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Jürgen Moltmann on the Rapture and “Left Behind”

 

Jürgen Moltmann discusses the problem of religious escapism, with a particular appeal against the rapture theory, in his book, Ethics of Hope:

Here a religious escapism is coming to the fore especially in the present spread of a vague Gnostic religiosity of redemption. The person who surrenders himself to this religiosity feels at home in ‘the world beyond’ and on earth sees himself merely as a guest. So it is only by the way he is concerned about the fate of life on this earth. His soul is going to heaven, that is the main thing. In the body and on this earth, it was no more than a guest, so the fate of this hostelry really has nothing to do with him. Religious practices lauding an indifference to life are offered under many high-sounding names. […] American pop-apocalyptic offers an especially dramatic escapism. Before the great afflictions at the end of the world, true believers will be ‘raptured’—snatched away to heaven, so that they can then build the new world with Christ at his Second Coming. All unbelievers unfortunately belong to the ‘Left Behind’, the people who are not ‘caught up’ and who will perish in the downfall of the world (‘Left Behind’ is the title of an American book series read by millions). Whether people throw themselves into the pleasures of the present or flee into the next world because they either cannot or will not withstand the threats, they destroy the love for life and put themselves at the service of terror and the annihilation of the world. Today life itself is in acute danger because in one way or the other it is no longer loved but is delivered over to the forces of destruction. 1

When our Earthly/bodily life is not loved, affirmed, and accepted, we either resign ourselves to a religious escapism or numb our senses with hedonistic pleasures. Moltmann’s ethic of hope insists that a truly Christian ethic, based on the bodily resurrection of Christ, says Yes to this life; it must include a love for our life on this Earth as human beings (not as disembodied souls).

A few years ago I wrote a book called 10 Reasons Why the Rapture Must Be Left Behind (free as an eBook). One of the ten reasons I argued against the rapture was that it promotes a kind of gnostic escapism. The rapture plays into the idea that we do not have to take care for this world (the ecological crisis is a result, in part, of this neglect), that we are not responsible for the Earth, and that we do not belong to it—because one day we will escape the Earth for a spiritual world somewhere else, while this world is annihilated.

But this is not the Christian hope. The Christian hope is hope for a new heaven and a new Earth. With Paul we must recognize that the whole creation is groaning for redemption (Rom. 8:22). We belong to this Earth. Redemption does not mean an escape from this world, but we hope that together with creation we will be made new. One of my favorite quotes from Moltmann emphasizes this point:

I don’t want to go to heaven. Heaven is there for the angels, and I am a child of the earth. But I expect passionately the world to come: The new heaven and the new earth where justice dwells, where God will wipe away every tear and make all things new. And this expectation makes life in this world for me, here and now, most lovable. 2

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Notes:

  1. Ethics of Hope, 52-3
  2. Quoted by the Moltmanniac

Our God Loves Justice by W. Travis McMaken (a Review)

Book: Our God Loves Justice: An Introduction to Helmut Gollwitzer by W. Travis McMaken (AMAZON LINK)

Publisher: Fortress Press (PUBLISHERS LINK)

Overview: McMaken’s introduction to the political theology of Helmut Gollwitzer is overflowing with thought-provoking insights, careful explanations, and important implications. I found the book easy to read, but tremendously helpful as both an introduction to Gollwitzer but also to why a Christian can (and should) be a socialist.


W. Travis McMaken’s Our God Loves Justice has been highly anticipated by those familiar with his popular theo-blog, Die Evangelischen Theologen (DET). 1 I was very excited to have the opportunity to read and review it. I brought it with me on my vacation to Portugal this past week. The strength of the book and the depth of its insights can be illustrated by the fact that I spent a great deal of my time thinking about the book as I walked along the beautiful streets of Porto and Lisbon.

The book is divided into five chapters, with two appendixes. I’ll briefly go through each chapter to give you a taste of this excellent study.

