By permission from Professor Elmer Colyer from his book, How to Read T F Torrance pp 35 – 51
We did not stop at Guanshien but skirted round it and crossed over the main course of the Min river by a wide new bridge that was still being constructed, and then turned left on to the road winding through the steep awesome gorges of the Minvalley. The road leads on to Songpan County and where the giant Panda Reserve is located about 265 kilometers from Chengdu. . . . The road up the left bank of the Min was very broken and very rough, for here and there the surface had been churned up by floods and was even washed away at places. . . . Every now and then we had to negotiate a landslide, so travel slow and up and down. Unfortunately after about ten kilometers or so, we hit a rock which holed the sump, so that all the oil leaked out, and we were left stranded.
Thomas F. Torrance, Journal Of My Visit To Hong Kong, Chengdu and Wenchuan
In 1994 Thomas F. Torrance traveled to the remote Minshan mountains of Wenchuan area of China as a Christian emissary to the indigenous Qiang people. He carried with him a money belt bearing 11,200 yuan, part of a larger gift of money for rebuilding churches destroyed by the communist takeover in 1935.(1) Needless to say, the undertaking offers a rather unusual image of an eighty–year–old scholar and theologian. The incident is important because it reveals part of the origin of Torrance’s evangelical and missionary perspective that informs his life as a Christian, a minister of the gospel and a theologian concerned with evangelizing all areas of human life and thought. (2) You see, Torrance was also on his way to the place he called home for the first fourteen years of his life.
Thomas F. Torrance was born in Chengdu, in the province of Sichuan, West China, on August 30, 1913. He lived there until 1927 when he returned to Scotland with his parents (a furlough year). (3) The oldest son of missionaries (Rev. Thomas and Mrs. Annie E. Torrance), Torrance says, ”My parents were my first and best teachers in theology and that still remains true.“ (4) He describes his father as coming from a strong evangelical Church of Scotland piety and his mother as an Anglican trained to be a missionary. (5) Sheleft a particularly strong imprint on Torrance, for after their furlough in 1927 his father returned to the mission field for another seven years while the rest of the family remained in Scotland.
Torrance describes his mother as ”a woman of the greatest spiritual depth, prayer life, and theological insight,“ and the real theologian of the family. (6) Being raised in a Christian and missionary home meant that “belief in God simply pervaded everything“ and so belief in God “always seemed so natural“ to Torrance. (7) Torrance’s younger brother, David, tells that their parents gathered the family for worship, reading of Scrip-ture and prayer (while kneeling) every day. (8)
All of the Torrance children (Torrance has two brothers and three sisters) are in full-time Christian ministry of one form or another. (9) From his earliest memories through his years at New College under H. R. Mackintosh, Torrance intended to be a missionary. (10) Unquestionably, the life and piety of his parents had an enormous impact on Torrance which appears repeatedly in the evangelical and doxological ambiance of his life and publications. (11)
In Scotland, Torrance attended school and worked extremely hard to catch up on his studies. The Chengdu Canadian Mission School that he attended in China (1920-1927) was very deficient by Scottish standards. However, by 1931, after several years of intense study, Torrance had become a Dux (a senior scholar in Latin and Greek), and moved on to the university a year early. (12)
During this period (1927-1931) Scotland experienced dramatic unemployment and housing shortages. The Torrance family (minus his father who had returned to China) lived in a house in Bellshill in Lanarkshire. Torrance describes it as a ”very, very difficult life“ which he does not ”look back upon with pleasure.“(13)
At the University of Edinburgh (1931-1934) Torrance studied classics (Latin and Greek) and philosophy. Two of his most formative teachers were Norman Kemp Smith, an authority on Kant and Hume, and A. E. Taylor, who was an expert in Platonic thought. (14) As a missionary family maintaining two households on a meager income, the Torrances were not well off financially. This meant that Thomas had to complete his M.A. in three years rather than four and then move on to New College and the divinity faculty.
