Challenges of Analytic Theology | Episode 1813 | Closer To Truth

Challenges of Analytic Theology | Episode 1813 | Closer To Truth

Is there a God?
If so, what are God’s traits?For my entire sentient life
I’ve been, well, a bit obsessed.
But I’m in constant fear
of fooling myself,
allowing hope
to crowd out reason.
That’s why,
in searching for God,
I’ve skewed heavily to thought,
not experience,
though religious believers tell
me that is precisely my problem.
But I can do
only what works for me,
protects me from fooling myself.And that’s why I pursue
analytic theology which
applies philosophical analysis
to traditional theology,
assessing stories about God
by applying critical reasoning.
But can I rely on analytic
theology in searching for God?
I’m concerned, because analytic
theology is controversial,
even among believers
who often privilege
other kinds of knowledge,especially biblical studies
and biblical exegesis.
That’s why, because analytic
theology might increase
my confidence that God
could make sense,
I seek its challenges.What are the challenges
to analytic theology?
I’m Robert Lawrence Kuhn,
Closer to Truthis my journey to find out.( ♪♪♪ )I hear of a new institute that
focuses on analytic theology,
the Logos Institute for Analytic
and Exegetical Theology
at the University of St. Andrews
in Scotland.
They’re holding a workshop
on analytic theology.
Attendees are mostly
philosophers of religion.
All believe in God,
including the leading proponents
and some critics
of analytic theology.
Here is my question to these
Would subjecting theology
to analytic methods
be better for believers,
clarifying theology,
or would analytic methods
be worse for believers,
undermining theology?I begin with the Founder and
Director of the Logos Institute,
the Professor of Systematic
Theology at St. Andrews,
Alan Torrance.Alan, tell me about
the Institute, why analytic theology has become
kind of a new buzz word in understanding theology
and the Bible? Oliver Crisp and Michael Rea
launched this ostensibly new approach
to the theological task. Their concern was to try
and emulate the methodical and epistemological ideals
we see exemplified in analytic philosophy. Namely lucidity, pellucidity,
transparency, accountability, and tight logical form, and engagement with arguments
in a way that invites critique. Too often, we’ve tended
to polarize into groups of theologians who look
to historical figures as their authorities. Aquinas, Luther, Calvin,
Sharma [ph], Bart. And so it’s very easy for us
to find ourselves living in an echo chamber. What analytic theology
is seeking to do is address the truth question. What are some examples of this where we have,
in theology itself, divisions between
different camps of thinking, and then how can analytic
theology reflect on a different perspective
on attacking that issue? Well, one example would be that
the tradition is long held to, say, divine simplicity. God has no parts. And this is conciliar
for Catholics. But Christian tradition
generally has held to that. But we’ve been far too slow
to ask what exactly we mean by that, because
for example, Thomas, who affirmed divine simplicity,
and mean by it something very different from people
in other Christian traditions. So, what analytic theologians do
is say, what exactly do we mean
by simplicity? So, one of the things
that’s become really clear in the last few years is a
certain definition of simplicity and implies and
properly collapse [ph]. All those attributes are
identical with each other. It means that when I say
that God is loving, God is all powerful,
and God is omniscient, I mean exactly the same thing. So, it could pull the rug out
from under the whole business of Christian God talk. You’re marrying
this analytic theology with more traditional
exegetical theology, and they seem to fight. Are you mixing things
that are admissible? We tend to divide up
into biblical scholars, systematic theologians,
and biblical exegesis. And one of the tragedies,
I think, has been the failure of those three groups
to speak to each other. So, the key aim
of the Logos Institute was to bring experts
in those three fields together. Now, why, therefore,
bring in biblical scholars? Very simple. Analytic theology
isn’t necessarily Christian. You could have Jewish
analytic theology or Muslim analytic theology. The Logos Institute
is an institute for Christian analytic theology. Obviously, at the heart of the
Christian faith is the Bible. And so, if the Bible is
pertinent to how we think about God and God’s purposes
for humanity, then it’s absolutely imperative
that that come into play. Otherwise, analytic theology
will end up simply being a low-grade philosophy
of religion. Okay. So, now you’ve given me actually four
different categories. We’re starting with my interest
in analytic theology, and we know
the exegetical biblical expert. Now you’re talking about
biblical scholars and systematic theologians. So, I just want you to give me a
quick way that these four things articulate together? Well, systematic theology
and analytic theology are not opposed. In fact, analytic theology
is the way to do systematic theology. It’s asking the same questions,
but just ensuring that we hold to certain key methodological
and epistemological principles. So, in that sense,
analytic theology is a methodological concept where systematic theology
is a content-related concept. Can you differentiate them
that way? It’s not quite as clear as that. The vast majority of philosophy
branches in the world are analytic. That’s what
we want to see – in systematic theology.
