Shared Life

[Jesus] receives that Spirit from the Father for us vicariously in His humanity that out of His fullness He might baptise the Church by the Spirit at Pentecost into a life of shared communion, mission and service.

—James F. Torrance, “The Doctrine of the Trinity in Our Contemporary Situation,” in The Forgotten Trinity, 11

First Things First

Contrary to popular visual reproductions of the Decalogue, this document does not begin with a command (“You shall have not other gods besides me”), but with the gospel (“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”).

—Daniel I. Block, For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship, 85

The indicatives of grace are always prior to the imperatives of law and human obligation.

—James B. Torrance, “Covenant or Contract? A Study in the Theological Background of Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970):56

The Grace of Worship

According to a biblical understanding, from both the Old and New Testaments, worship is an ordinance of grace. . . . the gift of the God of grace who provides for us a way of loving communion. . . . The liturgies of Israel were God-given ordinances of grace, witnesses to grace. The sacrifice of lambs and bulls and goats were not ways of placating an angry God, currying favor with God as in the pagan worship of the Baalim. They were God-given covenantal witnesses to grace-that the God who alone could wipe out their sins would be gracious.

—James B. Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, 60

In My Place

The Biblical doctrine is not so much that I escape “scot free” as that I as a sinner have been judged in the Person of Christ my High Priest.  Forgiveness means that all my past sins have been truly dealt with, and only that fact brings peace and assurance.  Our relation to Christ as Substitute must be understood at once in terms of God’s free act of grace, and in terms of our God-given solidarity with Jesus.

—James B. Torrance, “The Priesthood of Jesus: A Study in the Doctrine of the Atonement” in Essays in Christology for Karl Barth, ed. T.H.L. Parker, 171

Graced Encounter (2)

Graced liturgy need not imply that any particular technique is necessary to engineer God’s presence. This theme is prominently underscored by James Torrance. Torrance argues that a trinitarian understanding of worship changes the spirit in which worship is offered: whereas a unitarian theology of worship, one that relies on human effort, “can engender weariness,” a trinitarian theology “releases joy and ecstasy.” Losing the sense of worship as an event of divine grace, for Torrance, is “to lose the comfort and peace of the gospel.” Any worship leader, Torrance suggests, that feels the need to “whip up” the congregation to an experience of God misses the point that worship is more like a gift than an accomplishment.

—John Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (dissertation), 237

Sanctification through Relationship

“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 personal relations of love.” (James B. Torrance)  In the outworking of sanctification, God’s primary purpose for humanity is not to adhere to external rules and regulations (judicial) but to participate by the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father (filial). As we share by the Spirit in the Son’s filial relationship with the Father, the outworking of sanctification is a natural consequence.

—Alexandra Radcliff, “James B. Torrance and the Doctrine of Sanctification,” in Trinity and Transformation, 89-90

Grace?

Sometimes even the very churches which have taken their avowed stand on “the doctrines of grace” are the very ones which then make their acceptance of others conditional upon their subscribing to their particular formulations of the meaning of grace.

—James B. Torrance, “The Unconditional Freeness of Grace,” in Trinity and Transformation, 277

Indicative before Imperative 2

In the Bible, the form of covenant (in both the Old and New Testaments) is such that the indicatives of grace are always prior to the imperatives of law and human obligation. “I have loved you, I have redeemed you . . . therefore, keep my commandments. . . .” But Judaism turned it the other way round. “If you keep the law, God will love you. If you keep the sabbath, the Kingdom of God will come”, etc. That is, the imperatives are made prior to the indicatives. The covenant has been turned into a contract, and God’s grace made conditional on man’s obedience. It is precisely against this inversion of the order of grace that Paul protests in Galatians 3:17-22. God made a covenant with Abraham, and although the law came four hundred and thirty years later (to spell out the obligations of grace) it did not suddenly introduce conditions of grace. It did not turn the covenant into a contract. To introduce conditions would be to break a promise.

—James B. Torrance, “Covenant or Contract? A Study in the Theological Background of Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970):56

 

Mystery and Wonder

Here lies the mystery, the wonder, the glory of the Gospel, that He who is God, the Creator of all things, and worthy of the worship and praises of all creation, should become man and as a man worship God, and as a man lead us in our worship of God, that we might become the sons of God we are meant to be.

—James B. Torrance, “The Place of Jesus Christ in Worship,” in Theological Foundations for Ministry, 351

Pentecost and the Church (6)

At the heart of all worship lies the doctrine of the Third Person of the Trinity—that our Ascended Lord, by His Spirit poured out upon His Church at Pentecost, lifts us up into His life of praise and communion with the Father—so that we know we are “lifted out of ourselves” into an objective world of worship and praise and prayer in communion with all saints.

—James B. Torrance, “Covenant or Contract? A Study in the Theological Background of Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970):75

Emmanuel! (23)

The Son of God, who created Adam for sonship, communion and immortality, does not abandon His loving purposes for humanity, but in order to redeem humanity Himself becomes man, that He might fulfill for us in His own person God’s purposes of love and obedience and worship.

