Most noted for his work at the intersection of theology and science, for which he was feted in 1978 with the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, and as co-editor of the English version of Karl Barth’s monumental Church Dogmatics , Thomas Forsyth Torrance was the greatest British Protestant theologian of his generation. Not only did he mediate Barth, in his own magisterial way, to the English-speaking world, he also produced a unique synthesis of biblical, pastoral, and philosophical thought. Theology as a science—engaged with other sciences in the progress of science—was his passion. He was equally at home with mathematicians, physicists, and philosophers of science on the one hand, and with classicists, patristics scholars, and churchmen on the other. In token of his work on the Alexandrian fathers and his contributions to a burgeoning ecumenical movement, Torrance—a Church of Scotland minister—was honored in 1973 with the title Protopresbyter in the Patriarchate of Alexandria, a rarer and higher sort of prize. 

Born a century ago in Chengdu, China, to missionary parents, Torrance began his education in a local mission school. Later, after advanced studies at Edinburgh, Oxford, and Basel; teaching in America; parish work in Scotland; and a stint as army chaplain in North Africa and Italy—where more than once he narrowly escaped with his life—Torrance assumed the chair of Christian Dogmatics at New College, Edinburgh. There he remained from 1952 until his retirement in 1979, declining an invitation to become Barth’s successor in Basel. He died in 2007, predeceased by his younger brother James, who held the corresponding chair in Aberdeen. (Tom’s son Iain, until recently president of Princeton Theological Seminary, and James’ son Alan, professor of ­theology at the University of St. Andrews, have extended the family tradition of reverend professors.) It is the work of weighty tomes, like those of Alister McGrath or Paul Molnar, to tell of his achievements; just to list his writings, now fully archived at Princeton, requires a small book.

Continue reading the rest of this article
by subscribing
Subscribe now to access the rest of this article