First, McMaken reflects on reading Gollwitzer in the context of America’s political and economical climate. Here McMaken shows why it is essential to read Gollwitzer today, and particularly why he hopes to initiate a conversation about his theology. This includes reflections on America’s economic inequality (think of the 1% vs. the 99%), as well as a history of Christianity’s problematic involvement with capitalism. This chapter makes it clear that right now is a critical moment in time for America, a kairos time, a fertile moment to act. McMaken begins with a clear statement:

“Helmut Gollwitzer was a socialist. He was also a Christian. And perhaps the most surprising thing, at least for those of us deeply embedded in white American Christianity, is that Gollwitzer was a socialist precisely because he was a Christian. This book tries to make sense of that ‘precisely because’ in Gollwitzer’s life and thought.” 2

Second, McMaken works through Gollwitzer’s fascinating life. This was an especially helpful chapter for introducing Gollwitzer and grasping the shape of his life and thought. I was deeply moved at times when learning about Gollwitzer’s courage, as well as the tragedies he faced. McMaken aptly titled this chapter “Grace upon Grace.” Certainly, Gollwitzer is worth reading not merely because of the fullness of his ideas, but also the fullness of his life. His closeness with Barth was also interesting to discover, such as learning that Barth spoke at his wedding and Gollwitzer spoke at Barth’s funeral. He was also Barth’s teaching assistant for a time. McMaken quotes a telling reflection Gollwitzer wrote towards the end of his life:

“the gospel has made me to constantly be a critical and admonitory voice against the severe injustices in our contemporary society… I am particularly thankful that I was allowed to be at the service of the gospel.” 3

The third and fourth chapters make up the center of the book, with Gollwitzer’s “political theology” and “theological politics” considered (respectively). Chapter three first traces Gollwitzer’s continuance of dialectical theology, and McMaken shows his expertise on the subject with a careful discussion of Barth and Bultmann. This leads to the conclusion that all theology is contextual theology, and therefore, that all theology is political. As McMaken notes,

“It is impossible to escape the political ramifications of our God-talk, even—and perhaps especially!—when we try to speak nonpolitically. It is simply impossible to do so. Either our theology supports the status quo, or it calls that status quo into question.” 4

In the fourth chapter McMaken continues to build on Gollwitzer’s theological background. For Gollwitzer, what is at stake here is “nothing less than the core concern of the Christian gospel.” Because the gospel demands “not mere intellectual assent, but embodied faithfulness.” 5 McMaken helpfully explains Gollwitzer’s understanding of socialism as it relates to the “true socialism” of the Kingdom of God. Bringing the discussion to its important conclusion, McMaken writes:

“Theological commitment to the true socialism of the kingdom of God and engagement with socialist analysis of capitalist social structures, which are antithetical to that kingdom, coalesce in Gollwitzer’s thought to make the fundamental point that Christians must take sides on political issues, and they must take the side of the oppressed. Many of those Americans today who think of themselves as Christians feel very uncomfortable when faced with this demand. As Gollwitzer correctly notes, however, taking sides ‘sounds terrifying only to him who is blind to the fact that the empirical church has actually always taken sides.’ Christians have, by and large, sided with the status quo. But the gospel’s call to repentant conversion—to metanoia—’reaches into the politico-social dimension,’ and ‘as long as we shrink from revolutionizing [that dimension], we have not really heard’ the gospel’s call. That is, we have not encountered the God who loves justice, and who is consequently served through the pursuit of political love.” 6

Fifth, McMaken concludes the discussion with Gollwitzer’s ecclesiology (doctrine of the church). The church is to be both a “danger and a help” to the world. This follows naturally from the conviction that as Christians we must take sides on political issues. McMaken writes,

“Instead of leaving the church to its comfortable domestication, ‘the one thing that matters for the church is that she should be both a danger and a help to the world.’ Gollwitzer’s ecclesiology calls for a dangerous church because a church that is not dangerous is no help at all.” 7

The two appendixes in themselves are worth the price of the book, since here McMaken translates two essays by Gollwitzer which were previously unavailable to English readers. The first is the 1972 essay, “Must a Christian Be a Socialist?” The second is the 1980 theses, “Why Am I, as a Christian, a Socialist? Theses.” I enjoyed reading directly from Gollwitzer, and I thought the essays concluded the book perfectly. In the second essay, the collection of theses, Gollwitzer states his definition of socialism:

