Thursday, August 9, 2007

Close Encounters of a Theological Kind: "Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace" by James B. Torrance, Part I.

A few months back I read "Worship, Community, and The Triune God of Grace" ( ) by James Torrance, professor emeritus of Systematic Theology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. ( This work is a particular favorite at Wesley Biblical Seminary and so when I saw this book at a bookstore, I knew I had to buy it. The book has only four short chapters, yet the style and content are such that these chapters take two or three readings before what Torrance is saying can be grasped. The time spent is well worth the effort, and not just for the purpose of grasping the book's message. I have already used some of its insights to teach with positive effect. I will post on this experience in a few days.

Torrance reminds us that Jesus is not only the center of our worship; Jesus is the leader of our worship. Many Christians would reply "Well, of course He is the leader of our worship, as He is the leader of all that we do." Yet this assertion is often undermined by our actual practice. More often than not, Christians act upon the attitude that in worship, the only two parties involved are themselves and God. An individual Christian may express this attitude in this manner: "Its just God and me! No priest or ritual can dictate to me how I worship God." Yet if this is the case, doesn't the initiative then rest with us as to how we respond to God in worship? Is man in the driver's seat as to the content of worship? Will not our "experience" take center stage, while the persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit recede in importance? Torrance correctly points out that this is not worship as God intended it to be.

Jesus Christ is not only our savior and healer and soon coming King. He is our High Priest. It is through the Son that we approach the Father. When we approach Christ, it is Christ Himself who intercedes on our behalf. When we boldly approach the throne of grace, it is Christ Himself who leads the way. When we continually abide in Christ, we share in Christ's own communion with the Father. These truths should fundamentally alter our individualistic view of our worship of God. Here is how Torrance explains the issue of our relationship to God and worship: "It is he (Jesus) who leads our worship, bears our sorrows on his heart and intercedes for us, presenting us to the Father in himself as God's dear children, and uniting us with himself in his life in the spirit. To reduce worship to this two-dimensional thing-God and ourselves, today-is to imply that God throws us back upon ourselves to make our response. It ignores the fact that God has already provided for us the response which alone is acceptable to him-the offering made for the whole human race in the life, obedience and passion of Jesus Christ. But is this not to lose the comfort and the peace of the gospel, as well as the secret of true Christian prayer? The gift of sharing in the intercessions of Christ is that when we do not know how to pray as we ought, the Spirit makes intercession for us. Whatever else our faith is, it is a response to a response already made for us and continually being made for us in Christ, the pioneer of our faith. (pages 29-30) Torrance goes on to define true, Trinitarian worship as "...the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son's communion with the Father." (p. 30) The unique relationship between the Father and the Son is at the center of our worship. Christ has union and communion with the Father through the Spirit, presenting Himself in our humanity through the Holy Spirit on our behalf. By the same Holy Spirit Christ enables us to participate in His life of worship and communion with the Father. Furthermore, we are drawn by the Holy Spirit into Christ's mission to the world that He received from the Father.

How Torrance's theology works out practically in the Church's public worship will be the subject of part II.

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