Your thoughts on the impact of the writings of Barth, Tom Torrance and James Torrance

GCI elder Eric Wilding is working on his thesis for a DMin degree. He is researching the impact that the writings of Karl Barth, TF Torrance and JB Torrance have had on GCI ministers - particularly with regard to their views of theology (doctrine of God), anthropology (doctrine of man) and ecclesiology (doctrine of the church).

Let's help him out by posting here our response to his query. Short bulleted points are fine.

As with all posts on this blog, you can reply by signing in to Blogger and then clicking on comments below any post. Or you can email your reply directly to me at


Anonymous said…
There is both good and bad in what is currently happening in GCI. The idea of using Barth and co as a means to bring together two fighting factions in Protestantism is good. The division between Calvinism and Arminianism is unnecessary. On the other hand, the constant barrage of articles and videos on this topic from HQ is extreme. Healthy denominations do not constantly preach sermon after sermon on the Trinity. Jesus' message was not so much one of going down the path of all the permutations and combinations of Trinitarian theological possibilities. In diving deeper into one area of theology it seems we are neglecting what ought to be central, Jesus and his important Gospel message. There is a real danger that this could potentially lead us back away from what we have suffered so long and hard to discover into ever complex twigs of theological theorizing.
Here, in very brief summary, is the impact that the three named individuals have had on me:

1.) God is Father, Son and Spirit, and Love, meaning God is primarily a Relational Being. A Being of Distinct Persons Who have forever been in union and always will be! Therefore this is the primary way in which I should seek to see and experience all of life. This also means that God is not a single, solitary, isolated or self-contained "all to himself" god of the self-centered and fallen mind.

2.) I can ONLY see all of Life in this way because this Relational God has given Himself to Humanity and Creation in the Incarnate Son, Jesus, as it was eternally purposed from the Foundation of the world, AND, only through the Holy Spirit of Christ Who was sent to All Flesh to help us see in the actual sight of the God/Man!

3.) To See and Speak of such a gracious Being, Act, and seamless movement toward His creation is not only a further sign that Jesus has in fact broken through the deception and darkness of the fallen mind, but it is to understand that God the Trinity loves us more than He loves himself as the One true God!

3.) To know this truth in Jesus is to know that the identity of everyone and everything is firmly rooted in Who Jesus Christ is as Son of Man and Who he is as part of His creation, permanently! This is everyone's deepest secret!

4.) In the most mind-blowing Being and Act of all time, to experience and embrace this truth is to know that humanity and creation have a place within the exact and real relationship of the One and Only Triune God, Who has opened His Relationship up to us in the Unconditional Freeness of His overflowing heart!

5.) This then is the Gospel, the Good News! This is the meaning of the Church and why it exists! This is what ministers of the Gospel are to proclaim in the Son's proclamation, as the Holy Spirit empowers them in his Communion! This Truth of Creation in Jesus is the Church's greatest Treasure and how we are supposed to see everyone and everything! This is the lens through which we are to discover, believe and experience everyone and everything! There is no Good News apart from this! This is what is going on in prayer! This is how the scriptures are to be experienced and read! This is how every sermon is to begin and end! This is how you counsel others, answer questions, and form ministries! This is how you evangelize and preach funerals! This is how you relate with your family, friends and neighbors! This is how and why you can suffer with Jesus! This is how and why you can rejoice in suffering! This is what Resurrection is all about, and what we will experience forever whether in Heaven or Hell! This is why we can choose Heaven or Hell and that's it! This is why we will all forever be alive to experience anything, and anyone, whether positively or negatively! This is the shallow thing and the deep thing! This is the Answer to the Who, What, Why, Where, and When questions that are always popping up everywhere about everything! This is why we love basketball, barbeques, cars, houses, gardens and book clubs! This is why we had to keep growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, repent, and experience HUGE theological reform, and why it must always continue!

6.) All of this can be "summed" up in the Person and Word, Jesus the Christ, in Whom I, in His Grace, Communion, Power, intend to proclaim in his Faithfulness until He decides that that part of my participation in His shared Life is over! Because one day, all preaching will cease, and all will know him from the least to the greatest! Ha-Ha!! :)

Peace, Love and Blessings!
Eric said…
I appreciate this clear and concise synthesis of the impact of these three theologians on you and your ministry. It gives some rich details for reflection. Point #5 shows that those you commune with must be blessed by this relational understanding.
Ted Johnston said…
Thanks Anonymous, Timothy and Eric. Your comments are appreciated.

I wonder what others are receiving in their understanding from these three Trinitarian theologians (and others)?

As for myself, I find their clear focus on the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation to open a window of understanding concerning the persona and work of Jesus, who is the gospel.

So, Anonymous, my experience seems quite the opposite of yours. To understand Trinitarian theology is, for me, a huge blessing of growth in appreciation for and understanding of my Savior and his gospel; and really all things.

