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!


byron smith said...

The Trinitarian Faith is a great exposition, defense and reflection upon Nicean orthodoxy. It helped introduce me to some of the richness of patristic trinitarian thought.

Pontificator said...

I too would like to testify on behalf on Tom Torrance's vibrant faith and genuine humanity. I discovered his works sometime in the early 80s and I began a correspondence with him. He always wrote back--and not just short little notes. He always thorougly addressed my questions, accomodating himself to the limited intelligence and training of this (former) Episcopal priest. Alas, I often did not understand his arguments, so I would write him again and he would try again. He was always gracious and patient with me.

I visited him at Princeton once and spent two wonderful hours with him.

When I asked him to contribute an essay to my book Speaking the Christian God, he immediately agreed. I did not have to twist his arm.

My favorite Torrance book is The Trinitarian Faith. I have yet to see a thorough discussion of this book by an Eastern Orthodox patristic scholar, which I think is a great shame. But one can see the influence of Torrance in the Reformed/Orthodox agreement on the Trinity.

Torrance was a great fan of Cyril of Alexandria. He told me that he hoped to persuade someone to translate Cyril's Commentary on John, as well as some other key Cyril texts. Sadly, it has yet to happen.

Thomas Torrance is a man of deep faith, in addition to being a scholar of the first-rank. May our Lord bless him with all riches!

Chris TerryNelson said...

Man, I was SO waiting for this one to be written. Thanks Ray!

The Torrance family has had an immense effect on me. Tom's son, Ian, is now president at Princeton Seminary where I'll be attending this summer. Tom's brother James (who passed away a few years ago) blew me away with his superbook- "Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace." And I studied the theology of Karl Barth with Tom's nephew, Alan, at University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

If you want a biography on Tom, read Alister McGrath's book. If you want someone to give a decent of Torrance's work, try Elmer Colyer's book "How to Read T.F. Torrance."

There were two works of Tom's that have influenced me greatly. First were his collection of essays in "Theology in Reconciliation" (pub. 1975), especially the essays on Baptism and the Eucharist (which some consider to be the best reformed sacramental theology since Calvin) and the Mind of Christ in Worship. The other would be "The Christian Doctrine of God," where Torrance brings it all together to form THE BOOK on the Trinity. My goodness!

Although Torrance never wrote a "systematic" theology, his prolific writing shows him at work in many fields. Indeed, Tom has showed that one can be "post-Barthian" and still be a pious evangelical with dedication to the unity of the Church, to Holy Scripture, and ultimately Jesus Christ.

Ben Myers said...

Yes, Goobynelly, I love Torrance's Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons as well -- it's a beautiful work, and it's one of my favourite books on the doctrine of God.

Although he never wrote a systematic theology, he did give lectures in dogmatics, and apparently these are due to be published. (Does anyone know exactly when they will be released?)

Anonymous said...

My last contact with my former student in Edinburgh was Februry of this year following his visit with Tom. He wrote the following: "I then asked him, if he would not want to wait with his plans 'going to heaven' until his lectures (edited by his nephew Robert Walker) are published (around at the end of this year), he thought, he was not so sure." that's all the info I have. My guess is that T & Clark would probably know about it.

Rory Shiner said...

Thanks Ray. I love TFT's work, and your contribution has been (for me)the highlight of the series so far. Blessings

Anonymous said...

TFT passed away on Dec 2, 07. Let's remember him.

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