Here he concentrated on systematic theology, though the first two years (1934-1936) were largely devoted to Greek, Hebrew and biblical studies. Torrance’s proficiency in all phases of Greek—classical, septuagintal, New Testament, patristic and modern—earned him a John Stuart Blackie Fellowship and enabled Torrance to pursue studies in the Middle East, three months in Palestine and the Arab countries, and in Turkey and Greece for an additional three months. (15)
At New College, Torrance’s influential mentors were H. R. Mackintosh and Daniel Lamont. (16) Mackintosh introduced Torrance to the theology of Karl Barth in 1935. Torrance purchased and read Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics I/1 as soon as it came out in English translation in 1936. 17 This was an ”immensely exhilarating“ experience and Torrance found himself captivated by Barth’s insight into the ontology and objectivity of the Word of God, God himself in his revelation. What especially gripped Torrance, was Barth’s ”account of the Trinitarian content, structure and dynamism of God’s self-revelation as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, expounded in terms of the biblical roots of our Christian faith and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.“ (18)
At this early stage of his theological development Torrance became utterly convinced that any rigorous scientific approach to Christian theology must begin with actual knowledge of God reached through God’s self-rev-elation in Christ and the Holy Spirit. Theology’s task is to inquire into the essential connections embodied in this knowledge of God as it arises out of God’s self-revelation and self-communication to us. (19) This implied for Torrance ”that the Incarnation constitutes the ontological ground of our knowledge of God and must be allowed to occupy its controlling centre. But it also meant that if the activity of the Holy Spirit is to be taken seriously both divine revelation and our understanding of it must be thought out in dynamic and not in static terms.“ (20) Despite his intense interest in these kinds of fundamental theological questions, Torrance’s intention at this point was still to enter the mission field. During his second year at New College, he had organized a large meeting (a missionary conference) with students and invited Robert Wilder, one of the founders of the Student Volunteer Movement, from the United States as a speaker in order to recruit others for missionary service. (21)
However, Torrance won a scholarship for three years of postgraduate work and decided to study in Basel with Barth. So in 1937 he went off first to the Hegelhaus in Berlin to work on his German. He stayed for only a month since Mussolini was coming to Berlin and Torrance sensed that he was already under suspicion. (22) From there he traveled to Marburg where he continued his German studies and met Rudolf Bultmann. When Torrance finally arrived in Basel to study with Karl Barth, he ”proposed as a thesis to work out a scientific account of Christian dogmatics from its Christological and soteriological center and in the light of its constitutive Trinitarian structure.“(23) Barth thought this was a bit ambitious! After Torrance told Barth that he saw the inner bond giving coherence to the whole structure of Christian theology in ”the unique kind of connection found in Grace,“ Barth suggested that Torrance look at the way in which grace came to be understood in the second century. (24)The result was Torrance’s thesis, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers. (25)
The two semesters spent with Barth ”made an immense impact“ on Torrance. (26) He heard Barth’s lectures on the doctrine of God that later became Church Dogmatics II/1, read I/2 and engaged in intense theological discussion with his Doktorvater (academic supervisor) in public and private seminars. (27) Many years later Torrance commented that Barth’s ”doctrine of God is simply the best thing of its kind.“ (28)
A Year in the States
Upon returning home to Scotland in 1938 after his first two semesters with Barth, Torrance was persuaded by John Baillie to take over his old position at Auburn Seminary in upstate New York. This provided an opportunity for Torrance to work through all that he had learned from Barth in the context of preparing lectures to seminarians.
At the same time Torrance lectured on the interrelation between Christian theology and natural science and ”began to clear the ground for a rigorous Christian dogmatics expressed within the contingent rational order with which the Creator has marvelously endowed the universe.“ (29) It was an extremely enjoyable year and Torrance made many life-long friends, which helps account for his numerous trips to the United States over the years.
This early emphasis on the interrelations between theology and science is crucial since it reveals a theme that runs throughout Torrance’s career and his publications: the need for dialogue between theology and natural science and for a scientific theology as methodologically rigorous as the hard sciences. (30)
Part of the impetus behind Torrance’s concern here is the fact that he had relatives who were scientists, like Sir Bernard Lovell, a cousin of Torrance’s wife. In the course of a conversation about science and theology, Lovell asked Torrance about his scientific method in theology. Torrance found that he had a lot of work to do to even be able to talk with Lovell about the interrelations between science and theology. This led Torrance into twenty years of hard study of modern science, particularly physics and philosophy of science, and has marked him as one of the most knowledgeable theologians in this area.(31) Toward the end of the academic year (1939) Princeton University contacted Torrance (now twenty-five years old) concerning their new Department of Religion which was to be the first such department at any university in the United States.(32) He met with the committee; Theodore Green, the professor of philosophy, told Torrance that he would have students from diverse backgrounds—unbelievers and believers, agnostics and atheists, Christians and Jews—and that he would have to teach in a disinterested and detached kind of way so as not to offend anyone. Green added, ”There must be no proselytizing.“ (33)Torrance responded that he would rather ”teach theology as a science“ where you do not ”think in a detached, disinterested way; you think as you are compelled to think by the evidential grounds upon which you work.“ (34) Torrance further explained what he meant and added that he could not guarantee that if he taught theology in this way no one would be converted!
