Tuesday, December 23, 2008

So, You Want to Read T. F. Torrance?

This month has turned into something of a TF Torrance month, here at DET. We have especially been considering Torrance’s relationship with Barth, in conjunction with some thoughts that Ben Myers circulated on the topic. More recently, George Hunsinger has weighed in. All this is very fitting since this month marks the one-year anniversary of Torrance’s death.

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.
Two more words of advice for those starting out with Torrance. First, don’t expect much from his writing. As one of my teachers once said within earshot of me, Torrance would have benefited from a good editor! His sentences can be – in fact, usually are – quite long and complicated. But, it is worth fighting through such difficulties. Second, recognize that Torrance’s writings are occasional in nature. He is always addressing a particular audience on a particular topic, and so emphases vary from work to work. Neither is Torrance one whom we should be too hasty to systematize.

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.
Dogmatic Track
  • 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.
Barth Track

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.
Historical Track

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.
What are some secondary sources that can help me understand Torrance better?
  • 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.
This guide has grown far more lengthy than I had originally intended, but the fragmentary and multi-directional nature of Torrance’s work can be blamed for this. I hope that you, my gentle readers, find it helpful. If it serves to make the task of making a beginning with Torrance less daunting, and thereby contributes to more people reading him, I will be well contented with my efforts.

5 comments:

bobby grow said...

Thank you for the list, Travis!

I am happy to say, over the last year (or so, year and a half) I have read at least one book, from each of your categories: 'starting out (christology)', 'going deeper', 'theology and science', 'trinitarian', 'church history','on Karl Barth' . . . but nothing in the secondary literature.

To be honest, and this is not an overstatement, T.F. has changed my theological frame, forever . . . and for the good! To be honest I find him much more 'readable' than Barth, and for me, more agreeable. The way I think about Barth, at this point, is probably more 'Torrancian' than anything else . . . for good or ill. I can't wait to get my hands on his most recent work (posthomous) Incarnation, that definitely will be my next "Torrance" read.

As far as his 'family' who do you like? I've been trying to find stuff from his brother "James" on 'Scottish theology', unfortunately my theo library does not carry his stuff; so I'll have to purchase it---any suggestions?

Thanks again, this has been very helpful!

WTM said...

I know very little of to work of James or David (TF's brothers), or even of Alan (James' son). Iain (TF's son) I know a little bit about simply because he is the current PTS president.

Read the 'Introduction to Torrance Theology' mentioned above for entry into these things.

brainofdtrain said...

Bobby,

James did not publish nearly as much as T.F. did. The best book he wrote is probably "Worship, Community, & the Triune God of Grace." I really enjoyed it. I think that he has much in common with his brother, and is more readable.

Also, although i haven't read it, i know that Alan has written a book called "Persons in Communion." I've heard that it is fantastic, but also a more dense work.

Blessings!

bobby grow said...

'Brain',

thank you.

Might I suggest if you haven't, reading: Bruce L. McCormack, ed.,”Engaging the Doctrine of God: Contemporary Protestant Perspectives," and in particular McCormack's conversation, through Barth, with Open Theists ;-). I think you might find it stimulating :-).

Anonymous said...

I am looking for T. F. Torrance, "The Integration of Form in Natural and Theological Science" in Science, Medicine and Man, vol. 1, 3, 1973, pp 152ff. I assume this is a journal. Local University doesn't have it. Is the essay available online or in any other place.

Please send any info. to ojfoustjr@msn.com.

Thanks. Jerry Foust