– Right. So, I’d like to put myself
out of a job one day, and I am serious
systematic theology. I would like the
systematic to be dropped, right? We’ll still be doing things
systematically, but pursuing all the ideals, hopefully exemplifying
those ideals that we see in analytic philosophy. In analytic theology
we are looking at those loci that have characterized
systematic theology and theological anthropology,
Doctrine of the Trinity, Christology, soteriology,
pneumatology, and so on. Now bring in
the two biblical aspects, the biblical exegetes
and the biblical scholars. Exegetical theology is simply
seeking to engage in God talk, right, in and through a process
of serious, rigorous academic engagement
with texts on the grounds that those texts
mediate knowledge of God. Now, to do that well, we need to
have the archeologists involved. We need to have the
literary experts. We need to understand the genres
involved in the Bible, and so on. What the Logos
Institute is seeking to do is to bring the exegetes,
Christian philosophers, analytic philosophers, and
the systematic theologians to the table to ask
the fundamental questions at the heart
of the Christian faith. That’s what we want to
see in systematic theology. KUHN:Alan stresses the truth
question as the core motivator
for analytic theology.I like that.
That’s why I’m here.
He lays out the fundamental
challenge to analytic theology.
How it articulates with
traditional theology
and biblical studies.To me, this is crucial.The difference between
playing intellectual games
with philosophical puzzlesand seeking real insights
about ultimate truth.
To grasp where I am,
I consider four ways of thinking
about the God of the Bible.Analytic theology
is a methodology
for applying analytic philosophy
to theological topics.
Systematic theology classifies
and explains biblical doctrines,
assembling and deriving
theological topics.
Biblical exegesis studies words
and meanings of biblical texts
in their original languages
and cultural environments.
Biblical studies examines
origins, authors,
and interpretations
of biblical manuscripts
in their historical context.To test whether analytic
theology can carry the weight,
I try to probe the relationship
between analytic
and systematic theology and
biblical exegesis and studies.
