Secular Eschatology; Secular Salvation

Part of the human condition is living in a world wherein teleology is an inescapable reality. What I mean is that in-built into our creatureliness is an innate notion that nature, or creation is heading somewhere; viz. that it has some sort of end. It isn’t just Christians who have an eschatology as part of their doctrine of creation [or as the mainstay of their doctrine of creation]; it isn’t just Christians who have a belief in last things, and how the cosmos, and the earth therein ends. The secular, because of the human condition, because ‘eternity has been set in our hearts’ (Eccl. 3.11), has a view towards the way the natural order will come to an end. True, the Christian versus the Secular view is dissimilar in some radical ways, but this is to be expected just as some can call Christ, LORD, and others cannot; because the others do not have the Spirit. This dissimilarity notwithstanding, creatures build intellectual and even spiritual constructs based upon the hollowed-out material left to them in the old-fallen-creation; insofar as the old creation has God’s ratio, some might want to call it Logoi replete within it, here concepts of nature’s finitude and transitoriness help supply the secular with its own versions of the eschaton. These versions, the secular’s, are only able to be developed as a result of a sort of parasitic siphon on the actual eschatological reality as that has been Revealed in God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. Within the webbing of this Revelation the secular is given conceptual/intellectual access that helps illumine further what remains for them in the old-fallen-world order. In other words, it’s not as if the secular has no exposure to the Revealed reality of God in the taxis of the intellectual world order of ideas. Indeed, the secular has been shaped, ‘innately,’ even as that is only given pressure for the secular in mostly unconscious ways, by the conceptual seeds broadcast this world over by the kerygmatic in-breaking of the Christian witness, as that has ruptured the horizon of this old-world-order with the Light of God’s own beaming Eschatos in the face of the Christ; it is in this new horizon that that old-horizon can faintly sense orientations that remain dead to them, insofar as the Spirit has not hovered over them bringing the sprout of new life—the seed imperishable.

All of the aforementioned to say: The world order itself, as broken man experiences it, provides for a schema of the ‘end’ that ultimately bears witness to the fact that humanity has never nor will ever be alone. Fallen humanity, the secular, lives in a world that requires a response to its stimuli. The stimuli of this world is a reality that is extra nos (outside of us), a reality that is external to us grounded in the heavenly session of the Son of Man seated at the Right Hand of the Father. This pressure, even for the fallen humanity, makes such humanity squirm under the Light of God’s forbearance; under the reality that this fallen humanity lives under the No of God’s Yes in Jesus Christ. Such contradiction to the secular’s attempt to create a life out of the world’s perceived nothings is precisely the point wherein humanity feels compelled to construct accounts of the ‘end’, as they couch that in their concepts of the ‘Beginning’ (protology), such that they hope to ‘innately’ mimic the reality pressed upon them without bowing the knee to this Ultimacy which they cannot escape. The secular has a concept of the beginning correlating to an end; not just in a linear sense, but in an apocalyptic sense. Colin Gunton helps illustrate what I’ve been getting at thus far,

When we seek to speak of the eschatological dimension of creation theology, we should be careful to define what it is that we mean theologically. There are in currency a number of what can be called secular eschatologies, often scientific theories of the end of things in the observable universe, taking the form of the disappearance of everything in an immense black hole, a heat death of everything or the equivalent death by extreme cold. In response, some scientists have attempted to salvage from the wreckage some form of secular salvation, supposing that a kind of immortality might be attainable for the human race if something could be projected into eternity in computerised form. It must be said of all these that they are not truly eschatological, in the sense we shall explore, because they are simply or largely projections on the universe of forms of this-worldly experience. It is possible that some of them may signal an end of all things in a more radical sense, but it remains the case that the end of things as we know them is not necessarily identical with the End, just as speculation about the ‘big bang’, or whatever, is not the same as the doctrine of creation out of nothing.[1]

Gunton helps to reinforce some of my own inklings, and at the same time brings even greater precision as he notes the role that human projection plays in constructing naturalistic concepts of the beginning and end.

For my part, what I want to drive home, in the main, is that no man or woman can escape the conditions which they have been born into. And the harder they try the more precision they will offer in regard to the sort of mimicry they will achieve when they attempt to explain reality under the new world order within which they exist (but do not live); i.e. the New-Creation. I think this is important: The Secular animal only proves the reality of the cross of Jesus Christ as they attempt to continue to find some sort of harbinger in its Shadow side. What I am pressing is the idea that humanity is objectively oriented to God by the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ; whether they will acknowledge that or not. In their disacknowledgement of that they only ironically bear witness to God’s No over them, and their fallen condition, while not participating in God’s Yes for them in Jesus Christ. As a result, they live from the ‘kingdom of darkness’ and attempt to create a reality, even an eschaton for the human story, that is given fiery breath from their doomed father, the devil. The devil has been attempting to construct a kingdom out of the rot of his own choice to be against Christ rather than for him for millennia untold. Is it any surprise that his progeny in the dark underworld of this fallen world bears witness not only to the No of God, but to the tactics and tics of the devil himself?

[1] Colin E. Gunton, The Triune Creator: A Historical And Systematic Study (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), Loc 2961, 2966 kindle.


The Impact of the Greek Mind on the Christian Body: The Bread that Binds is the Broken Body of Christ Rather than the Broken Minds of Men

I wanted to press something I haven’t for awhile; the idea that operating from a genuinely Trinitarian doctrine of God means that we will think of a God-world relation (Creator/creature relation) in personalist-relational-filial terms rather than static and necessitarian. The continuous drive of young evangelical theologians to retrieve theology from the 16th and 17th centuries and the developments that happened in Post Reformation Reformed (PRR) Western Europe ends up giving us an understanding of God that fits better with a static and necessitarian understanding of God rather than the relational one that I contend explodes from the Trinitarian reality. Richard Muller calls the type of Christianity that developed in PRR: Christian Aristotelianism. It was Aristotle’s categories mediated through people like Thomas Aquinas and appropriated by post reformed orthodox Thomists wherein a God who looked more like the monad of Aristotle and Plato—a Pure Being—was produced rather than the relational God who would be understood through a properly exegeted understanding of God as Triune. Colin Gunton notes the developments, to a point, in this way:

This takes us to the second point, which is that along with the demystification of nature, there developed a doctrine of the contingency of the world. Greek thought, as Foster shows, tends to be necessitarian: it seeks for forms, that is, patterns in reality that have to be, and that remains essentially the case with Aristotle, for all his naturalism. (Recall that according to the Timaeus both form and matter are eternal, and therefore necessarily what they are.) Scientific enquiry on this understanding becomes the quest for logical rather than factual links between things. In contrast to this, the world that results from a free act of creation does not have to be: it is therefore contingent. This contrasts with most Greek thought, for which contingency is essentially problematic: it is irrational because not necessarily and eternally true. A form of Gnosticism recurs in this context: truth is not to be found in material things, because that is the realm of the contingent. Therefore truth has to be sought somewhere outside the material world, in something or some principles underlying (or overlying) it. On this account, ‘Objects are intelligible in so far as they are informed, sensible insofar as they are material.’ Contingency, and so materiality, is thus a defect of being. In contrast to this, in the words of T. F. Torrance, ‘contingent rationality’ is a quest for a rationality inhering in the order of space and time, not beyond it. This, it is claimed, is the unique gift of the Christian doctrine of creation. The material world is contingent but rational.[1]

I drew a line between late medieval theology, and Thomas’s impact, and the developments of Post Reformation Reformed orthodoxy. It is difficult to generalize the period because it is made up of various characters and personages with just as various perspectives and theological conclusions. But in general, the style of classical theism the reformed orthodox appropriated, and developed, came with the Aristotelian tendencies; even if they wanted to affirm rather than deny (so Aristotle) creatio ex nihilo (‘creation out of nothing’). That’s what this discussion we are engaging with is about: viz. creation out of nothing, and the attendant understanding of contingency that follows.

My contention is that the theologies produced by the Post Reformed orthodox theologians were not altogether successful in emphasizing the freedom and thus requisite contingency that would attend such Divine freedom in a God-world relation. The consequent, one of them, is that the way people understand God’s relationship to the world, in the Christian Aristotelian model, is one wherein we end up with a Decretal God who relates to creation through decrees and the attending doctrine of causality (predeterminism that ends up making God in Christ in the incarnation a predicate of creation rather than its predicator; thus rupturing God’s person in Christ from his work in Christ). This continues to be an issue that plagues the current excavation work that people like Mike Allen and Scott Swain, among other young stalwarts, are engaged in at this very moment. Because folks like this ostensibly spy problems in modern theology they paradigmatically reject the idea that a fruitful or corrective understanding of a doctrine of God might be found there. They’d rather cast their lot with the so called tradition, and appeal to the natural theology required to make such an appeal.

At the end of the day I’m left wondering: what makes an idea about God orthodox? Is it really the period of ideation and development that said ideas developed within; and by whom? Or is there a greater regulative principle we ought to consider? What if Holy Scripture was in fact the norma normans and principium theologiae that so many of these younger evangelical theologians laudably affirm (as good Reformed thinkers). What if Scripture’s res (reality) was in fact the risen Christ, and the viva vox Dei (living voice of God) was in fact greater than the tradition that so many of these theologians appeal to as regulative for their own recovery projects? Some fear a Socinianism, a fallacious biblicism run amok, when they hear such words as mine. But what if the reality of Holy Scripture still speaks fresh and new words today, such that the tradition itself is called into relief when standing in the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ? What if theology has an eschatological character to it, such that theology itself is always only a proximate endeavor that requires renovation over and again as it is pressed up and further into the lively reality it claims to be speaking of (rather than about) and to?

