What Do I Do?

May 24th, 2016 by

NOTE: This post was written by guest blogger, Tim Pawl. 

I approach the interdisciplinary venture of Analytic Theology from the Analytic side of the aisle. In the majority of my work in the field, I assume, for argument’s sake, the truth of some theological claims, then assess, using analytic methodology, whether there are interesting implications of, or philosophically insurmountable difficulties for, those claims. This sort of project is common in philosophy. For instance, oftentimes the philosophers of science will assume the findings of some scientific investigation, then perform philosophical analysis with that science as a given. We don’t require them to buy their own Bunsen burners and graduated cylinders to verify the scientific discoveries themselves.

Such analytic work is useful for the field it is applied to, but it is also useful for philosophy. Some of the best philosophical work in the medieval era was done in theological settings, where doctrinal parameters required ingenuity and creativity. Moreover, in my own work, I’ve found that reflection on Christology can yield benefits for core areas of analytic metaphysics, for instance, the Problem of Temporary Intrinsics, and also provide a means for answering objections to hylomorphism.

Using this assumptive methodology, I’ve written on the freedom of the redeemed in heaven; on transubstantiation; on the implications of catholic dogma on viable truthmaker theories; on Christian Theism’s inconsistency with a common truthmaker thesis called Truthmaker Maximalism, and other topics.

Much of my recent work has been on Christology – the doctrine of the incarnation of the God-man, Jesus Christ. I’ve just published a book on the topic with Oxford’s series, Oxford Studies in Analytic Theology, entitled, In Defense of Conciliar Christology: A Philosophical Essay. In that book I begin by presenting the Christology of the first seven ecumenical councils – the councils affirmed by both the Orthodox and Catholics, among others, as being correct in their teachings. After I present the incarnational teaching of those councils, which I call Conciliar Christology, I go on to define the terms they employ (e.g., person; nature) and lay out a metaphysical background for their claims. From there, I go on to discuss philosophical objections to the doctrine: How can one thing be both God and man, when anything that is God must be X (e.g., immutable, omnipotent), but nothing human can be X? (Chpt 4-7); How can something immutable become incarnate? (Chpt 8); How can one person have two wills, as Conciliar Christology says Christ had? (Chpt 9). For a sampling of my answers to these questions, this article is a précis of sorts of chapters 4-7; This article presents my preferred solution to the first question in the previous sentence in considerable detail (it is reprinted as Chapter 7 of the book – I’ve discussed it in interviews here and here as well).

My current work in Analytic Theology is completing a book manuscript on what I’m calling Extended Conciliar Christology. There are some claims that, while not explicitly taught in the councils, and so not part of Conciliar Christology, are nevertheless common in the Christian community. Were we to add those to Conciliar Christology, extending it, if you will, would we then find ourselves with a contradiction?

There are certainly many different extensions one could add, and the results of such extensions must be considered on a case by case basis. In this book, I will consider five such extensions, some of which I’ve already written on. They are: Multiple Incarnations are possible; Christ was impeccable; Christ descended into Hell during the three days of his interim state; Christ’s human will was free (or, Christ was free with respect to his human will); Christ knew, via his human intellect, all things past, present, and future. My goal is to assess whether any of those individual claims, or combinations of those claims, when conjoined to Conciliar Christology, implies a contradiction.

My long-term goal in Analytic Theology is to assess the philosophical objections to three main mysteries of the faith: the incarnation, the trinity, and the Lord’s supper. I do not intend to address other sorts of objections, for instance historical or scriptural. Such work is beyond my expertise. And I do not intend to attempt to show the truth of any of those mysteries using the analytic methodology. I agree with Aquinas (SCG I 9, para 2) that such work is beyond human ability; attempts will only lead unbelievers to scoff. In this way, my project is, as I say in the title of the book, a defense. My own small contribution to the communities of philosophers and theologians, and, I pray, to the communion of all believers, will be to defeat some of the most pressing philosophical objections to the faith.


Tim Pawl is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, MN.  He works on metaphysics and philosophical theology. In metaphysics he focuses on truthmaker theory, modality, and free will. In philosophical theology, he has published on transubstantiation, Christology, and divine immutability.  He recently published a book with Oxford University Press entitled In Defense of Conciliar Christology: A Philosophical Essay.


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