Here’s a post I originally wrote seven years ago (2010). It’s somewhat outdated, but I still think it communicates something about the value of reading TF Torrance. He is and I think always will be my main theologian squeeze, my primary go to theologian for a variety of reasons.
It is no secret that this blog, in many ways, is shaped by Thomas F. Torrance’s influences. I have “known” T. F. for only the last four years, and I’m still getting to know him 😉 , and everything that I’ve read of his has been a “page-turner.” Almost everything I see him saying resonates with my own sense and theological predisposition; I’m obviously a great fan. Not only that, but we even have our very own T. F. Torrance scholar here at TEC, in the person of Dr. Myk Habets (who recently guest-posted some poetry for us). I say all this, because — and I was actually and naively unaware of this, until a few months ago — I have been becoming more and more aware that T. F. Torrance (I knew about Barth) is not a trusted source for many a theologian out there. Here is an example provided by Dr. Michael Haykin, he recently said this at his blog about Barth and Torrance, comparing B and T with Warfield:
. . . to take one example of comparison between Warfield and Barth/Torrance: when the latter read the Fathers, they frequently read them wrongly, out of context and with their own agenda so that the Fathers end up sounding like neo-orthodox before their time. T.F. Torrance’s study of grace in the Apostolic Fathers is very one-sided and fails to aprpeciate [sic] texts like the Letter to Diognetus, while his reading of Nazianzen (I am thinking of his article on Greg Naz and Calvin on the Trinity) is accepted by few patristic scholars. Warfield, on the other hand, read the Fathers well, partly because of his training as a NT scholar, and devotes monographs to their study. This rich understanding of historical theology informs his systematic study and forms the subsoil out of which he develops a rich overview of the Christian Faith. My problem with Barth and Torrance is that I find I cannot trust them when they are doing patristics, and that makes me suspicious of their interpretation of holy Scripture. (taken from: here)
I can understand his reticence, and I find his transparency commendable. But at the same time, come on! Certainly Barth and Torrance took liberty in some of their readings of the Patristics, but what one calls liberty, another calls interpretation. In other words, isn’t this the work of scholarship, to read and interpret, reconstruct and vivify folks from the past? This happens all the time in theological academia, Haykin makes it sound like there is a static norm and threshold of scholarship that must be met, before any particular scholar can be taken seriously. Come on! Scholarship is fluid, views are fluid, interpretations are fluid (I’m not a relativist 😉 ). To say, as Haykin does, that he cannot trust folks like Torrance — which is his prerogative, and that’s fine — and his interpretation of scripture, is too much of a generalization to take seriously. All I see Haykin, and others doing, is protesting the particular metaphysics that folks like Barth and Torrance (click on the hyper-link to see a good intro to this kind of ‘metaphysics’ done by Kevin Davis) were forwarding (contra the classic kind, that I presume Haykin is committed to). What Haykin does is engage a genetic fallacy, by basically stating that anything that comes from Barth and Torrance is suspect simply because it is coming from Barth and Torrance.
What I appreciate about Torrance is simply his constructive theological creativity; it is his ideas, it is his unique brand of theology. I appreciate him because I think that what he communicates (by-and-large, I don’t agree with everything that comes from TFT) provides some great explanatory power per the ‘inner logic’ implicit in scripture (sola scriptura!). I would like to see Haykin, and folks like him (the prejudice), critique the thought and material content of TFT’s broader theological project versus engaging in sweeping generalization when it comes to Barth and/or Torrance.
A little rant, sorry. Btw, over at his blog, Haykin does see Barth and Torrance as necessary dialogue partners, but I’m afraid that this just means that they serve as “those other guys, over there” foils for magnifying real teachers of truth (like Warfield represents for Haykin). I know nothing of Dr. Haykin, except for what I just read over at his blog, so hopefully I’m completely off base here.