“A socialist maintains that a better society than the current one is possible and necessary.” 8

Conclusion: Our God Loves Justice is a timely book, excellently written, clear, and passionate. I have no doubt that it will initiate a conversation in America today about the theological necessity for political engagement, and it offers a convincing argument for the cause of justice sought after through democratic socialism. I strongly recommend you purchase a copy of this book and read it thoughtfully. Click here to purchase a copy (Amazon).

My thanks to Fortress Press for a digital copy of this book for review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review, and have presented my honest reflection on this work.

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Notes:

  1. LINK
  2. Kindle Loc. 134
  3. Kindle loc. 1135, quoting from Gollwitzer, “Skizzen eines Lebens, 341; see also 341″
  4. Kindle loc. 2365
  5. Kindle loc. 2950
  6. Kindle loc. 3875
  7. Kindle loc. 4526
  8. Kindle loc. 5486

Jürgen Moltmann and Evangelical Theology: a Review

Book: Jürgen Moltmann and Evangelical Theology: A Critical Engagement edited by Sung Wook Chung (Amazon link)

Publisher: Pickwick Publications (an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers) (Publishers link)

Overview: This volume represents a fair and surprisingly appreciative engagement with Moltmann from the evangelical perspective. The weight of the book is on first understanding Moltmann before offering any criticism. As in any collection of essays such as this one, there are always essays that stand out among the rest. This volume is no different.


After I read the first essay in this book, written by Sung Wook Chung of scripture, I expected the rest of it to be largely negative. But I was pleasantly surprised. No essay is completely free from criticism, but the bulk of the essays fairly considered and appreciated the benefits of Moltmann’s theology.

It was a breath of fresh air. Most of evangelicals I’ve come across outright reject Moltmann as a heretic. They attempt to fit him into any number of labels (universalist, Marxist, open theist, etc.—however accurate or inaccurate) in order to downplay the significance of his thought. But this book does an excellent job truly celebrating the benefits evangelical theology might gain by engaging in a dialogue with his many contributions. If this book becomes a standard for the relationships evangelicals have with Moltmann, than there is tremendous hope for a profound future dialogue and mutual appreciation.

It did not surprise me at all to discover the first essay was on scripture, since evangelicals are known for their high regard of the Bible. Some of the most critical remarks were therefore against Moltmann’s theological method. Chung concludes this first essay with a remark that sets the tone well for the rest of the book: “…evangelicals cannot help maintaining an ambivalent attitude, both love and serious suspicion, toward Moltmann.” 1

The second essay was a sharp contrast against the first. Kurt Anders Richardson’s essay on “Moltmann’s Communitarian Trinity” was my favorite from the book. He treats Moltmann’s doctrine of the Trinity with the care it rightfully deserves. Many of the myths that surround Moltmann’s theology were dispelled.

One myth is Moltmann’s supposed Marxism. Richardson writes: “The Theology of Hope was actually a non-Marxist, Christian answer to Marxists.” 2 Richardson argues it is because many fail to understand the political background Moltmann writes within that they mistake him as a Marxist. He certainly appreciates elements of Marx, especially through his appreciation of Ernst Bloch; he is not, however, properly understood as writing a Marxist theology, but a Christian alternative to Marx.

Richardson also dispels the wrongful conclusion of patripassianism in The Crucified God. Patripassianism is an early modalist heresy that believed the Father suffered and died on the cross. Moltmann does argue for the grief of the Father in giving up His Son to death, but he does not confuse the death of the Son with the grief of the Father. The Son dies, and the Father suffers the loss of the Son. The label of patripassianism is wrongly applied, though some of the less attentive critics of Moltmann have jumped to that conclusion.

