Don’t get me wrong, I love that T.F. Torrance’s theology is being celebrated and devoured by many; that there are many ways into his theology—whether that be academically or popularly. But in some ways I sense that Torrance is often taken out of context; that his situatedness as a Reformed theologian is not appreciated like it should be. As such, when and if this happens, much of the weight and significance of Torrance’s theology can be lost. Just like any theologian Torrance was a product of his time, context, and circumstances. As a theologian and leader in the Church of Scotland (i.e. Reformed) he served as a representative and churchman from a certain theological orientation and predisposition; he operated as a Reformed theologian—even in his ecumenical and catholic activity in his discussions with the Eastern Orthodox.
Torrance was confessional. Torrance emphasized the primacy of God’s grace in Christ. Torrance emphasized God’s sovereignty given shape as it was in and from the Triune life of God as love. Torrance held to the unilateral move of God in salvation. Torrance held to the idea that God pre-destinates (albeit in reference to His own life to be for us in the election of His Son, Jesus Christ). Torrance forwarded a supralapsarian double predestination of election and reprobation (albeit grounded in Christ as both elect and reprobate for us/humanity). Torrance wrote books like Scottish Theology, which surveyed the theologies of many non-Westminsterian Reformed theologians in the Scottish Kirk; and The School of Faith, a book where he lays out a decisively Reformed orientation to things as he works out and explicates the implicates of various Reformed confessions and creeds.
There is more that we could appeal to to illustrate Torrance’s Reformed identity, but this ought to do for now. Why does this matter? Because in much of Torrance’s theology he is responding to something, and someone[s]. Along with his brother James, Thomas’s theology was in response to the Federal theology given its most heightened expression at the Westminster Assembly. Torrance used the material of his Trinitarian and Christologically oriented theology, within the context of his scientific/kata-physin approach, to correct the errors of classical Calvinism and Reformed theology in general. Errors that he would contend depersonalized God, and thus depersonalized God’s salvation in Christ.
There is much in Torrance that is rich and available that doesn’t need to pay too much attention to his Reformed theology, per se. In other words, folks can simply grab onto certain threads of his theology (i.e. Trinitarian, relational, etc.), and go no further; and they will be blessed, no doubt. But again, I think the weight of what Torrance has to offer is only fully appreciated when understood from within the context of his Reformed identity. Just think about the corrective, from that perspective, he has to offer to the resurgence of Reformed theology in the 21st century (i.e. the so called Young, Restless, and Reformed et al.). In North America we are inundated with just one expression of what Reformed theology entails, and that is highly unfortunate. Torrance’s theology, I would argue, even more than Barth’s in some ways, has the capacity to meet classical Calvinism, and its resurgence, and offer an alternative to people that will be more fruitful for them spiritually and in other ways. Torrance’s theology, indeed, has the Reformed rigor people apparently are thirsty for, but of course, his is a theology that is grounded in his rich Trinitarian theology with its Christological focus on grace, salvation, etc. Torrance’s theology has deep continuity with Church history, historical theology, and the rich intellectual heritage that people are thirsty for; which is why they are turning to classical Calvinism in the droves. This is, of course, what we in Evangelical Calvinism are still seeking to point out to people; that the Reformed faith is deep and wide, and Thomas Torrance is a teacher within that tradition who has many riches to offer them. Riches that will benefit them from time and into eternity.
I want to see Torrance’s theology appreciated by all, because I think it actually can be revolutionary for some people’s walks with Jesus Christ. I want to see the resurgence of classical Calvinism tampered down, and marginalized, insofar as I believe if internalized, it will not set people on a good trajectory, spiritually speaking. I would also like to see those who attempt to abstract the good trinitarian theology from TF Torrance, to bear in mind that Torrance was a Reformed theologian par excellence; and that appreciating his context, in that way, will only enhance the richness that he has to offer in regard to the material theological places he provides for in his theological corpus.