Number, Word, and Spirit

Rethinking T. F. Torrance’s Theological Science From a Pneumatological Perspective

by Aaron Yom (Author)
©2018 Monographs XVIII, 236 Pages


This book contributes to the study of Thomas F. Torrance by promoting his realist agenda, and the same time, expanding his program that takes into consideration a well-nuanced pentecostal spirituality. More specifically, it assesses the foundational methodological framework of Torrance’s scientific approach to theology for the purpose of constructing a triadic methodological structure for theological science. In doing so, it not only recognizes Torrance’s efforts to bridge the gap between science (number), word (hermeneutics), and spirit (theo-philosophy), but also critically reviews his theo-scientific project by identifying his restrictive tendencies that limit the full outworking of human spirituality and imagination. Based upon this analysis, this study constructively modifies Torrance’s theological science by complementing his realist agenda with the pentecostally driven pneumatological imagination. In the final analysis, Number, Word, and Spirit argues that theological science grounded on the pneumatological imagination can expand the restrictive tendencies of Torrance’s theo-scientific project, thereby giving rise to a triadic analogical approach that recognizes the interplay of ontologic, informal logic, and translogic for the development of a theo-scientific method. The book can be used as a secondary reading material for the courses in theological method, interdisciplinary studies, and faith and science dialogue.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Torrance’s Triadic Methodology for Interfacing Theology and Science
  • Introduction
  • The Theological Frame of Reference
  • Logocentric Theology
  • Logocentric Pneumatology
  • The Doctrine of the Trinity
  • The Scientific Frame of Reference
  • Newton’s Mechanical Worldview
  • James Clerk Maxwell and Field Theory
  • Albert Einstein and the Theory of Relativity
  • Embodied Mathematical Worldview
  • The Triadic Methodological Stratification
  • The Methodological Correlation between Theology and Science
  • The Commonality of Objective Realism
  • The Consonance of the Triadic Methodological Movement
  • Meta-science as the Common Destination for Theology and Science
  • The Convergence of Theology and Science in the Cognitive Reference
  • Faith as the Tacit Dimension of Knowing
  • Auditive Interpretation
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter 2. Critical Evaluation of Torrance’s Theological Science
  • Introduction
  • Torrance’s Realist-Revelatory Approach to Theology and Science
  • Torrance’s Hierarchal Triadic Methodological Stratification
  • Torrance’s Fiduciary System
  • Torrance’s Dichotomy of the Hebraic and Greek Frame of Mind
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter 3. Rethinking Torrance’s Scientific Way of Doing Theology from a Pentecostal-Pneumatological Perspective
  • Introduction
  • The Pneumatological Imagination
  • The Prioritization of Pneumatology
  • Metaphysics and the Pneumatological Imagination
  • Epistemology and the Pneumatological Imagination
  • Semiosis and the Pneumatological Imagination
  • Towards Re-imagining Torrance’s Theological Science Pneumatologically
  • Re-visioning Torrance’s Logocentric Theological Reference
  • Re-visioning Torrance’s Metaphysical Reference
  • Re-visioning Torrance’s Epistemological Reference
  • Re-visioning Torrance’s Semiotic Reference
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter 4. Delineating the Contours of an Analogical Method for the Theology and Science Interface: The Triadic Structure of Theological Science
  • Introduction
  • Objects-in-Relations and the Analogical Method
  • Scientific Objects-in-Relations: The Analogue of the Visible and the Invisible
  • Objects-in-Relations and Theological Science
  • The Logic of the Analogical Method
  • Ontologic
  • Informal Logic
  • Translogic
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter 5. A Test Case: Christology and the Analogical Method
  • Introduction
  • The Son Incarnate
  • The Personal Christ
  • The Prophethood of Christ
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix: A Critical Survey of Thomas F. Torrance’s Theo-Scientific Project
  • Index

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This book is a revised version of the doctoral dissertation I wrote at Regent University. My work focuses primarily on the Scottish theologian, Thomas F. Torrance (1913−2007), and his theological method. Initially, several intriguing features of Torrance’s work have attracted my attention. He is often addressed as a systematic theologian though he has not produced a single set of systematic treatises. He is seen as a loyal follower of Karl Barth for he has produced many important polemics for the sake of preserving Barth’s legacy, but time after time, he has also laid a theo-philosophical path which is strikingly different from that of Barth. He is well recognized for his effort to promote the Reformed tradition, but frequently, he has moved beyond it, often arguing against the Reformed agenda. He is known for discussing the nature and function of science in order to pursue and adapt to the rigors of science, although he was a theologian more than a scientist. For this reason, despite the sheer volume of his work, there remains a sense of ambiguity associated with the shape and focus of Torrance’s theological science.

