The Torrance Brothers on Worship

Volume 16, No. 1 (January 2021)

James. B. Torrance
Thomas F. Torrance

The Scottish theologians James B. Torrance (1923-2003) and Thomas F. Torrance (1913-2007) and  were born in China to British missionaries working with the American Bible Society. They were not just great thinkers, but great churchmen with real hearts for evangelism.

In their writings they provided rich and profound insights on Christian worship. My first introduction to this thinking was through James Torrance’s Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace. I was so impacted by this book that when I was planning to be in the U.K., I wrote ahead to James to ask if I might meet with him. He and wife extended their hospitality o me to stay with them, and it was a blessing to experience the warmth and graciousness as well as the sharp mind of this great man.

Below are some samples from the writings of these remarkable servants of Christ. Enjoy the feast!


His Humanity is our humanity (so graciously assumed), His Death our death (which we shew forth), His Life our life (till He come), His Self-Offering our offering, His Communion with the Father our communion, into which He lifts us by His Spirit. (“The Place of Jesus Christ in Worship,” in Theological Foundations for Ministry, 360)

Christian worship is the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father.
(Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, 30)

God made man in His own image to be the Priest of creation, to express for all creatures the praises of God, so that through the lips of man the heavens might declare the glory of God, that we who know we are God’s creatures might worship God and in our worship gather up the worship of all creation.
But nature fails of this purpose because of the failure of man.
The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus comes to be the Priest of Creation; to do for men what man fails to do, to offer to God the worship and the praise that we have failed to offer. (“The Place of Jesus Christ in Worship,” in Theological Foundations for Ministry, 348)

At the center of the New Testament stands, not our experience, however important that may be, but a unique, absolute relationship between Jesus and the Father, in a life lived in the Spirit, and in that Father-Son relationship we see the disclosure of that communion which is in God himself, and into which we are now drawn by the Holy Spirit.
(“Contemplating the Trinitarian Mystery of Christ,” in Alive to God: Studies in Spirituality, 148)

In his book On the Incarnation, Athanasius asks what it means to speak of Christ as the Great Physician of our humanity. Christ does not heal us by standing over against us, diagnosing our sickness, prescribing medicine for us to take, and then going away, to leave us to get better by obeying his instructions—as an ordinary doctor might. No, he becomes the patient! He assumes that very humanity which is in need of redemption, and by being anointed by the Spirit in our humanity, by a life of perfect obedience, by dying and rising again for us, our humanity is healed in Him. We are not just healed “through Christ” because of the work of Christ but “in and through Christ.”
(“Christ in Our Place” in A Passion for Christ, 359)

Worship is not so much something that we do, but what Christ is doing and in which we are given to participate through the Spirit. . . . Presbyterian worship is often far more Pelagian than anything in Rome, by its all too exclusive emphases on what we do”
(Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace, 78)

Worship consists in proclamation from the Father in Christ through the Spirit, and response in the Spirit through Christ to the Father
(“The Unconditional Freeness of Grace,” in Trinity and Transformation, 282)

Throughout the Bible, the indicatives of grace always precede the imperatives of law and obligation.
(Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace, 70)

The Holy Spirit, through whom we participate in the Person and Ministry of Christ, exercises a two-fold ministry, corresponding to the twofold priestly ministry of Christ–namely, of representing God to man and of representing man to God.
(a) Through the Holy Spirit God comes to meet us in worship in the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and summons us to respond in faith and obedience and thanksgiving, in offering ourselves as a living sacrifice to God, which is our reasonable service.
(b) In our human—frail, broken, unworthy—response the Spirit helps us in our infirmities, lifting us up to Christ. Christ in His ascended humanity is our God-given Response, the Leader of our Worship, the pioneer of our Faith, our Advocate and High Priest, who through the eternal Spirit presents Himself for us to the Father. In and through the mediatorial ministry of the Spirit, we worship the Father in the name of Christ. (“The Place of Jesus Christ in Worship,” in Theological Foundations for Ministry, 359)

More important than our experience of Christ is the Christ of our experience.
(Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, 34)

When Christ died long ago, I died, and when Christ rose again from the dead in the garden of Joseph of Arimathea, I rose again, and when Christ ascended into heaven, I ascended in Him, and now my life is hid with Christ in God. That is the true testimony of faith.
“The Priesthood of Jesus: A Study in the Doctrine of the Atonement” in Essays in Christology for Karl Barth, 155)

