OBITUARY: The Rev Professor James Torrance ; Theologian Both Orthodox and Radical
May, Stephen, The Independent (London, England)
JAMES TORRANCE, Professor of Systematic Theology at Aberdeen University from 1977 to 1989, was a member of an extensive theological clan with significant input into the life of the Church of Scotland. He shared with his older brother Tom, his nephew Iain and his son Alan the dignity and responsibility of being a professor of Christian theology. James Torrance was this and, more, a deeply believing Christian who drew strength throughout his life from prayer, reflection on the Scriptures, theological reading and the support of friends and a close and loving family.
He was born in China in 1923, of Scottish missionary parents. A first class degree in Philosophy and a degree in Divinity with Distinction at Edinburgh University were separated by Second World War service in the RAF. He then embarked in postgraduate study at the universities of Marburg and Basle.
From 1954 to 1961 he served as Minister at the Parish Church in Invergowrie, before moving to Edinburgh first as Lecturer, then Senior Lecturer at New College, the Theology Faculty of Edinburgh University. In 1977 he became Professor of Systematic Theology at Aberdeen University, where he blossomed, attracting many students from abroad. Even after retirement, he was much in demand as a speaker, and lectured in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Students were repeatedly enthralled by his presentations and his brilliant ability to summarise his insights clearly and incisively, often with the aid of a diagram or two.
He often had a dramatic effect on his hearers. He was one of those for whom the difference between a sermon and a lecture was "about 45 minutes". Not that his sermons were inconsiderable: they reflected major theological concerns, and their huge implications, but always delivered with urgency, conviction and a desire to communicate. In his lecturing too (either as a salaried teacher or as a visiting speaker), he could revolutionise people's thinking about their faith. I met a Pentecostal minister at a conference in Sydney who said his life and ministry had been changed completely after hearing a lecture from James Torrance on the priesthood of Christ.
For Torrance, Christ was everything. He emphasised the notion of Christ as mediator between God and humanity, not just from God to us (the conventional concept) but the other way as well. Following Karl Barth (under whom he had studied), he affirmed the idea that Christ stood in our place to do for us what we could not do, expression of the incarnate God's grace and reconciling love.
Torrance developed this, emphasising that we were enabled to share in Christ's humanity through the Holy Spirit: participation in Christ and life in the Spirit were allied concepts, driving towards a fundamental concept of God as a loving Trinity. The Trinity was not just an epistemological reality (telling us about how we know God) but an ontological one too (telling us both how God is, and how we should mirror His being.)
Torrance developed the notion of the "vicarious humanity of Christ" with particular reference to worship. It ceased, he argued, to be an arduous, independent activity on our part which brought us merit, and became instead joyful Spirit-given participation in the worship of Christ. Armed with this and similar significant conceptual tools, Torrance re-examined the history of theology, and particularly that of his native country and the Reformed tradition. This brought conflict at times with those who read Scottish theology, and particularly the legacy of Calvin, very differently.
From his experience …
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Publication information: Article title: OBITUARY: The Rev Professor James Torrance ; Theologian Both Orthodox and Radical. Contributors: May, Stephen - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: December 11, 2003. Page number: 22. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.