However, despite these perplexing characteristics of Torrance’s work, I have found that there is a clear-cut agenda that runs through all his writings, that theology is a science. Torrance’s persistent preoccupation with science led him to believe that the scientific mode of rationality must underwrite all ← xi | xii → rational activities, which in Torrance’s opinion is the sole access to attaining certitude. As a theologian, of signal importance for Torrance thus is the theological adaptation to scientific methodology. Theology must operate like a science. Science and its methodological construct provided for Torrance a model for theological operations that allows theology to remain in close proximity to the truth. What makes Torrance’s theo-scientific proposal all the more appealing is his consistent adherence to the realist mode of thinking.

From a theological perspective, Torrance consistently pointed out that God can be known as he is in himself in Jesus Christ, who is the proper focus, the proper object of the Christian faith, and ultimately the intelligible basis for all knowledge. This is the foundation of his realist mode of thinking, which unifies knowledge in every realm and on every level. According to Torrance, deviating from concreteness and specificity of Christ, we will be cut off from the knowledge of God and fall into meaningless relativism, as the cognitive relationship between human beings and God can be distorted by our own subjectivity, forcing the human mind back to the self. Humanity then, having no other recourse, must turn outward and finally reckons “reality” or the “truth” as that which is somehow formed and imposed by the external world on the mind of the subject. For this reason, Torrance is heartened by the objectivity of the natural sciences, especially physics, and calls theology (and all other sciences) back to a “classical” objectivity arising from critical realism.

Being taught by Torrance to do theology that is truthful, real, and personal, in this book, I have set out to outline the contours of Torrance’s theological science and its realist mode of thinking as a foundational platform upon which a holistic theological method can be built. However, coming from a pentecostal background, I found the need to expand Torrance’s “pneumatological” imagination that may complement his realist approach. I do not think that Torrance would have approved this move because he was wary of the contemporary pentecostal movement and its excessive display of spiritualism. However, due to an open texture of Torrance’s theological program, I sincerely believe that the mingling of the pentecostal-pneumatological imagination and the realist-disclosive paradigm of the Reformed tradition will produce something that is unique and beneficial to the Christian community.

Furthermore, as a working teacher, I can think of at least three pedagogical benefits from this study. First, students will be updated on the current status of the theology and science dialogue and the importance of theology laying its claim on scientific discoveries. This integrative, interdisciplinary approach can help students to develop a mature religious understanding that ← xii | xiii → will take advantage of modern scientific discoveries, without marginalizing the traditional understanding of God. Here, students will be able to integrate the “how” questions of science with the “why” questions of philosophy and theology. Hence, this project will reveal to the reader the fact that the questions relating to one form of insightful inquiry carry us into the domain of the other. One of my goals for this project then is to bring together the competing factors of scientific rationality, namely, deduction, induction, intuition, and counter-intuition, so that we do not neglect either the realist mode of rationality or the pneumatological imagination, safeguarding the merger of the objective, constructive, critical, aesthetic, and spiritual nature of theo-scientific activity.

Second, students will gain knowledge of how theology has been transformed and contextualized due to the demands of the scientific age. This project will introduce to the reader that the aim of the 21st-century theology is to re-connect God to the world, making far-reaching changes in the traditional understanding of Christian theology and faith, revising even what was earlier held to be constitutive beliefs fundamental to orthodoxy. This decision to rely on science, not the Bible or the gospel, the criterion for theology will help the reader why the contemporary scholars are moving away from the classical doctrine of God.

