Saturday, July 05, 2008

Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace

One of the great joys of the past couple of weeks of "summer break" has been all the books which I've had a chance to read. It has been like PhD studies, where one book led to another book which led to another book. An example of this kind of reading is the way Andrew Purves' Reconstructing Pastoral Theology led me to read (and finish before Purves) James B. Torrance's Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace. I found the Torrance book to be thought-provoking and useful when read with a certain measure of discretion.

The useful emphasis is Torrance's repeated insistence that "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" (p. 15). By insisting repeatedly that Christian worship is Trinitarian (not unitarian), that the movement in worship is two-fold (from the Father through the Son in the Spirit to us; and from us in the Spirit through the Son to the Father), that the sole priest is Jesus Christ himself who mediates God's Word and presence to us and our prayers and praises to the Father, Torrance offers a richer theological framework for Christian life and worship.

In addition, I very much appreciated Torrance's emphasis upon baptism and the Supper in the context of worship and how his theological framework enriches our understanding of these sacraments. Especially important was his connections among water baptism, Christ's water baptism, and the Cross (pp. 74-81). I did wonder, however, how the ministry of the Word fit into all of this, especially with his strong advocacy of the Supper as the centerpiece of Christian worship ("The trinitarian view sees the Lord's Supper as the supreme expression of all worship" [p. 23]).

Discretion is needed at times. For example, while I agree that repentance is always a response to(and never the cause of) God's grace (as it is in our Standards; repentance follows effectual calling--God's move toward us is always first), I wondered a bit at the presentation (pp. 54-7). I also wondered when Torrance observed that "God is always the subject of propitiation, never its object" (p. 60). This seems to tie with his negative assessment of penal substitutionary atonement, but his own theological structure undercuts this. After all, if Christ is a priest who offers himself on behalf of his people, then to whom is Christ's offering himself? Whom is Christ propitiating? With whom is Christ an advocate (1 John 2:1-2)? Isn't it God himself?

Still, in the first 100 pages or so (the final chapter on gender, sexuality, and the Trinity seems a bit out of place), Torrance manages to provide a very important corrective to our understanding of Christian worship, enabling us to bear the name of Father, Son, and Spirit in a more consistent and authentic way. This little book will bear repeated re-readings and would provide good fodder for a conversation among those responsible for planning weekly Sunday worship.


Anonymous said...

I read this when I worked for a church in Virginia and although it's been awhile- it motivated to think about how our worship reflected the trinity.

Do you think we do this well? And if not, how could we do a better job in corporate, public worship?

Sean Michael Lucas said...

I think it depends on the "we." I think Covenant Seminary chapel did this fairly well; I think our local churches must continue to point up the Trinitarian nature of worship and the necessity of Christ's continued mediation of our worship. It takes effort and pastoral foresight. sml