Thomas Forsyth Torrance: Part 1- Childhood (1913-1927)

If you know me at all you have probably heard me talk about my favorite theologian, Thomas Forsyth Torrance (more commonly known as T.F. Torrance). Alister McGrath, professor of Historical Theology at the University of Oxford,  refers to him, in his biography, as the “most significant British academic theologian of the twentieth century” (pg xi). While this is true of Torrance, most people that I speak to have not heard of Torrance or have only heard of him and know nothing about him. I want more people to know about him and so I will be writing several posts to help give a snapshot of who he is and why I believe he is significant. The first few posts will be concerned with biographical information. This post is specifically concerned with his childhood from 1913-1927.

Childhood (1913-1927)

Tom was born to parents Thomas Sr. and Annie Torrance who were Scottish missionaries with the China Inland Mission in Chengdu China. Tom is the second of six children; Mary Monlin (May 10, 1912), Thomas Forsyth (August 30, 1913), Grace Bownlee (January 7, 1915, Margaret Ramsay (September 30, 1917), James Bruce (February 3, 1923), and David Wishart (June 22, 1924). Tom was named after his great-grandfather. He fondly recalls that through his missionary parents he was “imbued from my earliest days with a vivid belief in God. Belief in God was so natural that I could no more doubt the existence of God than the existence of my parents or the world around me” (Itinerarium Mentis in Deum, autobiographical memoir, 1). His parents raised him in such a way that the mission the mission God called his parents to (preach the gospel and win souls to Christ), was a mission that was “built into the fabric of my mind, and as never faded-by its essential nature Christian theology has always had for me an evangelistic thrust” (ibid).

When Tom reached school age he began attending a school at Lan Tai Tze which met on West China Union Universities campus. This school was established by Canadian missionaries and was thus given the nickname ‘the Canadian school.’ As a Chinese missionary school, the education that Tom was getting would not be considered adequate if he had hope to attend a UK university someday in the future.

By 1920 it came time for the Torrance family to take a furlough, and so the Torrance’s boarded a ship to the western coast of Canada. They then took a train across Canada and then boarded a ship to Shotts, Lanarkshire. They spent a year on furlough and then returned to China in 1921.

By the time that the Torrance family returned to China, political instability had grown in China. This instability lead to an increased hostility toward Christians and especially missionaries and ultimately lead to the rise of the Chinese Communist Party. Several events began to make missionaries consider whether or not they should be in China. In January and February of 1924 several of the missions that were located in Sichuan (which is where the Torrance’s now were) were looted and one of the missionaries, with the same mission agency as the Torrance’s, was wounded. Events like these lead to the flight of missionaries from China.

In the spring of 1927, all women and children were ordered to leave inland and head to the coast, and so Annie Torrance and all six children left Chengdu and headed to Shanghai where, after a couple weeks, Thomas Sr. met them and they headed to Scotland.

Thomas Forsyth Torrance was almost 14 years old.

To be continued…


Image from: Alister McGrath, TF Torrance: An Intellectual Biography (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1999), 20. This is the Torrance family in Scotland in 1927. Left to right: back: Mary and Grace Torrance; middle row seated: Annie; Margaret; Thomas Senior; Tom Torrance; front row standing: David and James Torrance.

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