Analytic Theology Goes Scottish

July 13th, 2017 by

With the recent launch of the new Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology at the University of St Andrews, I have been receiving a flurry of questions. One common question is, “What is the purpose of Logos?” The answer is quite simple. The purpose of the Logos Institute is to bring together analytic philosophers, biblical scholars, and theologians. One might still ask, “Yes, but what do they do?” Other than drinking tea and playing golf at the Old Course, we try to facilitate constructive dialogue between participants of these three disciplines in order to fill perceived gaps in contemporary Christian theology. Throughout Church history, theologians have been engaged with the best philosophical resources of the times. The late 20th Century renaissance in analytic philosophy has brought about all sorts of interesting and potentially useful conceptual tools for theologians to employ. So one intent of the Logos Institute is to have theologians and analytic philosophers explore this potential together. However, that is not the only intent of the Logos Institute. Prior the 20th Century, the disciplines of biblical studies and theology began to drift apart. Biblical scholars have long complained that theologians are no longer offering a substantive engagement with the biblical text. So another intent of the Logos Institute is to bring Christian theologians and philosophers into dialogue with the best of contemporary biblical scholarship.

Another common question I receive is, “What is everybody at Logos working on?” We have some exciting research projects underway. The Logos cohort is more than a bunch of pretty faces. We have some incredibly sharp minds working on fascinating issues at the intersection of theology, philosophy, and biblical studies.

If you feel the Holy Spirit burning within your heart right now, that is because you are about to discover the exciting research projects going on at Logos. Kimberley Kroll’s research centers on the nature of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of human persons. By her lights, the metaphysical complexity of the doctrine has been neglected in the tradition. Therefore, an understanding of what it means for the third person of the Trinity to indwell, or be present to, the believer in a way that is ‘more than’ God’s omnipresence is needed. Specifically, she seeks to construct and defend a model that is not merely epistemic. Rather, she takes into account the direct relationship of union between the divine and human while maintaining a distinction of persons such that both retain unique (i.e. divine or human) dignity and agency.

Koert Verhagen’s research focuses on how humans are reconfigured in Jesus, with a special interest in how Jesus’ historical identity might be normative for Christian self-understanding. This grounding concern gives rise to critiques of certain kinds of idealism and exemplarism as ways of construing Jesus’ significance for human identity. Related considerations are the relationship between anthropology and ecclesiology, and more practically, the deliverances of Jesus’ relationship to Israel for conversations on nationalism, race, and theology. While maintaining consistent reference to philosophy and exegesis, the central pulse of his project is theological, owing much to the thought and life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I’m sure that the cost of Koert’s discipleship to Bonhoeffer’s thought will produce much fruit.

Taylor Telford is currently working on an exegetical and theological account of the Christian doctrine of reconciliation, particularly as it applies to disagreement and divisions in the church over LGBTQ inclusion. By analyzing Paul’s approach to ideological disunity in early church communities, and placing Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Creation and Doctrine of Reconciliation in dialogue, she hopes to create a constructive account that provides a way forward within the North American church.

Jonathan Rutledge’s primary research project in analytic theology is the development of a distinctively Christian understanding of the nature and value of forgiveness, which he then applies as a constraint on the adequacy of doctrines of atonement and various issues in eschatology. In epistemology, he defends a perspectivalist view of rationality grounded in a high view of epistemic self-trust. He also has ongoing projects concerning the sufficiency of skeptical theism as a response to the argument from evil, and philosophical Arminianism as an understanding of the nature of divine foreknowledge. I haven’t had the heart to tell him yet that he is in Calvinist country.

Stephanie Nicole Nordby is writing a book on Christology. Her project is characterized by two guiding questions: 1) How would a first-century audience understand Jesus’s Christological claims?, and 2) What implications does the Incarnation have for a wider understanding of how God reveals himself to his people? Nordby hopes to address these questions in a way that incorporates relevant historical information from biblical studies, and while doing so, to tackle—with the philosophical rigor that is the hallmark of the analytic tradition—some of the methodological issues that arise from attempts to exegete normative, theological claims from sacred texts.

Andrew Torrance’s research is currently focusing on the nature of Christian conversion. This has led him to focus more specifically on the following questions: Was the apostle Paul a convert? Can a person prepare to become a Christian? How should Christians talk about conversion in a secular context? Can a Jew or Muslim become a Christian without undergoing conversion? On a different note, he is also considering how we should think about the doctrine of creation in the contemporary scientific world. Lastly, he is investigating the question of what it means to be accountable to God. Personally, I prefer to have God as my accountant, but Christians always seem to disagree over financial matters.

Christa McKirland is working on a framework for understanding human desire via the mechanism of the imago Dei.  She will argue that the express content of the image is the person of Jesus Christ (the embodied Logos), who is the pattern after which humanity is created, and the goal for its intended flourishing. At the same time, the image functions bi-directionally. Not only is humanity intended toward becoming the image of God, but the image of God was intended to be fully human. As such, a desire theory can be tentatively constructed based on the life of Christ. This sounds like a very desirable project indeed.

Jeremy Rios’s research centers on vicarious representative action and its ethical, practical, and teleological impact on human communities. What is actually happening in a moment of vicarious suffering? How can the suffering of one person have positive impact on others? What does this process say about human nature as communal or individual? Does it point to a more significant role for suffering in our understanding of human persons? If so, what are the ethics and boundaries of such action within the church? Will such parameters help illuminate Paul’s evocative phrase from Colossians 1:24 that he will “fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions”?

Alan Torrance has two book projects underway. The first is a monograph for Baker Academic. This will be based on the Grader Winget lectures he gave in the USA this past February on the continuing priesthood of Christ. This concerns a) what the New Testament suggests we might affirm with respect to the doctrine; b) why this has not played a more influential role in Christian thought; and c) what the implications of the doctrine are for how we live our lives. The second book project has been commissioned Eerdmans. It will be co-authored by Alan and Andrew Torrance. This book focuses on the contributions that Søren Kierkegaard and Karl Barth can make to the core questions that analytic theology seeks to address.

Now on to the most important question that you have surely been dying to ask. What is yours truly up to? I am currently finishing up some projects related to divine eternality, personal identity over time and salvation, as well as continuing projects related to the metaphysics of the incarnation and the Trinity. What I am most excited about, however, is a new book project on the impassibility vs. passibility debate. This is taking me into interesting areas related to competing models of God, omnisubjectivity, infinity, free will, emotions and value, and the multiverse. I am hoping to shed some light on questions about God’s emotional life, the doctrine of creation, and divine free will, as well as examining different interpretations of scripture.

Be sure to keep an eye out for more updates from the Logos Institute. We will have some exciting news about podcast interviews with all your favorite celebrity theologians and philosophers, as well as workshops, new research projects, and so much more. The party is just getting started. You won’t want to miss out.

R.T. Mullins (PhD, University of St Andrews) specializes in philosophical theology. He has published on topics such as God and time, the Trinity, the Incarnation, disability theology, and the problem of evil. His book, The End of the Timeless God was released in 2016 by Oxford University Press. He has previously held research and teaching fellowships at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Cambridge. He is currently the director of communications and a research fellow at the Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology. When not engaging in philosophical theology, he is often found at a metal show. For more on his research and writing, check out his page. For a recent series of podcast interviews about his book, check out the Trinities podcast.

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