The Quicksilver Nature of the Church: Torrance’s Commentary on Barth’s der Römerbrief

T.F. Torrance’s commentary on Barth’s der Römerbrief is sublime and sobering all at once. The American evangelical, the American mainliner, the Christian in general should take heed to the words written by Torrance in this brief surmising of TF. What stands out, to me, is the implicit order and informing theology underwriting Torrance’s observations about the nature of the church; it is that the church is not prior to Christ, but after. In other words, it is precisely at the point that the church fails to recognize that Jesus is Lord that the church functions as if it is Lord squelching the possibility for genuinely hearing from the true Lord of His church.

This is where the diastasis comes in in Barth’s diacritical doctrine of the Church. The Church cannot fulfill its function in the hands of God except by being broken, in repentance and suffering and dissolution in the hands of God, but then it is made to point beyond itself and finds its essential life in witness and mission. The tragedy of the Church is that it clutches itself and nurses itself, and regards itself as the prolongation of grace, as the extension of religious experience, and so makes itself into an ex-essential denial of grace and the supernatural kingdom of God. But that is the way that has been taken by neo-Protestantism which has attempted to construct a religion out of the Gospel, and so to set it as one human possibility in the midst of others — but that is precisely to fall from grace. “The Church which sings its triumphs and trams and popularizes and modernizes itself, in order to minister to and satisfy every need except the one; the Church which, in spite of many exposures, is still satisfied with itself, and, like Quicksilver, still seeks and finds its own level; such a Church can never succeed, be it never so zealous, never so active in ridding itself of its failings and blemishes. With or without its offenses, it can never be the Church of God, because it is ignorant of the meaning of repentance.”[1]

This is challenging; not challenging in the sense that I think it only applies to others “out there,” but challenging in the sense that it applies to me “in here.”

Of note, theologically, as I alluded to earlier, for Barth and Torrance, there is a radically christo-concentrated focus that funds their thinking (which we all know by now). In this instance we see how it informs TFT’s reading of Barth, but more pointedly how that applies to the church of Jesus Christ at large.

 

[1] [Romerbrief, 370]. Thomas F. Torrance, Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology 1910 — 1931, 91.

 

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4 comments

  1. Just excellent; my next book is on this very matter.

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  2. One of my favorite sections in that book!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kurt,

    What’s the title of that book? When is it due out?

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  4. A really excellent book, indeed, Jonathan!

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