These are the kinds of questions and issues that continue to drive me as a Christian thinker. I don’t see a lot of fresh work being done in the theological realm, per se. Instead I see a constant desire to re-iterize what has already been said, a desire to return to the ‘old paths’ to the golden age of a theological yesteryear that somehow eclipses the present and its ability to produce constructive theologies on their own terms in dialogue with the living voice of God in Holy Scripture and its reality in Jesus Christ. This is not to suggest that the categories of the tradition do not offer valuable trajectories and insights, but it is to suggest that a repristination of these periods is of only relative value for the Christian churches catholic. The catholicizing reality that binds the church together is not tradition, but the risen Christ; as we proclaim his coming in eucharistic unity.

[1] Colin E. Gunton, The Triune Creator: A Historical And Systematic Study (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), Loc 1581, 1587 kindle.

Augustine, Barth, Time, Eternity, Timelessness, Grace, Election, Human Agency: Small Matters

If God is outside of time, if God creates time as Augustine and the tradition contends—to one degree or another—then it would follow that some form of determinism is the way that God must relate to the world. That he has in-built into the world system a set of causal relations (the classical philosophers offer the categories here) wherein his timelessness is untouched and his world is conditioned by this sort of Divine touch. If Augustine’s doctrine of creation, which is what we are referring to, is the basis for understanding how creation operates vis-à-vis her Creator, then what we must be left with is a decretal God who is not personally active in creation, per se. In other words, if Augustine is correct, God’s relationship to the world is inactively active and must be encountered, even in the incarnation, only through the causal conditions dictated by a creation created under the conditions required to keep God timeless and creation ‘timeful.’

We will unpack this further as we engage with Colin Gunton’s treatment, and critique of Augustine on these points[1], and then attempt to constructively apply these insights (Gunton’s) into alignment with asking questions about human agency in the drama of creation; more particularly in the drama of redemption/salvation (as we end up referring to Barth’s theology). What you will notice, as we engage with Gunton, is his emphasis upon Pneumatology and understanding that as the personalist relief that Augustine’s doctrine of creation and God do not seemingly present.

In sum, Augustine tends to conclude that because creation is the act of the timeless God, then all God’s acts must be conceived to be timeless. The outcome for him is that God’s act of creation is understood to be instantaneous, and the days of Genesis demythologised away. He would not have liked ‘creationism’ either. However, if the divine creation of all things is simultaneous, it is difficult to take the order of time and space seriously as the good creation of God. Symptomatic is Augustine’s tendency to hold that the fact that activities and events take time is a sign of their fallenness, making a gnostic equation of materiality and fallennes dangerously close. ‘The discursiveness of thought and speech, the necessary division of discourse into a temporal succession of a multitude of parts, stands as a testimony of the Fall and thus to the separation of the rational soul from the perfect unity of God.’ If we are not to fall into that trap, we must do what Augustine failed to do and consider more closely what might be the shape of divine action in time. . . . We have seen that Augustine’s christology is centered on the eternal Son, and is neglectful, in this context, of the incarnation. But to understand the relation of the eternal God to time and history, that is precisely what we cannot neglect. Here is the life of a man which, as a narrated whole, from beginning to end, is also, and without diminishing its character as human, also divine act. This is a divine act, an act of the eternal God, which is, so to speak, stretched out in time.[2]

We see the dilemma as laid out by Gunton with reference to his construal of Augustine’s doctrine of creation. We also see that Gunton has set himself up to offer a solution to the ostensible lacuna offered by Augustine’s theology in regard to thinking time and eternity in relation to God’s interaction therein. Gunton notes the role that Christology and the incarnation ought to have for Augustine, but because of Augustine’s prior thinking on a timeless God, Gunton contends that Augustine does not have the necessary and categorical conceptual realities to allow him to arrive at the sort of fulsome biblical picture we ought to come to when thinking about God’s relationship to the world in time. As one reads further with Gunton he offers a nice quote from Barth which helps to correct this lack in Augustine. I’d like to share that section, but because of space-limitation I will bypass that and share Gunton’s own proposal as he seeks to help Augustine’s lackluster doctrine of creation as that relates to God and salvation.

Here is Gunton abridged once again:

The Spirit is the one who enables the creation to be truly spatial and temporal by relating it to God the Father through the one who took our time and space to himself in order to redeem it.

Determinism is accordingly best avoided not by reading time back into God but by focusing on the action of the Spirit who is the giver of freedom and the one who enables the created order to be itself: to become what it was created to be. And in that regard, a note of eschatology cannot be far behind. To speak of the work of the Spirit in relation to creation is to speak of the created order eschatologically: that is to say, to direct or thoughts to the end. And the point of this is that we cannot understand the beginning without some orientation to the end. Already on the seventh day of the Genesis account an eschatological dimension may be present, especially in the light of the fact that that day comes in later tradition to be treated as a type of the coming Kingdom of God. Creation in the beginning cannot finally be understood without its directedness to an end, because it has to be understood as God’s project, a project in which he freely and graciously involves us, his personal creation.[3]

Gunton’s response to Augustine’s dilemma—created because of Augustine’s idea on the relationship between time and eternity—is to emphasize hard the reality of the Holy Spirit and his ability to transect creation and un-creation through the mediated reality and singular person known as Jesus Christ. I’m still waiting for Gunton to fill his thoughts out further in later chapters.

Ultimately there is some level of mystery between how the timeless God becomes timeful in the incarnation; how the mediation between God and humanity in the singular person of Jesus Christ does not become atomically ripped asunder as the twain meet. Gunton lays the burden of this union upon the creative and recreative activity of the Holy Spirit.

But what is more interesting to me is how Gunton’s emphasis upon the eschatological and the Holy Spirit implicates how human agency operates in a world where there is a hard ontological distinction between the Ultimacy of Creator God, and his creation. How does determinism get voided in such a world? Some, in fact many Calvinists celebrate the idea of determinism, and the attending decretal God (who relates to the world through decrees and the Aristotelian theory of causation therein). Gunton is attempting to offer a constructive proposal while at the same time remaining within the lines of the traditional-metaphysics that Augustine among others presents the church catholic; a tradition that seeks to understand a creation that is perfected by grace as that is presented through Christ by the Holy Spirit.

So we have the traditional-metaphysical, and then we have something like what Karl Barth offers. Some people, some Barthians, want to label Barth’s approach, in particular, and the modern approach in general as postmetaphysical. But of course this is mistaken (at least in Barth’s case). Getting beyond that, at a material level, Barth maintains that God’s grace is constantly contradicting ‘nature’; it is within this contradiction wherein new life is found precisely because God’s grace is God in Christ for us. Note George Hunsinger:

Human Cooperation Does Not Effect Salvation

Barth does not deny that human freedom “cooperates” with divine grace. He denies that this cooperation in any way effects salvation. Although grace makes human freedom possible as a mode of acting (modus agendi), that freedom is always a gift. It is always imparted to faith in the mode of receiving salvation (modus recipiendi), partaking of it (modus participandi), and bearing witness to it (modus testificandi),  never in the mode of effecting it (modus efficiendi). As imparted by the Spirit’s miraculous operation, human freedom is always the consequence of salvation, never its cause, and therefore in its correspondence to grace always eucharistic (modus gratandi et laudandi). These distinctions apply both objectively and subjectively, that is, not only to salvation as it has taken place extra nos, but also as it occurs in nobis. Since to be a sinner means to be incapacitated, grace means capacitating the incapacitated despite their incapacitation. Sinners capacitated by grace remain helpless in themselves. Grace does not perfect and exceed human nature in its sorry plight so much as it contradicts and overrules it.

What happens is this: in nobis, in our heart, in the very center of our existence, a contradiction is lodged against our unfaithfulness. It is a contradiction that we cannot dodge, but have to validate. In confronting it we cannot cling to our unfaithfulness, for through it our unfaithfulness is not only forbidden but canceled and rendered impossible. Because Jesus Christ intervenes pro nobis and thus in nobis, unfaithfulness to God has been rendered basically an impossible possibility. It is a possibility disallowed and thus no longer to be realized . . . , one we recognize as eliminated and taken away by the omnipotent contradiction God lodges within us. [Karl Barth, “Extra Nos-Pro Nobis-In Nobis,” Thomist 50 (1986): 497-511, on p. 510.]

In this miraculous and mysterious way, by grace alone — that is, through a continual contradiction of nature by grace resulting in a provisional “conjunction of opposites” (coniunctio oppositorum) — the blind see, the lame walk, and the dead are raised to life (cf. Matt. 11:4).[4]

In Barth we move beyond conceiving of God’s timelessness, instead we think of God in terms of his graciousness; graciousness is the very basis and point of creation’s reality as that is found in God’s choice to be for creation in the Son (election). Further, as the Hunsinger quote indicates, for Barth grace is the space wherein a God-world relation is given reality. There is no competition then between time and eternity in this space since the space charted in advance, in the Christ (Eph. 2.8-10), is an always already relational space wherein the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have fellowshipped for eternity. For Barth’s theology, we are brought into this space just as the Son is both the electing God as he elected our humanity for himself and graciously brings us into this union by his faith and repentance for us.

Mystery is not elided in Barth, it’s just that the mystery is grounded in the concrete reality and givenness of God’s life for us Jesus Christ. Grace is the relational ground upon which creation finds fertility to be what it is before God; to be free for God just as God has been free in and for himself by his nature as the One God in Three. I think this is the movement that Gunton wants to move within as well. In part of his discussion I didn’t share he presses into Irenaeus in order to get beyond the ‘other-worldliness’ of Augustine’s notion of the timeless God. The issue that needs to be continuously honored is the Creator-creature distinction. For Barth he modulates that through focusing on how Christ brings those two realities together in his singular person. He doesn’t answer the how, but he does engage with the what and the who, and in that engagement he offers a concrete way to think about God’s relationship to the world without falling prey to the determinism that plagues so much of the classical theistic complex (because he avoids speculation about the timelessness of God for one thing).

