Some visceral reactions to “analytic theology”
I recently picked up the new volume Analytic Theology: New Essays in the Philosophy of Theology, edited by Oliver Crisp and Michael Rea and I have to say I am kind of stumped by what exactly the book is all about. As far as I can tell, for Crisp, the proposal of “analytic theology” is basically a plea to contemporary theologians to give analytic philosophy, and in particular, analytic philosophy of religion, another chance. In his essay Crisp fields a number of expected objections to the use of analytic philosophy in theology. He anticipates, for instance, the objection that “‘analytic theology’ might look like a Trojan horse,” an attempt to smuggle into “the citadel of theology potentially destructive alien ideas” (34). In response, Crisp reminds us that theology has always used the best available philosophical insights of the day (e.g., the patristics employed Greek philosophy, Thomas used Aristotle, etc.). Theology, in other words, has always employed philosophy as a “handmaid,” that is, theology has always made some “instrumental use of reason” for explicitly theological ends. Certainly this type of objection will be made, but it certainly strikes me as a strange one, for it seems more than obvious that theology never has nor can it escape or adequately avoid properly philosophical problems.
The real objections most theologians will have with this project will have little to do with the question of the use of reason in the theological task. Instead, it seems to me the objections will stem mostly from visceral reactions depending on how one feels about the current state of analytic philosophy in general and analytic philosophy of religion in particular. Although Crisp does not want to debate the merits or demerits of continental philosophy, this is unfortunately the central issue as far as I’m concerned. Most theologians have no real problems with drawing from philosophy for theological ends, but by and large theologians in recent times it seems have tended to find the “continental approach” to be more amenable to the theological task than the “analytic approach.” For whatever reason, this has been the case. Whether this is on account of the perceived “dry” nature of analytic philosophy or real objections to the starting point and methods of the “analytic approach,” this is just the reality of things.
Crisp tries to unpack a bit of what he thinks to be the “virtues” of the so-called “analytic approach,” but I’m simply not convinced that these virtues are somehow unique to analytic philosophy. Crisp doesn’t say that the named virtues of analytic philosophy, such as, “logical rigor, clarity, and parsimony of expression,” are somehow absent from continental philosophy but this seems to be what in the end is implicitly suggested. Let me just say that I am all ears here–I am open to hearing Crisp out. But, I have to be honest: all I can glean from Crisp’s proposal is the basic suggestion that theologians should actually read Swinburne even though he might be a little more boring than Zizek! Perhaps I am being totally unfair here. For the record, I read Crisp’s book on Christology and if it is any indication of what “analytic theology” is like than I am more than open to exploring the possibilities.