In furtherance of all this, I thought it fitting to add to my “So, You Want to Read…” series (already included in the series: Barth and Calvin) with an entry on TF Torrance. So, you want to read TF Torrance?
I have never read T.F. Torrance before. Which of his books should I read first?
Torrance’s oeuvre is quite large, and this can be intimidating when starting out with him. For my money, the most accessible place to begin – as well as perhaps the most significant place in terms of Torrance’s theology – is with his Christology. Two options present themselves in this realm.
- The Mediation of Christ - For those who want to begin with a small bit of Torrance, nothing beats this tidy volume.
- Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ - Published only last month, this posthumously published lecture cycle from Torrance’s time at Edinburgh is an excellent place for the ambitious reader to begin. A companion volume on the atonement is due out in a year or so, and together these volumes will serve as something of the dogmatics that Torrance never wrote.
I have made a beginning with Torrance, but now I want to go deeper. Where should I turn?
The initiate in Torrance is faced with a fundamental question that will guide their further reading – What about Torrance interests me most? Based on the answer that one gives to this question, here are suggestions for what to read when going deeper into Torrance. I have laid the suggestions out according to ‘tracks’ of interest.
Theology and Science Track
- Theological Science - This is the work that got this track of Torrance’s production going in a serious way. Indeed, it is one of Torrance’s longer works. This book has to do with method, specifically with how contemporary scientific method matches up with proper theological method. Parts of this work amounts to little more than gloss on Barth’s CD 2.1, and other parts are distinctively Torrance. Even if you are not terribly interested in this track of Torrance, this book is a must read.
- Divine and Contingent Order - This book could have gone in the dogmatic track because there is a sense in which it amounts to little more than a discussion of the doctrine of creation. Creatio ex nihilo plays a central role here in Torrance’s engagement with science and his thinking about how the two fit together.
- Ground and Grammar of Theology - Like the preceding, this volume is important for understanding what I call Torrance’s ‘reformulated natural theology’.
- Theological and Natural Science - A collection of essays and talks on the topic. Of special interest is what Torrance has to say about Einstein.
- Space, Time and Incarnation / Space, Time and Resurrection - This pair of volumes deal with the topics of incarnation, resurrection, and ascension, and Torrance here tries to bring some of what he has learned from his engagement with science into play to help untie knotty theological questions. What does it mean that God has entered into space and time?
- Trinitarian Faith - This volume contains Torrance’s Warfield Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary. It is, more or less, an exposition of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed carried out in deep conversation with the patristic sources. Although Torrance’s reading of the patristics can at times be very idiosyncratic, there is no doubt that this volume is edifying and instructive.
- Christian Doctrine of God - When Torrance was teaching at Edinburgh, the realities of faculty politics and the specifics of his appointment prevented him from lecturing on the doctrine of God. So, one of the things he most wanted to do when he retired from teaching was to write on the doctrine of the Trinity. This is the book where he did it.
- Theology in Reconciliation / Theology in Reconstruction - Two collections of essays on various dogmatic topics. Some very good stuff is buried in here.
Torrance is one of, perhaps even ‘the’, primary actors in the story of how Karl Barth came to be significant for English-language theology. It was largely he who organized the Church Dogmatics translation project (serving as an editor as well), and his founding of the Scottish Journal of Theology provided a scholarly organ wherein theologians sympathetic with Barth could publish. He also wrote on Barth’s theology…
- Karl Barth: Biblical and Evangelical Theologian - This volume reprints a few of Torrance’s more substantial articles on Barth as well as adds a number of personal reflections, anecdotes, and appreciations. It is an excellent source for learning about how Torrance understood Barth.
- Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology, 1910-31 - This is Torrance’s contribution to Barth’s historiography. Though it has since been eclipsed, this volume remains an interesting read and provides further insight into how Torrance understood Barth.
Torrance’s first teaching post at Edinburgh was in the field of church history, and he wrote on such topics throughout his career. Here are a few of the best book-length instances.
- The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers - This was Torrance’s dissertation, completed under the supervision of Karl Barth.
- Scottish Theology - Torrance here seeks to distinguish a Reformed Scottish theological tradition, especially vis-à-vis the Westminster tradition. Interesting in its own right, this book also offers insight into what makes Torrance tick as a Reformed theologian.
- Calvin’s Doctrine of Man - Just what it sounds like. Torrance actually wrote this hoping to shed light on the debate between Barth and Brunner. It is very interesting in that Torrance relies extensively on Calvin’s biblical commentaries, a method that is increasingly employed in contemporary Calvin studies.
- The Hermeneutics of John Calvin - Torrance draws inferences about Calvin’s theological and philosophical development in this volume from very inconclusive historical data, and historical research into Calvin has progressed since he wrote it, but – as usual with Torrance’s historical work – this volume is rich with insights into Torrance’s own approach and values.
- Elmer Colyer, How to Read T. F. Torrance - This is probably the best ‘one-stop-shop’ for Torrance secondary sources. Colyer begins with a brief (80-ish page) biographical sketch of Torrance, and then goes on to treat his theology extensively. The drawback to Colyer’s scholarship on Torrance is that he tends to scholasticize or systemize Torrance in a way that can sap the vitality from Torrance’s work.
- Alister McGrath, Thomas F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography - McGrath does more biography than Colyer, and tries – at least to some extent – to put that biography into conversation with Torrance’s theology. Perhaps the best aspect of this book, however, is the appendix wherein McGrath attempts a complete Torrance bibliography. Also included is an appendix containing – more or less – Torrance’s CV.
- Elmer Colyer (ed), The Promise of Trinitarian Theology - A collection of essays from various theologians – David Torrance, George Hunsinger, Ray Anderson, Kurt Richardson, Colin Gunton, etc. – engaging with Torrance’s work.
- Gerrit Dawson (ed), An Introduction to Torrance Theology - This volume is not exclusively concerned with TF Torrance, but with all three theological Torrances – TF, David, and James. It contains essays by a number of different types of people – pastors, academics, publishers – and therefore provides a multi-level entry-point into Torrance’s thought in a certain kind of familial context.
I gave a lecture on Torrance, Barth, and Baptism to the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship at the American Academy of Religion national meeting in 2015. You can watch the lecture on Youtube or, if I manage to embed it correctly, below.