Part 2 of 4: What is Analytic Theology’s Relation to Biblical Theology?

January 26th, 2017 by

Part 2 of 4: What is Analytic Theology’s Relation to Biblical Theology?

Post one summarized the 2016 ETS panel discussion on Tom McCall’s recent publication, An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology. As promised, the next three parts will  focus on objections that were put to Tom McCall during the three hour session. I selected the three that I did  because multiple panelists joined voices in raising them.  I took their repetition of these objections to indicate that they might be of concern to others as well. The first and most serious of these concerns seemed to be the relationship between AT and Biblical theology. Let’s consider that here.

In one way or another Michael Bird, Marc Cortez, and Kurt Richardson all agreed that analytic theology appears at times to neglect Biblical theology in its  workflow.  If I had to summarize all of their comments I would say something like the following.  There is a desire to see Analytic theologians do more to demonstrate how they are either (a) doing their own Biblical theology or (b) consulting the work of Biblical theologians before they appropriate Scripture for AT projects. McCall himself gave this concern a head nod by stating that he wrote An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology to help analytical theologians and Biblical theologians consider how their disciplines might connect more.

What should we make of this worry? Is analytic theology attempting to supercede Biblical theology?  Is it ignoring Biblical theology? Is AT the new kid on the block, “…that needs to learn some theological humility,” as Michael Bird put it?  

The simplest answer, from McCall, was that, contra Bird, nothing about AT entailed a  supersession of Biblical theology. Nothing prevents us from adopting something like a theo-dramatic approach to the Scriptures (i.e. Yes Analytic Theologians can “Vanhoozer”) and employing the fruits of AT.  While some have done Analytic Theology to the neglect of Biblical Theology, others have done Analytic Theology with an ear wonderfully close to Scripture. McCall went on to cite Eleonore Stump’s, Wandering in Darkness, as an example of a theologian writing in the analytic style while engaging deeply with Old Testament theological issues. As noted above, the very existence of Tom McCall’s book is an effort to invite friends from both disciplines into a closer working relationship. Lastly, Marc Cortez reminded the audience that  there is now an Institute of Analytic and Exegetical Theology at the University St Andrews.  N. T. Wright teaches part of the MLitt course for the Institute. So there are certainly counterexamples to the claim that  AT entails a neglect of Biblical Theology.

Declaring that AT can harmonize with Biblical Theology is not the end of the discussion though. It is really just the beginning. Whether he meant to or not Michael Bird (criticisms aside) could be seen as calling for integration of AT and BT.  Plenty of questions spring up.  What is the order of operations here? How should one move between exegesis, Biblical Theology, and Systematic-Analytic Theology? How can practitioners of Biblical or Systematic Theology be trained to use the resources of AT? How can practitioners of AT be trained to make sure their constructive work remains in harmony with the best of  Biblical Scholarship?   

William Abraham has pointed out  (see “Turning Philosophical Water Into Theological Wine”, Journal of Analytic Theology, Vol. 1, No. 1, May 2013)  the complexity of pulling off systematic and analytic theology properly. Here we have a request that a third layer be added (Biblical Studies/Theology). The request for full fledged Biblical theology-exegesis and philosophically attuned theology in works shorter than a monograph is a tall order.  One obvious solution here, unless one takes themselves to be a Christian polymath, is for interdisciplinary teams to work out how to integrate the best of Analytic Theology and Biblical Theology in a way that can be passed on to others. One example of a project of this nature would be The Trinity: An Interdisciplinary Symposium (OUP, 1996).

 As daunting as words “integrating and collaborating with a new discipline” might sound to theologians who have spent the bulk of their career in a particular silo, I am hopeful that younger scholars, eager to give Christ and his church the best of all disciplines, will take up the challenge. Scholarship naturally militates against generalists (which is a good thing). By contrast reality is integrated; so how can we learn to strike a balance here?  


Perhaps one beneficial project would be for Analytic and Biblical Theologians to look for patterns in the routines of Analytic Theology. For example, if we were to analyze a number of AT papers (not papers about AT) does something like the cycle to the left capture some of what frequently occurs in AT projects? I think it might.

If a pattern like the one above seems right, might Biblical theologians point out (by citing repeated examples in the aforementioned papers) where in this pattern AT tends to “get it wrong” due to its “neglect” of Biblical Theology? That would be helpful. Suggestions could also be made on how to alleviate this. Where and how could AT practitioners engage BT to their greatest benefit? How could subsequent theologians be taught to work on theological deficiencies via AT (i.e. step 2) in a way that is sensitive to BT? This sort of thing, as long as we acknowledge that it is going to be a bit of an over generalization, seems like it could be of help.


Jesse Gentile is a new PhD student at Fuller seminary studying systematic theology. He has interests in theological anthropology, epistemology, ethics, technology and pretty much everything else. Jesse is the father of two awesome elementary school kids and is the husband of Ella (who works as a wills and trust attorney). He regularly does itinerant preaching among plymouth brethren assemblies throughout the U.S. Jesse hold’s degrees in Biblical Studies, Philosophy, and Instructional Design.

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