Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

A Tribute to the Family Torrance

On my former blog, I once wrote an appreciation, as a Christian pacifist, of the Family Niebuhr. I may reprint it on this blog since I think it was nicely balanced between my genuine critiques of the shortcomings of their perspectives (especially Reinie’s) and an opened-mouthed awe at the gifts God had given this one family and the way they used them for the Church. I -have also written a similar post on the incredible Wesley family–amazed that God sometimes gifts the Church universal with whole  families of amazing servant leaders! (Similar cases could be made for the Family Barth, although Karl Barth’s immense contributions usually overshadow the contributions of Markus and Christoph; the Family Judson of pioneering Baptist missionaries; the father-son team of Thomas & Alexander Campbell; the father-son team of Alexander Mack, Sr. & Jr., founders of the Dunker/Brethren tradition; perhaps others.)

This post is similar, although the distance in theological perspectives is not as great as it was between myself and the Niebuhrs.  The Torrance family of Scotland are all Reformed and my faith is mostly Anabaptist (with some fragments from Puritanism, revivalism, the Social Gospel, liberation theologies, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Moltmann, and some charismatic experiences).  But, with Barth as the bridge, I want to pay tribute to the amazing gift of God this family is to church and theology.  There are fewer Torrance family members as ministers or academic theologians than it appears because the Torrances are so seemingly omnipresent that it often appears as if every 3rd theologian in (or from) Scotland is named Torrance!  Here are my brief, inadequate, tributes:

Thomas Forsyth (T. F.) Torrance (1913-2007) was one of the theological giants of the English-speaking world in the 20th C.  He was born in Chengdu, Szechuan, China where his parents were serving as missionaries of the Church of Scotland–a Reformed Protestant denomination flowing from the heritage of John Calvin (Jean Cauvin–1509-1564) and John Knox (c. 1505-1572) and closely related to the Presbyterians in England and North America.  His father was an ordained Church of Scotland minister and his mother, whom he thought the best preacher and theologian in the family, was a formally-trained Anglican missionary–very rare for women in those days.  Taught in a Canadian school in China, Torrance was horrified to find out on a furlough to Britain that he was woefully deficient in classical Greek and Latin and set about to overcome this through rigorous self-directed study. M.A. in Classics, University of Edinburgh, 1934; B.D. New College, Edinburgh, 1937; Won an academic scholarship to study theology with the Swiss Reformed theologian, Karl Barth, who had long been a theological  hero. D.Theol., University of Basel, Switzerland, 1946.  Invited to teach theology at Auburn Theological Seminary (NY), in the U.S., a Presbyterian seminary which has since merged with Union Theological Seminary  , 1938-39. Offered the first position in theology at the new religion dept. of Princeton University in 1939 (at 25!), but had to turn it down because WWII was so obviously imminent. He returned to Scotlan to be with his people rather than stay safe in the U. S. A. Consistent with his Reformed acceptance of “just war theory,” Torrance volunteered as an army chaplain to Scottish troops, but there was a waiting list. He went to Oriel College, Oxford to work on his dissertation, 1940. He wass a parish -minister, Alyth, Perthshire, Scotland, 1940-1943; 1943-45, Torrance saw service in “Huts and Canteens” in Middle East, then was army chaplain to frontline troops in the Italian campaign–repeatedly nearly killed. In1944, for wartime service awarded an M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire). He also finished his  dissertation and returned to Basel for oral exams.  Torrance was awarded D.Theol., magne cum laude, 1946. He married Margaret Spear, an Anglican,  in 1946.  1947-1950, Torrance was again a parish minister, Beechgrove Church, Aberdeen, a large parish church that had previously been pastored by such Church of Scotland luminaries as James S. Stewart, A. J. Gossip, and, Torrance’s own professor, Hugh Ross Mackintosh.  In 1945, Torrance founded the Scottish Church Theology Society.  In 1948, he founded the Scottish Journal of Theology which he co-edited (with J.K.S. Reid) from 1948 to 1982.  In 1946, Torrance’s dissertation published as The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers.  In 1949, Published, Calvin’s Doctrine of Man as an attempt to settle the debate between Barth and Brunner over the relation of nature and grace, since both appealed not only to Scripture but to Calvin.

1950-1952, Professor of Church History, University of Edinburgh; 1952-1979, Professor of Christian Dogmatics, New College, University of Edinburgh, Scotland.  1952, Torrance assembled a team of scholars, including the brilliant choice of Geoffrey W. Bromiley as co-editor, to translate Karl Barth’s massive Kirchliche Dogmatik into the 16 volumes of Church Dogmatics.  If Torrance had done nothing else, this would have been a superb gift to the Church universal by itself. The translation and index was not completed until 1977!  Torrance retired from Edinburgh in 1979, but continued to lecture and write.

