As indicated earlier, the contributors and co-editors of this volume do not share a perfectly uniform vision about the nature of analytic theology, about the shape or relative import of the 'main' objections against it, or even about what one ought to do (if anything) to find a place for it in the academy. Despite that, the collective vision is at least roughly homogeneous; and the chapters that follow touch in various and interesting ways upon the objections just described.
The first three chapters are aimed explicitly at the defense of analytic theology. Oliver Crisp and William J. Abraham articulate similar visions of analytic theology and then proceed to address concerns about and objections against the enterprise. According to Crisp, analytic theology is an approach that is characterized by (a) explanatory/metaphysical ambitions that prioritize explanations marked by rhetorical features like clarity and (b) a commitment to the view that there are theological truths that are accessible to human beings. He also emphasizes that analytic theology as such carries no commitment to the view that reason is a source of 'fundamental knowledge' (rather than merely a tool for exploring the relations among ideas). Abraham's vision is similar, even if somewhat narrower: on his view, analytic theology is 'systematic theology attuned to the deployment of the skills, resources, and virtues of analytical philosophy'. On Crisp's view, concerns about analytic theology are likely to arise out of misconceptions about its commitments—e.g. that it is committed to a form of what I have here been calling 'source foundationalism', or to a particular theory of truth, or to seeing philosophy as authoritative over theology. Much of his chapter is devoted to dispelling these misconceptions. Abraham also addresses objections against analytic theology, but more of his contribution is devoted to exploring what analytic theology might actually look like.
Randal Rauser's chapter, 'Theology as a Bull Session', is more polemical and, to put it mildly, provocative and controversial. It aims at combating two important 'alternatives' to analytic theology: Sallie McFague's 'persuasive metaphor' model of theology, and Jiirgen Moltmann's 'perpetual conversation' model. Drawing on recent philosophical analyses of—yes—the concept of bullshit, Rauser argues that both of these models make theological discourse out to be precisely that: idle and fruitless conversation, nothing more than mere bullshit.
In the next Part, we turn to historical perspectives on a variety of issues relevant to the viability of analytic theology. The section opens with a chapter by John Lamont on the notion of faith in the Greek Fathers. According to Lamont, the view under discussion traces back to Clement of Alexandria, exerted inXuence on the Greek Fathers, anticipated ideas in Aquinas, and was later brought to completion in the work of the seventeenth-century Puritan John Owen. It is a view according to which faith is grounded in divine testimony, where testimony is construed as a basic source of rational belief separate from (and in no need of certification by) sense perception and reason. It is also a view according to which knowledge of God can be obtained by rational reXection upon truths believed on faith. Though Lamont does not discuss analytic theology directly, the significance of his chapter in light of the foregoing should be plain. Lamont is identifying a view of faith and theological reflection that rejects the traditional rationalist/empiricist dichotomy (and which in some figures seems to carry no commitment to any sort of source foundationalism as it was understood above) and yet leaves room for substantive knowledge of God by way of reason.
The next two chapters, by Andrew Chignell and Andrew Dole, focus on a pair of figures who might well be thought to be driving forces behind a great deal of contemporary opposition to analytic theology: Kant and Schleiermacher. Kant is widely regarded as having shown things that imply that the substantive theological ambitions of analytic theologians are unattainable. Likewise, Friedrich Schleiermacher has 'frequently been accused of ''emptying'' Christian faith of its (metaphysical) content and reducing it to a ''merely individual and subjective'' phenomenon' (Dole). But Chignell argues that 'Kant doesn't exactly hold what ''Kant has shown'' ', and Dole rejects the idea that, on Schleiermacher's view, religious doctrines do not make truth claims. According to Chignell, Kant engages in substantive theology himself and wouldn't stand in clear opposition either to the project of providing analyses of religious concepts (including our concept of God), or to the application of the tools and methods of analytic metaphysics to theological topics. Dole argues that Schleiermacher would oppose the metaphysical/explanatory ambitions of analytic philosophy as a component of theology; but he provides reasons for doubting that analytic theologians ought to follow him in this.
Finally, Nicholas Wolterstorff examines how developments in the analytic tradition during the twentieth century not only made room for analytic philosophical theology, but contributed to its flourishing. Wolterstorff does not make it an explicit goal to respond to the objections against analytic theology outlined above. Nevertheless, one important feature of his chapter is that it goes some distance toward showing how several of the objections discussed thus far rest on misconceptions or caricatures of analytic philosophy as it is practiced today.
Part III examines what might be called the 'data' for theology. Earlier I noted that one concern about the analytic tradition is its apparent obsession with source foundationalisms. And one motive for adopting alternative approaches to theology is a certain sort of skepticism about our ability to acquire information or genuine evidence about the character and attributes of God. The chapters in this part address issues in this neighborhood.