Against the charge that Moltmann is constructing an “extra-biblical” doctrine of the Trinity, Richardson writes: “This does not mean that Moltmann is thinking extra-biblically. On the contrary, there is much that is more biblical than the classic trinitarianism of speculative theology. It must be realized that all of the non-personal metaphors for Trinity are extra-biblical. What counts are the relational metaphors and signs of eternal relationships.” 3 This is a helpful clarification for critics of Moltmann’s “social” doctrine of the Trinity. He is thinking through with complete seriousness the doctrine of perichoresis, and as such Moltmann should be considered less speculative than those who argue for a metaphysical doctrine of God.

Richardson’s essay is a careful treatment of Moltmann’s thought, and certainly stood out as one of the best in the book. But I also enjoyed the Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen’s essay on Moltmann’s pneumatology.

The only real problem I have with the book is how repetitive it was, which made it rather boring to read even though each essay was so well written. This was because most of the essays repeated near identical biographical remarks or offered a short overview of his major books (or both). This made reading the essays, especially the first part of each, a chore. Even if I wasn’t familiar with Moltmann’s story or the development of his thought, I would find the repetition of this unnecessary. It is more of an editorial issue, however, and not directly the problem of the writers themselves. I wish the editor was more attentive to removing unnecessary repetition.

Conclusion: If this book is any indication of where the dialogue will go between Moltmann’s theology and evangelicals, then it is an excellent step forward. I recommend it for those who might find themselves on either side: whether you are an evangelical interested in Moltmann but unsure about him, or if you are appreciative of Moltmann but doubt there can be any evangelical dialogue, this is a helpful book.

My thanks to Wipf & Stock Publishers for a digital copy of this book for review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review, and have presented my honest reflection on this work.

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Notes:

  1. 16
  2. 20
  3. 32

“Love our Country or Leave it”? (Moltmann)

 

I’ve been reading Moltmann recently, and just came across a quote bearing profound relevance for American politics today.

Moltmann begins: “The cross is the point at which Christian faith distinquishes itself from other religions and ideologies, from unfaith and superstition. … It should therefore become the beginning point and criterion for a Christian political theology.” 1

Moltmann quotes Adolf Schlatter, who aptly writes: “The vocation and work of Jesus consists in his destroying our idols, and the weapons with which he nullifies our false gods is his cross.” 

The Second Commandment, “You shall not make yourself a graven image…” is particularly relevant when we consider the political idols we create for ourselves. Luther wrote, “Whatever you set your heart on and depend on, that is really your god.” And this applies no less to religious idols than it does to political idols, whether these are called “America,” “Republican,” “Liberal,” or anything else. Political idols are not absent from America.

We often fail to recognizing ourselves as a “factory for idols” (Calvin), but it is an undeniable truth we must recognize. We create idols daily. And, according to Moltmann, the only destruction of all our idols, political or otherwise, is the cross of Christ. When we see the power of God in the weakness and suffering of Christ, we no longer have valid justification for a top down power structure. In other words, we no longer have ultimate justification for faith in a political power, in a country, in an ideology.

The only justified faith in the light of the cross is faith in the crucified God who takes the side of the weak, powerless, suffering, poor, and broken. In a world where success and achievement are the highest good, we, in the name of Christ, must protest against all cultural idols of power, no matter what name they bear.

If, for example, the idol of power goes by the name “America” or “nationalism,” then it becomes a Christian obligation to resist and protest against this power structure which tramples on the weak and idolizes the successful. Think of the recent controversy surrounding the NFL and their protesting athletes, taking a knee during the National Anthem. By giving a voice to the voiceless, to those who are forgotten and ignored in our success culture, these athletes stand on the side of the crucified Christ who suffered as an outcast for the cause of the outcasted.