I seek the Research Professor
of New Testament
and Early Christianity
at St. Andrews,
the retired distinguished
Anglican Bishop,
N. T. Tom Wright.WRIGHT: I think one of the
things that biblical exegetes have always been suspicious
about when looking at systematic theologians
is the decline of narrative, and simply to say narrative
theology isn’t quite enough. You have to say maybe there
is something about the way that the Jewish people told the
story of the world of Israel, etcetera, which the early
Christians were plugging into, which scoops up
those abstract ideas and does something
different with them, and that if you try to take
the abstract ideas out again, then you’re boiling off
too much. This text has its own integrity,
and if you simply go looking for the proof text, as it were, then you are not respecting
that integrity. And of course, the question
of biblical authority is itself a major
theological topic. But it’s possible – and some
theologians have done this – to write books about biblical
theology or biblical authority with minimal attention to what
the Bible itself is actually saying about itself but about
God and Jesus and the world. So, it seems to me
that this dialog has to happen because, you know,
the ideas ought to make sense. And it’s one of the criticisms
of Christianity and of the Bible for the last two or three
hundred years, at least. Oh, well, the Bible’s
just full of these odd stories, that they don’t make sense. So, the biblical scholar
wants to say, actually, they do make sense,
but what counts as making sense? And I would say it’s something
to do with this larger story of God and the world, of God
and Israel, of God, Israel, and all the problems
that they run into, the Old Testament full of
exile and slavery and so on. And then how is the New
Testament resolving that? It’s not resolving a set
of abstract questions about God and evil and humans. It’s resolving a narrative about
God and Israel and the world. And once you say that, all sorts
of things look very different. If I were now sitting in the
seat of a systematic theologian, I would say that
when I look at the Bible, some of these stories
or approaches seem to contradict each other,
and if I believe it, I have to come up with
some different kind of overarching framework to see how
these parent contradictions can articulate and be coherent. I think that’s right,
and I think you see that already in the first two chapters of
Genesis, because some people, especially I think in America,
tend to say you either take it literally
or you don’t believe it at all. But if you take Genesis I
and then take Genesis 2, you have two very different
accounts of creation. And I see those two
as rather like the first half and the second half of a verse
in the Psalms where, in my tradition at least,
when you recite the Psalms, you often pause in the middle,
and the pause in the middle is the moment when you
allow these two similar but different things to resonate
with one another. A manuscript critic would
say Genesis 1 and 2 came from different traditions,
from different writers, then it was redacted together,
and what you’re trying to do is to make some grand
harmony out of something that was just put together
by some people out of different sources. That’s actually a problem
which I think is more apparent than real. What you’re looking at
is the life of a community, namely the ancient Israelite
people, the Jewish people, and these are the stories that
these people tell themselves about who they are, and they
don’t seem to be bothered by the fact that maybe this
one is looking in this way and that one is more
emphasizing that, because actually, human stories
are not little test tubes into which everything
has to work in the same way. When you translate it up again
into the idea of a big story, it gives you a world
like an enormous building where there’s room to explore and different things going on
in different rooms. But the house sort
of works as a house. Of course, you could say, didn’t
they realize that that just came from a tradition which
was determinedly saying such and such, and that’s when
I think a theologian might well want to say, well, do you have
a belief in providence? Do you believe that there is
a God who actually wanted you to have something
more or less like this text? If you have some kind
of a belief in an overarching providence
within which the narrative might make sense,
then living with this book, not as a set
of abstract propositions but as the narrative
of the life of a people – which ends, by the way,
with a big question mark. The Old Testament ends
with sort of, so, what? What’s going to happen next? And the New Testament is written
to give some interestingly different
but converging answers to that “so what” question. [♪♪♪] KUHN:Tom explains
how story and narrative
are mediums
to express ultimate truth.
God is not obliged to speak
with the formal logic
of analytic philosophers or
within the demarcated categories
of systematic theologians.But how do story and narrative
express ultimate truth,
and how do they articulate
with analytic theology?
I speak with a past
president of the Society
of Christian Philosophers
to whom story and narrative
are the religious core,
Eleonore Stump.
See, here’s a question
to ask first. What’s the difference
between theology and philosophy? The old answer
went something like this: Philosophy is just abstract
and impartial reason done from a starting point
of nowhere, whereas theology
starts with what it takes to be divinely revealed
texts and authorities. So, obviously, theology
is intellectually inferior. It doesn’t use this
wonderful impartial reason. But this now strikes
most people as funny. The thought that what
philosophers do is operate with impartial reason, operating
from the position of nowhere is either ridiculous
or infuriating depending on where you are in
the cultural wars of the time. If that’s not the difference
between philosophy and theology, what is it? I mean,
it’s clearly not the difference. Philosophy operates
within a culture. It’s got its own authorities
to which it defers. It’s got its own accepted texts which you have to have
some acquaintance with. And I think the difference
is shown in the names. So, what is philosophy?
It’s the love of wisdom. Now, notice that wisdom
is an abstract universal. It doesn’t have a face.
