James: What drew you to the theology of Thomas F. Torrance and to the themes of your doctoral research project – Trinitarian grace and participation?
Geordie: My “conversion” which I spoke of earlier was the discovery that Jesus never lets go of his humanity, but takes it (and all of us in him) with him to the Father. Up until that point, I saw Jesus’ humanity as a temporary necessity he undertook in order to accomplish a legal transaction. Like many Christians, I had always assumed that after the resurrection when Jesus went up into the clouds he left his humanity behind and was done with it for good. When Alan Torrance showed us that the Bible teaches otherwise, I was astonished. For me, it was as if the good news of the gospel that I’d always known that Jesus died for my sin had suddenly become the amazing news of the gospel that Jesus had lived for me as well, and not only lived for me, but LIVES for me still!
Prior to this, my version of the Trinity was pretty much like tag-team wrestling – first the Father creates, then the Son redeems, then the Spirit carries us to the finish line.
I remember being stunned when I read for the first time Torrance’s assertion that at the center of the New Testament is Jesus’ relation with the Father. I had no way to conceive of Jesus as a man depending on the Father through the Spirit as having any relevance to the life of God eternally. But if God’s intention is to make a space for humanity in the person of the Son within the life of God himself, then…well that’s a game changer. I became entranced by the fact that God would love us so much that he would fulfil our side of the covenant by becoming human and living an obedient human life, and then dying an obedient sacrificial death, and that he would do all that so that we might share in his life and love. If Christian faith is not simply about a legal transaction necessitated by our sin, then that begins to open up its meaning as a wondrous love story. It also meant that my job now was not simply to respond by working hard for God, but something so much more wonderful: to participate through the Spirit in the Son’s relation with the Father.
James: What do these themes mean to you personally and in the ministry calling you have as Pastor of Adult Discipleship and Formation at Columbia Presbyterian Church?
Geordie: Personally, it has been incredibly freeing on so many levels. On the outside people would look at me and think I had life pretty much together, but inside I felt terribly alone and vulnerable, deeply aware of my inadequacy, and fearful of what God and others expected of me. I’d read, I’d been prayed for, I’d done counselling, I’d worked with a Spiritual director, I’d gone to Bible School, I’d gone to the mission field, I’d gone to seminary….but my theology was limited in its ability to adequately address the core issues. In many ways, healing was sabotaged by my old theology of separation and performance.
It’s been, and still is, a long journey. Baxter Kruger’s various books have been a tremendous source of help through the years. In The Great Dance he speaks of the voice of the “I am not” that litters our life with insecurity, anxiety, and fear. I have known that voice well – “I am not enough” – and when we are convinced that “we are not,” then we are driven to find a way to “become.” (p. 75) I’ve spent a lot of my life striving to become, to justify my existence if only to myself. Within this framework what else could I do but try desperately to achieve some sort of respectable identity or sense of self. It is a rat race with no way out. My old model of a Christian life encouraged this separation because it was fundamentally extrinsic: God is “out there” and wants me to “do better” so I work hard at doing better so that I can “be like Jesus.” It all sounds good and biblical and Christian, but its real effect is to throw me back upon myself again and again and again. That is what is so tremendously sad in the Church: people are doing what the church tells them to do and it has left them empty.
By contrast, the gospel, the real gospel, is that Jesus is on my side of the equation. I am not alone. I am included. I am in and with him before the Father. In him I am forgiven, reconciled, and justified. I am adopted. I am secure – as secure as the risen Son himself – for he will never ever let me go. My life is hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). I am continually captivated by the idea that God’s intention is not simply my legal righteousness, but communion – to share in his life and love – and it is in this sharing that I find that I become properly human or “humanized” as Torrance likes to say.
It is this theological vision that makes me understand what the apostle Paul meant when he said that “the love of Christ compels us,” for it really does. The challenge for me now is to learn new ways of praying and thinking and behaving that correspond to this reality that my life is not alone. There is much in me that continues to resist this personalizing, humanizing, way of God. I am in the Holy Spirit’s school of the renewing of my mind (Rom 12:2; Eph 1:17-19) where I am learning, slowly, falteringly, what it means to be a child in God’s kingdom, led by his Spirit rather than by myself in isolation (Rom 8:14-16).
My enthusiasm for the amazing news of the gospel I have come to discover in Torrance is “complemented” by my concern regarding the state of Spiritual formation in the church today. So much of what we tout as “spiritual formation” in the church is just self-help virtue ethics and workout programs with a little sprinkle of Holy Spirit on top. It is not specifically a problem of the Spiritual formation movement, but of the entire theology that undergirds most of what is known as evangelicalism. This presents a challenge, because the sickness is in the very water we drink and surrounds us on every side – our books, our “Christian” movies, our music, our programs, our sermons, etc. My litmus test is this: what work does the continuing humanity of Christ at the right hand of the Father do in this or that teaching or message? If the answer is “nothing,” which it usually is, then I know that the message I’m being given (in whatever media form it may take) is essentially Pelagian, that is, I’m thrown back upon myself to respond myself to God. In other words, “It’s all up to me, and I’m all alone.” I am saddened that the people in my church live under this Pelagian weight and they don’t even know it. My passion is to do whatever I can with whatever gifts and opportunities God has given me to shine the light of God’s truth on who God really is, and what they are included in by virtue of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension in our place and on our behalf.