|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-EMC-1a. All rights reserved; used by permission of Elmer Colyer and InterVarsity Press.|
Anyone intent on seriously reading Thomas F. Torrance must carefully work through a series of his mature publications. This is not to say that his earlier works are unimportant. Indeed there are significant theological topics in Torrance’s previous publications not covered in his later writings. But the following books are crucial for understanding the basic topography of Torrance’s thought.
Transformation and Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge: Explorations in the Interrelations of Scientific and Theological Enterprise (#1984-433-1) is a collection of previous published articles primarily on epistemology. 69 These essays locate Torrance’s epistemic convictions within modern philosophy and science from Descartes and Newton through Hume and Kant to Clerk Maxwell, Albert Einstein and Michael Polanyi. It also includes a chapter, “Natural Theology in the Thought of Karl Barth” (#1984-433k) indicating where Torrance differs from Barth on this subject in relation to epistemology.
Another of Torrance’s most important books, Reality and Scientific Theology (#1985-450), deals with many of the same themes; however, this book develops them into a more comprehensive statement of his theological method, what he prefers to call “philosophy of theology,” a rigorous discipline roughly analogous to philosophy of science and aimed at clarifying the process and epistemological structure of theological science. 70 This book is the first volume of a series called Theology and Science at the Frontiers of Knowledge, written by scientists and theologians, and designed to further a reconstruction of the foundations of knowledge taking place in the post-Einsteinian, post-Barthian era. Torrance is the editor of this series of interdisciplinary and creative works intended to carry the transformation forward. 71
In Reality and Evangelical Theology (#1982-397) Torrance deals with the nature of theological and biblical interpretation of divine revelation and should be read in relation to the two books just mentioned. Together these three books provide an overview of Torrance’s mature reflections on theological method and related areas. They can also be read along with Torrance’s earlier trilogy – Theological Science (#1969-263); Space, Time and Incarnation (#1969-262); and God and Rationality (#1971-290) – and the introduction in Space, Time, and Resurrection (#1976-331) for a more comprehensive picture of this whole area of Torrance’s thought.
Four additional recent books provide an overview of the doctrinal content of Torrance’s theology. The first, The Mediation of Christ (#1984-TFT-5, #1992-542), deals with the person and work of Christ and is the most accessible entry into Torrance’s theology for seminarians and pastors. Readers should use the revised edition, which contains an additional chapter on “The Atonement and the Holy Trinity” (#1992-542).
The Trinitarian Faith (#1988-489), mentioned above, is an exposition of The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (the book’s subtitle) as it came to expression in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed formulated in A.D. 381. However, since Torrance has been so deeply influenced by the Greek fathers, the book also serves as an introduction to many of the principal themes of Torrance’s own theology. It is an excellent choice for those interested in his position on the doctrines covered in the creed.
Torrance’s recent book Karl Barth: Biblical and Evangelical Theologian (#1990-517) is significant because it not only reveals Torrance’s relationship to Barth, but because Torrance’s own theological vision shines through many of the book’s essays. In particular, the chapters “Karl Barth, Theologian of the Word,” “My Interaction with Karl Barth,” “Natural Theology in the Thought of Karl Barth,” “Karl Barth and Patristic Theology” and “Karl Barth and the Latin Heresy” all provide important insights into Torrance’s own theological agenda and also the way in which he has appropriated Barth’s achievement.
The doctrine of the Trinity is the subject of Torrance’s book The Christian Doctrine of God (#1996-595). It is probably the most significant and difficult of all of his publications. It represents what might have been the first volume of a three-volume dogmatics that Torrance proposed fifteen years ago. 72 The book is of particular interest for several reasons. The first four chapters deal with methodological considerations concerning how the doctrine of the Trinity arises out of the biblical witness and within the evangelical and doxological life of the church. 73 This is an intriguing section because here one can see Torrance’s epistemology and method in operation on one of the central and methodologically perplexing doctrines of the Christian faith.
The second half of the book presents Torrance’s creative restatement of the Christian doctrine of God, which will undoubtedly be one of the most important treatments of the Trinity well into the new millennium. What is particularly impressive and illuminating is that Torrance’s approach is holistic rather than discursive–the whole is understood out of itself with subsidiary attention to the parts, not simply by progressing through the constitutive parts. As I noted in the introduction, this is also one of the features of Torrance’s theology that accounts for its difficulty and for repeated misunderstanding of it even by professional theologians. 74
These key recent publications present the core of Torrance’s theological achievement. They represent his mature Christian theological position on issues related to theological method and on the positive content of his work on the central themes of theology. Students and scholars should begin with these publications and then branch out into Torrance’s various articles written over the past fifteen years and into his earlier publications.
69) The first chapter, “The Making of the ‘Modern’ Mind from Descartes and Newton to Kant” (#1984-433c) was not previously published, but is extremely important for understanding Torrance’s epistemic convictions. Back
70) See Torrance, Reality and Scientific Theology, pp. xi-xvi (#1985-450). This book is prefigured by one of Torrance’s earlier works, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (#1980-369), which should be read in light of the more recent and developed text. The Ground and Grammar of Theology is the most accessible book dealing with methodological issues in Torrance’s theology. The other books discussed in this section are all difficult. Back
71) See Torrance, Reality and Scientific Theology, pp. ix-x (#1985-450). Back
72) See Hesselink, “Pilgrimage,” p. 61 (#1984-443). Back
73) See my review of Torrance’s book in The Scottish Journal of Theology 50, no. 3 (1997): 389-391.@@@ Back
74) Ibid. Back