Much to Torrance’s surprise, they offered him the position. But it was well after Easter in the spring of 1939 and the situation in Europe was ominous. After breakfast one morning, as he and Emil Brunner (who had been lecturing at Princeton) walked past the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton discussing all of this, Brunner turned to Torrance and said, ”I think we should both return [to Europe] before the submarines start!“ (35) Torrance immediately decided to turn down the position at Princeton and shortly thereafter left for Scotland intent on becoming an army chaplain. (36)
However, there was a two-year waiting list for chaplains, so Torrance went to Oriel College, Oxford, to work on his dissertation. Within a year he completed the basic work for the thesis. Toward the end of the school year (1940), under some pressure from the Church of Scotland, Torrance accepted a call to serve the parish of Alyth, Perthshire, a small country town of three thousand a few miles northwest of Dundee, where he was a parish minister from 1940 to 1943. He describes this as one of the happiest times of his life in ministry. (37)
Again in 1943 Torrance went to Edinburgh with the hope of becoming an army chaplain. Once again there were no openings, though he discovered that the Church of Scotland desperately needed a minister for the Huts and Canteens project in the Middle East. Within a few days, Torrance was on his way to the Holy Land where he served not only as a chaplain for the Huts and Canteens, but acted as an army chaplain as well. (38) Six months later Torrance joined the Tenth Indian Division and he served in Italy until the end of the war as a chaplain working primarily with an English battalion, The King’s Own Royal Rifles. Torrance insisted on serving front-line troops whenever possible. This placed him in constant danger. Once while on patrol, Torrance and the English soldiers crossed the German line and came under heavy fire. Only Torrance and one soldier made it out alive. Another time, lying in a ditch while being shelled, the soldiers on either side of Torrance were killed, though Torrance escaped uninjured. (39)
Experiences like these crystallized for Torrance that Christian theology has to be able to ground one’s existence amidst the most acute moments of life and death. Torrance later called theologies without this kind of existential depth ”paper theology“—interesting reading, but inadequate for living and dying. (40) His service was exemplary not only as a minister of the gospel to wounded and dying soldiers, but as an entrepreneur in various causes during the Italian campaign. (41) In 1944 Torrance was awarded the M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire) for his bravery.
The Postwar Period
After the war, Torrance returned to the parish in Alyth where he completed his thesis on The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers and had it published (1946 and again in 1948). Torrance returned to Basel for what he describes as a ”fearful“rigorosum (the oral examination for his D.Theol.). (42)
Once he had completed his degree, Torrance returned to the parish in Alyth. That same year (1946) he married Margaret Spear, who, like his mother, was an Anglican. Torrance regards being married and having a family as the best thing he ever did in life. (43)
The following year (1947) they moved to the large Beechgrove Church in Aberdeen where H. R. Mackintosh, A. J. Gossip and J. S. Stewart had all been ministers. (44) Torrance has no regrets about having served ten years in parish ministry. Again and again he found that ”the fundamental theological questions were the very stuff of the deep anxieties of the human heart.“(45) Indeed, parish ministry enabled, rather than hindered, him to think theologically. (46)
During his three years at Beechgrove, Torrance published a book called Calvin’s Doctrine of Man (1949) in an attempt to untangle the debate between Barth and Brunner, who both appealed to Calvin on the relation between nature and grace. (47)He also founded the Scottish Journal of Theology which he co-edited with J. K. S. Reid for over thirty years (1948-1982). He had already started the Scottish Church Theological Society in 1945. (48) Thus Torrance became heavily involved in theological education and renewal in Scotland.