He made significant contributions to the dialogue between science and religion–and in 1978 he was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion because of these contributions.  He was instrumental in forging theological agreement between the Church of Scotland and Eastern Orthodox Christianity over the doctrine of the Trinity.  Torrance wrote several books on the Trinity, but also significant volumes on Creation, Atonement, Incarnation, Eschatology, and Pneumatology.

His works often constituted a “bridge” to Barth for evangelicals in the English-speaking world, especially in the UK and North America.  He also helped many a North American evangelical become more familiar with Patristic theologians.  And, as I can attest from 2 personal meetings, he helped convey a sense of the joy of Christian theology–that theology was a “joyful science” because one was seeking to better understand the gospel of the living God!

A major weakness from my own theological perspective is a lack of attention to theological ethics.  Barth’s own approach to ethics (deriving various dimensions of the Command of God from different theological doctrines) may be inadequate–I would argue that it is insufficiently exegetical and neglects the rich narrative ethics of both Jesus and the prophets!–but, at least, he spent considerable attention to these matters. Torrance did not–not even connecting his strong interest in the relation of theology and the sciences to the environmental crises. Nor did this army chaplain during World War II ever write anything (to my knowledge) on war and peacemaking, genocide, church-state relations, etc. In fact, though Torrance should be praised for going beyond his mentor, Barth, in engaging the world of Eastern Orthodoxy, he must be criticized for falling well below Barth in engaging Judaism! There is no hint in Torrance’s work that Christians living after the Holocaust need to confront the history of Christian anti-Semitism, including theological anti-Judaism–a history that distorts our view of Judaism and distorts our readings of Scripture because we fail to grasp how thoroughly Jewish the early Jesus movement was.  This must be counted as a major shortcoming of Torrance’s thought.

In 2004, the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Research Fellowship was formed, which gives some indication of the breadth of his continuing influence.

James Bruce (J. B.) Torrance (1923-2003), younger brother to Thomas.  Like his older brother, James was born on the mission field in China.  He was educated at the University of Edinburgh, with his first degree interrupted by being “called up” by the Royal Air Force in 1944. After his service in World War II, he earned an M.A. in philosophy from Edinburgh, taking First Class Honours and winning the Senior Medal in Moral Philosophy, Logic, and Metaphysics.  His influential teacher was Professor John MacMurray.  He earned his B.D. at New College, Edinburgh, and then an M.A. from the University of Marburg.  The conflict between Barth and Bultmann was at full-tilt during this period and, although James shared his brother Thomas’ regard for Barth’s work, he wanted exposure to the Bultmann first-hand.  Like his older brother, he finished his education with a D. Theol. from the University of Basel, where he studied with Karl Barth and Oscar Cullmann.  He did some post-graduate study at Oxford and then entered parish ministry, Invergowrie, near Dundee. It is reported that many were brought to living faith through James Torrance’s ministry there.  In 1963, as Thomas Torrance moved from teaching church history to theology at Edinburgh, the James was appointed Lecturer in the History of Christian Thought.  He spent 16 years on the Faculty of Divinity at Edinburgh, most of them as Senior Lecturer in Christian Dogmatics.  On the day he left Edinburgh, a packed Rainey Hall at New College gave him a standing ovation–rare even for beloved teachers and colleagues among the reserved Scots!  From 1979 until his retirement in 1989, Torrance was Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Aberdeen, where he also served as Dean,  and was a major force (along with Methodist New Testament scholar I. Howard Marshall) in leading Aberdeen to become, during this time, one of the most dynamic centers of theological education in the world.

During time teaching at Edinburgh and Aberdeen, James Torrance also traveled widely, especially in Canada, the United States, Australia, and South Africa, often lecturing and preaching up to five times in one day!  As a result, students flocked to study with him from all over the world.  He remained a faithful churchman, extremely active both locally and in ecumenical work.

He published much less than his older brother, contributing articles to dictionaries and scholarly journals, and writing one major book, Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace.  However, some of his many unpublished works are beginning to be published posthumously.  He also co-wrote, A Passion for Christ with his brothers, Thomas and David Torrance.