The Church is the Church in her worship. Worship is not an optional extra, but is of the very life and essence of the Church. Nor is it a false grovelling in the dust of the religiously minded. Man is never more truly man than when he worships God. He rises to all the heights of human dignity when he worships God, and all God’s purposes in Creation and in Redemption are fulfilled in us as together in worship we are renewed in and through Christ, and in the name of Christ we glorify God. So by the grace of God we seek to voice for all creatures the praises of God and realise our God-given destiny to be the priests of creation under Christ our Great High Priest. (“The Place of Jesus Christ in Worship,” in Theological Foundations for Ministry, 363)

God does not throw us back upon ourselves to make our response to His Word. But graciously He helps our infirmities by giving us Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to make the appropriate response for us and in us. (“The Place of Jesus Christ in Worship,” in Theological Foundations for Ministry, 359)


Worship is the natural expression of faith. . . .
Worship is essentially a dialogical activity in which we stand over against God even when we draw near to Him, distinguishing His transcendent nature from ourselves, while relating ourselves appropriately to His holiness and majesty and responding thankfully to the mercy He extends towards us.
“The Word of God and the Response of Man” in God and Rationality, 156, 157)

This is the wondrous exchange made by his boundless goodness. Having become one with us as the Son of Man, He has made us with Himself sons of God. By His own descent to the earth He has prepared our ascent to heaven. Having received our mortality, He has bestowed on us His immortality. Having taken our weakness upon Himself, He has made us strong in His strength. Having submitted to our poverty, He has transferred to us His riches. Having taken upon Himself the burden of our unrighteousness with which we are oppressed, He has clothed us with His righteousness.
(“The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper,” in Conflict and Agreement in the Church, 145)

That sacrificial act of Christ once and for all performed and enduring in His endless life in the presence of God, is realized in the life of His people, not by repetition of His substitutionary sacrifice, but by their dying and rising with Christ in faith and life, and by the worship of self-presentation to God (Rom. 12.1; I Pet. 2.5). This sacrifice of the Church in worship, ministry, and life is entirely non-propitiatory, non-piacular. It is essentially eucharistic.
(Royal Priesthood, 17)

The Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, correspondingly, is the sacrament of our continuous participation in Jesus Christ and all he has done and continues to do for us by his grace, whereby we live unceasingly not from a centre in our selves or our own doing but from a centre in Christ and his doing. It is the sacrament of our union with the whole Jesus Christ, the incarnate, crucified, risen, ascended Son, both in respect of his ministry from the Father toward mankind and in respect of his ministry from mankind toward the Father.
(The Mediation of Christ, 101)

At the Reformation this doctrine had immediate effect in the overthrow of Roman sacerdotalism—Jesus Christ is our sole Priest. He is the one and only Man who can mediate between us and God, so that we approach God solely through the mediation of the Humanity of Jesus, through his incarnate Priesthood. When the Humanity of Christ is depreciated or whenever it is obscured by the sheer majesty of his Deity then the need for some other human mediation creeps in—hence in the Dark and Middle Ages arose the need for a human priesthood to mediate between sinful humanity and the exalted Christ, the majestic Judge and King. There was of course no denial of the Deity of Christ by the Reformers—on the contrary they restored the purity of faith in Christ as God through overthrowing the accretions that compromised it; but they also restored the place occupied in the New Testament and the Early Church by the Humanity of Christ, as he who took our human nature in order to be our Priest, as he who takes our side and is our Advocate before the judgment of God, and who once and for all has wrought out atonement for us in his sacrifice on the Cross, and therefore as he who eternally stands in for us as our heavenly Mediator and High-Priest.
(Theology in Reconstruction, 166-67)

From the side of God He acts in the steadfastness of divine truth and love in judgment, from the side of man He acts in unswerving obedience to the Father. In that unity of the divine-human steadfastness the Word of God is spoken, the Word of Truth and Grace is enacted in our existence of flesh and blood, and the answer of man is given in the obedience of a perfect life, in the prayer which is the whole assent of Jesus to the will of God as it confronts the will of man: ‘Not my will but thine be done.’ That is the prayer which He teaches His people and puts on their lips: ‘Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’
(Royal Priesthood, 12-13)

At the end of the day when I kneel down and say my evening prayer, I know that no prayer of my own that I can offer to the heavenly Father is worthy of him or of power to avail with him, but all my prayer sis made in the name of Jesus Christ alone as I rest in his vicarious prayer.
(The Mediation of Christ, 98)

But what has happened in Protestant worship and ministry ? Is it not too often the case that the whole life and worship of the congregation revolves around the personality of the minister? He is the one who is in the centre; he offers the prayers of the congregation; he it is who mediates ‘truth’ through his personality, and he it is who mediates between the people and God through conducting the worship entirely on his own. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of the popular minister where everything centres on him, and the whole life of the congregation is built round him. What is that but Protestant sacerdotalism, sacerdotalism which involves the displacement of the Humanity of Christ by the humanity of the minister, and the obscuring of the Person of Christ by the personality of the minister? How extraordinary that Protestantism should thus develop a new sacerdotalism, to be sure a psychological rather than a sacramental sacerdotalism nonetheless, in which it is the personality of the minister which both mediates the Word of God to man and mediates the worship of man to God!
(Theology in Reconstruction,167)

