The Importance of T. F. Torrance

Thomas Forsyth Torrance (1913 – 2007) was one of the greatest of all 20th century Christian theologians. Torrance’s diverse writing is often dense, not the easiest to grasp by simple reading and yet tremendously important. As I work away on a book on the Trinity I find myself going back to Torrance time and time again.

thomastorrance Tom Torrance, as his friends called him, was born in China to Scottish missionary parents. He studied classics at Edinburgh and Oxford before he studied under the famous Karl Barth at Basel. After a brief stint in New York as a teacher at Auburn Seminary World War II broke out and Torrance became a chaplain. He later served a parish in Scotland for ten more years. His best known work came by lecturing for 27 years as Professor of Christian Dogmatics at New College in the University of Edinburgh. While he wrote many books and articles advancing his own study of theology, he also translated several hundred theological writings into English from other languages. Torrance edited the English translation of the thirteen-volume, six-million-word Church Dogmatics (Germ. Die Kirchliche Dogmatik) of celebrated Swiss theologian Karl Barth. Torrance may have understood Barth as well as any other person in the last fifty years or so. If you have not read Barth and want to get into his thought through a primer to his huge body of work then the book for you is his Dogmatics in Outline.

Torrance's work has been influential in what is called the paleo-orthodox movement, a movement which I freely admit has had a profound impact on my life and thought. He is considered one of the most important Reformed theologians of our era and his work has also influenced many other Christian theologians in a number of vitally important ways. This is especially true with regards to certain aspects of the theology of Alister McGrath, a very influential evangelical Anglican theologian.

There is so much of Torrance’s work online that it would be pointless to list it all. Check out some of the list at the end of the Wikipedia article on his life and then do a general Google search and you will find a lot more. There are audios, articles, studies of his work, etc. For those who are deeply interested you might want to check out the T. F. Torrance Theological Fellowship, of which I am a member. The fellowship maintains an online journal on the work of Torrance called Particpatio. It is free and really an excellent source for serious theological reflection. I spent a good bit of time reading this journal last week and found it immensely helpful.

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