Professor in Edinburgh
In 1950 the Torrance family (now with two children; the third was born in Edinburgh) moved to Edinburgh where Tom began his teaching career as professor of church history at New College. After two years, he switched to the chair of Christian dogmatics, which he held until his retirement in 1979. (49)
During the early years at New College, Torrance taught most of the main loci of theology, except for the doctrine of God, including the Trinity (much to Torrance’s disappointment), which fell under the domain of the chair of divinity held first by John Baillie, and then his successor, John McIntyre. (50) In the postgraduate program, however, he was free to teach in other areas such as ecumenical and historical theology (including regular seminars on the Greek patristic texts) and epistemology (what Torrance calls ”philosophy of the science of theology“). (51)
Also in 1952 Torrance organized a team of scholars (including Geoffrey Bromiley as coeditor) and began the monumental task of preparing and overseeing the English translation of Karl Barth’s Kirchliche Dogmatik. The project took twenty-five years (the index volume published in 1977) and kept Torrance in sustained and intense interaction with Barth’s theology throughout much of his career. (52) Despite some rather significant disagreements with Barth, this extended encounter with the Kirchliche Dogmatik un-questionably shaped the contours of Torrance’s own theological horizon. (53)
The connection between Torrance and Barth is extremely significant. In fact, Torrance says that one of his greatest regrets in life is that while Barth wanted Torrance to be his successor at Basel (the Rektor of the University, Professor Oscar Cullmann, wrote Torrance about the position), Torrance was unable to do so because he did not want to subject his children (two sons and a daughter) to the disruptive change in culture and language in a move from Edinburgh to Basel. (54)
Torrance’s literary productivity from 1952 onward is phenomenal. In addition to the Church Dogmatics, he also edited (with an introduction and historical notes) the three-volume Tracts and Treatises on the Reformation by John Calvin(1958) and the twelve-volume Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, with D. W. Torrance (1959-1973). (55) Two other important early works are Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology (1962) and Theology in Reconstruction (1965). The latter is a roughly trinitarian collection of Torrance’s lectures, many of which were previously published in various journals in the early sixties. Between 1946 and 1965 Torrance published more than ten books and roughly 150 articles and reviews.
One of his important books, Theological Science (1969), received the first Collins Award in Britain for the best work in theology, ethics and sociology relevant to Christianity for 1967-1969. It is part of an early trilogy of books—along with Space, Time and Incarnation (1969) and God and Rationality (1971)—designed to prepare the way for a rigorous dogmatics expressed within the modern scientific context. (56) All three books are methodological in focus and together present theology as a distinct and dogmatic science rigorously governed by the unique nature of its object, God in his self-revelation. Torrance intends to lay bare and test the rational basis of knowledge of God, including the theological concepts used to express this knowledge along with their spatial and temporal ingredients.
Torrance has also contributed significantly to Reformation and Patristic studies. In addition to his book on Calvin’s Doctrine of Man mentioned above, Torrance has written on the eschatology of Luther, Butzer and Calvin (Kingdom and Church, 1956), The Hermeneutics of John Calvin (1988), and Scottish Theology From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell (1996). His book The Trinitarian Faith (1988) deals with the theology embodied in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, and is one of the books with which Torrance is most pleased. (57)
Recently Torrance published a collection of essays on Divine Meaning: Studies in Patristic Hermeneutics (1995). This represents the first of a three-volume history of hermeneutics and epistemology designed to ”collapse modern biblical interpretation from behind“ since Torrance thinks it ”is basically wrong.“ (58) Though the subsequent volumes have not appeared in print, quite a bit of the material has been published as long articles in various journals and other books.
In 1969 Torrance became a member of the International Academy of Religious Sciences (Académie Internationale des Sciences Religieuses) through Stanislav Dockx, a Dominican scientist and theologian, and Gerard Phillips of Leuven, a Belgian dogmatician who had written the final edition of theLumen Gentium for Vatican II and who was president of the Academy at the time. Two years later when Phillips died, Torrance was elected president of the Academy and served in this position from 1972 to 1981. This further expanded Torrance’s contact with continental theologians through involvement in international seminars and discussions. (59)
These connections led Torrance into the sister academy, the International Academy of the Philosophy of Sciences (Académie Internationale de Philosphie des Sciences), in 1976. This is an organization primarily of scientists, mathematicians and physicists. Here Torrance became even more deeply immersed in international scientific work and in cross-disciplinary dialogue between theology and the natural sciences. (60) In fact, Torrance’s recognition from scientists is sometimes greater than from other theologians. He is one of the few theologians who have edited a scientific text: James Clerk Maxwell, A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field.(61)
Torrance had also been deeply involved in the ecumenical movement under the auspices of the World Council of Churches. (62) He attended the Faith and Order Conference in Lund, Sweden, in 1952 and served on the Faith and Order Commission from 1952 to 1962. Between 1950 and 1958 Torrance participated in the conversations between the Church of Scotland and the Anglican Church. Torrance was also involved in the 1954 meetings of the World Council of Churches in Evanston, Illinois; the Faith and Order Commission in Chicago, Illinois; and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in Princeton, New Jersey. The essays contained in Conflict and Agreement in the Church, Volumes I & II (1959 and 1960, many published previously in various journals) all arise directly or indirectly out of Torrance’s early years in ecumenical dialogue. (63)
As noted above, Torrance’s family has embodied ecumenicity. There have been several generations of familial interconnections between the Church of Scotland and the Church of England, as in the case of Torrance’s parents. In addition, Torrance’s wife, Margaret, has been a member of both churches, and two of their children were confirmed in both as well. (64)
Torrance has been a key figure in the dialogue between the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Greek Orthodox Church, which began in 1977. This led to a series of consultations between 1979 and 1983. The progress during these years was so impressive that all fourteen Orthodox Churches in the Pan-Orthodox Communion were invited to participate.
