through an important theological work. The last few weeks I have been working through Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace, by James B. Torrance. The book was originally given as a series of lectures in 1994. Torrance, along with his brother Thomas Torrance, was concerned to re-emphasize the unity of the Father and Son within the Trinity, as Athanasius taught it, and to fight the dualistic tendencies that have risen up in the church and caused us to not fully appreciate our oneness with Christ, and through him, the entire Trinity. This has affected our worship. As James Torrance states in the introduction…

Christian worship is, therefore, our participation through the Spirit in the Son's communion with the Father, in his vicarious life of worship and intercession. It is our response to our Father for all that he has done for us in Christ.  James Torrance, Worship, Communion and the Triune Grace of God. 15

Thus, the first chapter of the book is concerned with restoring Trinitarian worship in the church. He thinks that we have lost the centrality of Christ in our worship and Gospel and this is seen in the de-emphasis of the Lord’s Supper in our worship…

The trinitarian view sees the Lord's Supper as the supreme expression of all worship. It is the act in which the risen and ascended Lord meets us at his table, in the power of the Spirit, to bring his passion to our remembrance and to draw us to himself that we may share his communion with the Father and his intercessions for the world. 23

We have also removed Christ from the center of our evangelism and made the gospel about us or our “personal decision.”

But it is not my faith or my decision and conversion, my dying and rising which washes away my sins. It is Christ's vicarious baptism for us in blood on the cross, his death in which we, by grace, participate through water and the Spirit.  34

What is needed today is a better understanding of the person not just as an individual but as someone who finds his or her true being in communion with God and with others, the counterpart of a trinitarian doctrine of God. 38  (because) …The human person is someone who finds his or her true being in relation, in love, in communion. 39

Chapter 2 is about “The Sole Priesthood of Christ, the Mediator of Worship.” Worship is not something we do for Christ. That is the kind of worship that God rejected in the Old Testament. Worship is a response to what Christ has done for us and must be enabled by Christ in the Spirit to be worthwhile.

Our first task is not to throw people back on themselves with exhortations and instructions as to what to do and how to do it, but to direct people to the gospel of grace-to Jesus Christ, that they might look to him to lead them, open their hearts in faith and in prayer, and draw them by the Spirit into his eternal life of communion with the Father. 45

This is a good thing because the entire Trinity wants us to be in relationship with God. God the Father has shown his love to us in and through Jesus Christ

(Jesus) does not appease an angry God to condition him into being gracious, but in perfect acknowledgment of the holy love of the Father for a sinful world, seals God's covenant purposes for all humanity by his blood. 48-49 … God is always the subject of propitiation, never its object. 60

Real worship is God-enabled worship

The epistle to the Hebrews contrasts two forms of worship: true worship, which means reposing on and participating in the self-offering of Christ who alone can lead us into "the Holy of Holies"-the holy presence of the Father-and false worship, with its false reliance on what we do by following our own devices or traditions. In other words, when we take our eyes off Jesus Christ and that worship and offering which God has provided for us in Christ, which alone is acceptable to him, we fall back on our "religion." 59

The God to whom we pray and with whom we commune knows we want to pray, try to pray, but cannot pray. So God comes to us as man in Jesus Christ to stand in for us, pray for us, teach us to pray and lead our prayers. 64

Chapter three returns to the focus on “Baptism & the Lord's Supper-the Way of Communion.” I have been concerned for a long time that, in my evangelical tradition, we have de-emphasized communion and baptism. In my Baptist experience, I often felt like we just trying to get communion over with “to get to the real important stuff,” and the “personal decision” was focused on to the detriment of the “public confession” in baptism. Torrance makes one of the best theological arguments I have heard for infant baptism. I am not fully convinced, but it is certainly not an issue that should divide God’s people.

Baptism thus marks the frontier between the church and the world. It is an evangelical sacrament which in a very wonderful way enshrines the whole gospel of grace, which is unconditionally free for us and our children, but which summons us and our children unconditionally to costly faith and discipleship. It enshrines the love of the Father, the substitution of the Son and the sovereign activity of the Spirit. 81

Communion focuses us back to what Christ has done to bring us into “the throne room of grace,” and causes us to look forward to the great kingdom banquet we will enjoy at the return of Jesus. But it also reminds us of the present work of Jesus, through the Spirit, in our lives right now!