It can’t call to you. It can’t scold you,
can’t punish you. That’s philosophy for you. It operates by
looking for wisdom. It starts with distinctions
of abstract terms, looks for universal
generalizations, and so on. So, what is theology?
Okay, think about it. It’s a logos of formula,
reason, reflection, a word about theos.
About God. And God is
paradigmatically a particular. Something with a mind
and a will. And this is a thesis
that even proponents of classical theism will accept. God has a mind and a will. God can call you
in a way wisdom can’t. There’s a difference. And this difference makes all
the difference in the world to how you proceed. You can give abstract,
reasoned arguments for universal conclusions,
but they won’t give you much insight
into a particular person. And if you want to understand
a particular person, you’re going to need a story. So, it’s very different
methodology as well as different subject
matter between the two. Here’s the problem. Philosophy
and its seeking after wisdom can have a kind of hemianopia, blindness to half
the visual field, because a lot of what philosophy
is trying to understand is in fact persons. And you can’t just
go after wisdom and get things about
persons right. So, if you look at the way
philosophers sometimes reason, we want to ask where
they’ve been all their lives. I mean, people
don’t work like that. Life doesn’t work like that,
you know? It seems that philosophy,
when it’s at its worst, can be sterile and jejune. But by the same token,
theology can really benefit from making distinctions,
careful reasoning, thoughtful examination
of universal generalizations. If all you’ve got
is particular stories about particular persons,
you can get so muddied, so fuzzy in your thinking
you’re not any help in understanding the deep
things of our lives. Meld these two. Meld that culture-long,
generation-long experienced understanding
through narrative with philosophy’s search
after wisdom. And you get something
of real power for helping us understand ourselves
and the world we live in. [♪♪♪] KUHN:Is this how analytic
theology is supposed to work?
The biblical God,
if there is a biblical God,
communicates via human story
and narrative.
Then, studying these stories
and narratives,
biblical exegetes and scholars
construct biblical doctrines,
and then analyzing those
biblical doctrines,
analytic philosophers
with theistic beliefs
refine and polish
those doctrines.
If this is the process,
then analytic theology
is not overburdened to carry
more than it can bear.
Analytic theology cannot prove
that God exists
or that the Bible
is God’s revelation,
and it shouldn’t even try.Rather, at its best, analytic
theology is a refiner
of biblical doctrines, polishing
doctrinal gems, as it were,
to sparkle
with internal consistency.
Analytic theology can never,
by itself, take me to belief,
because belief is already packed
into its founding assumptions.
Is analytic
theology then circular?
It depends on its mission.To discern analytic theology’s
I should explore
its historical context.
I ask a theistic philosopher
who helped develop
analytic theology,
Michael Murray.
So, in the 18th Century, the
Scottish philosopher David Hume and the German impression
philosopher Immanuel Kant, who made some pretty stark
and far-reaching claims about the limits
of human reason. What they argued was that
the sort of reasoning that human beings
are capable of engaging in simply can’t tell us about the
world beyond our experience, they can’t really tell us
about the nature of the material world,
and it certainly can’t tell us about the
nature of spiritual reality. Much of Western theology latched
onto the arguments of Hume and Kant and made them
sort of central planks in how they went forward in their
kind of theological theorizing. However, philosophers
weren’t as willing to accept, unquestioningly, the conclusions
that Hume and Kant drew. And in the late 20th Century,
when philosophy of religion began to experience
something of a revival, the philosophers went back
and reexamined these claims of Hume and Kant
and began having conversations with their theological peers
saying, you know, you guys have taken these
arguments as conclusive, and in fact, they’re not. And if we set aside the
arguments of Hume and Kant, it might give us some license to
return to ways of doing theology that were predominant
before Hume and Kant that can take advantage of
philosophical types of reasoning and perhaps allow us
to make some progress in theological understanding. So, what’s an example of where
you might have been constrained by the tradition
of Hume and Kant prior that analytic theology
can open up to allow you to address issues? Many of the topics, actually,
that are central for your interest inCloser
to Truth
would be examples. So, reasoning to the nature
