Professor in Edinburgh

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.

Up to Bio Introduction

In 1950 the Torrance family (now with two children; the third was born in Edinburgh) moved to Edinburgh where Tom began his teaching career as professor of church history at New College. After two years, he switched to the chair of Christian dogmatics, which he held until his retirement in 1979. 49

During the early years at New College, Torrance taught most of the main loci of theology, except for the doctrine of God, including the Trinity (much to Torrance’s disappointment), which fell under the domain of the chair of divinity held first by John Baillie, and then his successor, John McIntyre. 50 In the postgraduate program, however, he was free to teach in other areas such as ecumenical and historical theology (including regular seminars on the Greek patristic texts) and epistemology (what Torrance calls “philosophy of the science of theology”). 51

Also in 1952 Torrance organized a team of scholars (including Geoffrey Bromiley as coeditor) and began the monumental task of preparing and overseeing the English translation of Karl Barth’s Kirchliche Dogmatik. The project took twenty-five years (the index volume published in 1977) and kept Torrance in sustained and intense interaction with Barth’s theology throughout much of his career (#1956-TFT-3). 52 Despite some rather significant disagreements with Barth, this extended encounter with the Kirchliche Dogmatik unquestionably shaped the contours of Torrance’s own theological horizon. 53

The connection between Torrance and Barth is extremely significant. In fact, Torrance says that one of his greatest regrets in life is that while Barth wanted Torrance to be his successor at Basel (the Rektor of the University, Professor Oscar Cullmann, wrote Torrance about the position), Torrance was unable to do so because he did not want to subject his children (two sons and a daughter) to the disruptive change in culture and language in a move from Edinburgh to Basel. 54

Torrance’s literary productivity from 1952 onward is phenomenal. In addition to the Church Dogmatics, he also edited (with an introduction and historical notes) the three-volume Tracts and Treatises on the Reformation by John Calvin (#1958-122) and the twelve-volume Calvins New Testament Commentaries, with D. W. Torrance (1959-1973; #1959-TFT-DWT-1). 55 Two other important early works are Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology (#1962-177) and Theology in Reconstruction (#1965-223). The latter is a roughly trinitarian collection of Torrance’s lectures, many of which were previously published in various journals in the early sixties. Between 1946 and 1965 Torrance published more than ten books and roughly 150 articles and reviews.

One of his important books, Theological Science (#1969-263), received the first Collins Award in Britain for the best work in theology, ethics and sociology relevant to Christianity for 1967-1969. It is part of an early trilogy of books–along with Space, Time and Incarnation (#1969-262) and God and Rationality (#1971-290)–designed to prepare the way for a rigorous dogmatics expressed within the modern scientific context. 56 All three books are methodological in focus and together present theology as a distinct and dogmatic science rigorously governed by the unique nature of its object, God in his self-revelation. Torrance intends to lay bare and test the rational basis of knowledge of God, including the theological concepts used to express this knowledge along with their spatial and temporal ingredients.

Torrance has also contributed significantly to Reformation and Patristic studies. In addition to his book on Calvin’s Doctrine of Man mentioned above (#1949-022), Torrance has written on the eschatology of Luther, Butzer and Calvin (Kingdom and Church, #1956-089), The Hermeneutics of John Calvin (#1988-488), and Scottish Theology From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell (#1995-603). His book The Trinitarian Faith (#1988-489) deals with the theology embodied in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, and is one of the books with which Torrance is most pleased. 57

Recently Torrance published a collection of essays on Divine Meaning: Studies in Patristic Hermeneutics (#1995-588). This represents the first of a three-volume history of hermeneutics and epistemology designed to “collapse modern biblical interpretation from behind” since Torrance thinks it “is basically wrong.” 58 Though the subsequent volumes have not appeared in print, quite a bit of the material has been published as long articles in various journals and other books.

49) Hesselink, “Pilgrimage,” pp. 57-58 (#1984-443). Back
50) See D. Torrance, “T. F. Torrance,” p. 21 (#2001-DWT-1). Back
51) Hesselink, “Pilgrimage,” p. 58 (#1984-443). Back
52) Torrance, “My Interaction,” pp. 57-58 (#1986-473). Back
53) Ibid., p. 60 (#1986-473). Torrance writes, “To interact with the Church Dogmatics as I had to in the process of their publication in English was an immensely enlightening and exciting experience, that opened up for me the evangelical and ontological depths of the biblical message in such a profound and moving way that again and again I found myself on my knees before God in thanksgiving and adoration.”​​​​​​​ Back
54) Bauman, Roundtable, p. 113 (#1990-530). Back
55) Ibid., p.112 (#1990-530). During his life as a minister, Torrance found Calvin’s Institutes and his commentaries immensely helpful. Back
56) Hesselink, “​​​​​​​Pilgrimage,”​​​​​​​ p. 60 (#1984-443). Torrance links the three texts in Thomas F. Torrance, God and Rationality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. ix. Back
57) See Torrance’s interview in Bauman, Roundtable, p. 117 (#1990-530). Torrance has written numerous articles on the Greek fathers. He also identifies Athanasius (not Karl Barth) as his favorite theologian, all of which reveals his appreciation of the Greek fathers and helps explain his connection with the Greek Orthodox Church (p. 111). Back
58) See Hesselink, “​​​​​​​Pilgrimage,”​​​​​​​ p. 61 (#1984-443). Back