Theologian; Born August 30, 1913; Died December 2, 2007.

Tom Torrance, who has died aged 94, was undoubtedly the most prolific theologian Scotland produced in the twentieth century, and, according to some, the most profound.

He was totally sure that Christianity and science were compatible but also that the way Christian theology was expressed by the great figures in Christian faith's past was similar to and reconcilable with the methods used by scientists such as James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein. Not all scientists or theologians were convinced but his work on theology and science won Torrance the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1978.

Torrance was born in China, the son of missionaries, and received his early education in a Canadian mission station and then at Bellshill Academy. At Edinburgh University he graduated with first-class honours in philosophy and then took a degree in divinity.

After postgraduate study in Jerusalem, Athens, Germany, Switzerland and Oxford, he spent two years as professor of theology at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York before returning to be minister of Alyth in Perthshire from 1940 to 1947.

He was seconded as a chaplain to British forces in North Africa and Italy for the last two years of the Second World War. He liked to tell how his lack of musical appreciation led him to announce at a drumhead service for Scottish soldiers a hymn which was sung to the tune of the German national anthem. As the tune was played over, a furious brigadier demanded a change.

In 1947 Torrance became minister of Beechgrove Church in Aberdeen, and three years later was appointed to the chair of church history in Edinburgh University, moving to the chair of Christian dogmatics in 1952.

Torrance was a disciple of the celebrated Swiss theologian Karl Barth who was a fierce critic of optimistic liberal theology and of any attempt to reach an understanding of God apart from what Barth believed to be revealed in the Bible and Jesus. When Torrance joined the teaching staff at the university's New College, he made it, for a time, a centre of Barthian theology.

However, with the appointment of less rigid, liberal theologians the mood began to change and the emphasis of Torrance's theology moved towards his interest in the link between science and theology.

Although he could be gracious in personal relationships, Torrance was sometimes cruelly dismissive of views with which he did not agree. A former student recalled that when a German PhD student spoke up for the radical German theologian Rudolph Bultmann, Torrance snapped, "You speak as the Antichrist. Please leave the room." Then, afterwards asked "I was right, wasn't I?"

Torrance was appointed Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1976. It was a year when the assembly had to decide whether an elder from Lanarkshire, who had been baptised twice, should be disciplined. The naive, elderly man found himself the subject of a fierce theological examination, as Torrance fired questions from the chair. It was not the most edifying of moments in the General Assembly's history.

Torrance received countless honorary degrees and retired in 1979, when he was one of those who objected to the appointment of a laicised Roman Catholic priest as his successor in the renamed Thomas Chalmers Chair of Theology. Torrance objected because his successor, James Mackey, was considered to be one of the liberals he distrusted; others because he was a Roman Catholic.

Torrance is survived by his wife, Margaret, and a daughter and two sons, one of whom, Iain, is also a former Moderator of the General Assembly and president of Princeton Theological Seminary, New York.

  • By Johnston McKay