|Elmer M. Colyer, "An Introductory Reader's Guide to the Published Works of T. F. Torrance," Participatio: Journal of the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship, Supplement 1 (2011): 38-63; revised online edition (#2017-EC-1).|
This essay, which is an introductory reader's guide to the publications of T. F. Torrance, is what I wish I had when I first started reading Torrance back in 1983. When I examined the range and sheer volume of his publications, I had no idea where to begin or how to proceed. So I stumbled my way forward, muttering repeatedly how much easier it would have been if I had read this article or book before that one and in relation to those other two or three essays on a particular subject published elsewhere. So I hope that this guide will at least save a few readers of Torrance some of the wasted time that I experienced over the first several years of studying his theology.
Since the Torrance bibliography itself runs fifty pages, it is impossible to provide a complete guide within the bounds of an essay like this one. What follows is designed primarily for those who have not yet immersed themselves in Torrance's publications. There is no one "right" way or order to read T. F. Torrance. What follows is a basic road map guiding readers into Torrance's publications.
New readers of Torrance's work should be forewarned that there may be parts of Torrance's work that they will not understand the first time through. Seminarians in my course on Torrance's theology often have this experience. So if you are new to Torrance, keep reading, try to gain a feel for the big picture, and come back to the difficult sections at a later date. T. F. Torrance is not an easy read!
Indeed, the most complete published bibliography of Torrance's works, which is found in Alister McGrath's T. F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography, includes more than six hundred items and consumes nearly fifty pages (Edinburgh, T&T Clark, #1999-AEM-1). The range of materials flowing from Torrance's pen from 1941 to 2007 is equally as impressive as the sheer volume. One finds the monographs Space, Time, and Incarnation (#1969-262) and The Hermeneutics of John Calvin (#1988-488), as well as pamphlets like The Christian Doctrine of Marriage (#1984-430) and Test-Tube Babies: Morals, Science and the Law (#1984-432). Topics run the gamut from essays such as "The Epistemological Relevance of the Holy Spirit" (#1965-230) and "Newton, Einstein, and Scientifc Theology" (#1971-295) to "The Spiritual Relevance of Angels" (#1992-559) and "The Divine Vocation and Destiny of Israel in the World History" (#1982-408).
To make matters more complex, one will look in vain for anything resembling a "Church Dogmatics," where Torrance develops the core of his theological perspective within the bounds of several carefully constructed volumes. Torrance planned, but never produced, a three-volume summary of theology, which would have played a key role in interpreting the voluminous materials he produced over his fifty-year career.
The Torrance corpus, as it stands, is rather occasional in nature. Many of his books are collections of lectures and essays rather than deliberately planned monographs on particular subjects. Beginning readers could never anticipate the deep connections that often exist between essays published in very different venues and that are chronologically separated.
In addition, while Torrance clearly has an architectonically rigorous theological vision that unites the themes he treats in various publications, nowhere does he develop it in a way that readers can grasp the contours of his theology by reading a couple of books or a handful of articles. This is particularly evident with reference to the profound interconnections between scientific method and theological content, which is surely one of his greatest contributions to theology. His actual publications tend to focus on method or on specific theological content, without clearly delineating the relations between the two, so that only after one has read a number of books and essays on both, and then maybe several times, do these interconnections become evident.
Furthermore, even a cursory reading of Torrance's publications reveals that his theological perspective is itself holistic because of his profound conviction that analytic, deductive, discursive, and linear modes of thought tend to disconnect and dissolve the dynamic interrelationality of the divine and contingent realities that make them what they are. One can only grasp reality adequately by simultaneous subsidiary attention to the constitutive parts. However, the actual scope of this holism characteristic of Torrance's theological vision is scattered throughout his publications and must be reconstructed by readers who attend to its constitutive elements discussed in various essays and books.
Then there is a burgeoning body of secondary literature on Torrance's work, which offers a variety of perspectives on where to begin and how to read T. F. Torrance and his theology, along with an astonishingly fertile supply of misinterpretations leading to pointed, though ill-considered, criticisms of various dimensions of his theological oeuvre.
The combination of all these factors is that readers of T. F. Torrance, particularly those just starting out, are faced with the rather complicated task of figuring out where to begin and how to proceed. Indeed, seldom a month goes by that I do not get a request from a Ph.D. or masters student or a pastor for assistance in relation to reading Torrance's work, whether on a particular subject or in relation to this theology as a whole. So do not give up if the initial reading of Torrance is a bit of a struggle. This reader's guide is designed to make the task at least a bit easier.
In the first section of the guide, I will begin with Torrance's life as a helpful matrix within which to view his publications. The first section also deals with Torrance's overarching theological vision. It is crucial to grasp something of Torrance's convictions about what theology is and how it proceeds. This theological vision developed for Torrance in the years leading up to 1937-38 and his study under Karl Barth in Basel. Torrance pursued this vision throughout the rest of his long and varied career, developing it into the complex perspective that many of us have found so illuminating and helpful both theologically and pastorally.
After these overarching orienting subsections, this reader's guide will focus on the various theological themes that constitute Torrance's scientifc theology, beginning in his words "from its Christological and soteriological centre and in the light of its constitutive trinitarian structure" (*), for Torrance's theology is "deeply Nicene and doxological (theology and worship going inextricably together), with its immediate focus on Jesus Christ as Mediator, and its ultimate focus on the Holy Trinity" (**). The final section of this guide will deal with theological method and related topics.
* Thomas F. Torrance, "My Interaction with Karl Barth" in How Karl Barth Changed My Mind, ed. Donald K. McKim (Grand Rapids, MI, 1986), 54; #1986-473. Also see I. John Hesselink, "A Pilgrimage in the School of Christ - An Interview with T. F. Torrance," Reformed Review 38, no. 1 (Autumn, 1984), 53; #1984-443.
** R. D. Kernohan, "Tom Torrance: The Man and Reputation," Life and Work 32, no. 5 (1976), 14-16; #1976-TFT-3. Also see Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), 146; #1996-595.