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On a trinitarian approach to liturgy

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(Note: this post draws from The trinitarian DNA of Christian Worship, an essay by John D. Witvliet.) If the corporate worship of the church were fully grounded in and shaped by the doctrine of the Trinity, what would it look like? In answer, consider this definition of Christian worship from T. F. Torrance: In our worship the Holy Spirit comes forth from God, uniting us to the response and obedience and faith and prayer of Jesus, and returns to God, raising us up in Jesus to participate in the worship of heaven and in the eternal communion of the Holy Trinity. For T.F.(and other trinitarian theologians), worship has  two directional movements —God's coming to the church, and the church's response to God. Both of these movements involve the action of each member of the Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit. The agents that enable God's coming to us and our response back to God are not less than divine persons, whose work can be trusted to be efficacious. Trinitarian theologian Col

Christian ethics (part 2)

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This post continues a series exploring the book Fully Human in Christ: The Incarnation as the End of Christian Ethics  by Todd Speidell. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1 .   Last time , as we began this series, we noted how the ethic set forth by Thomas F. Torrance (TFT) is fundamentally theological , but to say that is not to say that his ethic is "otherworldly"--disconnected from the world in which we live with its ethical challenges. TFT's theological ethic is not passive for it's about our active participation, through the Spirit, in what Jesus is now doing in our world. But note that this participation is in union with Jesus--he (and not someone or something else) is at the center and in the lead. At a time in our culture when there is renewed interest and emphasis on ethics (social ethics, in particular), it's important that we examine our approach to ethics and ask, is it truly Christian? Todd Speidell   A filial ethic of reconciliation As S

Christian ethics (part 1)

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This post begins a series exploring the book Fully Human in Christ: The Incarnation as the End of Christian Ethics  by Todd Speidell. For other posts in the series, click a number: 2 .      Some assert that Thomas F. Torrance failed in his writings to offer a well-developed Christian ethic (particularly a social ethic). Todd Speidell disagrees, giving us in Fully Human in Christ a helpful, carefully researched compendium of TFT's writings on the topic of Christian-theological ethics. The subtitle of Speidell's book ( The Incarnation as the End of Christian Ethics ) refers not to the termination of ethics in Christ, but to the fulfillment or goal ( telos ) thereof. It also is Speidell's way of noting that Christ's vicarious humanity brings to an end all vain attempts to do good or to be good apart from who Christ is and what Christ has done on our behalf and in our place. TFT teaches that Christian ethics is not about self-directed efforts to model our lives after the ex

What does it mean that "Christ is all and in all"?

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In Colossians 3:11 (NASB), Paul declares that "Christ is all and in all." The immediate context relates to the "new self" -- who we are in Christ, no matter our ethnicity or socio-economic standing. However, the larger context is the whole letter of Colossians (with parallels in Ephesians) where we find at least six ways in which Christ truly is all and in all. Mosaic of Christ Jesus (public domain via Wikimedia Commons) 1) CHRIST IS THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD, THE FULLNESS OF DEITY IN BODILY FORM In Colossians 1:15 (NASB) Paul tells us that God's Son (Christ) "is the image of the invisible God." He goes on to say in Col. 1:19 (NASB) that “it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in [Christ, God's Son].” He then adds this in Col. 2:9 (NASB): “For in [Christ] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” Our only way of knowing God, who “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16, NAS

Liturgical Theology

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Having entered the season of Advent, a new year in the Christian worship (liturgical) calendar has begun. For some Christians, the liturgical calendar is of only mild interest, for others it's of no interest at all. But when viewed theologically, the calendar takes on great meaning. That meaning is explored by Simon Chan in  Liturgical Theology, the Church as Worshiping Community . This post takes a look at the book, excerpting some key points. Chan's purpose in writing Liturgical Theology  is to make a reasoned plea to Christians (Evangelicals, in particular) to recapture in their worship (both weekly and annually) a focus on the central truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. His concern is that many churches tend in their worship to focus instead on peripheral issues. In doing so, they experience what Chan calls "theological vacuity" (p 11). And so Chan's desire is for worship renewal through recovering a clear focus on truth , not in the sense of abstract ideas