I realize this post is somewhat fragmented in certain ways. But hopefully you’ll be able to make something out of it as you think about who God is and how he relates to the world. Further, hopefully you’ll be able to see how it is possible to get passed a deterministic understanding of God, and be able to think of human freedom vis-à-vis God through the relational and gracious terms laid out by Barth. What you should bear in mind is that there is mystery all around. The question for me is: where is the mystery grounded? Is it grounded in discursive speculation (Augustine) about who God is, or is it grounded in God’s concrete Self-revelation of himself for us in Jesus Christ?


[1] I should note here that I am not unaware of the fact that there has been a renaissance within Patristic theological studies that Gunton himself was not privy to. In other words, the way Gunton read Augustine was in fact based upon a reading that has come under critique. So read his critique and development of Augustine advisedly. That said: I don’t think what I am sharing from Gunton is totally disputable. I think his description of Augustine’s understanding of eternity and time is not all that controversial; although his conclusions and drawing out of its implications may well might be. Be that as it may I am still using his work to make a basic point about determinism in Christian theology. I think Gunton’s emphasis on the Spirit is an important corrective, and helps, even still, to fill out a way Christian theology, even under traditional terms, has capacity to offer a personalist understanding of a God-world relation wherein human agency can be grounded outside of a universe that seems to require a determinist/decretal understanding of the God-world relation.

[2] Colin E. Gunton, The Triune Creator: A Historical And Systematic Study (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), Loc 1191, 1197 kindle.

[3] Ibid., 1231, 1238.

[4] George Hunsinger, Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 165-66.

Thinking of Creation in Elevated and Eschatological Terms with Irenaeus: And Allowing Such Terms to Bring Eternal Perspective to Temporal Realities

Creatio ex nihilo. ‘Creation out of nothing’ is an important concept when it comes to a doctrine of creation for the Christian; TF Torrance, along with the Patristic tradition, made this a staple of his theological outworking. Colin Gunton offers a look at Irenaeus’, among others, doctrine of creation and brings to attention the central role that Christology and the economy of God’s Triune life plays in his theology of creation and redemption. What I want to focus on, through Gunton, is how eschatology functioned in Irenaeus’ conception of creation, and the role the ‘perfecting’ of creation played therein. It is interesting, as Gunton highlights, that for Irenaeus in-built into creation’s “perfection” there is an “imperfection” or a latency or potentiality within creation wherein it is originally created, out of nothing, with a pregnancy that can only come to term through an experiential maturation and growth process that finally comes to fruition and ultimacy only insofar as that is realized (recapitulated) in and through Jesus Christ.

We will hear from Gunton, and then I am going to try and draw out some implications of this Irenaean teaching for us in the 21st century church. I want to emphasize how thinking reality from this sort of Christ-centric creatio ex nihilo is significant for understanding our purpose and place in the world coram Deo; and how it ought to clear away for us so much of the cultural accretions that we allow to artificially build up around us based upon our own pseudo-creating as human animals.

Eschatology is important because it enables us to engage with what is both a crux of interpretation of the thought of Irenaeus and a major problem in the doctrine of creation. Irenaeus has been accused of inconsistency in his doctrine of creation in teaching both that creation is perfect and that it is imperfect:

In his protracted rebuttal of gnostic sects, Irenaeus repeatedly emphasises the unqualified goodness of creation. But in iv, 38 he springs upon the reader the surprising contention that Adam, as first created by God, was imperfect.

Although, however, Irenaeus may appear sometimes to say that Adam was created perfect, sometimes not, there is a contradiction only on a rather static understanding of perfection. As we shall see when we come to treat them meaning of creation ‘in the beginning’, the doctrine of creation out of nothing does imply that creation in one sense indeed complete. But it does not follow that it is perfect in the sense that it does not have to be perfected. The creation is, we might say, perfect in that it is destined for perfection. That is, it is relatively perfect: created for an eschatological perfecting. It is the eschatological destiny of finite creation that makes a fall possible; in that sense, the creation is imperfect. As Douglas Farrow has argued, with particular reference to the passage on the basis of which Irenaeus is accused of contradiction, this theologian does apparently teach the imperfection of creation; but it is an imperfection which:

makes the fall possible,  not inevitable. The ‘imperfection’ is this: The love for God which is the life of man cannot emerge ex nihilo in full bloom; it requires to grow with experience. But that in turn is what makes the fall, however unsurprising, such a devastating affair. In the fall man is ‘turned backwards.’ He does not grow up in the love of God as he intended to. The course of his time, his so-called progress, is set in the wrong direction.

For Irenaeus, ‘good’ means precisely that which is destined for perfection. On such an eschatological understanding, the relation of creation and redemption according to Irenaeus is clear in its basic outline, though complex in its outworking, because we are here concerned with the relation of time and eternity. Redemption or salvation is that divine action which returns the creation to its proper direction, its orientation to its eschatological destiny, which is to be perfected in due course of time by God’s enabling it to be that which it was created to be. By virtue of their trinitarian mediation, both creation and its restoration in redemption are acts of the one God in and towards the whole created order. In turn, that means that Irenaeus must not be thought to operate with a naively linear conception of time. As Dr Farrow has shown, for Irenaeus the world is to be understood as process, but it is not – as in the contemporary process theologians – linear process.

[I]t is one of Irenaeus’ great strengths to have incorporated process as a positive . . . feature of his world-view. But the process in question is not a straightforward, linear one. Rather it involves a fraction, a breaking up. Worldly reality in all its aspects, the material and the immaterial, enters into a situation of fructification and endless bounty precisely by way of participation in the descent and ascent of Jesus.[1]

That is an interesting discussion to me. It notes what Matthew Levering might call the ‘participatory’ nature of history and eschatology. Creation itself has a primacy, as the Scotist thesis understands, and its primacy is grounded in its experience with the Christ; with its originally intended ‘elevation’ to something greater than what it seemingly originally came with. Irenaeus was attuned to this early on, and I think it is something we ought to become attuned to ourselves. Beyond the technical critique of “inconsistency,” as Gunton has shown through Farrow, there is a depth dimension to what Irenaeus was thinking in regard to creation and recreation. That creation itself has always already been tensed by its prior reality given to it in and by the reality of God in Christ for the world.

Let me make what will seem like an abrupt turn at this point. What theology like this does for me, from a doxological perspective, is that it takes me deeper than the normal church sub-cultures allow me to go. It takes me into an orientation where so much of the hubris generated by the superficialities we experience in the church, as we allow the culture at large to shape the church culture, to be cut away. What we are left with as we reflect on these deeper creational and primal realities is that God is God and we are not; that the world we live in is his and its shape, whether we are saturated in its reality or not, is that Jesus is King. What thinking at these levels does for me is to ground me in the fact that almost all of what counts as reality and culture in the broader societies is chaff. So this gives me a substantial hope and orientation; one that is grounded in the reality that the Word of the LORD will endure forever whereas what the World says is reality will simply fade away as the grass withers and blows away.


[1] Colin E. Gunton, The Triune Creator: A Historical And Systematic Study (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), Loc 812, 819, 825, 831 kindle.

Personalizing the Creation Rather than the Personalizing Creator: The Convergence of Greek Metaphysics and Modern Physics in Idolatrous Union

We all long to be personal and personalized; whether Greek or Gentile, whether in the Bronze Age or the Information Age all people desire to have relationship. It is this drive that causes people, even pagan people who reject God, to extrapolate and project out upon what they have available to them as a transcendent point of personalization. This was true for the classical Hellenistic philosophers just as it was for early modern thinkers like Spinoza and even 21st century physicists. We will find personalization no matter how out of order and perverse the form of that is, we will press forth and find a way to find some sort of relational quality even in the deepest darkest reaches of space; all in an attempt to quench this ongoing thirst and longing for finding a personalizing force that can ground my desires as a human being to be a relational animal.

Colin Gunton, as he is developing some thinking on ontology with reference to Plotinus, and his impact on Western thought modes in this regard, helps us to appreciate how what I just up-pointed is so in the history and heritage of Western intellectual thought frames. It is interesting to see this reality, and recognize how pantheism is so trenchant in the hearts and minds of people who reject or are unaware of the reality of the Christian God who is indeed the personal ground humanity as a whole was created to find relational satisfaction within and from in koinonial bond. Gunton writes:

Thus the words ‘nature’ and ‘evolution’ are often hypostatised — and, indeed, capitalised — almost as if they are agents that achieve ends, and thus clearly operate as secularised versions of the doctrine of providence, which they displace. Peter Atkins, a chemist, is a particularly egregious proponent of the personalising not only of nature as a whole, but of parts of it. ‘Once molecules have learned to compete and to create other molecules in their own image, elephants and things resembling elephants will in due course be found roaming through the countryside.’ (Just like that!) More is to come: molecules are ‘equipped’ (by whom or what?), they ‘eat’ other molecules, though we are not always sure which eat and which are eaten, they ‘keep’  less successful molecules ‘in herds’ and so on, and that is all by the second page of the book. Mary Midgley draws on other parts of the same book to make a similar point. I quote her at length:

Atkins constantly treats Chaos as a positive force guiding the world in a remarkably full sense, performing many of the roles formerly attributed to God, and seems to regard it as simply a form of Chance . . . [The] extraordinary mixture of strong teleological language with inflationary misuse of the concept of Chaos marks a fairly complete bankruptcy of real explanation.