Those angered by their protest feel their idols, and by extension, themselves, threatened. Moltmann writes with prophetic power and an eerie relevance:

“From a psychological point of view, the unfathomable anxiety of man causes him to create for himself symbols, idols, and values which then become identical with his self. Every attack against his idols therefore wounds his ‘highest values,’ and he reacts to this with deadly aggression. As long as his self depends on such idols and idolized realities, man is not free to accept the different kind of life of another along with his own life. He only accepts men who are like him. He only accepts men who value the same things and abhor the same things as he does because these men confirm him. Strangers put him in question and make him uncertain. Hence the attitude: ‘Love our country or leave it.’ This is the basis for xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and racial hatred. The liberation of man from the anxiety and the coercive force of such idols is therefore the presupposition for humanity and peace on earth.” 2

Liberation from this anxiety is only in the cross of Christ, when we recognize that this is God’s Christ suffering and dying as an outcast, as a political tool, in solidarity with the weak, poor, and helpless. The cross is the ultimate undoing of all our idols of success and power. Even if that idol is named “America,” we are obligated as Christians to protest in the name of the crucified Christ, who is triumphant in suffering and weakness, who is on the side of the poor and the outcasted.

To those of you angered by these protests, I want to ask you: Where is the cross of Christ? Do you see Christ on the side of the rich and the successful refusing to give a voice to the voiceless? Or, if you’re honest, don’t you see Christ in the eyes of those protesting in the name of the violence done to the poor and weak?

Few people groups suffer more violently and more often in our country than the African-American. By silencing their protests, be careful you are not turning a deaf ear to the suffering cry of Christ in solidarity with the weak.

May our idols of power come undone at the cross of Christ. And may we be attentive to listen to Christ’s cry of solidarity with the weak and the voiceless.

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Notes:

  1. The Experiment Hope110
  2.  Ibid., 112-3

The Best Writing Advice I’ve Heard in a Long Time

I recently discovered an excellent youtube channel called Storytellers. I found some of their video essays when I was searching around for an analysis of the Coen brother’s film, Fargo. Storytellers did an excellent analysis of the film, which you can check out here.

But a gem among their other movie-related videos is a profound study on the nature of creativity. This is without a doubt the best piece of writing advice I’ve heard in a long time, which borrows mostly from Steven Pressfield’s book The War of ArtI read Pressfield’s book a few years back, and this video reminded me of the brilliance of that book.

Pressfield’s book hits you hard with warning after warning against creative “resistance,” and offers bountiful motivation to overcome its snare. One of my favorite quotes from the book is from the first few pages:

 

“You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study… Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”

 

It’s certainly an overstatement to blame World War II on Hitler’s failure as an artist, but it illustrates Pressfield’s point exceptionally well. To be creative is to fight resistance day after day after day. Most people will give in and settle, but it’s possible to beat resistance and fulfill your creative potential.

Enjoy this excellent video:

 

 

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I Was “Born Again” 2,000 Years Ago (T. F. Torrance)

 

Shortly after becoming the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the esteemed theologian Thomas F. Torrance was asked whether or not he was “born again.” Naturally he said yes, he was born again. But then he was asked, “When were you born again?” Torrance startled his inquisitor with this reply,

 

“I still recall his face when I told him that I had been born again when Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary and rose again from the virgin tomb, the first-born of the dead. When he asked me to explain I said: ‘This Tom Torrance you see is full of corruption, but the real Tom Torrance is hid with Christ in God and will be revealed only when Jesus Christ comes again. He took my corrupt humanity in his Incarnation, sanctified, cleansed and redeemed it, giving it new birth, in his death and resurrection.’ In other words, our new birth, our regeneration, our conversion, are what has taken place in Jesus Christ himself, so that when we speak of our conversion or our regeneration we are referring to our sharing in the conversion or regeneration of our humanity brought about by Jesus in and through himself for our sake. In a profound and proper sense, therefore, we must speak of Jesus Christ as constituting in himself the very substance of our conversion, so that we must think of him as taking our place even in our acts of repentance and personal decision, for without him all so-called repentance and conversion are empty. Since a conversion in that truly evangelical sense is a turning away from ourselves to Christ, it calls for a conversion from our in-turned notions of conversion to one which is grounded and sustained in Christ Jesus himself.” 1

 

This quote summarizes so well what attracts me to the theology of Thomas F. Torrance (and the same could be said for Karl Barth). The objective nature of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ is central for Torrance, but it is not central to the point of losing all subjectivity. Perhaps better than any theologian I’ve read, Torrance balances this exceptionally well. The objective work of God does not cancel out the need for a personal response. In Jesus Christ God has acted fully and completely on our behalf for our salvation, and apart from Him we would not be saved. However, this does not exclude our participation in Christ’s humanity, or response within His vicarious response.

