The Man Behind the Persona

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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My first personal encounter with Tom Torrance was nothing like what I had expected. I had heard stories about a scholar whose erudition and passion often intimidated and demolished theological opponents. 75 In the spring of 1991 I was part of a small group of pastors and doctoral students who met with him at Princeton to discuss his new book, The Trinitarian Faith (#1988-489). He was most certainly erudite, but his unassuming humility and graciousness made the two-day event all the more memorable.

I liked the man immediately. There was a certain childlike humor and joy about him that was quite winsome and reminded me of Elton Trueblood in his later years. Life and Work magazine carried an article about Torrance when he was elected moderator of the Church of Scotland, describing him as a “brilliant, unassuming, immensely likeable man.”@@@ 76 It may be that Torrance has mellowed with age, as did his Doktorvater, Karl Barth.

The characteristic of Torrance’s life, and Torrance the man, that intrigues me the most is his missionary sensibility. His childhood on the mission field in inland China and his return to the mountains of Wenchuan county in 1994 to deliver financial resources for the rebuilding of churches planted by his father serve somewhat like bookends for his life. I view Thomas F. Torrance as an evangelical missionary who became a theologian without ever ceasing to be an evangelist. His audience has not been the indigenous people of China, but his goals have been the theological renewal of the church and the evangelization of the foundations of modern scientific culture.


75) See Hesselink, “Pilgrimage,” p. 64 (#1984-443). I also have a number of friends who have said similar things about Torrance. At a conference held in Brussels in 1970 called “The Future of the Church,” Torrance “caused a mild sensation by denouncing some of the more radical Roman Catholics for introducing into the Roman communion the worst features of nineteenth-century Liberal Protestantism.” See E. L. Mascall, Theology and the Gospel of Christ (London: SPCK, 1977)@@@, p. 46. Back
76) See Hesselink, “Pilgrimage,” p. 64 (#1984-443). Back  Might it be #1989-516? #1977-349?@@@

 

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