I do understand that the journey through the writings of Trinitarian theologians can be a bit frustrating. Not a lot of us are trained in the language of theology. There are lots of unfamiliar terms and concepts to learn.

But I encourage us all to be patient and willing to learn (and even willing to accept a bit of frustration along the way!). I personally find it well worth it! I hope this blog is helpful to many in gaining understanding, and thus alleviating frustration.
Jerome Ellard said…
These theologians and our fellowship's current focus on Trinitarian, Christocentric, Incarnational theology have caused me to magnify the Lord in a greater way than ever before in my life. Becoming more conscious of the significance of the Trinitarian, relational nature of God had opened my mind to understand better that truth of scripture "God is love." The Church in the past has focused heavily on the doctrine of the Trinity when it was under attack. Today, many across Christianity, not just GCI (three of our featured Trinitarian speakers at our International conference this year in Orlando are a Methodist, a Presbyterian and a Baptist) are focusing on the doctrine of the Trinity, I believe, because of the movement of the Holy Spirit in our minds. This doctrine has been neglected for centuries in the Western Church, basically because of the unitarian influences and writings of Augustine and Aquinas, so it is time to right the ship. If that is how scripture has revealed God to be, then that is what we should focus on, with all the attendant implications for life on this earth. I used to see Jesus in a utilitarian fashion - as the one God sent to die for us (check!) and then went to heaven to wait for a long time and then come back and set up God's kingdom (check!). Then, 15 years ago, as our church focused heavily on the New Covenant, I saw that Jesus was someone I could relate to personally, who cared for me and my life. Now, I see Jesus as the Cosmic assurance of God's unfailing love for all mankind and creation, the One who has given us a permanent place in the life of the Father, Son and Spirit, not only by forgiving us and healing us by His sacrifice, but by uniting us permanently to God by His ongoing human/God existence as the Incarnate Son. God is not only involved in our lives, He is committed to us in His very being! This is Good News indeed!
Anonymous said…
I have been thinking a great deal about this issue presented in this posting. As I do so, one picture keeps coming to mind. It is that of a big barn that we are trying to get into. So we walk around to the back of the barn and with great physical effort and mental agility climb up the side of the barn into the loft and then down to the part of the barn we want to be in--all the while missing the point that the front doors of the barn are wide open for us.

To me this is a metaphor for how we come to understand God's great love for us. We all too often do the same thing as climbing into the loft through the back of the barn without noting that such folks as Paul and John and the other writers for the New Covenant Bible books have already opened the front doors to the barn wide open for us. All we need to do is to settle into what they say and not get tripped up by not noting the Bible's flow, and we through the work of the Spirit can see what God is up to.

All the best!

J. Richard Parker
Ted Johnston said…
Richard. Jesus is the door into and the content of the barn! For me, that's the point of Trinitarian theology - to lead us to understand who Jesus is and thus who we are.

To think "with" Jesus (who is the "ground and grammar" of all things), may seem like a round-about trip, but in reality it is a frontal assault. However, because the trip involves unlearning and re-learning, it is often a disconcerting, even painful one. Such is the nature of repentance.
Eric said…
Anonymous, Jerome, Richard, Timothy and Ted,

I want to thank you all for your open responses regarding Barth, the Torrances and Trinitarian-Incarnational theology. Your writing presents a lively discussion and a variety of approaches to the Triune God of grace. This has been very helpful to me.

I am wondering whether any of you might like to tell me your personal stories regarding how the 1993 change in the doctrine of God in the WCG has impacted your life and ministry. This is the focus of my DMin research. Barth or the Torrances (although they are an aspect of my study) may not have impacted your life, and you would not have to refer to them--no worries! If you would be interested in taking part, I can give you further details. Ted might be able to give you my email or I am on facebook (find me through the Toronto East Worldwide Church of God page).
Blessings in Christ!
Anne Gillam said…
I can't help but focus on the statement made by Anonymous-"In diving deeper into one area of theology it seems we are neglecting what ought to be central, Jesus and his important Gospel message." Jesus is the Trinity and the Trinity IS Jesus. We cannot separate the two-or should I say three.What I believe Anonymous is saying is that we are speaking so much of the God head relationship that we lose focus on what Jesus came to teach us? I believe this is the message that Jesus came to teach us about. That is-our relationship to the relationship of the trinity.
In answer to Eric's question on how the 1993 doctrine changes have impacted my life. and ministry; it is life changing. What I mean to say is that I now have life and I now have ministry. I now belong to that I clung to in desperation. I now see that I belong to that family of God and am free to see and to act. I consider my true conversion to have begun in 1993, though I was baptised in 1972. I am no longer seeking to belong; I know I belong and I am living my life now through that knowledge. I thank you Jesus!
Anne Gillam
Anchor for the Soul Fellowship
Eric said…
Wow! What an amazing comment, Anne!
"I consider my true conversion to have begun in 1993, though I was baptised in 1972. I am no longer seeking to belong; I know I belong and I am living my life now through that knowledge. I thank you Jesus!" I join the chorus, "Thank you, Jesus!"