Retrospectively, Christ came to save us from our past sin, from guilt, from judgment, from hell. But prospectively he came to bring us to sonship, to communion with God in the kingdom of God. He saw that Western theology has too often limited salvation to the retrospective aspect, seeing Christ as Savior of our humanity only in the context of the Fall. But in the New Testament the two are never separated.  73

Indeed our self-offering, for a moment, is set aside that we might remember the great offering made for us. But the service does not end there. That same Christ, who is our eternal offering in the heavens, now comes to us in an act of self-giving and says: "Take, eat, this is my body which is for you." He lifts us with our self-offering of praise and thanksgiving into communion with himself.  91

Chapter 4, “Gender, Sexuality, and the Trinity” provides us with a good theological basis for dealing with some of the more controversial gender issues in the church today. Torrance is concerned to strike a balance between hard patriarchalism and a radical feminism which would advocate worshipping a female god. Torrance’s main point is that there is no gender in the Trinity, but that God has revealed himself in terms people can understand so that people can be in intimate relationship with him

The Son of God, in assuming our humanity, became a man, not to sanctify maleness, but our common humanity so that, be we men or women, we can see the dignity and beauty of our humanity sanctified in him. 102

It took the church over eighteen hundred years to get rid of slavery, to recognize the significance of that other text that in Christ there is neither slave nor free. It is apparently taking two thousand years to recognize that in Christ there is neither male nor female and to give to women their full equality with men. To understand what it means to be in the image of God, we must look at Jesus Christ, not at fallen humanity. 105

Torrance would say that feminism, in many ways, has taken its response to the hard patriarchalism in the church too far. Worship of female deities was a huge problem in the ancient world and we certainly want to avoid worshipping a female personalization of Sophia, or Ashera or Diana for that matter. However, we also should not worship God as the “man upstairs.” We do not want to be guilty of making an idol for ourselves in the form of a man or a woman (Deuteronomy 4.15-16).

Certain forms of radical feminism, in the passionate concern for justice and liberation, can be an illustration of this. But when such an ideology is detached from Jesus Christ and the gospel of grace, it can give rise to a new legalism and a desire for power to implement its ends, using the twin tools of exhortation and condemnation and lose the motivation of grace. 113

The bottom line of all of this is that God has provided access to the Holy of Holies to all people, male or female. God is a “covenant God” who offers relationship and commitment to us, not a “contract god” who works with us on the basis of “you do something for me and I will do something for you.” He has proven that in Jesus Christ.

Our high priest has passed into the heavens, not to leave us outside like the people in Old Testament Israel on the Day of Atonement, but to take us with himself into the Holy of Holies.  119

Finally, the appendix to the book, “On Human Language for God: Simile, Metaphor, Parable, Analogy;
” deals with the word “father” and how we should understand that concept in relationship to God. Torrance is adamant that we must understand “Father” as analogical, not mythological, as Arius did and descended into heresy.

The word "father"is truly predicated of God and of creatures, but analogically. God has revealed himself to us as Father. He has not left himself to be unknown. But the word is not just a model, a metaphor which we use to describe God- "reality depicting" as such a metaphor might be. God has named himself as "Father." A name is more than a metaphor. In naming himself, God has commandeered human language to reveal himself. 123

We allow the Spirit, in interpreting Christ to us, to evacuate the word of all biological, male, patriarchal, sexist content, to fill it with divine content, that we may more truly pray, "Abba, Father." This is the road of analogy (analogia gratiae) in theology. 123, 124

The point of the analogy is not to identify God as male, but to provide an analogy that identifies God as a God of relationship who has a perfect relationship within the Trinity (perichoresis) into which he wishes to draw us, the crown of his creation. It is not “knowing about” God but knowing him in intimate relationship.

We are baptized into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and are taught to confess it, praise it, love it, proclaim it, in a life of wonderful communion... It is the name through which God discloses himself personally to us to draw us into intimate communion with himself in worship and prayer, not just to convey information about himself. 125

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