Review: Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace

James Torrance’s book “Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace,” challenges us to address the worship practices of the church from a Trinitarian perspective. This is not a book of mechanics (how worship is done). Rather it is a book of theology.

Torrance’s contends that much of what we call worship is “Unitarian” in nature. It sees God as a being that we must please and appease through our acts of worship. Torrance writes that “Unitarian” worship:

“…has no doctrine of the mediator or sole priesthood of Christ, is human-centered, has no proper doctrine of the Holy Spirit, it too often non-sacremental, and can engender weariness. We sit in the pew and watch the minister “do his (sic) thing,” exhorting us “to do our thing,’ until we go home thinking we have done our duty for another week!”

Such an approach to worship is unitarian in nature and view, rather than trinitarian. It is legalistic, rather than evangelical (i.e. it is about what we do rather than good news about the saving work of the triune God). ”

The solution, and thesis of the entire book, is that the church must recover a Trinitarian understanding of God – seeing how that impacts all aspect of congregational life (with particular attention paid, in this book, to aspects of worship, prayer, and community life). What we have in Trinitarian theology is the good news that God has, through Jesus the Son, offer to himself what we could not offer. While Torrance limits his book to issues related to worship and devotion (specifically Holy Communion, Baptism, and Prayer), his aim is actually much bigger. He desires to lead his readers…

“…to an understanding of the Holy Spirit, who delivers us from a narcissistic preoccupation with the self to find our one true being in loving communion with god and one another – to hear God’s call to us, in our day, to participate through the Spirit of Christ’s communion with the Father and his mission from the Father to the world – to create in our day a new humanity of persons who find true fulfillment in other-centered communion and service in the kingdom of God.”

Still, Torrance’ focus is on the areas of worship and devotion. He wants to remind us what our Triune God has achieved for us, as mediated in Jesus the Son. Unable to earn redemption, Jesus obtains it for us and shares it with us. In Holy Communion we celebrate this divinely earned gift. Unable to pray properly, Jesus makes intercession for us. Jesus even handles the issue of faith for us. In our baptism, we are not expressing faith in order to earn salvation. Instead, we are casting our trust in the faith Jesus. Jesus, then, in addition to being the second member of the Trinity, is also the representative of the human family. So, then, all aspects of the worship of the church are actually participation in the Triune life, made real in Jesus. Torrance writes:

“The Trinitarian view of worship is that it is the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father. That means 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. It also means participation 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. There is only one true Priest through whom and with whom we draw near to God our Father. There is only one Mediator between God and humanity. There is only one offering which is truly acceptable to God, and it is not ours.

The reoccurring theme in the book is that none of our human spiritual efforts are able to earn or obtain any sort of favor with God. Instead, we are given life through the invitation to participate in God’s freely offered grace. That faith in which we participate is the faith of Jesus toward the Father.
Anyone looking for a good basic understanding of Trinitarian theology will find this book an enjoyable and thoughtful book. It comes with my highest recommendation.

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