Advent: God breaks in

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This post looks at Advent, the season of four Sundays that begins the Western-Christian liturgical year. In 2020, the first Sunday of Advent is November 29.  The meaning of Advent    In his book  Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year ,  Robert E. Webber shares this concerning the meaning of the season of Advent:  Advent is the time when God breaks in on us with new surprises and touches us with a renewing and restoring power. In Christian-year worship and spirituality we call upon God for a new breaking in, a fresh outpouring of his Spirit. (p. 38)   Advent Season is a profound reminder to us that God is not remote, aloof or uninvolved. Advent tells us that God has come, is coming, and will come again ("advent" means "coming" or "arrival"). This glorious truth helps offset a message that is prevalent in our me-centered, self-sufficient, individualistic culture: I can do it on my own, thank you! The forthcoming season of Adve

The Christ-centered ethic of J.B. Torrance

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What is the basis for an approach to ethics that is fully Christian? This is a vital question, given the many, often complex ethical issues faced by the church in our world. Dr. Gary Deddo addresses this question in " A Theological Tribute to James B. Torrance" ( click here  to download), an essay in Supplemental vol. 3 of "Participatio: The Journal of the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Society." Gary's essay includes the section quoted below, which summarizes JB's teaching concerning the ethical implications and obligations defined by Jesus Christ's all-inclusive humanity . James Torrance [JB] was well known for introducing certain topics by saying, “Have I told you about the time I was in . . .?” He would often then relate to us a particularly poignant interaction he had when in Northern Ireland, South Africa, or in the South of the United States, all places that at the time were experiencing social upheaval involving tremendous violence. JB felt a sp

Dealing with partiality and lording it over others

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Dr. Gary Deddo offers a biblically-grounded theological framework to assist churches in understanding and dealing with two sins at the root of racism: partiality and lording it over others.    One story, one purpose    The Bible gives us an  overall story  inclusive of all history. It's a  meta-narrative  that tells of the relationship God has with all humanity. In the unfolding of the story's four scenes (Creation, Fall, Reconciliation, and Consummation), we learn that the Creator, Redeemer God has made us  one  humanity,  one  race -- the human race. All persons, we learn, are of  one  blood .  Creation, Fall, Reconciliation, Consummation This four-scene story forms a Christian  worldview  by which those who follow Jesus view reality and critique all other worldviews. This story is God’s first and final word. It alone provides direction for living out the faith, hope and love we have as Christians for the Triune God who we worship. It alone upholds the true cosmic Lordship o

The impassible, passible God

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This post by Dr. Joseph Tkach (chair of the boards of Grace Communion International and Grace Communion Seminary) was published originally in the 11/20/2016 issue of GCI Update.    Down through the centuries, the church has taught that God, being impassible , is not subject to suffering, pain, or the ebb and flow of involuntary passions. God is seen as not being controlled, conditioned, manipulated or otherwise affected by anything external to himself. The impassible God is constant and faithful, exercising sovereignty over all. His impassibility is an expression of his immutable (unchanging) eternal nature, character and purposes. The church has also taught that the Eternal Son of God, through the incarnation, took on a real and complete human nature, becoming one of us. Not being impassible, we humans affected by all kinds of things external to ourselves; we are not constant in our emotional states and in how we voluntarily carry out our wills, purposes and ends; we also change our

Does belief precede salvation?

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In John's Gospel, we are told that "whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them" (John 3:36). How we understand this statement from John the baptist will depend largely on the theological lens through which we read (and so interpret) this text. If our lens is a  theology of separation , we likely will understand John's statement to mean that God stands separate from and in wrath against all people *until* they believe in Jesus, at which point God (for the first time) enters their lives, ceases to be wrathful toward them, and grants them eternal life. But is that interpretation justified? We answer no , because it is inconsistent with what Scripture tells us about who God is, as revealed in the person of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. According to that revelation, rather than separate from sinners, God is a friend of sinners , the God who is with us and for us, the God of lov