Ian Torrance (b. 1949), son of Thomas and nephew of James.  Currently, serving as Pro-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen.  Torrance was the younger son of T. F. Torrance and born in Aberdeen, 1949. He grew up in the near-poverty that even academics faced in post-war Britain.  Because the government-run schools (what Americans would call “public schools,” but that term means something quite different in the UK) had been hit especially hard by the war, Ian’s family sacrificed greatly and sent him to Edinburgh      Academy, and Monkton Combe School in Bath, England. He earned his M.A. from the University of Edinburgh, B.D., University of St. Andrews, and his D.Phil., Oriel College, Oxford University.    After his doctorate at Oxford, he was ordained a Minister of the Church of Scotland, and served at Northmavine Parish, Shetland Islands (1982-1985) Territorial Army chaplain,1982-1997; Army Cadet Force Chaplain, 1997-2000; Convener, General Assembly of the Church of Scotland’s Committee to the Chaplains of the Armed Forces, 1998-2002; Moderator, General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 2003-2004; Represented the Church of Scotland at the Installation of Pope Benedict XVI.  Co-editor, Scottish Journal of Theology (1982-); Lecturer in New Testament and Patristics, University of Birmingham (1985-1993) (during which time he was on staff at Queen’s College, an ecumenical college for the training of clergy); Professor of Patristics and Christian Ethics, University of Aberdeen (1993-2004); Dean, Faculty of Arts and Divinity, University of Aberdeen, 2001-2004; Master, Christ’s College, University of Aberdeen, 2001-2004; President and Professor of Patristics, Princeton Theological Seminary, 2004-2012 and then retired and returned to Scotland to become Pro-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen.  Torrance has paid more attention to theological ethics than his father and uncle.  Although he served as a military chaplain, he opposed the nuclear arms race.  Further, during his time as Moderator of the Church of Scotland, he used his office to call for the release of Libyan national, Abdelbaset al-Megrah, who was imprisoned (on flimsy evidence) for the Lockerby bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103.  Ian Torrance argued that the guilty verdict had more to do with pressure from the U.S. government and fear of al-Megrah as a Muslim than it did with evidence of his guilt in the act of terrorism.

Torrance also opposed Tony Blair and the British addition to America’s “coalition of the willing,” as it invaded Iraq in 2003.  He was not a pacifist and had served as a military chaplain.  But he believed that the invasion of Iraq did not meet the tests of “just war theory,” and warned that it would lead to a long occupation and would harm the moral reputation of both Christianity and the United Kingdom (and the U.S.A.)–which proved prescient. But Torrance would not make such criticisms from the sidelines. In his role as Moderator of the Church of Scotland, he risked life and limb to visit every unit of British troops serving in Iraq.

Torrance took a different kind of risk when he championed the ordination of openly gay and lesbian clergy in the Church of Scotland. His views were very controversial (2003-2004) and did not immediately carry the day, but his prominence and prestige opens the door to serious discussion of these and other, related, matters of sexuality within the Church of Scotland.

Because Torrance hasn’t written on theological ethics, we who were not his students, don’t know much about his method or his views on much besides war and sex, but we do know that he worked hard on this subject throughout his career.

Torrance has written on the Trinity, on Patristics and theology after the council of Chalcedon.  He has also been strongly involved in ecumenical work like his father and uncle before him, but, he has gone further than them in also being heavily involved in interfaith dialogue, especially Christian-Muslim dialogue.

I hope he writes more in his retirement.

Ronald S. Wallace (1911-2006), Brother-in-law to Thomas and Uncle to Alan and Ian. Born in the Highlands of Scotland in 1911 and was educated at The Royal High School, Edinburgh and graduated early at 15. At 16 he matriculated at the University of Edinburgh and took a First in Civil Engineering. Perceiving a call to ministry, he transferred to the Faculty of Arts and earned an M.A. in Philosophy, his Bachelor of Divinity from New College, Edinburgh.  He was ordained and became a Minister in the Church of Scotland.  In 1937, he married Mary Moulin Torrance, sister of Thomas Torrance.  They had a son, David, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Heather.  Wallace’s nephews include Ian Torrance and Alan Torrance; moreover his son-in-law, George McLeod Newlands, is also an academic theologian.  In 1940, Wallace became a parish minister at Pollock Church, Glasgow.  During World War II, he was a minister with the “Huts and Canteens” program of the Church of Scotland.  After WWII, he became, in 1951, Minister at St. Kentigan’s Church, Lanark. While there, he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh with a dissertation on Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacraments.  In 1958, he became Minister of Lothian Road Church, Edinburgh.  From 1964 to 1977, Wallace was Professor of Biblical Theology, at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA (USA).  From 1977 until his retirement in 1995, Wallace was Professor of Biblical Theology and Dean of the Faculty at Near East School of Theology in Beirut, Lebanon.  Upon his retirement, Wallace returned to Scotland and died in 2006.  Wallace was an author of books of sermons, several popular commentaries on biblical books in both Testaments, an exposition of the 10 Commandments as an “ethic of freedom,” and a work of historical theology which examined the relationship of Calvin to the city of Geneva and the wider Reformation.