Further consultations led to a ”Joint Statement of the Official Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches“ issued on March 13, 1991, in Geneva announcing that an ”agreed Statement on the Holy Trinity“ had been reached. (65) The results of these discussions are found in two volumes edited by Torrance: Theological Dialogue Between Orthodox and Reformed Churches, Volumes I & II (1985 and 1993). (66) These connections with the Orthodox Church are so significant that in 1973 Torrance was made an honorary Protopresbyter of the Greek Orthodox Church within the Patriarchate of Alexandria, and in Addis Ababa he was consecrated during a Eucharistic service as a Presbyter by Methodios, the Archbishop of Axum.
Honors and Lectureships
In 1978 Torrance was awarded the Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion for his contributions in theology and its relation to natural science. He has received at least eight honorary doctorates. Torrance is a Fellow of the British Academy (1982) and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1979). Always deeply involved in the church, Torrance served as Moderator of the Church of Scotland in 1976-1977.
Among his many lectureships, several are especially noteworthy. Torrance has lectured all over the world and in the United States nearly every year since 1959 when he gave the Hewett Lectures at Union Theological Seminary (New York) and Andover Newton Theological School (Massachusetts). He gave the Taylor Lectures at Yale in 1971, the Warfield Lectures at Princeton in 1981 and the Payton Lectures at Fuller Theological Seminary that same year. (67) Many of Torrance’s books are related to these lectureships. (68)
Anyone intent on seriously reading Thomas F. Torrance must carefully work through a series of his mature publications. This is not to say that his earlier works are unimportant. Indeed there are significant theological topics in Torrance’s previous publications not covered in his later writings. But the following books are crucial for understanding the basic topography of Torrance’s thought.
Transformation and Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge: Explorations in the Interrelations of Scientific and Theological Enterprise (1984) is a collection of previous published articles primarily on epistemology. (69) These essays locate Torrance’s epistemic convictions within modern philosophy and science from Descartes and Newton through Hume and Kant to Clerk Maxwell, Albert Einstein and Michael Polanyi. It also includes a chapter, ”Natural Theology in the Thought of Karl Barth,“ indicating where Torrance differs from Barth on this subject in relation to epistemology.
Another of Torrance’s most important books, Reality and Scientific Theology (1985), deals with many of the same themes; however, this book develops them into a more comprehensive statement of his theological method, what he prefers to call ”philosophy of theology,“ a rigorous discipline roughly analogous to philosophy of science and aimed at clarifying the process and epistemological structure of theological science. (70) This book is the first volume of a series called Theology and Science at the Frontiers of Knowledge, written by scientists and theologians, and designed to further a reconstruction of the foundations of knowledge taking place in the post-Einsteinian, post-Barthian era. Torrance is the editor of this series of interdisciplinary and creative works intended to carry the transformation forward. (71)
In Reality and Evangelical Theology (1982) Torrance deals with the nature of theological and biblical interpretation of divine revelation and should be read in relation to the two books just mentioned. Together these three books provide an overview of Torrance’s mature reflections on theological method and related areas. They can also be read along with Torrance’s earlier trilogy (Theological Science; Space, Time and Incarnation; andGod and Rationality) and the introduction in Space, Time, and Resurrection (1976) for a more comprehensive picture of this whole area of Torrance’s thought.
Four additional recent books provide an overview of the doctrinal content of Torrance’s theology. The first, The Mediation of Christ (1984, 1992), deals with the person and work of Christ and is the most accessible entry into Torrance’s theology for seminarians and pastors. Readers should use the revised edition, which contains an additional chapter on ”The Atonement and the Holy Trinity.“
The Trinitarian Faith (1988), mentioned above, is an exposition of The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (the book’s subtitle) as it came to expression in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed formulated in A.D. 381. However, since Torrance has been so deeply influenced by the Greek fathers, the book also serves as an introduction to many of the principal themes of Torrance’s own theology. It is an excellent choice for those interested in his position on the doctrines covered in the creed.