How easily it happens that where God is not longer understood as the overall creator and upholder of the universe there is a reversion to the pagan attribution of agency to the impersonal worlds of molecules, evolution and chaos. The choice is inescapable: either God or the world itself provides the reason why things are as they are. To ‘personalise’ the universe or parts of it, particularly inert substances like molecules, is to succumb to crude forms of superstition.[1]

The human heart doesn’t change. No matter what period of human history we refer to, idolatry is just the same. We will attribute personal attributes to a piece of wood just as quickly (because of technology) as we will attribute the same to molecules, atoms, and neutrinos.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. –Psalm 115

22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. –Romans 1

The human heart was designed for relationship; it recognizes that there is something more, something transcendent that must ground that; something extra nos outside of us that must be the ultimacy we long for in relationship. Since the heart of stone rejects its actual source and reality in the living God it will cling to all fanciful imaginations about who or what might serve as the replacement; a replacement who ends up looking curiously like the imaginer seeking some sort of relief and solace in a transcendent reality—even if that reality turns out to be a stick or a house (of cards).

Let God be true and every man a liar!


[1] Colin E. Gunton, The Triune Creator: A Historical And Systematic Study (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), Loc 583, 590, 596 kindle.

Colin Gunton on the Eschatological Freedom of the Spirit

. . . A distinctive feature of the New Testament characterisations of the Spirit’s action is their thoroughgoing eschatological emphasis. In Paul, the Spirit is the presence now, by anticipation, of that which belongs to the age to come: hence he is the arrabon (down-payment, 2 Cor. 1.22), aparke (first fruits, Rom. 8.23). Similarly, in Acts, the Pentecost event is portrayed as the pentecostfulfillment of Joel’s eschatological promise. Again, the Spirit performs the divine actions of the end time in the here and now: judgment (John 16:8, cf. Luke 3.16); redemption (Rom. 8); love, prophecy, truth (1 Cor. 12–14). Important here is the link Paul makes between the Spirit and freedom: liberation, as some contemporary theologies seem to forget, is an essentially eschatological concept; it is only won—or rather, given—proleptically, by the Spirit. ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’ (2 Cor. 3.17). The Spirit of God in his freedom to create in the here and now the conditions of redemption of all things promised for the end. He is the freedom of the Father to create through the Son, to incarnate the Son in the flesh, to raise the mortal body to immortality. He is the freedom of God to choose Israel and the Church, and to enable both of them to be, from time to time, particularisations of the community of the end time. – Colin E. Gunton, Theology Through The Theologians, 119-20.

The Particularity of God's Self-Revelation as, Juden

Here Colin Gunton is discussing the concrete act and reality of Revelation. He is juxtaposing Karl Barth’s concrete version of Revelation with Karl Rahner’s rather transcendental version (according to Gunton’s lexicon). The reason I am posting this, is because I like it! I like it because I think it gets at something that is quite important; viz. the idea that Revelation is mediated, and for the Christian that means that Revelation comes to us in a full bodied way when we understand that without the concrete act of God’s pen-ultimate self-revelation in the Nation of Israel, that we would not have his ultimate self-revelation in his Son, Jesus Christ — at least not in the shape and form that we do. This of course gets back to questions of election etc., but that’s not what I am getting at with this quote; really all I want to highlight is that I think that theologies or hermeneutical systems that see the Church as the Replacement of Israel are quite wrong. I see Jesus as the new Israel, not the Church; and thus Israel should not be seen as replaced, but instead given her full vocational purpose in the coming of the Messiah. And then, ironically, the Church has the same role in mediating their Messiah back to them; in the way, that they were to be mediating him to the Nations (Rom. 9–11). In short, Jesus is both personal Lord over both Israel and the Church; and, because of his free choice, his Lordship cannot be understood without the concrete, particular reality of Israel whom he becomes, both for them and then for us. Here’s the quote:

There is something here which is relevant, which I shall read to you, it was spoken by Barth to people who were just coming out of Nazi Germany in 1946 and it is about Revelation, indeed it is about the concrete nature of Revelation as distinct from whatever transcendental Revelation may be. Barth says ‘He was of necessity a Jew.’ Right! ‘We cannot be blind to this fact. He belongs to this concrete reality of God’s Word, and His revelation.’ And he ends the paragraph ‘The man who is ashamed of Israel is ashamed of Jesus Christ and therefore of his own existence.’ So the problem over transcendental Revelation is in the problem of specificity: Revelation is in the person of Jesus Christ who was from God’s chosen people. So the problem over Israel is the problem of existence itself: deny Israel, you deny yourself as made in the image of God. So Barth is much stronger on the concrete reality of Revelation than Rahner is. (Colin E. Gunton, Revelation And Reason: Prolegomena to Systematic Theology, edited by P. H. Brazier, 63)

For an excellent explication of Israel’s mediation of Christ read T. F. Torrance’s The Mediation of Christ.

Index: Placing T. F. Torrance in His 'Critical Realist' Context

The following is intended to respond to the “problem” that Colin Gunton has attempted to provide, by labeling T.F. Torrance as a Foundationalist & Rationalist. What should happen, as a result of these following essays, by guest poster Dr. Myk Habets, is that Gunton’s claims will be relativised, and T.F. Torrance’s actual approach will be presented as it is: viz. Critical Realism (I personally like the language of Theological Realism). The following are all short essays that Myk Habets provided me with in the past to be posted at my other blog “Behind The Back;” I thought Colin Gunton’s issues with TFT would serve as the perfect foil for clarifying how it is that TFT is actually not a foundationalist, proper, but instead a Critical Realist. I wanted to post this as a resource for down the line (for reference and such). And since I got some feedback, previously, on how long the post was with all 3 essays strung together, I decided to break them up into individual posts; and then also provide this post as an index to all 3. The first post here will be the problem post presented around Colin Gunton’s claim relative to T.F. Torrance, and then the 3 essays by Myk Habets in response (and only in response at my manipulation, viz. relative to how I’ve chosen to set this up on the blog — Myk did not originally write these in response to Gunton’s claims about TFT).

Article on Colin Gunton’s claim that TF Torrance was a foundationalist:

And the 3 (appropriated Myk Habets’) essays in response to this:

3§ Rehabilitating T.F. Torrance back to his 'Critical Realism' contra Colin Gunton's claim of 'Foundationalist'

Pt. III, Thomas F Torrance’s Critical Realism

Guest post by © Dr Myk Habets,

Given the fact of an ordered universe and a kataphysic way of studying any object we turn now to what is one of the most important scientific and methodological points germane to the architectonic nature of Torrance’s theology and his interaction with science, his critical realism. ‘Torrance is widely credited with having formulated ‘the most highly developed version of realism’ available in modern theology.’[1] For Torrance the Truth can be known and apprehended by the human person and this knowledge represents a genuine disclosure of that which is real. Christian theology and natural science operate with an understanding of knowledge which has its ‘ontological foundations in objective reality.’ Torrance develops his critical realism in two directions, first, from natural science, especially in the work of John Philoponos, Clerk Maxwell, Albert Einstein and Michael Polanyi, and second, from theology, especially in the work of Athanasius, Anselm, and Barth.[2] Torrance argues that theology and the sciences share a common commitment to a realist epistemology (given an ordered universe), with each responding appropriately to their respective objects of study (kata physin). Each of these disciplines recognises:

The impossibility of separating out the way in which knowledge arises from the actual knowledge that it attains. Thus in theology the canons of inquiry that are discerned in the process of knowing are not separable from the body of actual knowledge out of which they arise. In the nature of the case a true and adequate account of theological epistemology cannot be gained apart from substantial exposition of the content of the knowledge of God, and of the knowledge of man and the world as creatures of God. . . this means that all through theological inquiry we must operate with an open epistemology in which we allow the way of our knowing to be clarified and modified pari passu with advance in deeper and fuller knowledge of the object, and that we will be unable to set forth an account of that way of knowing in advance but only by looking back from what has been established as knowledge.[3]

In regards to natural science Torrance repeatedly turns to the realist approaches of James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein, both of whom he sees as standing at the end of a long line of scientific development spanning from the second to the twentieth centuries.[4] In conjunction with the rise of an adoption of dualistic ways of thinking in science and philosophy, not to mention in theology, Torrance sees the history of scientific thought revolving around three main ‘paradigm’ shifts.[5] The first transition occurred between the second and fourth centuries and involved a move from a primitive Hellenistic cosmology, characterised by a thorough dualism, to a Ptolemaic cosmology. As Christianity grew it was influenced by a Ptolemaic cosmological synthesis which worked its way into Christian theology, most notably in the philosophically defined attributes of God such as aseity and impassability. Torrance singles out Augustine and his Aristotelian theological/philosophical tradition as canonizing this approach in Christian theology for centuries to come.[6]

The second transition occurred between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and was from a Ptolemaic to a Copernican and Newtonian cosmology. The Newtonian cosmology resulted in a mechanistic worldview which effectively sidelined God from the world by negating divine involvement or interaction with the world. Torrance views this as a modified form of dualism, a transition from an Augustinian-Aristotelian to an Augustinian-Newtonian dualism. The third transition occurred in the twentieth century with the profound Maxwellian-Einsteinian revolution which replaced the dualist frames of thinking in favour of a unitary approach based on the notion of continuous fields.[7] What has happened in the science of Einstein, Torrance maintains, has also happened in the theology of Karl Barth, the demonstration and construction of a unitary approach to reality.[8]

