Theology and Philosophy

I'm a philosopher, not a theologian. Even if theologians were inclined to pay any attention to a layman's notions about their field, what I have to say about theology's nature and subject-matter wouldn't contribute anything to the wide-ranging arguments they've been having over those basic issues. My approach in this book is uninfluenced by any consideration of that debate, and is guided simply by the very idea of theology—I mean the idea embedded in the etymology of the word and instantiated more or less fully in the work of just about all dead theologians and most dead philosophers, too, from the pre-Socratics through the seventeenth century at least. Living theologians are of course familiar with the idea, and almost all of them would i repudiate it as utterly obsolete.

1 See e.g. Kaufman 1989; Stump and Kretzmann 1990 (a reply to Kaufman 1989) (p. 329a, omitted from the second of these articles, appears in the immediately following issue of the Journal, vol. 7, no. 4); also Griffiths 1993; Stump and Kretzmann 1994 (a reply to Griffiths 1993).

Broadly speaking, the idea of theology is the idea of a rational investigation of the first principles and most fundamental aspects of reality in general and of human nature and behaviour in particular. That broad characterization could obviously accommodate theology's more readily recognizable, traditional topics: God's existence, God's nature, and the relations to God of all other things, especially human beings. Still, it's likely to seem too broad, leaving theology indistinguishable from philosophy, to which the description seems better suited, even if old-fashioned. But theology and philosophy really are traditionally indistinguishable, broadly speaking. Traditionally, either theology is part of philosophy, or theology and philosophy are two species of the same genus, the end p.23


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved very one picked out in that description. I don't know of an established name for that genus, but 'Grandest Unified Theory' strikes me as appropriate.

Obviously, the two-species conception of theology and philosophy must involve a sharper distinction between them than the part-whole conception does. But what essentially differentiates those two species traditionally is really only the starting-points of their investigations, not their goals or their

methods or even their subject-matters.

2 No theory that leaves God entirely out of consideration could count as theology, and of course plenty of philosophical theories have nothing to do with God. But philosophical theories, too, have often included God as an essential component.

Theology, on this view of it as specifically different from philosophy, finds data for its version of the Grandest Unified Theory in what it takes to be divinely revealed truths. Starting with what one takes to be divinely revealed truths about the first principles and most fundamental aspects of reality in general and of human nature and behaviour in particular is starting with the conviction that God exists and with some conception of God's nature. This non-philosophical 'revealed'theology, then, can be thought of as theology from the top down. Though theology from the top down is specifically different from philosophy, it does share philosophy's goals, generically considered. But the putatively revealed truths it accepts appear to give this theology a head start toward those common goals. It's a decidedly unphilosophical head start because, of course, philosophy's data—which traditionally consist of nothing more than what seems boringly obvious to everybody, and only a little even of that—are accepted under constraints that rigorously rule out revelations. So philosophy from the bottom up might reasonably be thought to be the only kind of philosophy there could be.

On the other hand, there has never been general agreement that theology is exclusively from the top down in this sense of having been handed its data by the central subject of its investigation. Still, theology from the top down, revealed theology, is theology as most people think of it. It's not the theology I'll be focusing on. But I should note in passing that, traditionally, not even revealed theology is unphilosophical in all its developments. It begins, naturally, with 'dogmatic'theology, which extracts religious doctrine from revelation and codifies doctrine into articles of faith. Dogmatic theology is definitely not philosophical—except in the discountable end p.24


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved sense that it sometimes uses techniques and standards of analysis and argument that philosophers discovered and developed. But dogmatic theology's processing of the raw data of revelation gives rise, traditionally, to 'philosophical'theology, the analytical and argumentative clarification, extension, and defence of the articles of faith. Philosophical theology is what was produced by most medieval theologians, whether or not they would have been happy with that designation, and what is being produced now by

many philosophers of religion.

3 Perhaps especially by those associated with the Society of Christian Philosophers. Technically and traditionally, philosophical theology is part of revealed theology rather than of philosophy. And it's only philosophical theology, never philosophy herself, that can and should be recognized under philosophy's old job description of ancilla theologiae, theology's


4 For an excellent account of philosophical theology, see MacDonald, forthcoming.

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