George McLeod Newlands, Emeritus Professor of Divinity, University of Glasgow, son-in-law to Ronald Wallace (see above).  Born  on December 7, 1941 in Perth, Scotland, Newlands was educated at Perth Academy,  the University of Edinburgh (M.A., Classics, 1st Class Honors; B.D., Ecclesiastical History, 1st Class Honors; Ph.D.; D.Litt.). He did graduate study from 1966 to 1969 on travelling fellowships at the University of Heidelberg, University of Paris, University of Zurich, University of Basel (where he attended Karl Barth’s last seminar and last lecture series). He earned an M.A. in 1973 at Churchill College, Cambridge University.  In 1970, he was ordained a minister in the Church of Scotland, Presbytery of Glasgow and in 1982 became simultaneously a priest in the Church of England (License to officiate, Diocese of Glasgow).  From 1969 to 1970 Newlands was Assistant Minister in Muirhouse, Edinburgh.  Lecturer in Divinity, University of Glasgow, 1969-1970; Lecturer in Systematic Theology, University of Glasgow, 1970-1973; University Lecturer of Divinity, Cambridge University, 1973-1975; Elected Fellow of Wolfson College (Cambridge), 1975; Fellow and Dean (and Chaplain, 1982-1984), Trinity Hall, Cambridge University, 1982-1986; Elected Professor of Divinity, University of Glasgow, 1986; Head of Department of Church History and Theology, University of Glasgow, 1986-1992; Dean of the Faculty of Divinity, Glasgow University, 1988-1990; Principal of Trinity College (Church of Scotland), University of Glasgow, 1991-1997, 2001-; Director, Center for Literature, Theology, and the Arts, University of Glasgow, 1999-2002.

Newland has contributed in both historical and systematic theology and theological ethics.  His first work, Hilary of Portiers:  A Study in Theological Method (1978) was considered a landmark in the field.  In 1980, noting that Barth had done theology from the perspective of faith, and Moltmann from hope, Newland decided to re-think theology from the 3rd of the Pauline theological virtues, love.  The result was Theology of the Love of God (1980).  He followed this with The Church of God (1984) and his first work on Christian ethics, Making Christian Decisions.

Newland has made major contributions in the theological underpinnings of human rights and in interfaith dialogue.  He also went further than Ian Torrance as a straight ally for LGBT concerns in the church. He co-founded Affirmation Scotland, “a ministry of care, compassion, inclusivity, and advocacy” for LGBT concerns within the Church of Scotland.

Alan J. Torrance (b. 1956-), son of James and nephew of Thomas.  Like most of his family, Alan was educated at the University of Edinburgh (B.A.,  Philosophy; M.A., 1st Class Honours, Philosophy).  He earned his B.D.  with 1st Class Honours, at the University of Aberdeen.  He went on to earn his D. Theol. summa cum laude, from the University of Erlangen-Nurnberg. Currently, Professor of Systematic Theology, St. Mary’s College, St. Andrews University, St. Andrews, Scotland.  Previously lectured at King’s College, London University (1993-1998), where he was also Director, Research Institute in Systematic Theology. Previous to that post, he lectured at Knox Theologica, l Hall and the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Alan Torrance’s contributions in theology are still developing. He was awarded a Templeton Prize in Religion and Science to develop a course in science and theology at the University of St. Andrews, which he has done.

Alan Torrance’s writings, mostly well received, have been in Christology, theological anthropology, philosophical and systematic theology, and theological ethics.  He has reflected on the relation of the doctrine of the Trinity to patriarchy (and its subversion). He has also written on the theological nature of forgiveness and reconciliation and their application to the socio-political realm.  He has continued the emphasis of Ian Torrance and George Newlands on the need for inclusion and equality of LGBT persons in the church and society.  Although not a declared pacifist, Alan Torrance is the first in this family of ministers and theologians to NOT serve in the military and he has seemed even more critical of nuclear weapons and institutionalized war system than the rest of his family.

Perhaps this amazing family will soon produce female theologians, too.  This family of theologians has been an amazing collective gift of God –not just to the Church of Scotland or to the Reformed tradition, but to the Church Universal.



July 3, 2013 Posted by | history of theology, theologians | Leave a comment