Torrance has a particularly high regard for the work of Einstein and often returns to his scientific insights as illustrations of a realist epistemology in practice.[9] From Einstein’s ‘scientific realism’ Torrance sees great application for theology through the means of a ‘critical realism.’[10] Torrance is not alone in associating the natural sciences with a realist epistemology. Indeed, a realist epistemology is thought to be the very basis of the natural sciences to explain the world. ‘And what more effective explanation may be offered for this success than the simple assertion that what scientific theories describe is really present?’[11] Accepting the legitimate status of epistemic realism, what is the nature of correspondence between Reality and our understanding of it? The question of correspondence theories of truth is of great importance to our discussion of science in general and Torrance’s theological method in particular.[12]

Torrance is a realist not a positivist. He does not advocate a scientific positivism which argues for a direct correspondence between concepts and experience. He made this clear when he wrote:

The fundamental difficulty with abstractive and positivist science. . . is that it operates with a logical bridge between concepts and experience, both at the start and the finish, that is, in the derivation of concepts from the universe as we experience it and in the verificatory procedures relating concepts back to experience. . . This is not only a difficulty, but an impossibility, for this is not and cannot be any logical bridge between ideas and existence. There is indeed a deep and wonderful correlation between concepts and experience, and science operates with that correlation everywhere, but since there is no logical bridge the scientist does not work with rules for inductive procedures, and cannot finally verify his claims to have discovered the structures of reality by logical means.[13]

Torrance also rejects a ‘naïve realism’ in which there is a direct correspondence between knowledge and reality.[14] What Torrance does advocate is what can accurately be termed a ‘critical realism.’[15] Perhaps one of the better known advocates of critical realism in biblical theology today is that of N.T. Wright. In his 1992 work he defines critical realism as:

A way of describing the process of ‘knowing’ that acknowledges the reality of the thing known, as something other than the knower (hence ‘realism’), while also fully acknowledging that the only access we have to this reality lies along the spiralling path of appropriate dialogue or conversation between the knower and the thing known (hence ‘critical’). This path leads to critical reflection on the products of our enquiry into ‘reality’, so that our assertions about ‘reality’ acknowledge their own provisionality. Knowledge, in other words, although in principle concerning reality is independent of the knower, is never itself independent of the knower.[16]

The critical realism advocated by Torrance connects the knower and the known together in personal union thus putting the knower (theologian) under a certain obligation to offer a rational account of that which exists independently of the knower (theology). By this means it is obvious that for Torrance and his scientific theology, as for Einstein and his natural science, epistemology follows ontology. With this critical realism in place in both science and theology Torrance explores, on many occasions, the interrelated and mutual coherence of both disciplines on each other through an historical and a constructive approach.

[1] The quote comes from A.E. McGrath, T.F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999), 211 who is in turn quoting from D.W. Hardy, ‘Thomas F. Torrance,’ in The Modern Theologians: An Introduction, ed. by D.F. Ford (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 1.87. McGrath has himself adopted and developed a commitment to critical realism, see his The Genesis of Doctrine: A Study in the Foundations of Doctrinal Criticism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), 1-80; idem; Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity (DG IVP, 1995); idem; The Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 140-164; idem; A Scientific Theology: Volume 1: Nature (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 71-78; and especially idem; A Scientific Theology: Volume 2: Reality (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002). McGrath’s critical realism draws heavily on the work of Roy Bhaskar. For a critical comparison between the methodology and epistemology of Lindbeck, McGrath and Torrance in which critical realism is treated in some detail see E.M. Colyer, The Nature of Doctrine in T.F. Torrance’s Theology (Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock, 2001).

[2] We could also include, albeit on a reduced level, the influence of John Dun Scotus and John Major. In a work on Calvin Torrance wrote: ‘I write this preface a mile from where John Major was born, at Glegornie, in East Lothian, where I have steeped myself in his thought, and found a remarkable continuity between his critical realism and that of John Duns Scotus, on the one hand, and that of the so-called ‘common-sense’ philosophy which used to flourish in Scottish Universities, on the other hand,’ T.F. Torrance, The Hermeneutics of John Calvin (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1988), viii.

[3] T.F. Torrance, Theological Science (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 10.

[4] This is a repeated theme of Torrance’s. See his various works: Theology in Reconciliation: Essays Towards Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1975. reprint, Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 1997), 62-78; God and Rationality. London: Oxford University Press, 1971. reprint, Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 1997), 29-31; and Reality and Scientific Theology (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1985), 1-31.

[5] Torrance is here echoing the sense of paradigm shifts articulated by T.S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962). According to Kuhn’s theory, new hypotheses and theories in natural science do not simply emerge by verification or falsification, nor do they evolve naturally. Rather, one paradigm comes to replace an existing one in what can only be termed a ‘revolution’. See T.F. Torrance, ‘The Integration of Form in Natural and in Theological Science,’ in Transformation and Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge: Explorations in the Interrelations of Scientific and Theological Enterprise (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 71. Maxwell and Einstein are the two scientists Torrance turns to most often to illustrate revolutionary paradigm shifts in addition to Polanyi, whom Thomas Kuhn admitted he had taken the concept of paradigm from!, see T.F. Torrance, ‘Michael Polanyi and the Christian Faith-A Personal Report,’ Tradition and Discovery: The Polanyi Society Periodical 27/2 (2000-2001), 31.

Torrance does not accept or endorse Kuhn’s theory completely. In addition to Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts Torrance also imports Polanyi’s theory of communication in scientific controversy into theological communication, especially apologetics. See M. Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 19622), 150-160. The little essay ‘Theological Education Today,’ provides a succinct overview of Torrance’s views in this regard, T.F. Torrance, Theology in Reconstruction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 13-29.

Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions has engendered much criticism, of which Torrance shows no interest in engaging. See P. Hoyningen-Huene, ‘Kuhn’s Conception of Incommensurability,’ Studies in History of Philosophy of Science 53 (1980), 481-492; M.W. Poirier, ‘A Comment on Polanyi and Kuhn,’ The Thomist 53 (1989), 259-279; C. Strug, ‘Kuhn’s Paradigm Thesis: A Two-Edged Sword for the Philosophy of Religion,’ Religious Studies 20 (1984), 269-279. References taken from A.E. McGrath, ‘Scientific Method and the Reconstruction of Theology: Introducing ‘A Scientific Theology’,’ Lecture for the John Templeton Oxford Seminars on Science and Christianity, Harris Manchester College, (Thursday 24 July, 2003),, paragraph 35, fn.15.

[6] See especially T.F. Torrance, Theology in Reconciliation: Essays Towards Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1975), 27-28; 267-268. 62-78.

[7] T.F. Torrance, Theology in Reconciliation: Essays Towards Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1975. reprint, Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 1997), 77. In Reality and Scientific Theology (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1985), 72, Torrance also includes Michael Faraday as a key scientist in this shift. Reflecting on Torrance’s adoption of unitary, relational thinking and ‘field’ patterns as basic to scientific thinking, Palma sees Torrance as moving to a higher plane and a higher unitary theology than the Nicene and Reformed (including Barth) heritage within which Torrance works. R.J. Palma, ‘Thomas F. Torrance’s Reformed Theology,’ Reformed Review 38/1 (Autumn 1984), 24-25. For a study that seeks to elucidate the connection between science and theology within Torrance’s scientific theology see the thesis of J.H-K. Yeung, Being and Knowing: An Examination of T.F. Torrance’s Christological Science (Jian Dao Dissertation Series 3. Theology and Culture 1. Hong Kong: China Alliance Press, 1996), especially 45-72.

[8] Not that Barth was consciously aware of this fact. When Torrance discussed the links between what he saw in Einsteinian science and in Barth’s own theology it is reported that Barth responded with appreciation and general agreement. See T.F. Torrance, Transformation and Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge: Explorations in the Interrelations of Scientific and Theological Enterprise (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), ix.

[9] A. Fine, The Shaky Game: Einstein, Realism and the Quantum Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), 86-111 argues for another understanding of Einstein’s realism than the one Torrance presents. This has forced one Torrance commentator to conclude that ‘Torrance’s reading of Einstein’s realism is not correct,’ C. Weightman, Theology in a Polanyian Universe: The Theology of Thomas Torrance (New York: Peter Lang, 1994), 193. For other works on Einstein’s ‘realism’ see A. Polikarov, ‘On the Nature of Einstein’s Realism,’ Epistemologia 12 (1980), 277-304; F. Laudisa, ‘Einstein, Bell and Nonseparable Realism,’ British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 46 (1995), 309-329. Even if Torrance’s reading of Einstein’s realism is ‘not correct,’ and this point is still debateable as the works in the following footnote indicate, the central tenets of his own realism are still valid and operate consistently within his own theological oeuvre; Einstein is ‘illuminative’ for Torrance’s theology, not ‘foundational’ (as is the case with Polanyi as well).

[10] Einstein’s realism has endeared itself to other theological-scientific scholars. See the other works in the ‘Theology at the Frontiers of Knowledge’ series published by Scottish Academic Press of Edinburgh and edited by Torrance such as I. Paul, Science and Theology in Einstein’s Perspective (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1986), [and ibid., Science, Theology and Einstein (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981)], R.G. Mitchell, Einstein and Christ: A New Approach to the Defence of the Christian Religion (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1987), and W.P. Carvin, Creation and Scientific Explanation (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1988).

[11] A.E. McGrath, T.F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999), 215. See further in M. Devitt, Realism and Truth (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984), and J. Leplin (ed.). Scientific Realism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), especially 41-82.

[12] See the discussion of Torrance’s Christocentric analogy in regards to a ‘created correspondence’ in R. Spjuth, Creation, Contingency and Divine Presence: In the Theologies of Thomas F. Torrance and Eberhard Jüngel (Lund: Lund University Press, 1995), 47-57.

[13] T.F. Torrance, Reality and Scientific Theology (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1985), 76.