Anne, perhaps you would like to tell your story for my study; it seems there is a lot there, even in just a few lines.

Anonymous said…
I found the "the surprising god" blog via the [Pastor General's] update that came this morning and wanted to pass on my impressions as this topic has made a great impact on me. These thoughts do not readily separate into Trinity, ecclesiology, anthropology, etc. Most have elements of at least two of these concepts.

The Barth/Torrance contribution that I really find to be great grist for the mill lies in the undoing of the dualism that crept into the Church with the neoplatonic thoughts of Origen and other early church fathers particularly in the west, and continued into the enlightenment period with Descartes and beyond. The Torrance brothers and their students made me realize that:

1) Ironically, I thought I believed in the trinity when in the old WCG. After all, there were indeed 3 of them. It took me a long time into the transition to realize that I sort of believed in two and a half. However, that trinity was largely impotent compared to the God I know now. God is more than 2 persons plus an impersonal force. The full Trinitarian nature with full perichoresis view enables me to see God as a fully personalizing God and a God that exemplifies every behavior humans are capable of modeling. Every encounter with God deepens our humanity and Godly potential.

2) What we do is ultimately not important. The most important things were done with the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. The worst we can do now is grieve the Holy Spirit by hindering God's expression and reflection in our lives.

3) The dimension of Christ taking humanity to Heaven unappreciated before. (I am still trying to get my head around this). This reality gives more weight in my mind to Jesus as our high priest and His intercession on our behalf. Jesus both as our chief Worship Leader and as our ultimate church audience is a humbling idea for all of us who participate in worship as worship leaders.

4) It seemed to me that in the past we drew a distinction between Jesus and Paul by saying that Jesus had the true gospel of the kingdom. Our old treatment of the new testament in my mind drew mainly on the gospels (emphasizing the Kingdom of God and its coming) and Acts, then used Paul (who overtly points us to mainly to Jesus until one realizes the underlying perichoresis) to make points we were interested in making (proof texts). The rigorous treatment of the Trinity unifies the new testament into a coherent whole more than ever before.

5) Our chief life goal before was to "make it to the kingdom." Now, the goal is that Jesus be expressed and reflected in every aspect of our life now.

6) Being in the image of God does not enable us to imply that God the father necessarily has fingers and toes, as I remembered it doing before. The Imago Dei now provides the basis for an anthropology on which one can understand how we as humans are being brought into relation with God, not by us, but by the triune God in spite of our fallen, sinful and limited nature.

7) The concepts of modeling as presented in "Theological Science" work well for explaining physical and biological systems in addition to theological systems. Existence and coherence are extremely practical concepts. The concept of the open system (as opposed to the other thermodynamic categories of 'isolated' and 'closed') works for those of us interested in ecological systems and purely physical systems.

A postmodern thrust is to try to reestablish linkages between ecology and the built environment, just as we Christians re-envision ourselves as personal communities in dialogue instead of big hierarchal-monarchial mechanisms. Knowing the Trinitarian nature of God keeps one from falling into other perverse views (such as Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis). This undoing of Platonic-Cartesian dualism is integrative, and is an enabler for reintegrating the Arts and the Sciences in a way that compromises neither and further develops both.

Hope this makes sense,

Bill Tollner
Athens, Georgia
Ted Johnston said…

I'm glad you found this blog, and thrilled that a Trinitarian, Christ-centered theology is helping you more deeply understand and appreciate the Grace of God that is ours in union and communion with the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit!

Thanks for sharing these thoughts with us.
Anne Gillam said…
Thanks Eric
I was baptised into the WCG in 1972. I felt halfway to heaven at that point. I no longer belonged to this world, and I did not fit into the next. I never felt I would make the grade, and I felt like I was in the audience watching everyone else participate. I had an emptiness. I would rush to church to fill it, but I never felt at rest even there.
When the changes began in 1993 it was like an explosion went off. Much of what was going on was kept from many of us. I felt like I was in quick sand and going down slowly. Then a letter came from an Elder in the church. He tried to spell out all of the bad changes that were comeing.It was meant as a warning, but it really was an eye opener instead.
I placed that letter before God and asked for his wisdom. I felt him telling me to stand my ground against the ememies attack and not be afraid. It was then I felt a great peace fall over me. It is then that I truly put all of my faith and trust in God and I feel my true conversion began.
That week at church I heard the same confession from meny. They too felt a great peace.
Since that day many doors have opened for me to serve. I no longer feel I am on the outside looking in. I know I belong. Jesus is my life, my strength, my hope and my comfort. I live each day through and in him, and he in me. There is no dividing wall. It was removed by the sacrifice of Jesus. Praise his mighty name!
Yours in Him!
Anne Gillam
Eric said…
Praise Him!