Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace -- chapter 1

Previous Posts
About James Torrance

Last year, I started into Reggie Kidd's With One Voice, in which Reggie makes biblical case for Christ as leader of our worship -- not Christ as example for our worship, but Christ leading our worship. He started his book with this wonderful quote from Ed Clowney “Our worship on earth is a participation in a gorgeous liturgy that Jesus Christ himself leads from heaven.”

James Torrance makes the theological case for that statement in his work Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace. I'll be honest.....I much prefer Reggie's book. Torrance writes like a scholar giving a lecture. He gives us valuable background and contrast to help sharpen our minds as to why Christ as Liturgist is important. Reggie, on the other hand, is a scholar who writes like a poet -- giving us stories and pictures that help us live the truths he talks about. I would suggest that after you're done with Torrance, you immediately pick up Reggie's book and see what I'm talking about.

That said.... Torrance offers some valuable insights.
First, he addresses boldly a deficiency in much contemporary worship today -- a deficiency which he labels as "Unitarian Worship". This is the emphasis on the transactional -- the me and God. I show up with my faith, and I encounter God in worship. The problem with such worship is that it leads to radically impoverished spiritual life. We hear people saying "I didn't get anything out of it" or we place undue worry on the externals of worship. It often leads to people viewing worship leaders as performers on stage, and the congregation as the audience in the position of evaluation.

In contrast, he advocates a "Trinitarian Worship." that recognizes that we are not an audience, but rather a body. But that the body isn't led by the people on the platform. The body is led by Christ. Christ, serving as our prophet, priest, and king, leads worship before the Father. We, joined to him by the power of the Holy Spirit, are along for the ride.

This is where Torrance gives us wonderful stuff. He reminds us of the language that Luther and Calvin use for the atonement - the "wonderful exchange" -- we bring our raglike offerings, our small toys, our widow's mite, and Christ exchanges them for his spotless perfection and then offers that to the Father. Christian worship is “…our participation through the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the father, in his vicarious life of worship and intercession.” (15) Where our faith is klutzy and klunky and kitschy, Christ offers lovliness and pure fellowship. Where our voices ring like tin in the ears, Christ's voice boldly proclaims harmonious praise that is sweet to the Father's ear.

And in the exchange what Christ offers is what we offer.

Simply put, we're not acceptable to God because of the rightness of the worship we offer. We're acceptable to God solely on the basis of Christ. And it is Christ's good pleasure to take what we bring and breathe life into it by the power of the Holy Spirit. The very fact that we worship at all is a function of the grace of Christ.

And that helps us understand that worship is not just an event that occurs at the regularly scheduled gathering of the assembly. Rather, worship is something that is lived on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, Torrance bombards us with theological diagrams and dozens of names of theologians. This is fine for the theology-heads, but it is quite intimidating for other folks (I've had several people remark to me that this book made them "feel stupid").

That said, let me further apply the truth that Torrance hits on -- God doesn't accept us based off the breadth of our knowledge of the history of theology. But as we make stumbling efforts to understand, the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth and Christ brings the humble offerings of our desire to understand to the father.

More to Come on this one.

Soli Deo Gloria