[14] In a discussion of Torrance’s ‘ana-logic and critical realism,’ Spjuth clearly distinguishes Torrance’s critical realism from a ‘representational position’ (naive realism), see R. Spjuth, Creation, Contingency and Divine Presence: In the Theologies of Thomas F. Torrance and Eberhard Jüngel (Lund: Lund University Press, 1995), 94-101. With a phrase borrowed from Nancy Murphy Spjuth characterizes Torrance’s critical realism as ‘chastened modern,’ ibid., 98.

[15] See P.M. Achtemeier, ‘The Truth of Tradition: Critical Realism in the Thought of Alasdair MacIntyre and T.F. Torrance,’ Scottish Journal of Theology 47/3 (1996), 355-374, and J.D. Morrison, ‘Heidegger, Correspondence Truth and the Realist Theology of Thomas Forsyth Torrance,’ Evangelical Quarterly 69/2 (1997), 139-155, and J.D. Morrison, Knowledge of the Self-Revealing God in the Thought of Thomas Forsyth Torrance. Issues in Systematic Theology Vol 2 (New York: Peter Lang, 1997).

[16] N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (London: SPCK, 1992), 35. I am grateful to Professor Max Turner of London Bible College for first pointing out Wright’s critical realism to me.

2§ Rehabilitating T.F. Torrance back to his 'Critical Realism' contra Colin Gunton's claim of 'Foundationalist'

Part II, Scientific Theology

Guest post by © Dr Myk Habets,

Torrance’s published works indicate that a central concern of his is to explicate the deep interrelation between Christian theology and the natural sciences.[1] In 1978 Torrance was awarded the prestigious Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion on account of his contributions to the discussion of the interaction of Christian theology and the natural sciences. For Torrance, all theological exploration is a scientific endeavour, and so it is bound by a common scientific methodology. What Torrance is most concerned with in this regard is to expound the right methodology and epistemology by which a truly Christian scientific theology operates.[2] While Torrance followed his mentor Karl Barth to some extent here, he did not follow Barth’s reticence over the interaction between theology and natural science.[3] In fact, Torrance’s position is significantly different from Barth’s at this point and is perhaps to be regarded, as McGrath does, as his most significant point of difference from Barth.[4] In this area Torrance has leaned more heavily on his minor mentors such as Daniel Lamont[5] and natural scientists such as Einstein, than he has on his major influences such as Karl Barth. Clearly, it will not be necessary to offer a comprehensive analysis and critique of Torrance’s interaction with the natural sciences, as has been attempted numerous times elsewhere.[6]

Torrance’s approach to scientific theology has five central concerns that will be examined here in part.[7] The first major point Torrance makes in his various and voluminous writings is that the natural sciences and theology share common points in their view of the universe, the most fundamental of which is that the universe is ordered. The second major point for Torrance is that all sciences share one common methodological dictum, and that is the kataphysic nature of scientific enquiry. Third, Torrance has adopted and adapted a particular epistemology known as ‘critical realism,’ which he shares in common with many natural scientists and has sought to work out his own theological enterprise consistently in accord with this philosophy. It will be seen that this is not an a priori philosophy imposed on science or theology but rather one that recognises the a posteriori nature of knowledge. As a result of this critical realism we note a fourth feature of Torrance’s work in this area, that of his relation to various philosophers of science that he consistently and repeatedly draws on, most notably, Michael Polanyi.

An Ordered Universe: Beyond All Dualisms

Torrance reads the history of scientific endeavour through the lens of an inherent and ingrained cosmological and epistemological dualism, especially cemented by the Copernican-Newtonian revolution.[8] This form of dualism took its definitive shape, argues Torrance, through the thought of Kant and Descartes or of Newton and Galileo,[9] but goes back to the foundations of classical Western culture in Greece, as found in the philosophy and cosmology of both Plato and Aristotle.[10] After outlining the various dualisms which these thinkers introduced – such as the empirical and the theoretical, the physical and the spiritual, the temporary and the eternal, the mortal and the divine – what resulted was the solidified system of the Ptolemaic cosmology with its dualism between the supralunar and infralunar realms, which, according to Torrance, ‘inevitably affected all life and thought within its framework right up to the scientific revolution associated with Copernicus and Galileo.’[11] It is this dualistic nature of science and knowing that Torrance has reacted to so strongly in favour of a unitary frame of knowing.[12]

In applying this dualism to the realm of theology Torrance sees the most damaging effects. When dualisms were adopted into Christian thinking Neoplatonic Hellenism came to prevail and found its most enduring expression in the Augustinianism of Western Christendom.[13] Here the dualism is between God and the world, the eternal and the temporal, heaven and earth.[14] When these dualisms were felt to threaten knowledge of God a failed attempt was made to unite them together with the help of a resurrected Aristotelian philosophy and science (Aquinas). Not surprisingly, this did not achieve the goal of unity but simply introduced a modified form of the old dualisms.[15]

With Locke, Descartes, and Newton was introduced the ‘massive dualism between absolute mathematical time and space and relative apparent time and space that was to become programmatic for all modern science and cosmology up to Einstein.’[16] Torrance sees this development as giving rise to deism as the cleavage or dualism between God and the world was seen to be so immense that it could not logically be crossed. But it is to Kant that Torrance reserves his most scathing critique, for his introduction of ‘the synthetic a priori[17] in which Kant combined sense experience, not with innate ideas, but with built-in structures of the consciousness through which the human knower imposed conceptual order on all he perceived, so that it was impossible for him to ever penetrate behind his cognitive activity to what things are in themselves, independent of his perceiving and conceiving.[18] The resultant Kantian epistemology involved a rejection of the possibility of any knowledge of things in themselves, limiting knowledge of them to what we can make out of their appearances. It demanded a bifurcation between unknowable ‘things in themselves,’ to be treated as no more than hypothetical entities, and what is scientifically knowable, namely, completely determined and necessary objects. More generally, with Kant a dualism was established between the realm of noumenal essences and ideas from the realm of phenomenal objects and events.[19] The result for Christian theology was that ‘Kant severed the connection between science and faith, depriving faith of any objective or ontological reference and emptying it of any real cognitive content.’[20]

The way beyond this scientific impasse is to turn to thinkers both old and new. First, to notice how the early Christian thinkers, notably Athanasius, rigorously applied their Christian theology to all the realms of knowing, and then, within the field of the natural sciences themselves, to James Clerk Maxwell, Albert Einstein and Michael Polanyi. Torrance argues forcefully and repeatedly that Christian theology and natural science must move from a dualist to a unitary outlook upon the universe.[21] According to Torrance, a ‘unitary outlook upon the universe’ is collapsing these ‘pseudo-interpretations’ and ‘pseudo-theologies.’[22]

It was long held that the basis to all scientific methodology was the application of a priori dictums to everyday knowledge. However, Torrance seeks to work within the post-Newtonian, post-Einsteinian scientific climate of today and to construct and be true to a scientific theology. J.D. Morrison defines what Torrance means by ‘science’ in the following way:

By ‘science’, then, Torrance refers neither to the ‘natural’ sciences necessary nor to some supposed ‘scientific’ method as abstracted from one particular discipline to then be imposed upon another science. ‘Science’ refers rather to appropriate procedures which each science has developed and must develop in relation to the rationality of its own proper object in which ‘it has solved its own inductive problem of how to arrive at a general conclusion from a limited set of particular observations.’ There occurs then critical and controlled extension of ordinary ways of knowing for the goal of real, positive knowledge of the object which is ‘transcendent’ to the self, but in strict accordance with the object’s actual nature as it has disclosed itself to be in itself. Therefore, the appropriate mode of rationality and inquiry will be ‘dictated’ by the object in the process of ‘questioning.’[23]

In case Torrance is misunderstood to be saying that theology must be built upon the methodological dictates of science, which would simply impose upon it a new a priori, Torrance asks:

What am I saying here? Not that theology today must be grounded upon the new science, but rather that this science, in point of fact, rests upon foundational ideas that science did not and could not have produced on its own, ideas that derive from the Christian understanding of the relation of God to the universe.[24]

Torrance reiterates the point that ‘science as we understand it in the modern world rests upon the basic ideas produced by Christian theology.’[25] By this means Torrance retains what is a foundational principle in his theology, the fact that knowledge of God is derived from his self-revelation, not by forming any logical bridge between the world and God.[26] In other words, epistemology is founded upon ontology. This point shall be made again later in this section, especially when we come to consider Torrance’s position on the place and role of natural theology.

The Kataphysic Nature of Science

The point was made above that epistemology is founded on or correlated with ontology.[27] This holds true throughout Torrance’s method and theology. Like Barth before him, Torrance holds that the distinctive nature of theology is determined by its object, which is defined as God revealed in Jesus Christ. Hence theology and any and every other true science, is under an intrinsic obligation to give account of reality according to its distinct nature, that is, kata physin.[28] The fundamental axiom that Torrance develops throughout his theological exploration is that ‘We know things in accordance with their natures, or what they are in themselves; and so we let the nature of what we know determine for us the content and form of our knowledge.’[29] He goes on to argue that:

science, in every field of our human experience, is only the rigorous extension of that basic way of thinking and behaving.’[30] By natural extension, ‘all this applies as much in our relations with God as in our relations with nature or with one another. There is no secret way of knowing either in science or theology, but there is only one basic way of knowing, which naturally develops different modes of rationality in natural science and in theological science because the nature of what we seek to know in each is different.[31]

The final application of this principle is expounded by Torrance in the following way, ‘In each field of inquiry, then, we must be faithful to the reality we seek to know and must act and think always in a relation of relentless fidelity to that reality.’[32] In this way Torrance has expressed a fundamental and unifying method for all scientific investigation. Not least of which includes scientific theology.