—James B. Torrance, “Christ in Our Place” in A Passion for Christ, 47

Grace before Law

In the Bible, the form of covenant (in both the Old and New Testaments) is such that the indicatives of grace are always prior to the imperatives of law and human obligation. “I have loved you, I have redeemed you . . . therefore, keep My commandments. . . .” But Judaism turned it the other way round. “If you keep the law, God will love you. If you keep the sabbath, the Kingdom of God will come”, etc. That is, the imperatives are made prior to the indicatives. The covenant has been turned into a contract, and God’s grace made conditional on man’s obedience. It is precisely against this inversion of the order of grace that Paul protests in Galatians 3:17-22. God made a covenant with Abraham, and although the law came four hundred and thirty years later (to spell out the obligations of grace) it did not suddenly introduce conditions of grace. It did not turn the covenant into a contract. To introduce conditions would be to break a promise.

—James B. Torrance, “Covenant or Contract? A Study in the Theological Background of Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970):56

Christ Our Priest

The doctrine of the continuing Priesthood of Christ [is one] without which it seems to me one cannot have an adequate theology of worship. Whatever else our worship is, it is our participation through the Spirit in the self-offering of Christ and the intercession of Christ. If there is one doctrine which more than any other characterised the theology of both Calvin and Knox, it was the doctrine of the sole Priesthood of Christ within His Church. It was in terms of this that they attacked the medieval concept of the priesthood, and interpreted prayer, communion, forgiveness, union with Christ and the Church as the Body of Christ.

—James B. Torrance, “Covenant or Contract? A Study in the Theological Background of Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970):73

What Christ Is Doing

Worship is not so much something that WE do, but what CHRIST IS DOING and in which we are given to participate through the Spirit. He is the One mediator of all communion between God and man, who unites us with Himself in His communion with the Father as we sing our psalms and offer our prayer and praise and meet at the Table “in the name of Christ.” The great strength of the Church of Rome…is that she preserves the sense of mystery and objectivity in worship by the profound belief that Christ is exercising His Priestly ministry in the Mass. [Protestant] worship today is often far more Pelagian than anything in Rome, by its all too exclusive emphases on what WE DO.

—James B. Torrance, “Covenant or Contract? A Study in the Theological Background of Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970):75-76

God’s Grace for Our Worship

The first view—probably the commonest and most widespread—is that worship is something which we do—mainly in church on Sunday. . . .

The only priesthood is our priesthood, the only offering our offering, the only intercessions our intercessions.

Indeed this view of worship is in practice unitarian, has no doctrine of the Mediator or Sole Priesthood of Christ, is human-centred, with no proper doctrine of the Holy Spirit, is too often non-sacramental, and can engender weariness. We sit in the pew watching the minister ‘doing his thing’, exhorting us ‘to do our thing’, until we go home thinking we have done our duty for another week! . . .

The second view of worship is that worship is rather the gift of participating through the Spirit in the (incarnate) Son’s communion with the Father —of participating, in union with Christ, in what He has done for us once and for all in His self-offering to the Father in His life and death on the Cross, and in what He is continuing to do for us in the presence of the Father, and in His mission from the Father to the world. . . .

The Gospel of grace, that our Father in the gift of His Son and the gift of the Spirit, gives us what He demands—the worship of our hearts and minds—lifting us up out of ourselves to participate in the very life of the Godhead. . . .

Whereas the first view can be divisive, in that every church and denomination “does its own thing” and worships God in its own way, the second is unifying, in that it recognises that there is only one way to come to the Father, namely through Christ in the communion of saints, whatever outward form our worship may take.

—James F. Torrance, “The Doctrine of the Trinity in Our Contemporary Situation,” in The Forgotten Trinity, 5-6

Da quod iubes, et iube quod vis. (“Give what You command, and command what You will.)

—Augustine, Confessions X.9

 

The Unique Center

I have long thought and taught that the right road into Christian theology is taken by reflecting on Christian worship in the light of the Bible. The Bible is supremely a manual of worship, but too often it has been treated, particularly in Protestantism, as a manual of ethics, of moral values, of religious ideas, or even of sound doctrine. When we see that the worship and mission of the church are the gift of participating through the Holy Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father and the Son’s mission from the Father to the world, that the unique center of the Bible is Jesus Christ, “the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (Heb. 3:1), the doctrines all unfold from that center.

—James B. Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, 9

Shared Communion

At the centre of the New Testament stands, not our religious experience, but a unique relationship between Jesus and the Father. No one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him (Matt. 11.27; John 1.18, 17.25-26). This unique relationship is vividly described as one of mutual love, mutual self-giving, mutual testifying, mutual glorifying. Indeed, there is a oneness of mind between the Father and the Son, revealed supremely in the Cross, ‘to bring many sons to glory’ (Heb. 2.10), ‘that we might receive the adoption of sons’ (Gal. 4.5ff)—that we might be drawn by the Spirit into that unique life of shared communion.

—James F. Torrance, “The Doctrine of the Trinity in Our Contemporary Situation,” in The Forgotten Trinity, 10-11

The Doctor Becomes the Patient!

In his book On the Incarnation, Athanasius asks what it means to speak of Christ as the Great Physician of our humanity. Christ does not heal us by standing over against us, diagnosing our sickness, prescribing medicine for us to take, and then going away, to leave us to get better by obeying his instructions—as an ordinary doctor might.  No, He becomes the patient! He assumes that very humanity which is in need of redemption, and by being anointed by the Spirit in our humanity, by a life of perfect obedience, by dying and rising again for us, our humanity is healed in Him. We are not just healed “through Christ” because of the work of Christ but “in and through Christ.”  47

—James B. Torrance, “Christ in Our Place,” A Passion for Christ, 47