Torrance would often say, “all of grace means all of man”. We tend to think that either “all of grace” means “none of man”, or that “some of man” means “some of grace”. Torrance rightly affirms both aspects, offering a profoundly evangelical presentation of the gospel in which salvation is wholly by God’s grace—but it is grace which does not destroy our human nature and response, but completes it.

Feel free to borrow Torrance’s reply the next time someone asks you when you were “born again”!

 

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500 Years of Outrageous Grace (R. Capon)

This month celebrates the 500th anniversary of the protestant reformation. On the 31st of October, 1517, Martin Luther sent his famous 95 Theses to the Archbishop of Mainz. This sparked a movement that changed the world, putting the bible into the hands of everyday people, and revitalizing the doctrine of justification by grace alone.

In the spirit of this occasion I wanted to share one of my favorite quotes about the reformation, from an author who revitalized my own understanding of grace in a profound way, Robert Farrar Capon. Capon’s book Between Noon and Three remains one of the most shocking books I’ve read on the subject of grace. It impacted me tremendously and remains a favorite book of mine.

Capon writes about the reformation in wonderfully expressively language, calling it a time when people went “blind staggering drunk” with God’s grace. In celebration of the reformation may we all spend some time meditating on the grace of God which saves us “single-handedly”.

The Reformation was a time when people went blind-staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellarful of fifteen-hundred-year-old, 200-proof grace—of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture that would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The Word of the Gospel, after all those centuries of believers trying to lift themselves into heaven by worrying about the perfection of their own bootstraps, suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home free even before they started. …Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case. 1

A 1517 printing of Luther’s 95 Theses:

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Notes:

  1. Between Noon and Three, 109-110

Divine Interpretation by T.F. Torrance: a Review

Book: Divine Interpretation: Studies in Medieval and Modern Hermeneutics by Thomas F. Torrance (edited by Adam Nigh and Todd Speidell) (AMAZON LINK)

Publisher: Pickwick Publications (an imprint of Wipf&Stock) (PUBLISHERS LINK)

Overview: Released only this month, this collection of essays by Torrance is a valuable addition to his current body of work. While the two essays on Barth stood out as the high points of the book, each essay was a masterful piece of scholarship.


Undoubtably, the great benefit of this book is the republication of two important essays on Karl Barth written by Torrance and published in the now out of print (and therefore very costly) volume, Karl Barth: Biblical and Evangelical TheologianI’ve wanted to read this book for some time now, but the near $100 price tag has prohibited me from getting my hands on a copy.

The essays “Karl Barth and the Latin Heresy” and “Karl Barth, Theologian of the Word”, were naturally the high point of the book for me. Yesterday I posted an article examining several quotations from the first essay. Reading my article from yesterday will give you a taste of this essay, which you can do so by clicking here.

Continue Reading…

T.F. Torrance on Universalism and Limited Atonement (as Dual Heresies)

I’ve been reading the newly released collection of essays by T.F. Torrance, Divine Interpretation: Studies in Mediaeval and Modern HermeneuticsWipf & Stock Publishers were kind enough to send me a review copy, and when I finish reading the book I will be posting my final thoughts here. But I wanted to share an important quote from the book before then.

I was excited to discover that this collection reprints an important essay Torrance wrote, which prior to this book was only available in the costly out of print study, Karl Barth: Biblical and Evangelical TheologianThis essay is entitled “Karl Barth and the Latin Heresy”, and includes some profoundly important remarks about how Torrance places Barth within the western tradition.

Especially insightful, however, is how Torrance explains the “dual heresy” of universalism on one side and limited atonement on the other. I’ll let Torrance explain more himself in this insightful quote. Comments in between quotations are my own, and bold text is also mo own emphasis. Enjoy! Continue Reading…