I said earlier that some (like Merold Westphal) are concerned about approaches to theological topics that imply or take for granted the idea that God is somehow 'at our disposal'. According to Thomas McCall, this is a concern shared by Karl Barth; and the concern partly motivates his view of scripture, according to which scripture is not 'on its own' (so to speak) the Word of God, but rather only 'becomes' the Word of God as God reveals himself to those who engage with scripture. McCall engages with this idea and argues that the concerns that motivate Barth in this direction can be addressed without giving up the classical view of scripture, according to which scripture's status as the Word of God does not depend upon additional revelatory acts. One consequence of his view (not explicitly drawn) is that those who object to the idea that God might somehow be placed 'at our disposal' in certain ways need not object to the idea that divine truths can be communicated in a way that makes them fully accessible to human beings without special additional acts of revelation. If this is right, then it will go a long way toward addressing some of the concerns raised in earlier sections of this introduction.
In the next two essays, Thomas Crisp and Michael Sudduth, respectively, explore the ways in which sources other than reason and sense perception function in the formation and rational grounding of important theological beliefs. Crisp argues that belief in the inspiration of scripture is warranted for many, maybe most, Christians by what he calls 'authoritative testimony' rather than by natural theological arguments or the 'internal testimony of the Holy Spirit'. And Sudduth argues that dogmatic theology—the 'examination and systematic development of dogmas, ecclesiastically formulated and sanctioned core theological beliefs ostensibly based on scripture'—must take account of the role played by religious experience as a source of justification for theological beliefs. In the course of making their arguments, furthermore, Sudduth argues that religious experience plays a vital role in natural theology (the enterprise of trying to arrive at knowledge of God by way of a priori or empirical argument), and Crisp argues against the idea that natural theology warrants belief in the inspiration of scripture. Together, these two chapters help to provide a corrective to the idea that analytic theology is wedded to an overly optimistic view about the power of pure reason to provide grounds for theological beliefs.
Next Michael Murray examines the relationship between theology and science. On Murray's view, the most promising model of the interaction between theology and science is one of'constructive engagement': theologians ought to take account of developments in science in the course of working out their theories, but likewise, religious believers at any rate ought to recognize that 'authoritative religious teaching can and does have consequences for the natural world, consequences which yield empirically testable conclusions'. Theology and science might thus be seen (by religious believers, at least) as working cooperatively toward a unified explanatory theory. Here too, then, we find a model for understanding theology that retains analytic ambitions without either embracing an objectionable rationalism or forcing theology somehow to accommodate the strictures of empiricism.
In the last part of the volume, we have placed three chapters that offer what might be thought of as 'correctives' to analytic theology. One way to offer a corrective to a theoretical enterprise is to point out methodological shortcomings. Another way is to suggest alternatives. The first way is taken by Eleonore Stump, who argues that one shortcoming of analytic philosophy is hemianopia: a narrow focus on left-brain processing skills. Because of this, she thinks, analytic philosophers end up ignoring important sources of information. One such source, she thinks, is narrative. On her view, narratives that relate one person's experience of another convey non-propositional information about the person (or about persons generally) that might, in principle, function evidentially in philosophical argument. This is of particular importance, obviously enough, in theology; for the Bible is a rich source of narratives relating the experiences ofGod that have been had by various people. If she is right, then an approach to theology that ignores the evidential value of narrative as such will be severely limited.
The second way is taken by Merold Westphal. The alternative that Westphal proposes is a theology which takes hermeneutical phenomenology, rather than analytic philosophy, as its ally. As noted earlier, one of Westphal's concerns about analytic approaches to theology is that they seem to encourage (indeed, they might seem to be fixated on) the idea that we can, with our limited human cognitive apparatus, come to know eternal, non-perspectival, objective truths about God and the world. This idea naturally attends a conception of the primary theological task as one of theoretical understanding—a conception which, as I have already indicated, is central to the enterprise of analytic theology. A theology which takes hermeneutical phenomenology as its philosophical ally, however, will think of the primary theological task as one of interpretation, and as one whose goal isn't so much theoretical understanding as practical wisdom—right living or, as Westphal puts it, holiness.
This, according to Westphal, is a conception of theology that fits better with, among other things, the fact of human finitude.
In the final chapter, Sarah Coakley looks at the mystical writings of St Teresa of Avila with an eye to providing certain correctives to analytic appropriations of St Teresa's work. Earlier in this essay, I noted that one way of responding to the collapse of classical foundationalism within the analytic tradition has been to move toward a brand ofsource foundationalism that treats religious experience as a basic source of knowledge. In partial support of this move, analytic philosophers have turned to the writings of Christian mystics like St Teresa.38 According to Coakley, however, analytic work on the writings of mystical theologians tends to be insensitive to their apophatic character, which the continental tradition understandably celebrates. Moreover, she argues, the analytic tradition has not sufficiently appreciated the way in which the 'experiential turn' in contemporary religious epistemology is, effectively, a turn toward the exploration of stereotypically feminine ways of knowing. Accordingly, it has left much of the epistemo-logical significance of St Teresa's work unexplored. Toward filling this lacuna, Coakley considers the way in which St Teresa's work might suggest important roles for both contemplative practice (as opposed to isolated religious experiences) and apophatic sensibilities in the epistemology of religious belief. In this way, she closes our volume with a project whose aim is 'not so much to adjudicate between [continental and analytic] philosophical projects as to nudge creatively beyond them'.
38 See esp. Alston, Perceiving God.
In Defense of Analytic Theology
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