and existence of God from empirical data. That would include things like
arguing that there must be a first cause for the universe,
something that Kant claimed we couldn’t do, or claiming
that there’s a designer because we see evidence
of fine-tuning in the cosmos. Can you differentiate what
analytic theology would do from what philosophy of religion
has been doing? So, I think one thing that those
who have aimed to launch this movement of analytic
theology wanted to do was not just to get theologians
to engage with contemporary philosophy of religion,
but vice-versa. That is to have
the philosophers sit down and take serious accounting
of what’s happening in contemporary theology. So, they’re trying to better
understand the presuppositions behind biblical interpretation
and biblical theology, but also to look at some of
the figures that have been classical figures since
the time of Hume and Kant and try to understand what the
philosophical presuppositions of those views are. Let me tell you two kinds of
objections that I’ve heard. Number one is that theology
is not just propositions. Systematic theology
is not the Bible. But the Bible are stories,
are metaphors, emotions, are subtleties the way
God communicates, and if you try to reduce that
to the propositions of formal logic, you’re going
to come up with some answers, but you’re going to eviscerate
the whole point. I agree with you. That’s part
of what’s been contentious. So, on the one hand, what
the philosophers of religion have been concerned about is
that much of what’s gone on in theology has been so reliant
on metaphor and analogy and non-literal use of terms
and absence of reasoning in accordance with the canons
of formal logic, that it’s become unclear
what theologians are actually trying to affirm.
That’s on the one extreme. On the other extreme, some
theologians have been arguing that there are things that we
can capture through story and metaphor and analogy
that may not be as amenable to the kind of logic chopping
that philosophers are comfortable with. I think what the philosophers
who have really committed themselves
to analytic theology are trying to grapple with
is how do we extract lessons from metaphor, analogy,
and story that can be genuinely meaningful
about our understanding of ourselves and God in
a way that is also rigorous. That is, it doesn’t run up
against the canons of logic. Another group,
the biblical exegetes who say that you’re doing formal logic,
and what you really need to do is really delve
into the biblical text, coming up with some doctrines
to discuss. Those doctrines are based upon
the Holy Bible, as I see here. But then the philosophers,
they never look at it again. So, theology is a negotiation
between the data that comes from sacred texts
and human reason. And some complain that the
“God of the philosophers,” the God of Anselm
and Aquinas and so on, just seems unrecognizable when
you open the pages of scripture. And I think philosophers have
begun to take that seriously. On the other hand,
the Bible scholars who simply want to look at the text
and how it was understood at that particular
juncture in time and what the author
intended to convey, sometimes they’re
also missing something. So, what they’re missing,
first of all, is that the biblical text
is a narrative that consists of many, many, many books,
and one thing we need to do is to try to come up with a
coherent, synthetic account of the God that’s described
in those passages and other doctrines as well. Doctrines of soul
and afterlife and so on. So, there’s this negotiation
between on the one hand, the biblical data, which we
always need to come back to and understand,
and the canons of reason, which we use to try to make
sense of those doctrines. [♪♪♪] KUHN:Analytic theology
is no shortcut to God.
It makes no such claims.Rather, it seeks harmony
between the God of Revelation
and the God of the philosophers.How does analytic theology
work with Bible-based methods
and scholarship?With systematic theology,
analytic theology
provides rigorous
and transparent thinking.
With biblical exegesis
and with biblical studies,
analytic theology receives
biblical doctrines
on which to work.What about the reverse?Can analytic theology guide
biblical exegesis and studies,
advise which doctrines
make sense and which do not?
Yes, but only with care, because
knowledge may not be complete.
Although analytic theology
emerges in a Christian context,
how it approaches questions
and dissects issues
resonate with Jewish and Islamic
analytic theology.
Appreciating analytic
theology limitations
as well as capabilities
brings us
Closer to Truth. [♪♪♪] ANNOUNCER:
For complete interviews
and for further information,
please visit[♪♪♪]


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