Third, through this learning experience, students will be able to eschew dogmatism and focus on shareability, criticizability, and expandability of human rationality. The primary purpose of this book is to help fight absolutism across the board by bringing broadly scientific criteria into the search for truth, not by denying the breadth of human evidence and the need for faith and hope, but by affirming all of them. Overall, this monograph emphasizes the full dimension of human rationality, and in particular, the crucial role of theology in the search for truth attainable through motivated beliefs and spirituality. In this regard, this research reveals to the reader that there is a way to define the epistemic parallel and congruence between mathematical, physical, and theological concepts, between natural, psychological, and transcendental reflections, between formal, informal, and counterintuitive inferences, and finally, between number, word, and spirit. ← xiii | xiv →

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This study would not have been possible without the prayers and encouragements from friends, family, colleagues, and professors. First and foremost, I owe a special debt of gratitude to Dr. Alan Padgett. His feedback and criticism from a non-Pentecostal perspective have helped me to “raise the bar” for this study. I also owe so much to Dr. Amos Yong. His work in the area of theology and science as well as his guidance and academic support played a critical role in the completion of this work. Last but not least, I cannot but express my utmost sincere gratitude to Dr. Wolfgang Vondey, who has not only worked with me as my doctoral program advisor but also directed this study as my study supervisor. Without his personal care and intellectual criticism, this research would not have come to fruition.

I am also particularly grateful for the Regent University faculty members. Dr. Estrelda Alexander mentored me throughout the doctoral program; Dr. Peter Gräbe reminded me of the importance of incorporating biblical concepts into my study; Dr. Archie Wright supported me not only academically but also spiritually; and Dr. Graham Twelftree became a good “conversational” friend, and his emphasis on “good writing,” “good reading,” and “good thinking” has been the motto for this study. I am also grateful for the Regent University ← xv | xvi → Library staff—especially Bob Sivigny and Interlibrary Loan’s team. They were always friendly and eager to go “extra miles” for me.

It is also important to recognize the practical help from friends, Barbara Elkjer, Richard Miller, Mary Fast, and Monica Masiko, who has openly dialogue with me and proofread some of my works sacrificing their time and energy for this project. I am also grateful for Dr. Steve Badger for his kind advice and critical comments on my study. I give special thanks to the Regent University staff, especially Jason Wermuth, who as the administrators of the Regent University doctoral program, paid undivided attention to my progress and assisted me in every way to make life in the Regent University manageable and successful.

Finally, I would like to mention the support from my family. The value of prayer and encouragement from all members of my family cannot be overstated. I am especially appreciative of my son, Andrew Yom, who was thoughtful, understanding, and supportive throughout my doctoral program. Finally, if an effort were a measure of deserving than the degree accompanying this study, it should equally belong to my wife, Suhee Yom, who had to take additional responsibilities in the church, home, and work during the entire process of my doctoral study.

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← xviii | 1 →


Christian theology has been a dominant force in the Western world for centuries. It was once called the “queen of the sciences.” However, since the Enlightenment, as hinted by mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855) who labeled modern mathematics as the reigning queen of the sciences, theology has been deposed from its throne and cast into a dungeon of non-science. The heyday of theology has now become a thing of the past, and the new age of science has arrived with a flamboyant entry boasting its accomplishment in the form of unprecedented advances in technology. In efforts to save theology from falling into the pit of irrelevance and obsolescence, modern theologians began to rethink the traditional approaches to Christian theology and look to natural sciences for the construction of theology and its methodological structure that can accommodate the scientific age. Thus, the goal of theology has been reset. Rather than basing theology on pre-scientific religious worldview, contemporary theologians are interpreting the core Christian themes based on modern scientific rationalism. In other words, the task of theology is geared toward regaining its rightful place in the world of science by way of building theological models upon scientific theories such as evolutionism, chaos theory, or quantum mechanics.1 ← 1 | 2 →

In order for theology to be truly scientific, however, there has been some hard cognitive bargaining between Christian traditional beliefs and epistemic claims of modernity. For this reason, the modernist proposal that allowed theology to rely on secular rationalism was received by the theological public with mixed responses. Those who wish to communicate their Christian faith effectively in the modern setting argue for a new theology of science, and by contrast, those who desire to preserve the heavenly-sent deposit of faith from the contamination of secular rationalism argue against the mixing of scientific rationalism and theology. Thus, in the contemporary world, theology has been divided and diversified largely by two opposing forces: pre-scientific biblical worldview and modern scientific rationality.2

Against this background, recognizing the importance of adhering to both biblical worldview and scientific rationality, Thomas F. Torrance endeavored to lay a bridge called “theological science” that could span over this “ugly ditch.” After years of research, Torrance found a way to develop his theological science and located a methodological consonance between science and theology. According to Torrance, for all sciences, including theology, there are at least three basic rational frames of references at work, that is, number rationality, word rationality, and metascience. Number rationality points to the fact that our cognition relies on deductive and inductive logic. Word rationality points to the fact that we deal with the matters of personal and implicit thinking. And metascience points to the fact that we view the world “from above,” that is, from the vantage point of an open-ended system. It is precisely due to the fact that theology and science come together in these areas that theology can be labeled as a science, which gives it legitimacy to interact with natural sciences. Drawing on these interdisciplinary categories provided by Torrance, this book sets out to develop an analogical method underwritten by the interplay of science (number), hermeneutics (word), and theo-philosophy (spirit).

