In 2004, I (Jimmy) was in a mens group and received a copy of a book by Steve McVey called “Grace Walk”. It was the story of a burned out Southern Baptist Pastor and his liberation from religion. I began reading McVey’s blog and, being a curious, diligent researcher, when he made an obscure reference to T.F. Torrance in a footnote, I tracked him down and I have never been the same.
Discovering Thomas F. Torrance, his brothers James & David along with dozens of their students, has led me on a journey that is now in its 15th year. It’s a journey that has taken me back through the development of Western theology all the way to its roots deeply entrenched in the Eastern Church. When I first read Torrance’s book, “The Mediation Of Christ” I could not believe what I was reading. How is it, I thought, that I’d been raised in Church, gone through Bible College and had never heard any of what I was reading? The margins of that book are full of my reactions… exclamation points and “CAN THIS BE TRUE?
By the time I got to Torrance’s books on The Atonement and The Incarnation, my life had been forever changed.
The Torrance brothers and their students have played a significant role in the soft demolition and reconstruction of my theology. Without diminishing the importance of our personal relationship with God in Jesus in any way, TF Torrance explains how the idea of our relationship with God has been abstracted from its proper place in our dogma.
It turns out that our relationship with Jesus and what we believe about Him is not the most important thing. The most important thing is Jesus’s relationship with us and what He believes about us and He’ll never waiver or doubt or abandon His faith.
Our feeble grasp of Jesus is itself firmly within His grasp of us.
After reading this passage I think you will see the immense ramifications in pastoral care and how it can provide the basis for truly powerful preaching.
Allow me to introduce you to my hero and mentor, Thomas Forsyth Torrance.
“There is, then, an evangelical way to preach the Gospel and a non-evangelical way to preach it. The Gospel is preached in an non-evangelical way, as happens so often in modern evangelism, when the preacher announces: This is what Jesus Christ has done for you, but you will not be saved unless you make your own personal decision for Christ as your Savior. Or: Jesus Christ loved you and gave his life for you on the Cross, but you will be saved only if you give your heart to him. In that event, what is actually coming across to people is not a Gospel of unconditional grace but some other Gospel of conditional grace which belies the essential nature and content of the Gospel as it is in Jesus.
It was that subtle legalist twist to the Gospel which worried St Paul so much in his Epistle to the Galatians…To preach the Gospel in that conditional or legalist way has the effect of telling poor sinners that in the last resort the responsibility for their salvation is taken off the shoulders of the Lamb of God and placed upon them. But in that case, they feel that they will never be saved because they know perfectly well in their own hearts that if the chain that binds them to God in Jesus Christ has as even one of its links their own feeble act of decision, then the whole chain is as week as that, its weakest link.
They are aware that the very self who is being called upon to make such a momentous decision requires to be saved, so that the preaching of the Gospel would not really be good news unless it announced that in his unconditional love and grace Jesus Christ had put that human self, that ego of theirs, on an entirely different basis by being replaced at that crucial point by Jesus Christ himself.
How, then, is the Gospel to be preached in a genuinely evangelical way? Surely in such a way that full and central place is given to the vicarious humanity of Jesus as the all-sufficient human response to the saving love of God which he has freely and unconditionally provided for us. We preach and teach the Gospel evangelically, then, in such a way as this: God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very Being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualized his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself.
Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
From beginning to end what Jesus Christ has done for you he has done not only as God but as man. He has acted in your place in the whole range of your human life and activity, including your personal decisions, and your responses to God’s love, and even your acts of faith. He has believed for you, fulfilled your human response to God, even made your personal decision for you, so that he acknowledges you before God as one who has already responded to God in him, who has already believed in God through him, and whose personal decision is already implicated in Christ’s self-offering to the Father, in all of which he has been fully and completely accepted by the Father, so that in Jesus Christ you are already accepted by him. Therefore, renounce yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
To preach the Gospel of the unconditional grace of God in that unconditional way is to set before people the astonishingly good news of what God has freely provided for us in the vicarious humanity of Jesus. To repent and believe in Jesus Christ and commit myself to him on that basis means that I do not need to look over my shoulder all the time to see whether I have really given myself personally to him, whether I really believe and trust him, whether my faith is at all adequate, for in faith it is not upon my faith, my believing or my personal commitment that I rely, but solely upon what Jesus Christ has done for me, in my place and on my behalf, and what he is and always will be as he stands in for me before the face of the Father. That means that I am completely liberated from all ulterior motives in believing or following Jesus Christ, for on the ground of his vicarious human response for me, I am free for spontaneous joyful response and worship and service as I could not otherwise be.”
Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard, 1992), 93-95.