The War

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.

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However, there was a two-year waiting list for chaplains, so Torrance went to Oriel College, Oxford, to work on his dissertation. Within a year he completed the basic work for the thesis. Toward the end of the school year (1940), under some pressure from the Church of Scotland, Torrance accepted a call to serve the parish of Alyth, Perthshire, a small country town of three thousand a few miles northwest of Dundee, where he was a parish minister from 1940 to 1943. He describes this as one of the happiest times of his life in ministry. 37

Again in 1943 Torrance went to Edinburgh with the hope of becoming an army chaplain. Once again there were no openings, though he discovered that the Church of Scotland desperately needed a minister for the Huts and Canteens project in the Middle East. Within a few days, Torrance was on his way to the Holy Land where he served not only as a chaplain for the Huts and Canteens, but acted as an army chaplain as well. 38 Six months later Torrance joined the Tenth Indian Division and he served in Italy until the end of the war as a chaplain working primarily with an English battalion, The King’s Own Royal Rifles. Torrance insisted on serving front-line troops whenever possible. This placed him in constant danger. Once while on patrol, Torrance and the English soldiers crossed the German line and came under heavy fire. Only Torrance and one soldier made it out alive. Another time, lying in a ditch while being shelled, the soldiers on either side of Torrance were killed, though Torrance escaped uninjured. 39

Experiences like these crystallized for Torrance that Christian theology has to be able to ground one’s existence amidst the most acute moments of life and death. Torrance later called theologies without this kind of existential depth “paper theology”–interesting reading, but inadequate for living and dying. 40 His service was exemplary not only as a minister of the gospel to wounded and dying soldiers, but as an entrepreneur in various causes during the Italian campaign. 41 In 1944 Torrance was awarded the M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire) for his bravery.

37) Hesselink, “Pilgrimage,” p. 55 (#1984-443). Torrance was ordained in 1940. Back
38) Ibid., pp. 55-56 (#1984-443). Also see D. Torrance, “T. F. Torrance,” pp. 15-17, for an in-depth discussion of Torrance’s years as an army chaplain (#2001-DWT-1). Back
39) See D. Torrance, “T. F. Torrance,” pp. 16-17 (#2001-DWT-1). Back
40) Ibid. Back
41) Hesselink, “Pilgrimage,” p. 56 (#1984-443). David Torrance recounts a number of hair-raising incidents where T. F. Torrance’s life was in grave danger. Back