However, although Torrance’s work provides us with the starting point to discuss the relationship between number, word, and spirit, due to his restrictive tendencies that limit the full outworking of human spirituality, this study constructively modifies Torrance’s theological science by complementing his realist agenda with the pneumatological imagination. From Torrance’s principal writings,3 we can discern that Torrance advocates a particular type of scientific methodology—that is, science that operates in accordance with the actual objectivity of reality external to the human knower. For Torrance, such a realist agenda prevents an epistemological confusion between what is ← 2 | 3 → objectively known and what is subjectively construed, as in the case of modernism. Thus, Torrance’s theo-scientific project revolves around the belief that if we do not refer our thoughts to what has been revealed to us and to distinguish what is primordially given to us from our manifold experience of it, or from the situations in which it is actually given to us, then we are not engaged in proper theo-scientific thinking or interpretation.4 The danger that Torrance is speaking of is the sole reliance upon subjectivity, which can confound our understanding of objective reality because of the fallible and indeterminate “habits of mind” that can come between what is real and what is fictional.5 For this reason, Torrance has separated what is received from God objectively and what is seen through the eyes of human imagination. From a pentecostal-pneumatological perspective, this type of separation is problematic for it not only engenders theological dualism and reductionism but also marginalizes human spirituality.

What this mean is that, due to Torrance’s inordinate focus on the errors of the subject, he has unintentionally limited the scope of spirit—he was extremely cautious of human spirituality obstructing the implementation of scientific methodology in search of truth. We will see more of the critical analysis of Torrance’s work in the later chapters, but it suffices here to say that Torrance’s theo-scientific pendulum may have swung too far to the objective pole that his realist agenda creates an unbalance in the subject-object dynamics. Torrance’s theological science, therefore, needs to move beyond his restrictive tendencies so that its applicability for interfacing theology and science can be extended to include robust pneumatological categories.

In this context, this study embarks on a journey as a renewed effort to unpack Torrance’s theological science, and at the same time, to test the effectiveness of his methodological proposal against the pentecostal worldview so that his theo-scientific project can be re-visioned and even expanded through the multitudinous levels of pneumatological investigations. The primary purpose of this study is not only to identify the strength and weakness of Torrance’s theo-scientific methodological program but also locate a possible trajectory for the pentecostal-pneumatological engagement with Torrance’s theological science, which in turn, leads to the construction of a triadic analogical method for doing theology scientifically. In short, this book argues that theological science grounded on the pneumatological imagination can expand the restrictive tendencies of Torrance’s theo-scientific project, thereby giving rise to a triadic analogical approach that recognizes the interplay of number, word, and spirit, in the development of a theo-scientific method. ← 3 | 4 →

Broadly, the development of an analogical method makes three claims. First, theology is a special science because there is a real correlation between the theological method and the scientific method. Due to the existence of a methodological parallel and congruence between theology and science, I argue that the logic of science informs the logic of theology, and vice versa. Second, because theology is a science, it has the potential to interface with science in general and mathematics in particular. My claim here is that the engagement of theology with mathematics does not necessarily entail a transformation of theology into mathematics, or other sciences, but rather, such cross-fertilization takes place semiotically and preserves theological traditional symbols and core beliefs even while I locate bridgeable concepts between theology and science. Third, the development of the scientific method demands the incorporation of pneumatological categories. While taking into consideration the objective nature of scientific rationalism, I emphasize the fact that pneumatological categories, which include the imaginative, affective, and spiritual dimensions of knowing, are also integral to the theo-scientific enterprise.

Chapter Divisions


XVIII, 236
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XVIII, 236 pp.

Biographical notes

Aaron Yom (Author)

Aaron Yom serves as Professor of Theology at William Seymour College in Lanham, Maryland. He earned his Ph.D. in Christian theology from Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He has taught courses in systematic and biblical theology at Regent University, Ohio Christian University, and William Seymour College.


Title: Number, Word, and Spirit