Torrance’s recent book Karl Barth: Biblical and Evangelical Theologian (1990) is significant because it not only reveals Torrance’s relationship to Barth, but because Torrance’s own theological vision shines through many of the book’s essays. In particular, the chapters ”Karl Barth, Theologian of the Word,“ ”My Interaction with Karl Barth,“ ”Natural Theology in the Thought of Karl Barth,“ ”Karl Barth and Patristic Theology“ and ”Karl Barth and the Latin Heresy“ all provide important insights into Torrance’s own theological agenda and also the way in which he has appropriated Barth’s achievement.
The doctrine of the Trinity is the subject of Torrance’s book The Christian Doctrine of God (1996). It is probably the most significant and difficult of all of his publications. It represents what might have been the first volume of a three-volume dogmatics that Torrance proposed fifteen years ago. (72) The book is of particular interest for several reasons. The first four chapters deal with methodological considerations concerning how the doctrine of the Trinity arises out of the biblical witness and within the evangelical and doxological life of the church. (73) This is an intriguing section because here one can see Torrance’s epistemology and method in operation on one of the central and methodologically perplexing doctrines of the Christian faith.
The second half of the book presents Torrance’s creative restatement of the Christian doctrine of God, which will undoubtedly be one of the most important treatments of the Trinity well into the new millennium. What is particularly impressive and illuminating is that Torrance’s approach is holistic rather than discursive—the whole is understood out of itself with subsidiary attention to the parts, not simply by progressing through the constitutive parts. As I noted in the introduction, this is also one of the features of Torrance’s theology that accounts for its difficulty and for repeated misunderstanding of it even by professional theologians.
These key recent publications present the core of Torrance’s theological achievement. They represent his mature Christian theological position on issues related to theological method and on the positive content of his work on the central themes of theology. Students and scholars should begin with these publications and then branch out into Torrance’s various articles written over the past fifteen years and into his earlier publications.
The Man Behind the Persona
My first personal encounter with Tom Torrance was nothing like what I had expected. I had heard stories about a scholar whose erudition and passion often intimidated and demolished theological opponents. (75) In the spring of 1991 I was part of a small group of pastors and doctoral students who met with him at Princeton to discuss his new book, The Trinitarian Faith. He was most certainly erudite, but his unassuming humility and graciousness made the two-day event all the more memorable.
I liked the man immediately. There was a certain childlike humor and joy about him that was quite winsome and reminded me of Elton True-blood in his later years. Life and Work magazine carried an article about Torrance when he was elected moderator of the Church of Scotland, describing him as a ”brilliant, unassuming, immensely likeable man.“ (76) It may be that Torrance has mellowed with age, as did his Doktorvater, Karl Barth.
The characteristic of Torrance’s life, and Torrance the man, that intrigues me the most is his missionary sensibility. His childhood on the mission field in inland China and his return to the mountains of Wenchuan county in 1994 to deliver financial resources for the rebuilding of churches planted by his father serve somewhat like bookends for his life. I view Thomas F. Torrance as an evangelical missionary who became a theologian without ever ceasing to be an evangelist. His audience has not been the indigenous people of China, but his goals have been the theological renewal of the church and the evangelization of the foundations of modern scientific culture.
1) Torrance writes that he returned to the area ”particularly with the hope of encouraging the Qiang Christians in the Mountains of Wenchuan County and finding ways to help them rebuild some of the churches destroyed by the contingents of Mao’s forces in the summer of 1935 when in the course of their ‘Long March’ they found Christian communities in the valleys of the Min and To rivers. I had particularly in mind the Church at Tongmenwai at the entrance to Longqi Township where my father has established his mission headquarters in the summer months“ (unpublished Journal of My Visit to Hong Kong, Chengdu and Wenchuan, April 22-June 3, 1994, p. 1). Back
