T. F. Torrance's Reconstruction of Natural Theology


Alexander J. D. Irving, T. F. Torrance's Reconstruction of Natural Theology: Christ and Cognition (Lexington Books, 2019)


Irving, Alexander J. D. T. F. Torrance's Reconstruction of Natural Theology: Christ and Cognition. Lexington Books, 2019

Publication life cycle / General notes

Revised version of thesis completed under Alister McGrath. 

Discussed in the Reading Group on December 17, 2020: Video.


T. F. Torrance’s proposal for natural theology constitutes one of the most creative and provocative elements in his work. By re-envisioning natural theology as the cognitive structure of theology determined by God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ (and not as the task of philosophically reflecting on the nature or existence of God aside from religious presuppositions), Torrance moves through and beyond Barth’s resistance to natural theology. This book establishes Torrance’s unique reconstruction of natural theology within its proper intellectual context, providing a fresh analysis of this important methodological innovation as it emerges from Torrance’s realist epistemology. As Irving demonstrates, in Torrance’s distinctive conception of science, he operated with an approach to cognition that functions via a realist synthesis of experience and understanding, and in Torrance’s theological science, this synthesis of experience and understanding is the synthesis of revealed theology and natural theology. The author argues that this reconstruction of natural theology expresses a dramatic vision for human agency within theological cognition, adding the necessity of the human knowing subject to the priority of the divine revealer. Finally, this book marries Torrance’s accomplishments in reconstructing natural theology to his Christocentric theological method, in which God is both revealed and known in the person of Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human.

Jacket blurbs

This probing and wide-ranging study engages sympathetically with my father’s account of theological knowledge in the 1970s and 1980s and successfully brings it into dialogue with contemporary forms of theological method. At the heart of it is a deft reconstruction of my father’s conviction that the incarnation of the Word gave determinative shape to subsequent theology, holding rational structure and material content in interplay. It is an excellent contribution to constructive theology. (Iain R. Torrance, president emeritus of Princeton Theological Seminary)

An outstanding analysis of T. F. Torrance's distinctive approach to natural theology, which positions it within his overall vision of Christian dogmatics. Dr. Irving has made a major contribution to our understanding of Torrance's theological relevance for both the academy and the church. (Alister E. McGrath, professor of historical theology, Oxford University)

This work represents a profound contribution to the burgeoning field of studies into the theology of T. F. Torrance, and advances conversation on two fronts. First, Irving locates Torrance’s renowned revisioning of natural theology within its specific intellectual context, namely Torrance’s critically realist synthesis of discursivity and experience, and thereby demonstrates the creativity and import of this revisioning. And second, Irving consequently sheds light on some of its most important yet most complex aspects, including Torrance’s relational analogy between revealed theology—natural theology and physics—practical geometry; his creative adoption of the terms ‘natural theology’ and ‘theological science’; and his core conception of the relation between divine revelation and human knowledge. Both seasoned and fresh readers of Torrance will find much to ponder in this insightful volume. (Paul T. Nimmo, King’s Chair of systematic theology, University of Aberdeen)

Alexander’s work intervenes in a growing discussion surrounding Torrance’s articulation of a reformulated natural theology. He argues that Torrance’s reformulated natural theology functions as a formal theological calculus for material theological claims. Those who would follow Torrance in articulating a truly scientific theology will benefit from Alexander’s careful study. (W. Travis McMaken, associate professor of religion, assistant dean of humanities, Lindenwood University)


Preface, vii.
Abbreviations, ix.
Introduction, 1.

Part I: The Synthesis of Discursive Reason and Experience
1. Reality, 25.
2. Objectivity, 61.
3. Logic, 93.

Part II: The Reconstruction of Natural Theology
4. The Rejection of Autonomous Natural Theology, 129.
5. The Reconstruction of Natural Theology, 159.
6. Natural Theology and Theological Science, 193.

Conclusion, 223.
Bibliography, 229.
Index, 245.
About the Author, 249.


Special announcement: Regent Audio Torrance sale

50% off through May 31! Regent Audio has an extensive catalog of Torrance-related audios, including recordings by Thomas and James Torrance, and events such as the conference Discovering the Incarnate Saviour of the World. From now through May 31, use the code TORRANCESALE for 50% off of all mp3 download products by the Torrances (and James Houston) in the Regent Audio collection. This code is offered as a courtesy to members of the T. F. Torrance Theological Fellowship and participants in the Torrance Reading Group.