Re: [asa] Thomas Torrance, Neo-orthodoxy and Evangelicalism

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Sat May 05 2007 - 20:09:14 EDT

Thanks for these insights everyone. Clarke's mention of how Van Til
Reformed evangelicals would view Torrance is exactly what I'm trying to get

This past week I skimmed through Vern Poythress' book "Redeeming Science."
Poythress is a Westminster guy who's a direct heir of Van Til. (Poythress
and John Frame seem to be the "one-two" Van Tilian punch.) I liked many
things about Poythress' approach. He's not willing to dismiss at least some
sort of TE, and he has lots of things to say about epistemology and
presuppositions that I resonate with me (though he's too soft on
"appearance of age" or what he calls "mature creation" as a possibility,
IMHO, even though he ultimately doesn't take that approach).

He does, however, take a swipe here and there at neoorthodoxy, at one point
basically suggesting that at least some neoorthodox thinkers adopt a posture
of unbelief. He is also critical, but I think in maybe some helpful
ways, of critical realism -- essentially he wants to coopt aspects of
critical realism into a broader Van Tilian view. But the book is written at
a popular level, and he never mentions Torrance or even McGrath.

Yet, reading Torrance's "Reality and Evangelical Theology," it seems to me
there's a significant amount of consonance between Torrance's epistemology
and Poythress'. It seems to me that Torrance also is coopting critical
realism into a broader theological framework. Yet, Pothress and Torrance,
I'm sure, clearly diverge at many points, one being their theology of
revelation. Torrance seems to be more in the neoorthodox camp in that
regard -- scripture pointing beyond itself to Christ -- while Poythress is
more in the fundamentalist camp -- revelation consisting in the very words
of scripture in addition to what lies beyond the words.

So, what I'm trying to work out, and just might to do more reading about, is
where exactly, and how sharply, would the approaches exemplified by Pothress
and Torrance diverge? If one becomes a Torrance fan, to what "camp" is one
committing? Are there bridges to be built between these approaches -- or
has someone like McGrath done that already? Or, when, Poythress criticizes
neoorthodoxy, does he have folks other than someone like Torrance in mind?

(BTW, I've tried to email Poythress directly with some of these questions;
interesting to see what if anything he says).

On 5/5/07, Jack Haas <> wrote:
> Greetings:
> The only paper that the late Thomas Torrance wrote for /PSCF/ is found
> at <>.
> It would make excellent Sunday afternoon reading. As you work through
> it remember that it went through several edits by Torrance fan,
> the late Jim Neidhardt, before it got into the ASA editor's hands.
> Jack Haas
> Clarke Morledge wrote:
> > David,
> >
> > Elmer M. Colyer, at the University of Dubuque Theologial Seminary, wrote
> > _How to Read T.F. Torrance: Understanding His Trinitarian & Scientific
> > Theology_ (InterVarsity Press). Colyer is a colleague of Donald
> Bloesch.
> >
> > Unless you are one of the PhD candidates who went to Scotland to get a
> > degree during the past thirty years or so, you probably would not have
> > bumped into Torrance (or his several sons who are also theologians --
> > though Ian Torrance is now president at Princeton Seminary). Thomas
> > Torrance is not the most accessible writer, but as McGrath has noted,
> > Torrance is probably THE most significant English writing theologian
> > around, particularly concerning the interaction between theology and
> > science.
> >
> > Torrance is influential at places like Fuller Seminary and Regent
> > College in Vancouver, so in those circles, Torrance would be
> > considered "evangelical". However, his close association in
> > translating Karl Barth's works to English probably generates a lot of
> > skepticism among the Francis Schaeffer/ Cornelius Van Til brand of
> > reformed evangelicals. His views on the ministry of women in the
> > church probably does not gain him acceptance among evangelical
> > complementarians either.
> >
> > Nevertheless, Torrance considers himself to be quite orthodox and
> > therefore "evangelical". He is obviously indebted to Barth but is
> > also critical of Barth's "neo-orthodox" dismissal of natural theology.
> > Nevertheless, I do not think there have been that many American
> > evangelicals who have had the patience to wade through his dense (yet
> > very rewarding, in my view) prose to make any significant judgements.
> >
> > Blessings in Him,
> >
> > Clarke Morledge
> > College of William and Mary
> > Information Technology - Network Engineering
> > Jones Hall (Room 18)
> > Williamsburg VA 23187
> >
> > On Fri, 4 May 2007, David Opderbeck wrote:
> >
> >> I've been reading Torrance's "Reality and Evangelical Theology" and
> >> eating
> >> it up. Would anyone know how evangelicals dialogue with Torrance?
> >> Would
> >> Torrance be considered an "evangelical" (whatever that exactly means, I
> >> guess)? Would he be considered neo-orthdox, or paleo-orthodox?
> >> Obviously I
> >> know of his connections with Barth and of Alister McGrath's
> >> connections with
> >> Torrance. Are there any treatments of Torrance by American evangelical
> >> theologians?
> >
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Received on Sat May 5 20:09:45 2007

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