2) See I. John Hesselink, ”A Pilgrimage in the School of Christ,“Reformed Review 38, no. 1 (autumn 1984): 49, 60. As a theologian, Torrance sees himself as an intellectual evangelist helping the church evangelize the entire culture. His years of dialogue with scientists needs to be viewed in this light. See Torrance’s interview with Michael Bauman in Bauman’s book,Roundtable: Conversations with European Theologians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990), p. 114. Also see Thomas F. Torrance, Reality and Scientific Theology (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1985), pp. ix-x for the general foreword to the ?rst volume in the series Theology and Science at the Frontiers of Knowledge. Torrance was the general editor of the series.Back
3) Hesselink, ”A Pilgrimage,“ p. 49 Back
4) Ibid. Back
5) Ibid. Back
6) Ibid., p. 50. Also see Torrance’s interview with Michael Bauman, in Bauman, Roundtable, p. 111. He also tells of a rather amusing incident while the family was still in China in which his mother and father were having an argument about bishops and his father was getting the worst of it. As his father went out into the garden somewhat ”crestfallen,“ Thomas went after him and slipped his hand into his father’s who looked down at him ”and shook his head and said, ‘Your mother and her bishops!’ “ (Hesselink, ”Pilgrimage,“ p. 50). Back
7) Bauman, Roundtable, p. 111. Back
8) See David W. Torrance, ”Thomas Forsyth Torrance: Minister of the gospel, Pastor and Evangelical Theologian,“ in The Promise of Trinitarian Theology: Theologians in Dialogue with T. F. Torrance, ed. Elmer M. Colyer (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Little?eld, forthcoming), p. 3. The Torrance family continued this practice even when the children were attending university, though still living at home. It was ”a very happy home“ (see p. 2).Back
9) Hesselink, ”Pilgrimage,“ p. 50. Torrance’s brothers are both ministers in the Church of Scotland. His three brothers-in-law are also ministers: two went as missionaries to Nyasaland and Rhodesia and the other, Ronald Wallace, was a Calvin scholar and professor at Columbia Seminary in the United States. Back
10) A missionary to Tibet, no less! Ibid., pp. 49, 52. Back
11) Ibid., pp. 49-50. Torrance refers to the impact of his parents on his life even in his theological writings: ”I had been brought up by my parents in the Evangelical and Reformed Faith and learned from them how to dwell in the Holy Scriptures by reading several chapters of the Bible every day and letting them soak into the depths of my being, a habit I have continued all my life. The godliness of my father and my mother begot in me a biblical and theological instinct similar to their own upon which I have implicitly relied in all my basic judgements as a minister of the gospel and a theologian“ (Thomas F. Torrance, Karl Barth: Biblical and Evangelical Theologian [Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1990], p. 83). Back
12) Torrance’s mastery of other languages is impressive. He has published scholarly articles in Greek, Latin, French and German. Back
13) Hesselink, ”Pilgrimage,“ p. 51. Back
14) References to the work of Smith and Taylor appear regularly in the footnotes of Torrance’s books. Back
15) Ibid., p. 52. Back
16) Ibid. Also see D. Torrance, ”T. F. Torrance,“ pp. 6-7. Mackintosh died while Torrance was in Syria. Back
17) Thomas F. Torrance, ”My Interaction with Karl Barth,“ inHow Karl Barth Changed My Mind, ed. Donald K. McKim (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1986 Back
18) Ibid. Back
19) Ibid., p. 52-56 Back
20) Ibid., p. 53. Back
21) Hesselink, ”Pilgrimage,“ p. 52. Back
22) Ibid., pp. 52-53. Back
23) Torrance, ”My Interaction,“ p. 54. There is an irony to this, since Torrance has spent his life preparing the ground for this kind of Christian dogmatics, yet he has been unable to com¬plete the three-volume dogmatics that has been his ambition since his early encounter with Barth. See Hesselink, ”A Pilgrimage,“ p. 61. Back
24) Torrance, ”My Interaction,“ pp. 54-55. Also see Hesselink, ”A Pilgrimage,“ p. 53. Back
25) Thomas F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1948). Back
26) Torrance, ”My Interaction,“ p. 54. Back
27) Ibid. Back
28) Bauman, Roundtable, p. 112. Torrance views the doctrine of God in Church Dogmatics II/1, 2 as the high point of Barth’sDogmatics. See Torrance, ”My Interaction,“ p. 54. Back
29) Torrance, ”My Interaction,“ p. 55. Back
30) Thus a significant element of Torrance’s intent as a theologian has been ”to clear the ground for a dogmatics in the modern era, because the kind of dogmatics that we have learned from Calvin and Barth needs to be thought out and expressed more succinctly within the rigorous scientific context in which we work and which will undoubtedly dom¬inate the whole future“ (Hesselink, ”A Pilgrimage,“ p. 60). Back
31) Ibid., p. 62. Also see Torrance, ”My Interaction,“ p. 125.Back
32) Hesselink, ”Pilgrimage,“ p. 54. Back
33) Torrance, ”My Interaction,“ p. 56. Back
34) Hesselink, ”Pilgrimage,“ pp. 54-55 Back
35) Torrance, ”My Interaction,“ p. 56. Back
36) Hesselink, ”Pilgrimage,“ p. 55. Back
