Alan Torrance

Alan Torrance, professor of systematic theology at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, engages the apostle Paul in a response to his letter to the Colossians.

Dear Paul,

So let me get this right! Everything is created through Christ, is held together in Christ and thus needs to be interpreted with reference to Christ. Is this to suggest that absolutely every facet of creation requires to be understood in the light of the Christ Jesus – that not only the church, but our world in its totality, gender relations, race relations, our attitudes to the poor, our systems of power, our businesses, our academic, civil and political institutions and that they do…. All this requires to be understood and rethought in the light of Christ the “head”?

And are you implying that to the extent that we fail to think in these terms we are “enemies in our minds” of Christ?

Now you’re going to have to bear with me, Paul, as I’m just a simple Scotsman! Can I ask for some clarification? First, do we really need Christ to interpret creation? Creation, after all, is something to which we all have access. Are you suggesting we don’t really understand it aright until we discern the full extent of the Creator’s love for it and commitment to it as he stands in its midst as the one crucified within it and for it?

And why precisely do we need Christ for our reasoning about the world to be reconciled? Are you suggesting that the forgiveness he holds forth sheds light on current affairs, on how we approach political and religious strife, the spirals of retaliation and revenge that characterize international affairs?

But can’t we have all this without your dramatic insistence that in Christ we have the whole fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily? Isn’t it easier to think of Jesus’ place as a little more modest than you suggest, that is, more private, more spiritual and less questioning, less challenging… and less transforming, less reconciling, less liberating, even less relevant….!

I suppose the problem takes us back to the horns of the dilemma with which you confront us – namely, the Who question with which Jesus confronted Peter. Either Jesus is God, in which case all that you say does indeed seem to follow, or he is not, in which case, he becomes utterly irrelevant. Your letter is offensive because throughout, Christ compels us to front up to this. He graciously denies us the opportunity to count ourselves “moderates,” giving him a moderate place within our lives and understanding. Why is this difficult? Because this means we lose the power to moderate where he is and is not to be found in our lives and in our attitudes. And to be denied that power is to find ourselves questioned by him – and to be questioned by him in the most radical and in the deepest possible way. And that, Paul, seems hard, seriously hard!

You end your letter by asking us to remember your chains!

May Christ’s transforming presence liberate us from ours!

(Letters of Faith Through the Seasons, ed. James M. Houston, p.190f.)