As we have seen, Torrance is thus critical of the use of a priori notions in both science and theology, believing that both should respond to the objective reality with which they are confronted, and which they are required to describe.[33] Theology, like the natural sciences, is to be seen as an a posteriori activity, conditioned by what is given. Working under this ‘new science’ the question has to be asked as to the definition of both Christian theology (dogmatics) and science itself. Torrance defines dogmatics as:

. . . the pure science of theology: not some system of ideas laid down on the ground of external preconceptions and authorities, not some useless, abstract stuff concerned with detached, merely academic questions, nor again some man-centred ideology that we think up for ourselves out of our socio-political involvements with one another, but the actual knowledge of the living God as he is disclosed to us through his interaction with us in our world of space and time – knowledge of God that is ultimately controlled by the nature of God as he is in himself.[34]

We can see in this definition the elements of a kataphysic nature. God has given himself in Jesus Christ and so our theology of him is a posteriori. In and through Jesus Christ God has made space for himself to be known and for humanity to respond in a certain way. And so we are under an obligation to respond in faith in accordance with God’s self-revelation. In a similar way to his definition of theology Torrance defines science for the most part as:

. . . natural science in its pure rather than in its applied forms: that is, not something worked up in accordance with a priori assumptions and imposed as law upon nature nor merely convenient arrangements of observational data that we can put to practical use in our human attempts to triumph over nature, but rather the knowledge we reach of things in any field under the compulsion of their independent reality, in controlled reference to their inherent nature, and formulated in the light of their internal relations.[35]

From both definitions we can see how Torrance works as a theologian within the field of science (theological and natural science). Torrance’s ultimate concern is to provide a scientific explanation for the knowledge of God.[36] This cannot be achieved logically or directly from the phenomenological to the noumenal but rather more in accordance with the nature of the object being studied – in this case God. God must reveal himself if knowledge of him is to be achieved. This knowledge of God is given, according to Torrance and the Christian tradition, in diverse ways but ultimately through the Person of the Son, Jesus Christ.

In the face of that dualist outlook in religion and thought invading the Church from the surrounding culture of the ancient world, what line did classical Christian theology take? It was committed to the Gospel of the incarnation of the Son of God, the Word made flesh, and was concerned with a way of believing and thinking imposed upon it by the sheer fact of Christ, in accordance with which it was held that this world of ours in space and time is actually intersected and overlapped, so to speak, by the divine world in the parousia, or advent and presence, of Jesus Christ. He was acknowledged and adored, therefore, as one who is God of God and yet man of man, who in his own being belongs both to the eternal world of divine reality and to the historical world of contingent realities.[37]

The essential formulation of this belief was given in the great ecumenical creed of all Christendom at Nicaea and Constantinople, formalised in what Torrance describes as the ‘linchpin of this theology,’[38] in the homoousion, the confession that Jesus Christ the incarnate Son is of one being or of one substance with God the Father. Why is this so crucial to a truly scientific Christian theology? Because it provides the realist basis for knowledge of God. Because Jesus Christ is God of God and man of man in himself; in or through Jesus Christ we who are creatures of this world may truly know God in such a way that our knowledge of God (the object) rests upon the reality of God in himself. It is not simply a phenomenological phantom or a mythological projection into God, but is grounded and controlled by what God is in himself.[39]

Nicene theology thus gave basic shape to the doctrine of the Trinity that was found to belong to the essential structure of faith in God and to the intrinsic grammar of Christian thought. In this way Torrance moves from a treatment of method or epistemology to his more doctrinal material specifically relating to the doctrine of the Triune God. What is also of importance to note is that this is the way in which Torrance’s soteriology and indeed his doctrine of theōsis will be seen to function in such a system. In Jesus Christ is revealed Very God of Very God. He is in his own being what he is as God’s revealing word and saving act toward us. Through Christ and the Spirit we are given access to God as he is in himself. This access to God is, in part, in the form of knowledge of God as he is in himself, in his internal relations as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The epistemological strength of the homoousion works here with full force for it represents the consubstantial relation between Jesus Christ the Word made flesh and God himself. As the image of God, identical with his reality, knowledge of the Incarnate Son through the Holy Spirit has a unique and controlling finality in our knowledge of God.[40]

By this means, according to Torrance, the theology of the early Church challenged the very dualistic foundations of ancient Greek and Roman culture in philosophy, science, and religion.[41] This challenge, if Torrance’s position be accepted, must be the work of theologians today as well:

What, then, is the task of Christian theology today? It must be the same as that of Christian theology in the early centuries when it undertook this reconstruction of the basis of Greek culture as part of the evangelizing activity of the Church, with the hope that Christianity would take root in a developing Christian culture. Today we live in a world being changed by science, which is far more congenial to Christian theology than any period in the history of Western civilization. Here the task of Christian theology must be the recovery of the doctrines of creation and incarnation in such a way that we think through their interrelations more rigorously than ever before, and on that ground engage in constant dialogue with the new science, which can only be to the benefit of both.[42]

[1] Among his major writings to deal with this theme, the following are widely regarded as being of particular significance: T.F. Torrance, Theological Science (London: Oxford University Press, 1969. Reprint, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996); Divine and Contingent Order (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981. Reprint, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998); Christian Theology and Scientific Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981); Transformation and Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge: Explorations in the Interrelations of Scientific and Theological Enterprise (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984); Reality and Scientific Theology (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1985); The Christian Frame of Mind: Order and Openness in Theology and Natural Science (Edinburgh: Handsel Press, 1985. Colorado Springs: Helmers and Howard, 19892); The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980). See E.L. Mascall, Theology and the Gospel of Christ: An Essay in Reorientation (London: SPCK, 1977), 25. See the bibliography of Torrance’s essays and lectures on this theme.

[2] When we understand Torrance’s scientific theology in terms of its form, content and method we will be able to comprehend his theological statements. E.M. Colyer, The Nature of Doctrine in T.F. Torrance’s Theology (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock, 2001), 79. E.L. Mascall wrote that Torrance is ‘one of the very few British theologians of recent years who have seriously enquired into the nature of the discipline to which they are committed,’ E.L. Mascall, Theology and the Gospel of Christ: An Essay in Reorientation (London: SPCK, 1977), 46.

[3] Barth treats Christian theology and the natural sciences as non-interactive disciplines and repeatedly turned down invitations to interact with natural scientists such as Max Planck, Günter Howe, and Karl Heim. See G. Howe, Die Christenheit im Atomzeitalter: Vortlage und Studien (Stuttgart: Klett, 1970), and L. Gilkey, Nature, Reality and the Sacred: The Nexus of Science and Religion (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), ibid., Religion and the Scientific Future: Reflections in Myth, Science and Theology (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), 26-29, and H. Nebelsick, Theology and Science in Mutual Modification (Belfast: Christian Journals, 1981), 159-166.

According to Andrew Louth, this reticence on Barth’s part was more than simple disinterest in natural science but actually one of dis-ease. According to Louth Barth was adamant that theology does not learn its content from the natural sciences nor is it dependent upon them for its method. Louth considers Torrance is have misunderstood or at the very least illegitimately adopt Barth as his sponsor for the interaction between theology and science. For Barth, Louth points out, ‘science’ is the translation of ‘Wissenschaft,’ the German word having a much broader meaning than the English word ‘science.’ ‘To say that theology is a science means for Barth that it is a ‘human effort after truth,’ [Barth, Church Dogmatics I/1, 10] … Barth is not at all interested in pursuing analogies that might exist between theology and any other sciences; theology ‘cannot allow itself to be taught by them the concrete meaning which that involves in its own case.. As regards method it has nothing to learn from their school’ [Barth, Church Dogmatics, I/1, 7],’ A. Louth, ‘Science and Mystery,’ in Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), 51.

Does this mean Torrance’s work on science and theology, as derived from his (mis)reading of Barth is worthless? Not according to his critic Louth. ‘If this reading of Torrance’s position is accepted, then it must mean that Torrance is mistaken in the fundamental thrust of his enterprise [i.e. that theology is a ‘science’ rather than one of [the Queen] the humanities]. But it does not mean there is not much to be learnt from the kind of considerations he raises in the course of his books,’ A. Louth, ‘Science and Mystery,’ in Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), 53. Louth specifically mentions the analysis of the notions of space-time.

[4] A.E. McGrath, T.F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999), 197. See R.J. Palma, ‘Thomas F. Torrance’s Reformed Theology,’ Reformed Review 38/1 (Autumn 1984), 24.

[5] Especially Lamont’s work Christ and the World of Thought (1934). A.E. McGrath, T.F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999), 204 discerns the influence of Lamont in Torrance’s Auburn Lectures on theology and science in 1938-1939.

[6] See for instance the ‘Secondary Literature’ listed in the bibliography along with the various theses conducted on this aspect of Torrance’s oeuvre.

[7] In an appreciative article Palma presents four areas in which he believes Torrance has made the most significant contributions to theology: 1) theological discipline through obedient listening; 2) theological integrity through real integration; 3) theological advance through scientific understanding; and 4) theological relevance through real relations. R.J. Palma, ‘Thomas F. Torrance’s Reformed Theology,’ Reformed Review 38/1 (Autumn 1984), 2-46.

[8] Dualism is an important concept for Torrance and is defined in a theological lexicon attached to the end of T.F. Torrance (ed), Belief in Science and in Christian Life: The Relevance of Michael Polanyi’s Thought for Christian Faith and Life (Edinburgh: Handsel, 1980), 136 as:

the division of reality into two incompatible spheres of being. This may be cosmological, in the dualism between a sensible and an intelligible realm, neither of which can be reduced to the other. It may also be epistemological, in which the empirical and theoretical aspects of reality are separated from one another, thereby giving rise to the extremes of empiricism and rationalism. It may also be anthropological, in a dualism between the mind and the body, in which a physical and a mental substance are conceived as either interacting with one another or as running a parallel course without affecting one another. In the Judeo-Christian tradition man is regarded as an integrated whole, who is soul of his body and body of his soul.

