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NOTE: This post was written by guest blogger, Kevin Diller.
St. Augustine apparently says that “if faith is not a matter of thought, it is of no account.” I’m not sure he’s right about that, but since a very young age I’ve been captivated by the questions of faith. As far back as I can remember, the great things of the Gospel have seemed true to me and as a consequence have held the place of deepest significance in my life; and yet, from a young age I was preoccupied with rational objections to my religious beliefs. These longstanding interests grew in such a way so as to motivate my devoting a good portion of my adult life to the study of theology and philosophy. In so doing, I have had the privilege of participating in conversations between Christian theologians and Christian philosophers.
My interest in Analytic Theology (AT) arose before the initiators of AT had coined the term. Analytic Theology refers to a movement or a trajectory of similar commitments to enhance understanding, appreciation and cooperation between analytic philosophers who care about theology and contemporary theologians. Theologians and philosophers all too often occupy separate spheres of the academic world. Those of us who move between these two worlds know that often each treats the other with little or no regard. And yet, in my view, there is enormous value that could be gained by each, if the difficulties of translation could be patiently worked through. At least for the Christian mind, theology and philosophy are fundamentally (though asymmetrically) interdependent. So, I think of the goal of AT as a ministry of reconciliation, to promote a patient growing in understanding through continued dialogue between theology and philosophy.
My most extensive work in AT is found in my attempt to bring together the epistemological insights of Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga. I’ve personally found the writings of Barth and Plantinga to be very helpful in clarifying how it is that we might come to know God. They are also iconic and massively influential figures who represent, in a way, these often separate spheres of theology and philosophy. They are not often brought into conversation, in fact many academic readers I think would be intrigued by the notion that these particular figures could be brought together in a compatible and complementary way. Karl Barth is known to have strong and uncompromising views about the potential for human constructs and reasoning to turn theology into idolatry. In the realm of the Christian philosophers, Barth is routinely taken to represent an extreme case of philosophobia. On the other hand, the theologians that are more familiar with Barth often see Plantinga as a representative of a kind of theological naiveté and a philosophical triumphalism reminiscent of rationalist apologetics. And yet, as I read them side-by-side I was struck by just how deeply in agreement they are on answers to key epistemological/revelational questions. The unified response Barth and Plantinga give to these key questions I find to be extremely important and helpful to a multitude of issues further out on the branches. And a study like this, it seemed to me, might also help to demonstrate the nature of that fruitful interdependence between theology and philosophy.
As a ministry of reconciliation AT is also aimed at helping to repair or overcome the overhyped analytic/continental partisanship in philosophy. This certainly impacted the Barth/Plantinga project. Plantinga is recognized as an analytic philosopher; and, since Christian theology has historically engaged more closely with continental philosophy, both sides tend to start with a certain degree of inherited distaste. My sense is that this divide is the lingering consequence of geographical separation. Camps naturally develop as a result of shared ideas, traditions, vocabularies and styles. It can be misleading in a number of ways. It can be easy for analytic philosophers to assume that the continental approach is confusing and lacks argumentative rigor. Those who prefer the continental mode may see the analytic school as dry, linear and reductionist. These are misleading caricatures that have all too often provided a justification for ignoring one side or the other. Now, I’m not suggesting it is all a matter of translation and differences in taste. I think it is possible to identify differences that amount to genuine strengths and weaknesses; and, this makes bridging the divide all the more potentially fruitful.
In Theology, I’m quite sympathetic to the aversion to a dry and overly self-assured style that might seem to assume that everything can be reduced to propositions. To maintain a barrier on the basis of this aversion, however, is to miss out on the valuable contributions Christian analytic philosophers have to make to theological discussions. The same is true in the other direction; Christian theologians have an extremely important role to play in informing, anchoring and chastening Christian analytic philosophers as they work on theological questions. Christian theology has a particularly important role to play in specifying theological priorities (in Christian theology for example the doctrines of the trinity and incarnation are pivotal). For these reasons, I’m strongly motivated to promote the work of AT through my own work and through the Journal of Analytic Theology that I help to edit.
Kevin Diller (PhD, University of St Andrews) is associate professor of philosophy and religion at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. He holds graduate degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary and Calvin Theological Seminary, and completed postdoctoral work at the University of Notre Dame. He has written numerous journal articles on topics in Christian epistemology and metaphysics. His critically acclaimed monograph, entitled Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response, addresses difficult theological questions around the relationship between faith and reason. He follows many Christian analytic theologians who seek clarity concerning philosophical questions in light of the realities witnessed in the fundamental Christian doctrines of the trinity and the incarnation.