Why Analytic Theology?

May 17th, 2016 by

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

I began my undergraduate studies as a Theology major. What drew me to Theology was a deep desire to know the truth about God. Is there a God? Is that God loving or good? Is there an afterlife? A soul? I didn’t merely want to know what people or traditions or religions thought about those questions; I wanted to see why they thought what they thought, and whether those reasons held up to rational criticism. I imagine that lots of people have similar desires.

It soon became apparent to me that the sort of thinking I wanted to do wasn’t done in the Theology classes I was taking. I do not mean this as a slight of the Theology Department at Valparaiso University, or the theology I learned there. The good Lutherans taught me a great deal about scripture, and the value of that scriptural formation only increases in my estimation as the years pass. They were doing a good, salutary, and important thing; it just wasn’t the thing I was looking to do, which is no knock to them, or to the sort of scholarship they, and many others, do.

I did find careful, analytical reasoning about God, immortality, and the soul somewhere, though; I found it in Philosophy classes, where we discussed explicit arguments for and against the theses that God exists, that humans can survive their deaths, etc. During the fall semester of my freshman year I took Logic, and it forever changed my approach to reason giving and assessing. I recall reading Augustine’s Confessions that semester in a common Core class. I attempted to formalize with numbered premises an argument he gives in the text. (I’d love to see that sheet of paper today!) I added a major in Philosophy to my Theology major. In my Philosophy classes I was formed primarily in the analytic tradition of philosophy. I later picked up a minor in bioethics, or, as I like to think of it, a minor in Gilbert Meilaender, my theology mentor at Valpo.

When the time came to apply for graduate schools, I remember being torn about which sort of program would best suit my desires. I eventually applied only to philosophy programs, but primarily programs with senior Christian philosophers who work on philosophy of religion. Happily, I was accepted to Saint Louis University, coming off the wait list and receiving a funding offer just days before graduate school decisions were to be made.

At SLU I worked with Eleonore Stump, in whom one finds the rare combination of being both an excellent philosopher and an excellent human being, and I came to love Aquinas. I loved (and still love) Aquinas for many reasons. His architectonic approach. His care in presenting arguments. His charity in expounding the views of others. His paucity of rhetorical flourish in place of argumentation. His indebtedness to tradition. His care to think along with the Christian community, rather than against or in place of it. This was the sort of theology that most suited my disposition.

I remember early in graduate school lamenting the fact that this sort of theology died out. I also remember coming to learn that its death was, as Mark Twain’s, greatly exaggerated, as I learned more about Neo-Scholasticism. I wished that there were a sort of theology still done which took an approach similar to the medievals, who valued knowledge of the tradition as well as logical and philosophical acumen in their presentation of reasons for their views. Imagine my surprise when Analytic Theology became a thing!

In Analytic Theology I found the traits I was looking for. A deep valuing of tradition and desire to understand it aright. A strong desire to think through the best arguments for, but also against, the theological views handed down to us from our predecessors. A logically rigorous approach to expounding and analyzing those arguments. Care for defining terms explicitly so that ambiguity and equivocation are protected against.

An approach to the questions I longed to answer that emphasizes these traits was what I was after, even at the age of 18, shortly after arriving at Valparaiso University. Were there not a group of people already doing Analytic Theology, I’d be first in line to found it.

 

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.



One response to “Why Analytic Theology?”

  1. Charles Twombly says:

    A bright lad with a very bright future.

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