|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).|
Torrance, the son of missionary parents, was born on the mission field in inland China. He had planned on being a missionary himself, but he became a theologian without ever ceasing to be an evangelist. It is rather telling that in his final conversation just before he died he shared of the gospel with his Chinese nurse (according to her account). She left the room for a moment and returned to find that he had passed on.
This section will note the most important discussions of Torrance's life in secondary literature as well as a number of crucial autobiographical essays from Torrance's own pen.
The most complete biographical treatment of Torrance's life is found in part 1 of Alister McGrath's monumental work T. F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography, pp. 3-107 (#1999-AEM-1). It covers Torrance's entire life, includes pictures, and is quite insightful.
David Torrance wrote a delightful biographical piece on Tom from the perspective of a younger brother, titled "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 Little eld, #2001-DWT-1), pp. 1-30. It contains information not found in any of the other biographical and autobiographical essays.
There are three other important biographical chapters in books on Torrance's theology. The one found in Paul D. Molnar, Thomas F. Torrance: Theologian of the Trinity (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, #2009-PDM-1), pp. 1-30, is not only a biographical sketch but also surveys the broad theological landscape to which Torrance dedicated his career.
The second is Jock Stein's essay, "The Legacy of the Gospel," in A Passion for Christ: The Vision that Ignites Ministry, ed. Gerrit Dawson and Jock Stein (Edinburgh: Handsel Press, #1999-PFC-1a), pp. 131-150. The book contains seven essays by the three Torrance brothers, Tom, James, and David, plus an introduction by Dawson. The biographical chapter by Stein tells the story of the whole Torrance family and contains information not found in any of the other essays.
The other essay is my own brief discussion, "Torrance's Life and Achievement," chapter 1 of my book, How To Read T. F. Torrance: Understanding His Trinitarian and Scientific Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), pp. 35-51 (#2001-EC-1a and posted with permission on the T. F. Torrance Theological Fellowship website).
There are several crucial autobiographical essays by Torrance that provide invaluable information about Torrance's life and especially his theological vision. Early on in his career, in his undergraduate studies and in his later graduate work in theology, Torrance admired the architectonic beauty of Schleiermacher's scientific system of Christian doctrine. The problem from Torrance's perspective was that Schleiermacher's presuppositions about the nature and content of the gospel and what constitutes a scientific theology were all wrong.
Torrance was determined to make that his life goal: to develop a methodologically rigorous scientific theology focused on the true nature and content of the gospel. For Torrance, a scientific theology is simply one determined by the nature of God as revealed in the gospel. In Torrance's words: "Any rigorous scientific approach to Christian theology must allow actual knowledge of God, reached through his self-revelation to us in Christ and in his Spirit, to call into question all alien presuppositions and antecedently reached conceptual frameworks, for form and subject-matter, structure and material content, must not be separated from each other." (Torrance, "My Interaction," p. 53; #1986-473.)
Torrance finally discovered what he was looking for "in the doctrines of the hypostatic union between the divine and human natures in Christ, and the consubstantial communion between the Persons of the Holy Trinity" (Ibid, p. 54). Torrance knew that he was "probing into the essential connections embodied in the material content of our knowledge of God and his relation to us in creation and redemption and that it might be possible to develop a coherent and consistent account of Christian theology as an organic whole in a rigorously scientific way in terms of its objective truth and inner logic, that is to say, as a dogmatic science pursued on its own ground and in its own right." (Ibid.)
The following two autobiographical essays provide deep insight into Torrance's overall theological vision and should be studied closely by anyone wanting to really understand the central convictions that organize and render intelligible the various facets of Torrance's overall theology and the way Torrance's various publications dealing with how these facets fit together:
(1) "A Pilgrimage in the School of Faith - An Interview with T. F. Torrance," by John Hesselink in Reformed Review 38, no. 1 (#1984-443): 49-64; and
(2) "My Interaction with Karl Barth," in How Karl Barth Changed My Mind, ed. Donald K. McKim (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, #1986-473), pp. 52-64. This essay is reprinted in Thomas F. Torrance, Karl Barth, Biblical and Evangelical Theologian (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, #1990-517e), pp. 121-135. They are also important because they reveal both Torrance's dependence on Barth and places where he self-consciously moves beyond Barth as well.
Several other important autobiographical pieces are "Interview with Professor Thomas F. Torrance," in Different Gospels, ed. Alan Walker (London: Hodder & Stoughton, #1988-500), pp. 42-54; Michael Bauman, "Thomas Torrance," in Roundtable Conversations with European Theologians (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, #1990-530), pp. 111-118; and R.D. Kernohan, "Tom Torrance: The Man and Reputation," Life and Work 32, no. 5 (May, #1976-TFT-3): 14-16.
There are two unpublished autobiographical essays worthy of note. One is Torrance's unpublished Journal of My Visit to Hong Kong, Chengdu and Wenchuan, April 22 - June 3, 1994, which is eighty-four single-spaced pages in length (#U-TFT-2). It is an account of his trip to the remote Minshan mountains of the Wenchuan area of China where he personally delivered a large gift of money to the indigenous Qiang people so that they could rebuild churches his father had established in the early twentieth century, which had been destroyed by Mao's forces in 1935. Torrance was in his eighties at the time.
The other is titled Itinerarium in Mentis Deum and is an eighteen-page treatment of Torrance's early intellectual development during his years at Edinburgh University (#U-TFT-3). Both essays should be available in the collection of Torrance's unpublished materials assembled at Princeton Theological Seminary (#W-TFT-1).