Torrance in Plain English

This blog frequently explores the writings of Trinitarian theologian Thomas F. (T.F.) Torrance. Some complain that T.F. is hard to understand and I felt that way when I started reading him about 12 years ago. No question, Torrance is challenging to read---particularly at first. There are a couple of reasons: First, in most of his books he writes as a theologian to other theologians using technical theological terms. Second, T.F. explains ideas and concepts that run against the grain of everyday experience, asking us to look at reality (God in particular) in new (even radically new) ways.

Over the years in this blog, I've tried to put T.F.'s teachings into common language. I've also recommended books by authors who have sought to do likewise. One I've often recommended is Elmer Colyer's How to Read T.F. Torrance: Understanding His Trinitarian and Scientific Theology. Though it's a great resource, it is a bit technical and detailed. I've often thought we nee…

Inhabiting the Christian year: Pentecost & Ordinary Time

With this post we conclude our series looking at the Western Christian year (liturgical calendar). For the other posts in the series, click a number: 12345, 6, 7, and click here for a related post on the shape of the church's liturgy.

So far in this series on inhabiting the Christian year, we've looked at Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week and Easter. Now we conclude the series looking at Pentecost and Ordinary Time.
Pentecost The ancient church chose to end the 50-day-long season of Easter with a Pentecost Sunday celebration. It was on Pentecost (50 days after the Resurrection) that the risen and ascended Lord poured out the Holy Spirit in order to form and empower the church for mission.

You will recall that at the Last Supper, Jesus promised his disciples that he would send them "another helper," the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, ESV). Following Jesus' resurrection, our Lord fulfilled that promise. As his disciples huddled in the upper room prayin…

What is the relationship between doctrine and theology?

Now that I've retired from full-time employment with Grace Communion International, several readers have asked if I'll continue writing for and publishing The Surprising God blog. The answer is "yes"—I hope to keep this blog going, though there may be some changes going forward (stay tuned!).   - Ted Johnston  [updated 1/9/2019]

As readers of this blog know, The Surprising God deals primarily with theology, though occasionally it looks at doctrine. This raises some questions: What is the difference between theology and doctrine? How are they related? This post offers brief answers for your consideration (and comment).
Doctrine (and dogma) As typically used in Christian circles, the word doctrine refers to a denomination’s (or church’s) primary teachings. Christian doctrine elaborates the dogma (core beliefs) set forth by the historic and orthodox church in its creeds (such as the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed). Though most churches embrac…

Inhabiting the Christian Year: Easter

This is part 7 of a series of posts exploring the Western Christian year (liturgical calendar). For other posts in the series, click a number: 12345, 6, 8.

So far in this series, we've looked at AdventChristmas,EpiphanyLent and Holy Week. The first three constitute the cycle of light and Lent begins the cycle of life, which continues with Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost. In this post, we'll look at Easter---the celebration of our Lord's resurrection.

According to Bobby Gross in Living the Christian YearEaster is both a day (Easter Sunday, sometimes called Resurrection Sunday) and a season (sometimes called Eastertide) lasting 50 days:
Within a century of Jesus' rising, the church had established the extended Easter season. But why fifty days? First, because the enormity of the resurrection invited a lengthy celebration. Second, Easter lasted until Pentecost (Greek for "fiftieth"), the day when the Holy Spirit was poured out. Third, the period co…

Inhabiting the Christian Year: Holy Week

This is part 6 of a series exploring the Western Christian year (liturgical calendar). For other posts in this series, click a number: 12, 3, 4, 5, 78.

So far, we've looked at Advent, Christmas,Epiphany and Lent. The first three constitute what some call the cycle of light. Lent then begins the cycle of life, which continues with Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost. In this post, we'll explore Holy Week, which includes Palm/Passion Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Let's begin with a quote from Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross. It will provide some important historical context. Originally, the first Christians recalled and celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus in a single day---and they did so once a week, on the Lord's Day! But it was not long, probably by the end of the first century, before a more elaborate annual Pascha was established. In that sense, as Laurence Stookey has suggested in response to the maxim that every Sunday…

What shape should our worship take?

Worship is the primary ministry of the church. Through worship, the church prepares to participate with Christ in his mission to draw the world into worship.[1] Worship and mission are thus integrally connected. Knowing this leads us to ask: What shape should our worship take? The answer from Scripture and 2,000 years of Christian experience is that authentic Christian worship is Christ-centered and gospel-shaped.

This understanding has significant implications for how we approach liturgy (our form of worship). Though some Christians favor what is sometimes called "non-liturgical" or "free" worship, it can be argued on the basis of Scripture and Christian history that a liturgical form of worship (one that follows the annual pattern shown below) is a helpful, even essential tool for honoring God in worship while drawing the church together in unity of belief and practice, leading to the spiritual formation of its members, including their involvement in Christ'…

Inhabiting the Christian Year: Lent

This is part 5 of a series exploring the Western Christian year (liturgical calendar). For other posts in this series, click a number: 12, 3, 4, 678.
Cycles of Light and Life So far in this series, following an introduction, we've looked at Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. These three seasons of worship comprise what is sometimes called the cycle of light because all three focus on the coming/revelation of Jesus, who is the light of the world and the light of life (John 8:12). That cycle is then followed in the liturgical calendar by the cycle of life, which includes Lent, Easter and Pentecost---three seasons focused on the purposes for which Christ came, namely
the self-giving sacrifice of his life to free the world from the domain of Satan and thus secure forgiveness and healing for the peoples of the world. Consequently, as we reflect on both the cycles of light and life, we are drawn into the inescapable fact of how the birth and death of Jesus are of a single piece, a ga…