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The stratification of knowledge in the thought of T. F. Torrance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 February 2008

Benjamin Myers*
University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072,


T. F. Torrance has made a significant contribution to theological method with his model of the stratified structure of theological knowledge. According to this model, which is grounded in Torrance's realist epistemology, the knowledge of God takes place at three distinctive levels of increasing conceptual refinement. First, at the level of tacit theology, we intuitively grasp God's trinitarian reality through personal experience, without yet understanding that reality conceptually. Second, at the level of formalised theology, we develop an understanding of the economic trinitarian structure which underlies our personal experience. Finally, at the meta-theological level, we penetrate more deeply into the structure of God's self-revelation in order to develop a refined conceptualisation of the perichoretic relations immanent in God's eternal being. The conceptuality achieved at this meta-theological level constitutes the ultimate grammar and the unitary basis of all theological knowledge; and a concentration of thought at this level offers the promise both of thoroughgoing theological simplification and of a shared ecumenical vision of the essential content of theological knowledge. Central to Torrance's entire model is the homoousial union of Jesus Christ with God: the homoousion enables a movement from a personal encounter with Jesus Christ to a knowledge of the economic Trinity, just as it further enables a movement from the economic to the ontological Trinity. Although our theological thought thus moves towards increasingly refined concepts and relations, it remains always grounded in and coordinated with our personal knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Research Article
Copyright © Scottish Journal of Theology Ltd 2008

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1 Although Torrance's stratification model has received relatively little attention, there is a useful summary of the model in Alister McGrath, E., Thomas F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1999), pp. 168–74Google Scholar.

2 Ibid., p. 234.

3 Torrance, T. F., God and Rationality (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 9.Google Scholar

4 Torrance, T. F., Theological Science (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 85.Google Scholar

5 Ibid., p. 55.

6 Ibid., p. 131.

7 Ibid., p. 310.

8 Ibid., p. 131.

9 Ibid., p. 303.

10 Torrance, T. F., Transformation and Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge: Explorations in the Interrelations of Scientific and Theological Enterprise (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984), p. 133Google Scholar.

11 Torrance, God and Rationality, p. 10.

12 Torrance, Theological Science, p. 311.

13 Torrance, God and Rationality, p. 92.

14 Torrance, Theological Science, p. 281.

15 Torrance, God and Rationality, p. 6.

16 On Torrance's realism, see Roland, Spjuth, Creation, Contingency and Divine Presence in the Theologies of Thomas F. Torrance and Eberhard Jüngel (Lund: Lund University Press, 1995), pp.94101Google Scholar; John, Douglas Morrison, Knowledge of the Self-Revealing God in the Thought of Thomas Forsyth Torrance (New York: Peter Lang, 1997)Google Scholar; and Tapio, Luoma, Incarnation and Physics: Natural Science in the Theology of Thomas F. Torrance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp.61104.Google Scholar

17 On this point, see Hardy, Daniel W., ‘Thomas, F. Torrance’, in Ford, David F. (ed.), The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology in the Twentieth Century (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), vol. 1, p. 77.Google Scholar

18 Torrance, T. F., Reality and Scientific Theology (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1985), p. xiii.Google Scholar

19 Torrance, Theological Science, p. 198.

20 Ibid., p. 341.

21 See Achtemeier, P. Mark, ‘The Truth of Tradition: Critical Realism in the Thought of Alasdair MacIntyre and T. F. Torrance’, Scottish Journal of Theology 47 (1994), pp. 362–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

22 Torrance, Theological Science, p. 167.

23 Torrance, God and Rationality, p. 95.

24 Torrance, Theological Science, p. 9.

25 Ibid., p. 185.

26 Colyer, Elmer M., How to Read T. F. Torrance: Understanding his Trinitarian and Scientific Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), pp. 322–3Google Scholar.

27 Torrance, Theological Science, p. 310. See also idem, Space, Time and Incarnation (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), pp. 52–90.

28 See Torrance, T. F., The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), pp. 110–45Google Scholar; and the summary in idem, Reality and Evangelical Theology: The Realism of Christian Revelation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1999), pp. 14–15.

29 Torrance, T. F., The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1980), p. 160Google Scholar.

30 Ibid., pp. 160–1. On this aspect of Torrance's thought, see Seng, Kang Phee, ‘The Epistemological Significance of Homoousion in the Theology of Thomas F. Torrance’, Scottish Journal of Theology 45 (1992), pp. 341–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

31 Torrance, Ground and Grammar of Theology, p. 35.

32 Ibid., p. 156.

33 Torrance, T. F., The Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), p. 73Google Scholar.

34 Torrance, Ground and Grammar of Theology, pp. 156–7.

35 Torrance, Christian Doctrine of God, p. 82.

37 Ibid., p. 84.

39 Ibid., p. 89.

40 Ibid., p. 73.

41 Albert, Einstein, ‘Physics and Reality’, Journal of the Franklin Institute 221 (1936), p. 349Google Scholar.

42 Torrance, Christian Doctrine of God, p. 90.

43 Ibid., p. 91.

44 Ibid., p. 73.

45 Torrance, Ground and Grammar of Theology, p. 169.

46 Ibid., pp. 169–70.

47 Torrance, Christian Doctrine of God, p. 84.

49 Ibid., p. 85.

50 Torrance, Ground and Grammar of Theology, p. 157.

51 Torrance, Christian Doctrine of God, p. 92.

52 Ibid., p. 93.

53 Ibid., p. 94. See also Trinitarian Faith, pp. 110–45.

54 Torrance, Christian Doctrine of God, p. 95.

55 Torrance, Ground and Grammar of Theology, pp. 159–68.

56 Ibid., p. 167.

57 Ibid., pp. 158–9.

58 Ibid., p. 171.

59 Torrance, Christian Doctrine of God, pp. 85–6.

60 Torrance, Ground and Grammar of Theology, pp. 170–1.

61 Ibid., pp. 171–2.

62 Ibid., p. 158.

64 Torrance, Christian Doctrine of God, p. 102.

65 Ibid., p. 103.

66 Ibid., p. 107.

68 Ibid., p. 93.

69 Ibid., pp. 104–5.

70 Ibid., p. 105.

71 Torrance, Ground and Grammar of Theology, p. 169.

72 Torrance, Reality and Scientific Theology, p. 139.

73 Ibid., p. 135.

74 Ibid., p. 139.

76 Ibid., p. 137.

77 Ibid., p. 154.

78 Ibid., p. 155.

79 Ibid., p. 151.

80 Ibid., p. 152.

83 Ibid., pp. 152–3.

84 Torrance, Ground and Grammar of Theology, pp. 177–8. See also idem, Trinitarian Perspectives: Toward Doctrinal Agreement (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), pp. 77–102.

85 Torrance, Christian Doctrine of God, p. 83.

86 Ibid., pp. 107–11.

87 Ibid., p. 83.

88 Torrance, Ground and Grammar of Theology, p. 176.

89 Torrance, Christian Doctrine of God, p. 110.