I have lately been reading a lot of material by a certain family of theologians and pastors from Scotland: the Torrance family. I’ve been getting a lot out of their teaching and writing, as many have before me. But as much as their work means, their lives and the life of the family as a whole are also tremendously inspiring.
Annie and Thomas Torrance were missionaries in China in the earliest part of the 20th century. They met through missions, and came together in mutual support and love for one another.
The Torrances had six children, three boys and three girls. They were committed to raising their children in the faith, and Annie Torrance even wrote a book on Christian child-rearing back in the 1920s, called How Shall We Train the Child? Being dedicated servants of the Lord themselves, these parents committed to praying for their children to be actively involved in ministry for the Lord.
What did God do with their prayers? Their three boys – Thomas, James, and David – all became ministers, and their three daughters all married ministers! Like Hannah dedicating young Samuel to God at the sanctuary so long ago, the Torrances’ dedication of their children to God resulted in many years of fruitful work for God.
Thomas and James went on to become university theologians – at the Universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen, respectively – but their work was always driven by evangelical warmth and pastoral concern. The only of the three boys who is still living, David, has spent his whole life in pastoral ministry, caring for congregations and leading them in understanding the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ.
David W. Torrance
Each of these three brothers (I don’t know all the details of the sisters’ families) had three sons of their own. One boy in each of these families also became a minister, and the other two in each family are all committed Christians today. And they are carrying on the family tradition through writing and teaching as well: Thomas’ son Iain is the president of Princeton Seminary and James’ son Alan is a theology professor at the University of St Andrews.
Here are some words from Alan, a stirring testimony to life in a Christian family: “I was incredibly privileged. I was brought up in a wonderful home. I remember my father once said to me, ‘In the light of Matthew 23 (that statement about calling no man father) and in the light of the gospel,’ he once said to me, ‘Alan, biologically I’m your father, but Christianly speaking, you and I are brothers.’
“From my later teens on, my father always treated me like a brother. Because he believed, if we’re going to think out of Christ, en Christo, in Christ, that is who we were. We had the most wonderful relationship. Even when I was 16 or 17, he’d discuss all sorts of family decisions with my sisters and myself — which is quite unusual to do in Scotland, which is a very traditional culture. If we were going to buy a house or the way we’d spend money, we’d all talk about it as a family, and my parents would involve us in major family decisions. It was a radically inclusive relationship. But for dad, what was always transparent was the fact that it was his Christian conviction that was informing every facet of his treatment of us.”
The Torrance family has given a great gift to the church through the generations, both in terms of their inspiring grasp of the gospel (in the short time I’ve been reading and listening to them, I have learned great lessons from them about God’s radically loving character) and in the example of their commitment to be a Christian family, passing the faith on from generation to generation, not just in words but in the way they live for Christ and love one another.