In recent decades, philosophers of religion in the so-called 'analytic tradition' have gradually turned their attention toward the explication of core doctrines in Christian theology. The result has been a growing body of philosophical work on topics that have traditionally been the provenance of systematic theologians. Despite this theological turn, however, the results haven't, in general, been warmly received by theologians. This is in large part due to the fact that many theologians seem to have very different ideas from analytic philosophers about how theology (and philosophy) ought to be done, and about the value of analytic approaches to theological topics.
Whereas philosophy in the English-speaking world is dominated by analytic approaches to its problems and projects, theology has been dominated by alternative approaches. For reasons that I shall try to sketch below, many would say that the current state in theology is not mere historical accident, but is, rather, how things ought to be. Others, however, would say precisely the opposite: that theology as a discipline has been beguiled and taken captive by 'continental' approaches, and that the effects on the discipline have been largely deleterious.1
The methodological divide between systematic theologians and analytic philosophers of religion is ripe for exploration. It is of obvious theoretical importance to both disciplines, but it also has practical import. The climate in theology departments for analytic theologians is much like the climate in English-speaking philosophy departments for continental philosophers: often chilly.2 Moreover, the methodological divide is surely the most significant y I would like to thank Michael Bergmann, Jeff Brower, Andrew Chignell, Oliver Crisp, John Lamont, Michael Murray, Merold Westphal, and Nicholas Wolterstorff for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this chapter. Also, both Oliver and I would like to thank Alex Arnold for help prepar ing the index for this volume, and the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts in the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame for funding that made Alex's work possible.
1 The idea that theology has been taken captive is made explicit in R. R. Reno, 'Theology's Continental Captivity', First Things, 162 (2006), 26 33.
2 Often, but not always. In some philosophy departments, continental dominates; and in a few like the philosophy department at the University of Notre Dame both continental and analytic are strongly represented, and relations among their practitioners are generally quite positive. But this is the exception rather than the rule. From all I can tell, the same is true except with continental approaches in the dominant position in the Weld of theology.
obstacle to fruitful interdisciplinary dialogue. The problem isn't just that academics with different methodological perspectives have trouble conversing with one another. Rather, it is that, by and large, the established figures in both disciplines don't even view mutual conversation as worth pursuing. They ignore one another. They (implicitly or explicitly) encourage their students to ignore one another. They allow their methodological preferences to play a very large role in their judgments about hiring and about the quality of papers they referee for professional journals. And the divide only grows deeper. No doubt many (on both sides) will think that all of this is perfectly legitimate. Maybe it is, but that is beside the point; its legitimacy shouldn't just be taken for granted. It is an open and interesting question whether theology can sensibly be done in the analytic mode.
The present volume represents an attempt to begin a much-needed interdisciplinary conversation about the value of analytic philosophical approaches to theological topics. It is a largely one-sided attempt insofar as most of the essays herein are at least sympathetic toward, if not defensive of, the enterprise we are calling analytic theology. But we have aimed to provide some balance by including a few essays that offer more critical perspectives on analytic theology. Also in the service of balance, I shall attempt in the present essay to summarize and explain what seem to be some ofthe most important objections against analytic theology.
I shall begin by trying to explain what I mean by the terms 'analytic philosophy' and 'analytic theology'. The contributors to this volume do not have a precise or even entirely uniform vision of what analytic theology amounts to (though there is certainly broad agreement on what it would involve). But this, I think, is to be expected in light of the fact that the nature of analytic philosophy also eludes precise and uniform characterization.
Next, I shall present what is essentially an analytic theologian's perspective on the most salient objections against the enterprise of analytic theology. I do this for the following reason. Much has been written in both philosophy and theology that can plausibly be invoked in defense of broadly non-analytic approaches to theological topics. Here I'm thinking, for example, of work by Don Cupitt, John Hick, George Lindbeck, Jean-Luc Marion, D. Z. Phillips, and Merold Westphal—to name just a few, very diverse thinkers whose writings either point toward defects in analytic approaches, or seem in other ways to speak in favor of going a different way.3 But the methodological
3 I don't mean to suggest that these figures are intentionally trying to discredit analytic philosophy or theology. Some are, no doubt; but others might simply be following a different path (as Merold Westphal put it to me in correspondence). In Ch. 13 e.g. Westphal recommends a hermeneutical phenomenological alternative to analytic theology, but without declaring analytic theology to be defective. Still, his work does provide reasons which deserve to be taken seriously for favoring his alternative path; and so his work (like the work of these other figures) might sensibly be appropriated by critics who do want to discredit analytic theology, even if he himself is unwilling to go that far.
import of a lot of this work has gone largely unappreciated by those interested in analytic theology. Part of the problem is that many (though hardly all) of the arguments that would speak against analytic theology are couched in a rhetorical style that analytic philosophers and theologians (henceforth, 'analytics') will find objectionably opaque. But it is also because the arguments in this literature often depend upon claims and attitudes which are handed down from figures largely dismissed by analytics and which many analytics find to be inaccurate, insufficiently motivated, or wholly unintelligible. The result is that the critics are largely preaching to the choir—and this despite the fact that, in my opinion anyway, some of their arguments and objections deserve serious engagement.
My own efforts, then, will be directed at articulating in my own terms what the main objections seem to be. I hope to express them in ways that will resonate with those who embrace them, while at the same time helping analytics to appreciate their force more fully. I also hope that, to the extent that I miss the mark in characterizing the objections, critics of analytic theology will take what I say here as an open invitation to clarify, and to replace inadvertent caricature with real substance. I shall not attempt to respond to the objections here. Some responses will come in the chapters that follow, and in the closing section I comment briefly upon those. But the main purpose of this introduction is just to open up dialogue on the issues discussed herein, not to provide a defense of my own perspective.
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