Analytic Theology is a new method and discipline that intersects with philosophy and theology, analytic philosophy of religion and Christian systematic theology. It ostensibly applies the tools, virtues, skills, methods and precepts of mainly 20th century analytic philosophy to specifcally theological questions and issues. Some see it (ironically) as a very nebulous notion about a method that seeks precision and clarity and yet others (cynically and sceptically) don't see any substantive difference between it and either philosophical theology or philosophy of religion. Although Analytic Theology is riding the crest of a high wave of popularity and interest (as well as immense funding), not everyone in the theological community has embraced it, being either highly critical and sceptical of its agenda and method or it being poorly suited for the task of theology.
Whatever the objections or challenges, 'Analytic Theology' according to its founders philosopher Michael C. Rea and theologian Oliver D. Crisp (both coined the phrase) is seen as a highly discursive activity of articulating the central themes of Christian doctrine and teachings illuminated by the best insights in analytic philosophy. However, both agree that taken as a model of doing and approaching theology - without a confessional commitment to the theology in question - Muslims, Jews and possibly other theistic faith traditions can adopt and engage in Analytic Theology. Such a more inclusive approach is what William Wood has called the "formal model" of Analytic Theology.
There is no definitive history (is there ever one?) of the origins and rise of Analytic Theology but a broad sketch can be made. Analytic Theology did not arise independently in a vaccum but is one natural development from antecedent historical shifts in post-War philosophy. One important turning point is the collapse of the Verification Principle - a major doctrine of the empiricist-oriented School known as Logical Positivism. According to this principle, all linguistic utterances, in order to count as genuine assertions, must either be analytically true or false (true or false by definition), or empirically verifiable (checked against observation). Talking about God and metaphysics on this principle would lack any cognitive value or meaning. Theology then, under logical positivism, would have no proper place of philosophical study. The failure of the verification principle on grounds that it is self-refuting (the principle itself is neither analytic nor empirically verfiable) and how little it allows of traditional philosophy (metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, etc.) - because they would all be dismissed under the verification principle - helped pave the way for theological inquiry to begin again.
A second major turn was challenging a core and long-held assumption identified with the epistemological theory known as classical foundationalism, a position about knowledge from the time of the Enlightenment that insisted on beliefs being rational only if they are built on certitude or indubitable evidence and demonstrative arguments. This too was seen as highly restrictive by philosophers and excluded beliefs that seem perfectly reasonable to hold like memory beliefs, perceptual beliefs and induction that are not grounded in any demonstrative proof or high level of certainty. The weakening or indeed the rejection of classical foundationalism allowed for alternative epistemological models and systems to assume legitimacy and thus any religious belief based on non-foundational principles were just as valid as any other. This opened a plurality of competing epistemologies allowing for religious epistemology to be explored. Therefore, the collapse of the verification principle and the rejection of classical foundationalism cleared the grounds for a fresh entry for theology and theological inquiry to germinate again.
In addition to these two philosophical shifts just mentioned, Analytic Theology also owes its conception to the scholarly work of prominent Christian philosophers from the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in the field of philosophy of religion. Committed Christians like Nicholas Wolterstorff, Alvin Plantinga, William Alston, Richard Swinburne, Robert Adams, Marilyn McCord Adams, Eleanore Stump and many others contributed to a flowering of Christian Philosophy leading to a renaissance in the 1990s and 2000s which continues until the present day. In this way, Christian Philosophy in the latter part of the 20th century became a forerunner to Analytic Theology of the 21st century.
Arguably, two more relatively recent factors helped the rise of Analytic Theology and they are the 'metaphysical turn' and the appropriation of analytic philosophy into Christian systematic theology. Regarding the former, this was the renewed interest by philosophers operating within within analytic philosophy about the categories and constituents of reality, focussing on theories of reality, its relations and ontological grounding. This endeavour and focus on metaphysics would be highly agreebale (and naturally so) with Analytic Theology that explores being and its nature vis-a-vis God and the world. Regarding the latter, systematic theology became a natural ally to analytic philosophy as theologians utilised its tools and methods to not only clarify and explicate Christian theological doctrines and teachings to the internal community of believers but to press its employment into the service of apologetics for argumentative rigour.
Therefore, with these early and later factors, Analytic Theology emerged as an intellectual field and it is burgeoning well into the 21st century, suggesting that, although it is still maturing as a field, it is not just a tag on to philosophy of religion or systematic theology.
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Below is a short discipline overview of Analytic Theology:
Depending on what type of model one adopts about Analytic theology, some of the aims include:
If it is the Formal Model (discursive and non-confessional) then:
If it is the Substantive Model (discursive and confessional) then:
The same as the above aims, but with the following additions:
The primary subject-matter of Analytic Theology is any theology (e.g. 'theistic' like Christianity, Islam and Judaism) where the thick range of topics and themes internal to that tradition forms the ambit of inquiry and pairing with analytic assessment. It goes beyond what is the typical curriculum of philosophy of religion like natural theology, divine attributes and the problem of evil into deeper doctrines and theological issues specific to a tradition that may not be a transferable one (universalisable) to other traditions.
Some identifiable activities the proponents or actors of Analytic Theology may be involved in include:
The most salient features that are foregrounded in the method or style of Analytic Theology includes:
The technical terminology of Analytic Theology is a hybrid of both established analytic philosophical jargon as well appropriate theological nomenclature. Although there is no necessary hierarchy or prioritisation of language, the analytic philosopher must be sentitive to and cognisant of vocabulary embedded in the theological tradition she is inquiring about and investigating and thus avoid subordinating that theological lexicon to the analytic one.
A very small representative list of the figures in the Analytic Theology field from founders, pioneers, explorers to developers and paradigm shifters include the following:
Michael C. Rea (founder)
Oliver D. Crisp (founder)
Marilyn McCord Adams
William L. Craig
Helen De Cruz
Johnathan C. Rutledge
Ryan T. Mullins
Kelly J. Clark
James T Turner
Some useful works outlining the gestation and development of Analytic Theology as well as its aims, method and significance are the following (the list will be updated periodically):
See as well, the Journal of Analytic Theology (JAT) which is a free access high scholarly academic journal on themes, topics and discussons in theology from an analytic approach.
Some major global centres that have engaged and continue to engage with research in Analytic Theology include (updated periodically):
The Logos Institute in St. Andrews, Scotland.
The Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasedena, California.
The University of Innsbruck, Germany.
The University of Notre Dame, Indiana.
The University of Birmingham, England.