[9] According to Torrance Descartes’ cogito ergo sum effected the epistemological separation of subject from object, Newton’s rigid, mathematical system of cause and effected resulted in a mechanistic scientific methodology bringing about the separation of absolute mathematical space and time from relative space and time, Kant’s synthesis of rationalism and empiricism was effected at the cost of the bifurcation formed between the noumenal and the phenomenological. See the overview of Torrance’s critique of dualism in J.D. Morrison, Knowledge of the Self-Revealing God in the Thought of Thomas Forsyth Torrance. Issues in Systematic Theology Vol 2 (New York: Peter Lang, 1997), 48-51.

[10] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 21.

[11] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 21.

[12] For an endorsement of Torrance’s unitary approach to knowledge related to natural scientific claims see W.J. Neidhardt, ‘Thomas F. Torrance’s Integration of Judeo-Christian Theology and Natural Science: Some Key Themes,’ Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 41/2 (1989), 87-98.

[13] Dualist ways of thinking are not exclusive to the West but are also found in Byzantine Christianity. T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 60-61.

[14] Other consequences of dualist ways of thinking mentioned by Torrance include Gnosticism with its bifurcation between two widely disparate realms: a suprasensual, utterly transcendental realm of eternal and divine realities and an earthly, material realm of transient existence. The gap between them was so wide that it had to be spanned through mythological hierarchies of semi-divine beings. The other form of dualism was found in the Arian movement according to which the disparate realms of the uncreated and divine and of the creaturely and human touched each other only tangentially at the point of Jesus Christ. See T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 37-39.

[15] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 22.

[16] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 23.

[17] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 25.

[18] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 25-26.

[19] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 26-27.

[20] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 27.

[21] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 15.

[22] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 27.

[23] J.D. Morrison, Knowledge of the Self-Revealing God in the Thought of Thomas Forsyth Torrance. Issues in Systematic Theology Vol 2 (New York: Peter Lang, 1997), 105, with a citation from T.F. Torrance, Theological Science (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 106.

[24] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 73.

[25] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 110. This point is illustrated in the analysis of C. Weightman, Theology in a Polanyian Universe: The Theology of Thomas Torrance (New York: Peter Lang, 1994), 181-201. As Weightman makes clear on page 194:

Torrance is not arguing from science to God here, though it might appear so. The position which Torrance holds is that the relational, non-dualistic Trinitarian theology of the early Church stands behind the relational non-dualistic cosmology of Einstein and so, by the nature of the case, Einsteinian science is compatible with the pre-Augustinian theology of the Greek fathers since its own existence and character is dependent on this relational and on-dualistic theology.

This is an important point. Torrance is well aware that it would be foolish to rely too heavily on contemporary scientific theories to build a theology on, a practice entertained by certain eighteenth-century British theologians, see J. Gascoine, ‘From Bentley to the Victorians: the Rise and fall of British Newtonian Natural Theology,’ Science in Context 2 (1988), 219-256. McGrath provides a helpful warning against this practice in his lecture A.E. McGrath, ‘Scientific Method and the Reconstruction of Theology: Introducing ‘A Scientific Theology’,’ Lecture for the John Templeton Oxford Seminars on Science and Christianity, Harris Manchester College, (Thursday 24 July, 2003),, paragraph 34.

[26] In the Auburn lectures of 1938-39 this idea was already established in Torrance’s Christology and science. See T.F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Jesus Christ: Auburn Lectures 1938-39 (Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock, 2002), 74 and A.E. McGrath, ‘The Auburn Lectures on Science and Theology,’ in T.F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999), 199-205.

[27] A point made forcefully in his T.F. Torrance, Preaching Christ Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 44 with reference to Einstein, Polanyi and Karl Popper.

[28] T.F. Torrance, Theological Science (1969. Reprint, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996), 10. The kata physic nature of T.F. Torrance’s theology is derived from that of Karl Barth in theology (who in turn derived this from his own reading of Anselm, albeit with a rigorous Christological orientation), and his reading of Einstein in science. Torrance’s reading of Barth on ratio (rationality and method) is most clearly developed in T.F. Torrance, Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology 1910-1931 (1962. Reprint, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2000), 180-198. Torrance summarises the method of the Church Dogmatics as follows: ‘We may express this otherwise by saying that in scientific theological activity the reason is unconditionally bound to its object and determined by it, and that the nature of the object must prescribe the specific mode of the activity of the reason,’ idem., 192. For a concise summary of how Torrance views scientific method see T.F. Torrance, Preaching Christ Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 45-49. Beyond Barth and Einstein Torrance attributes John Philoponos with being one of the first to work with a consistent kata physic method in science. This is most obvious throughout the various essays comprising as T.F. Torrance, Theological and Natural Science (Eugene, OR.: Wipf & Stock, 2002).

[29] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 8. Torrance develops this with especial force in his Theological Science (London: Oxford University Press, 1969. reprint, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996).

[30] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 8.

[31] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 9.

[32] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 10. Torrance attributes this insight to Karl Barth in T.F. Torrance, Karl Barth: Biblical and Evangelical Theologian (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1990), 67-68 when he writes:

All scientific activity is one in which the reason acts strictly and precisely in accordance with the nature of its object, and so lets the object prescribe for it both the limits within which it may be known and the mode of rationality that is to be adopted toward it. . . this is precisely the procedure which Barth adopted in scientific dogmatics – as we can see very clearly in his brilliant interpretation of Anselm’s theological method, and in the way in which he has worked out his own epistemology in strict obedience to the nature of the concrete object of theological knowledge, God come to us in Jesus Christ . . . The procedure common to theological science and all other genuine science is one in which the mind of the knower acts in strict conformity to the nature of what is given, and refuses to take up a standing in regard to it prior to actual knowledge or in abstraction from actual knowledge.

[33] Torrance describes four main changes in scientific method that correspond to this unitary way of knowing: 1) it has shed its abstractive character, 2) atomistic thinking is replaced by relational thinking or ‘fields of force’ (Einstein), 3) science is applied to open as opposed to closed systems (Prigogine), 4) ‘depth dimensions’ inherent to the universe are recognised (Polanyi). See T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 10-13.

[34] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 15-16. The very term ‘dogmatics’ Torrance traces back to philosophers of the first two centuries before and after Christ who devoted themselves to questions yielding positive answers as opposed to New Academy philosophers, the ‘skeptics,’ who simply asked questions that do not yield the kind of answers that commit you to decision and change. ‘Thus the ‘dogmatic’ person turns out to be, not a philosopher, but a scientist who thinks only as he is compelled to think by the objective and intrinsic structures of nature,’ ibid., 49-50. Torrance stands self-consciously in the long line of what Cyril of Alexandria called dogmatike episteme, ‘dogmatic science,’ ibid., 50-52. For the same thought see T.F. Torrance, Preaching Christ Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 45-48 where he compares the scientific work of scientists and theologians ‘working within the same room,’ as it were.

In his essay on Mackintosh Torrance defined dogmatics as follows:

As Mackintosh used to teach us, dogmatics is not the systematic study of the sanctioned dogmas of the Church, but the elucidation of the full content of revelation, of the Word of God as contained in Scripture, and as such is concerned with the intrinsic and permanent truth which church doctrine in every age is meant to express. It is ‘systematic’ only on the sense that every part of Christian truth is vitally connected with every other part. No doctrine can be admitted that does not bring to expression some aspect of the redemption that is in Christ. Thus for mackintosh as for Barth it is in Christ alone that the truth of dogmatics finds it organic unity.

T.F. Torrance, ‘Hugh Ross Mackintosh: Theologian of the Cross,’ Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 5 (1987), 161.

[35] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 16. Torrance is clearly siding here with his mentor Karl Barth in the debate between Barth and Heinrich Sholz and also against the definition of science proposed later by Wolfhart Pannenberg. See T.F. Torrance, Space, Time and Resurrection (Edinburgh: Handsel, 1976), xi-x; H. Sholz, ‘Wie ist eine evangelische Theologie als Wisseschaft moglich?’ Zweschen den Zeiten 9 (1931), 8-53; A.L. Molendijk, ‘Henirich Sholz-Karl Barth: Ein discussie over de wetenschappelijkheid van de theologie,’ Nederlands Theologisch Tijchrift 39 (October 1985), 295-313; and W. Pannenberg in Theology and the Philosophy of Science, trans., F. McDonagh (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1976), especially 269-276.

[36] Torrance’s commitment to the ‘doing’ of theology as a science was ingrained very early as can be seen in his response to the invitation extended to Torrance by Princeton University in 1939 to teach theology on an ‘objective basis’ and in a ‘dispassionate way.’ Torrance responded by declaring that he could only teach theology as a science. When asked to elaborate on this statement he explained that in science ‘you don’t think in a detached way; you think as you are compelled to think by the evidential grounds upon which you work. It’s a much more rigorous way of thinking, but it is a much more objective way of thinking because all your thinking is controlled by the realities you are inquiring into,’ I.J. Hesselink, ‘A Pilgrimage in the School of Christ – An Interview with T.F. Torrance,’ in Reformed Review 38/1 (1984), 54. Torrance was, to his surprise, appointed to the position. He subsequently turned it down due to the impending outbreak of World War II. See A.E. McGrath, T.F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999), 57-58.

[37] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 39.

[38] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 39.

[39] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 40.

[40] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 40.

[41] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 44-74.

[42] T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 74.