Sunday 2 December 2007

T. F. Torrance: a eulogy

A guest-post by George Hunsinger

Thomas Forsyth Torrance (1913-2007), who died peaceably in Edinburgh on December 2nd, was arguably the greatest Reformed theologian since Karl Barth, with whom he studied, and an eminent 20th century ecumenist. Having served for 27 years as Professor of Christian Dogmatics at New College, he was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1976; and in 1978, he was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion for his contributions to the emerging field of theology and science.

In theology he generally placed himself somewhere between Calvin and Barth, though also moving well beyond them. An accomplished patristics scholar, he devoted himself to Eastern Orthodox–Reformed dialogue, being highly esteemed among the Orthodox for his ecumenical spirit and his grasp of primary sources in the original languages. He once surprised me by saying that his favorite theologian was Athanasius, whom he placed in illuminating relationship with Barth. An icon of the great Alexandrian appears as the frontispiece to his The Trinitarian Faith (1988), an exposition of the Nicene Creed which remains perhaps the most accessible of his numerous learned works.

Besides the theologian, the ecumenist, and the church leader, there were at least three other Torrances: the translator, the interdisciplinary theologian, and the historian of doctrine. English-speaking theology stands greatly in his debt for his monumental efforts in editing and translating not only Calvin’s New Testament commentaries but also Barth’s voluminous dogmatics. His interest in Einstein and modern physics from the standpoint of Nicene Christianity has yet to be adequately assessed. Least well known, perhaps, is his work as an intellectual historian. Scattered throughout many journals is a series of essays on virtually every major figure in the history of doctrine, though alongside Athanasius he had a special fondness for Gregory Nazianzen and Hilary of Poitiers.

In breadth of learning, depth of scholarship, quality of output, ecumenical conviction, and devotion to the Nicene faith, theology and church will not soon see another like him.


millinerd said...

While this blog has helpfully linked to some T.F. Torrance lectures before, Princeton Seminary is sitting on a goldmine of similar lectures on cassette tape, available at the PTS library. For someone to make these available as above would be an invaluable service, especially now. Requiescat in pace.

W. Travis McMaken said...

It is hard for one to call oneself a student of Reformed theology if one has never read Torrance's The Mediation of Christ.

Also not to be missed, in addition to Trinitarian Faith mentioned by Hunsinger, is Torrance's explication of the doctrine of the Trinity in The Christian Doctrine of God and his important methodological work, Theological Science.

Although I never knew TF personally, his work has had a great influence on me. It is strange to think that he is no longer with us.

JohnLDrury said...

What a great mind who will be truly missed. I'll add to the bibliography a lesser known piece that I have found very helpful:
Thomas F. Torrance, "The Atonement and the Oneness of the Church," Scottish Journal of Theology 7, no. 3 (1954).

Bruce Yabsley said...

Thanks for the post. You wrote that

His interest in Einstein and modern physics from the standpoint of Nicene Christianity has yet to be adequately assessed.

As a physicist I have certainly appreciated him on that score. I finished Space, Time and Incarnation and was so taken up with it that I had to go back to the start and read it through again, just top make sure that I had got it straight. The word "exciting" is overused, and often a little absurd, when discussing academic matters: that is one book that merits it. It would be hard to feel its impact unless one had some grounding in physics, the history of ideas, and theology, and surely this is very demanding: for this reason, I guess this book (and other such contributions) may not yet have been adequately addressed.

But as for The Trinitarian Faith: what a wonderful, and as you say accessible, book.

Anonymous said...

I find most Reformed theology off-puttingly alien (present bloggers excluded, of course!), and I rarely agree with much of what Torrance (or Calvin or Barth, for that matter). But I always enjoyed reading him, and never failed to be astounded at the breadth and depth of his mind. He really was one of the great ones.

Jason Oliver Evans said...

It is sad to hear that the great theologian has died. However, I rejoice that this great theologian is finally is in the holy presence the triune God he has served through his writing, lecturing, teaching, and preaching.

Anonymous said...

Sorry. The "anonymous" post was from me. My computer is obviously disowning me.

Joel Scandrett said...

In case this isn't yet common knowledge, Paternoster and InterVarsity Press (US) will be copublishing TFT's Edinburgh lectures in Christology, to be released in two volumes: Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ(2008) and Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ (2009).

Matt Jenson said...

three cheers for Paternoster and IVP!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know about his memorial service?

Yam 飲者 said...

From the website of Edinburgh University Divinity School (3 Dec):

We note with great respect the death of Professor Emeritus Thomas F. Torrance, FRSE, FBA, Professor of Christian Dogmatics 1952-79. Professor Torrance passed away early Sunday 02 December. The funeral service will be held on Saturday, 08 December, at 10.00 a.m., St. Mary's, Whitekirk. We extend our condolences to his family, and we remember and celebrate Professor Torrance's enormous contributions to theological scholarship.

Glosterstaff said...

It was until a year ago that I heard of Tom Torrance. As a Wesleyan I have come to love his writings and they have help shape a lot of who I now am.

Strider said...

I came across today this brief biography of TFT.

You will find mention of TFT being made a protopresbyter in the Orthodox Church, which was a remarkable event. I remember Tom telling me about this on one of the two times I met with him at Princeton. He spoke of it with great delight and humility.

Dan Cruver said...

I was pleased to find TFT on Twitter: (posthumously, of course!).

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