Review: Theological Science (Thomas Torrance)

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Torrance, Thomas F. Theological Science. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1969 [1996].

If Torrance’s works on the Incarnation and Atonement are his doctrinal magnum opi, this is his theological magnum opus. It demands much from the reader, as Torrance is dealing with second- and third-order logical categories. The price is somewhat prohibitive, but the reader can find used volumes available.

Knowledge of God is a rational event (Torrance 11). It is knowledge in the proper sense of the word, understanding knowledge to be a “conscious relation to an object which we recognize to be distinct from ourselves but toward which we direct our thought as something intelligible and ascertainable” (13).

A closed concept is something we “can reduce to clipped propositional ideas. An open concept is a reality that keeps on disclosing itself to us in such a way that it continually overflows all our statements about it” (15). Therefore, knowledge of God employs open concepts.

Three Moments in the nature of knowledge

(1) God reveals himself to us in Jesus Christ in the media of our own creaturely existence and contingency (46).
(2) Christ’s work reconciles man and delivers him from his epistemological self-enclosure and restores him to true objectivity in God.
(3) Jesus provides us full and adequate reception of the truth (50).

Methods of Knowledge

Aristotle: science is characterized by unity and plurality (108). Problem of one and many.

Descartes: scientia universalis. Apply geometry to all other special sciences. This led to a sharp distinction between observation and thought

Husserl: epoche, disconnecting phenomena from the objet, in order to acquire clear grasp of it. It is a suspending of judgment. Does not imply Cartesian doubt.

Dialogical Theology

The object of scientific theology is God in His Revelation (131). “We know only as we are known….knowledge of God entails an epistemological inversion in the order of our knowing, corresponding to the order of the divine action in revealing Himself to us.”

God as object is still “the indissoluble Subject.” “He is the Lord of our knowing even when it is we who know, so that our knowing is taken under command of the lordship of the Object, the Creator Himself. We can only follow through the determination of our knowing by the Object known who yet remains pure Subject” (131-132).

God as Subject does not dissolve into subjectivity (as we understand the term). Torrance: “The order is in the Object before it is in our minds, and therefore it is as we allow the Object to impose itself upon our minds that our knowledge of it gains coherence” (138).

Truth: the reality of things as they necessarily are, and as they ought to be known and expressed by us (142). Yet it is not purely intellectualist. We must avoid reducing truth to ideas and the reduction of truth to statements (142ff).

Truth as Personal Being. Jesus as Truth is incarnate. This Truth is in identity with the Being and Act of God (144).

Calvin: Christ is clothed in his gospel (Inst. 2.9.3). Christ does not come to us apart from his own self-revelation in word and deed (Torrance 146). Since Truth is both Being and Act, he communicates and interprets Himself.

Knowledge of God: it is given to us in this Man, Jesus, but we do not leave this Man behind when we know him in his divine nature (149).

Jesus as concrete universal: he is the eternal Son but in concrete terms (182). When we know a concrete universal, we are not beginning with abstractions, but rather “with a focal awareness of it in its own power and wholeness, aided by analogical reasoning that directs us away from symbolic formality to what is concretely real and self-evidencing” (243).

Thesis: “theological statements have a reference beyond and above themselves, and are not true in themselves but have their truth beyond them” (183). This is basically correct. A true statement about the Trinity is not the Trinity. To miss this point is to affirm nominalism. This is like Wittgenstein’s observation that we cannot produce a picture of the relation of a picture to that which is pictured” (Tractatus 4.01ff).

N.B.: “Knowledge is real only as it is in accordance with the nature of the object, but the nature of the object prescribes the mode of rationality we have to adopt towards it in our knowing” (198).

The Logic of God

The Logic of God is the eternal Logos in the flesh. Torrance: “Knowing the truth involves on our part a corresponding movement in space and time, a dynamic, living, active relationship…with the Truth increasingly, so that there can be no genuine knowing the Truth or speaking the Truth without doing the Truth” (209).

This chapter is probably the most difficult in the book. Torrance explores numerous themes in philosophy of mind, mathematics, and logic. Many of these discussions are quite fascinating, and Torrance’s grasp of the literature of mid-20th century philosophy of mind discussions is nigh encyclopedic. Unfortunately, I think he attempts too much. One point of interest, however, is his use of Godel’s incompleteness theorem.

Every system is necessarily incomplete since it contains within it propositions or sequences that are not definable from within the system. This is why mathematics must always resort to another form of rationality: that of language. We are always moving between different logical levels. For example, Aristotelian logic is workable to an extent, but it has to be transcended. Something similar is at play with the dynamic between Euclidian and non-Euclidian geometry.

There is the natural logic of everyday speech. Then there is the meta-language of symbolic logic, which then gives rise to a meta-meta-language. This top-tier language is useless for communication, but quite powerful in pursuing deductions (259).

This might be a way to save Kierkegaard’s poorly-phrased “leap of faith.” In these logical systems one must always take a “trans-logical step” (261).

Bonhoeffer’s Apollinarianism: he desired to maintain the independence of the Lordship of God as subject. Insists that knowledge of God is possible “only if God is also the subject of the knowing of revelation since, if man knew, then it was not God that he knew” (Act and Being, 92). This is Apollinarian when applied to the humanity of Christ (Torrance 292 n1).

My main problem with this book is that it could have been 100 pages shorter.

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About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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