Through his incarnational and atoning union Jesus Christ has united himself with us in such a reconciling and sanctifying way that he interpenetrates and gathers up all our faltering, unclean worship and prayer into himself, assimilates them to his one self-oblation to God, so that when he presents himself as the worship and prayer of all creation, our worship and prayer are presented there also.
(The Mediation of Christ, 98)

As High Priest in our humanity He has done for us what we could not do. He has once and for all offered to God our obedience, our response, our witness, our amen. He became our brother man and he offered on our behalf a human obedience, a human response, a human witness and a human amen, so that in Him our human answer to God in life, worship, and prayer is already completed. . . . It involves the setting aside of the obedience, response, witness, amen, and even the worship and prayer which we offer on our own. The radical significance of Christ’s substitutionary Priesthood does not lie in the fact that His perfect Self-offering perfects and completes our imperfect offerings, but that these are displaced by His completed Self-offering. We can only offer what has already been offered on our behalf, and offer it by the only mode appropriate to such a substitutionary offering, by prayer, thanksgiving and praise.
(Royal Priesthood, 14)

The very Spirit through whom He offered Himself eternally to the Father he has sent down upon us in His high-priestly blessing, fulfilling in the life of His Church on earth that which he has fulfilled on our behalf in the heavenlies. That is the indescribable mystery which the Apocalypse seeks to put into words in its opening chapter: the presence through the Spirit of the risen Christ in the midst of His Church on earth.
(Royal Priesthood, 15)


by James B. Torrance

“Contemplating the Trinitarian Mystery of Christ,” Chapter 12 in Alive to God: Studies in Spirituality, ed. J.I. Packer & Loren Wilkinson (Downers Grove IL: IVP, 1992).

“The Contribution of John McLeod Campbell to Scottish Theology,” Scottish Journal of Theology 26 (1973): 295-311.

“Covenant or Contract? A Study of the Theological Background of Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970): 51-76.

“The Doctrine of the Trinity in Our Contemporary Situation,” Chapter 1 in The Forgotten Trinity, ed. Alasdair I. C. Heron (London: British Council of Churches/CCBI, 1991).

“The Place of Jesus Christ in Worship,” Chapter 12 in Theological Foundations for Ministry, ed. Ray S. Anderson (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1979).

“The Priesthood of Jesus: A Study in the Doctrine of the Atonement” in Essays in Christology for Karl Barth, ed. T.H.L. Parker (London, Lutterworth, 1956).

“The Vicarious Humanity of Christ” in The Incarnation: Ecumenical Studies in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, AD 381, ed. Thomas F. Torrance (Edinburgh: Handsel Press, 1981).

Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997)

by Thomas F. Torrance

“Justification in Doctrine and Life,” Chap. 9 in Theology in Reconstruction (London: SCM Press, 1965)

“The Mediation of Christ in Our Human Response,” Chap. 4 in The Mediation of Christ (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1983)

“The Mind of Christ in Worship. The Problem of Apollinarianism in the Liturgy.” Chap. 4 in Theology in Reconciliation: Essays Towards Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1996)

“The Royal Priest,” Chap. 1 in Royal Priesthood (Edinburgh: Tweeddale Court, 1955)

“The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper,” Chap. 4 in Conflict and Agreement in the Church (London: Lutterworth Press, 1959)

“The Word of God and the Response of Man” and “Theological Persuasion,” Chap. 6 and Postscript in God and Rationality (London: Oxford University Press, 1997)


Edmund P. Clowney, “The Singing Savior,” Moody Monthly (July-August 1979), 40-42

Michael Glodo, “Singing with the Savior,” (Reformed Quarterly 17.1 [Spring 1998])

Reggie Kidd, “Bach, Bubba, and the Blues Brothers: The Singing Savior’s Many Voices” (Reformed Theological Seminary, Reformed Journal [Summer 1999])

Ron Man, “Jesus, Our True Worship Leader,” Artistic Theologian 2 (2013): 3-15

Reggie Kidd, With One Voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in Our Worship (Baker, 2005)

Ron Man, Proclamation and Praise: Hebrews 2:12 and the Christology of Worship (Wipf & Stock, 2007) (dedicated to James Torrance)

Sinclair Ferguson, “True Spirituality, True Worship (Hebrews 2:12-13)” Covenant College, 2004 (audio message)

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