Part 3 of 4: Analytic Theology, Is It Just For White Anglo Males?

February 7th, 2017 by

This post is part of a short series responding to questions raised about Analytic Theology during a 2016 ETS dialogue over Tom McCall’s An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology. (See part 1 for an overview). In part 2 we took a closer look at AT’s relationship to Biblical theology. The second “shared” concern coming out of the panel discussion was whether AT was too dominated by Anglo-American concerns and practitioners.

Examples of this worry included Marc Cortez’s suggestion that AT had not seen many dialogue partners outside of the US/UK. He added that the kind of thinking and theology that AT did was hard for other cultures to participate in. Veli Matti-Karkkainen raised the converse issue by asking, “Is AT’s form factor such that it can be applied to the more practical concerns of those outside the Global north?” This seems to be a popular question. Oliver Crisp was asked the same question at the first of this years weekly AT presentations (Fuller Seminary). What do we make of this? (The form factor part will be addressed in part 4). As my comments at the end will indicate, I think this question goes far deeper than some may realize.

McCall responded to this question first by agreeing that it was a concern of his as well. He, coincidentally, shared how he had written an entire chapter involving a case study on witchcraft accusations in Africa and the role AT could play in regards to that context. Ironically reviewers rejected the chapter as perhaps not entirely of interest to Western readers.

McCall agreed with Karkkainen that other faiths have engaged in the kind of work AT does, at different points in their history. Therefore AT could actually serve as a sort of bridge for interfaith dialogue. McCall reminded attendees that nothing inherent in AT requires dialogue with Western-Anglo voices only. “The doors are wide open as far as global participation goes; some is already occurring.” Much more can be said though. McCall’s time was obviously limited. Here are other points on the “Will-AT-go-Global” question.

First, and most importantly, Analytic Theology proper is only seven or so years old, going back to the 2009 Oxford University Press publication by Crisp and Rea Analytic Theology: New Essays in the Philosophy of Theology. While a flourishing of Christian work in philosophical theology has been witnessed over the last 30 years, the AT trend (where theologians use the resources of analytic philosophy and historical theology at essential points in their systematics) is still new. It takes time to “go global”. Examples are already at hand though. AT projects are underway in the Middle East and South America thanks to funding by the Templeton foundation. Readers are also encouraged to check out TheoLogical, a peer reviewed international journal for AT launched in 2016 see revistatheologica.com).

Second, Analytic Theology may be more of a global bridge building tool than people realize. This is for two reasons. Anyone who has read enough of the literature knows that AT is extremely ecumenical. Catholics, Orthodox, Baptists, Pentecostals, all contribute to AT literature. This bodes well for global participation. Second, the tools and styles of doing AT (thanks to its roots in analytic philosophy) give practitioners a unified way of working together on questions. AT involves (among other things) doing second order analysis on the theological truth claims we make. It can be applied nature of Christ just as much as it can be to ethical questions about minority women in the global South.

Thirdly, what is motivating the “global” questions? If someone discovered a way to teach writing skills more effectively to children, no one would ask, “Is this being taught in the global South?”, as if a negative answer implies the project is not worth its salt? So why ask that about Analytic Theology? There seems to be a reverse parochialism lurking about here. If it helps; it’s worth doing! The better question would be, “How can we bring this to the global south?”

Fourth, contemporary theologies (e.g. Global, Feminist, Liberation) should acknowledge a vested interest in Analytic Theology. All of them pursue certain goods because they assume that those goods represent truths about God’s involvement in the world (e.g. the equal value of all peoples). Analytic theology, and its philosophical relatives, are some of the most powerful tools available for clarifying, analysing, and leveraging the truths (i.e. concepts and ideas) that entail such goods.

This point can be pressed further. At times it is tempting to value action over ideas (i.e. Is analytic thinking all that important when the oppressed need rescuing?) I want to point out here that at the heart of bondage, injustice, and oppression is always a philosophy or idea that fuels wrong action. Dangerous worlds are built on a foundation of dangerous ideas: false ontologies, false epistemologies, false gospels, false christs, and so on. For this reason, tuned as its tools are to picking and prying at “ideas”, analytic theology should be seen as a welcome allie for theologians working on more global concerns.

Lastly even though AT may have focused primarily on issues of classical Orthodoxy to date ( this is changing quickly) her track record is not a fault. We should take care not to imply that questions of classical Orthodoxy (e.g. Trinity, incarnation) only of Anglo-American interest. These are the truths of God for all of God’s people. Furthermore, they were first brought to the church by pre-modern, non-western Christians, whose lives may have had more in common with the global South than we recognize.

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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