Friday, 16 June 2006

For the love of God (16): Why I love Thomas F. Torrance

A guest-post by Ray S. Anderson

I went to Edinburgh in 1970 to study under Tom Torrance after reading Theology in Reconstruction (1965) and Theological Science (1969), both of which are heavily underlined, marking my first introduction to an incarnational theology presented with scientific rigor, and grounded in a trinitarian epistemology of the self-revealing act of God. “We are not concerned simply with a divine revelation which demands from us all a human response,” he wrote, “but with a divine revelation which already includes a true and appropriate and fully human response as part of his achievement for us and to us and in us” (TIR, 131).

After sitting in his lectures for two years and writing my dissertation under his direction, I came to appreciate even more the deeply devotional, even pietistic life of faith that lay hidden behind his often forbidding erudition and the semantic thicket of his writing. Born in China of Scottish missionary parents, he was as comfortable talking about his personal relationship with Jesus as he was lecturing to an assembly of world class physicists (as he did on the occasion of the anniversary of Einstein’s 100th birthday).

In 1986 I spent a week with him in Hong Kong where we were both invited to present lectures and dialogue with Confucionist scholars on eastern and western versions of human nature. It was there, sharing a flat with him where we cooked our own breakfast, that I finally dared to make the transition from being “his student” to a colleague, brother in Christ and personal friend—a transition made difficult only by my own deference to his immense learning, but made easy by the grace of his own humanity.

Now, after publishing more than two dozen books (including his forthcoming lectures in dogmatic theology), and having suffered a minor stroke some time ago, 92-year-old Professor Torrance lives in an assisted care facility in Edinburgh. When one of my former students recently visited him and asked, “Are you not bored just sitting here?” Tom replied, “Oh no, I am talking to the Lord.” When asked if he had a message for me, he replied: “Yes, tell him I am going to heaven soon.”

As one of the primary translators of Barth and one whose theology follows in that tradition, Torrance has made his own indelible mark as a post-Barthian, evangelically situated theologian. He is often misunderstood, and he is sometimes caricatured for his “take no prisoners” approach to the defense of the faith. But I love him for all of that!

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