37) Ibid. Torrance was ordained in 1940. Back
38) Ibid., pp. 55-56. Also see D. Torrance, ”T. F. Torrance,“ pp. 15-17, for an in-depth discussion of Torrance’s years as an army chaplain. Back
39) See D. Torrance, ”T. F. Torrance,“ pp. 16-17. Back
40) Ibid. Back
41) Hesselink, ”Pilgrimage,“ p. 56. David Torrance recounts a number of hair-raising incidents where T. F. Torrance’s life was in grave danger. Back
42) Ibid., pp. 56-57 Back
43) Bauman, Roundtable, p. 117. Back
44) Hesselink, ”Pilgrimage,“ p. 57. Back
45) Bauman, Roundtable, p. 113. Back
46) Ibid. Back
47) Torrance, ”My Interaction,“ p. 57. Back
48) Hesselink, ”Pilgrimage,“ p. 57. Back
49) Ibid., pp. 57-58. Back
50) See D. Torrance, ”T. F. Torrance,“ p. 21. Back
51) Hesselink, ”Pilgrimage,“ p. 58. Back
52) Torrance, ”My Interaction,“ pp. 57-58. Back
53) Ibid., p. 60. Torrance writes, ”To interact with the ChurchDogmatics as I had to in the pro¬cess of their publication in English was an immensely enlightening and exciting experience, that opened up for me the evangelical and ontological depths of the biblical message in such a profound and moving way that again and again I found myself on my knees before God in thanksgiving and adoration.“ Back
54) Bauman, Roundtable, p. 113. Back
55) Ibid., p.112. During his life as a minister, Torrance found Calvin’s Institutes and his com¬mentaries immensely helpful.Back
56) Hesselink, ”Pilgrimage,“ p. 60. Torrance links the three texts in Thomas F. Torrance, God and Rationality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. ix. Back
57) See Torrance’s interview in Bauman, Roundtable, p. 117. Torrance has written numerous articles on the Greek fathers. He also identifies Athanasius (not Karl Barth) as his favorite theologian, all of which reveals his appreciation of the Greek fathers and helps explain his connection with the Greek Orthodox Church (p. 111). Back
58) See Hesselink, ”Pilgrimage,“ p. 61. Back
59) Ibid., p. 59. Though Torrance was unable to accept an invitation to the Second Vatican Council, he was involved in the summer interim with some of the theologians who did participate. Back
60) Ibid. Torrance’s curriculum vitae lists his involvement in eleven different societies, centers and institutes. Back
61) James Clerk Maxwell, A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field, ed. Thomas F. Tor¬rance (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1982). Back
62) See Hesselink, ”Pilgrimage,“ pp. 58-59. Back
63) See Thomas F. Torrance, Conflict and Agreement in the Church (London: Lutterworth, 1959), 1:7. Back
64) See Hesselink, ”Pilgrimage,“ p. 50. Torrance also served on the Reformed-Roman Catholic Study Commission on the Eucharist in Woudschoten, Holland (1974). Back
65) Thomas F. Torrance, Trinitarian Perspectives: Toward Doctrinal Agreement (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1994), pp. 110-11. Back
66) Thomas F. Torrance, ed., Theological Dialogue Between Orthodox and Reformed Churches, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1985, 1993 Back
67) Torrance’s curriculum vitae lists nineteen lectureships from 1959 to 1995. Back
68) The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1980), Reality and Evangelical Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1982); The Mediation of Christ, rev. ed. (Colorado Springs: Helmers & Howard, 1992); Reality and Scientific Theology (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1985); and The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church(Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988) are all published versions of lectures previously given. Back
69) The first chapter, “The Making of the ‘Modern’ Mind from Descartes and Newton to Kant,” was not previously published, but is extremely important for understanding Torrance’s epistemic convictions. Back
70) See Torrance, Scientific Theology, pp. xi-xvi. This book is prefigured by one of Torrance’s earlier works, The Ground and Grammar of Theology, which should be read in light of the more recent and developed text. The Ground and Grammar of Theology is the most accessible book dealing with methodological issues in Torrance’s theology. The other books discussed in this section are all difficult. Back
71) See Torrance, Scientific Theology, pp. ix-x. Back
72) See Hesselink, “Pilgrimage,” p. 61. Back
73) See my review of Torrance’s book in The Scottish Journal of Theology 50, no. 3 (1997): 389-91. Back
74) Ibid. Back
75) See Hesselink, “Pilgrimage,” p. 64. I also have a number of friends who have said similar things about Torrance. At a conference held in Brussels in 1970 called “The Future of the Church,” Torrance “caused a mild sensation by denouncing some of the more radical Roman Catholics for introducing into the Roman communion the worst features of nineteenth-century Liberal Protestantism.” See E. L. Mascall, Theology and the Gospel of Christ (London: SPCK, 1977), p. 46. Back
76) See Hesselink, “Pilgrimage,” p. 64. Back