Childhood Years

Excerpt from “Torrance’s Life and Achievement,” in Elmer Colyer, How to Read T. F. Torrance: Understanding His Trinitarian & Scientific Theology (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001); #2001-EC-1a. All rights reserved; used by permission of Elmer Colyer and InterVarsity Press.

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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 She left 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 ìalways seemed so natural” to Torrance. 7 Torrance’s younger brother, David, tells that their parents gathered the family for worship, reading of Scripture 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


3) Hesselink, ”A Pilgrimage,“ p. 49 (#1984-443). Back
4) Ibid. (#1984-443). Back
5) Ibid. (#1984-443). Back
6) Ibid., p. 50 (#1984-443). Also see Torrance’s interview with Michael Bauman, in Bauman, Roundtable, p. 111 (#1990-530). 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; #1984-443). Back
7) Bauman, Roundtable, p. 111 (#1990-530). 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 Littlefield, forthcoming), p. 3; #2001-DWT-1. 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 (#1984-443). 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 (#1984-443). Back
11) Ibid., pp. 49-50 (#1984-443). 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; #1990-517). Back