Two Causes for the Rise of Analytic Theology: Convergence and Response

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Never since the late Middle Ages has philosophical theology so flourished as it has during the past thirty years.
— Nicholas Wolterstorff (2009)

In today's blog, I want to give a mere head nod to a second "cause" (for lack of a better word)  behind the rise of Analytic Theology. Let me give the first cause here, and then the second following.

Analytic Theology: a First Cause (Convergence) 

This story is old news to anyone involved in AT. Let me put it down briefly for newcomers. When I sat through philosophy classes or conversations about Analytic Theology, one is often told that AT arose as a result of an intersection between theological and philosophical work in the latter 20th century. While it may come as a surprise to some, there were  Christians working in the Anglo-Analytic philosophical departments of various institutes during the latter half of the 20th century. (Some readers may still be under the illusion that philosophy is not a field that Christians have worked in or should - this is something that should be quickly rectified in their thinking. I can tell my story and comment on this in another posting. )   

Anyhow, Analytic philosophy underwent a sort of course change following its first phase in the early 20th century. The first phase was, broadly speaking, dominated by thinkers like G. Frege, B. Russell, Wittgenstein, and company. That phase focused on the logical positivist agenda, among other things. This was a self-referential agenda that eventually died at its own hand.  Analytic Philosophy in the last third of the 20th century bears affiliations to that earlier generation but is quite different in some respects. Back to our story. As it is told, Christians working in analytic philosophy in the latter third of the 20th century (Basil Mitchell, Plantinga, Wolterstorff, etc..) took up Christian theological issues in their work (e.g. incarnation, Trinity), rather than sticking merely to philosophical issues (e.g. necessity, causation). Good work was done. One could fill out this story with the birth of the Society of Christian Philosophers (SCP) and its quick growth. Plantinga, Wolterstorff, and others have various videos and chapters where they tell the story of these decades. ( Seefor example Nicholas Wolterstorff. "How Philosophical Theology Became Possible within the Analytic Tradition of Philosophy." In Analytic Theology: New Essays in the Philosophy of Theology, by Crisp, Oliver D., and Michael C. Rea, eds., edited by Oliver D. Crisp, and Michael C. Rea. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.  )

As the 80s and 90s rolled along there thus existed two streams of rich work being done side by side; one philosophical (done by Christians in philosophy departments), and another theological (done by seminary professors). Rarely did the two cross. Toward the end of the 20th century that isolation began to break down through various reasons, which I can only guess at. Topics such as Open Theism undoubtedly drew together these two groups as scholars searched for work that had been done on divine foreknowledge. The availability of the internet post-1995 undoubtedly made these resources easier for everyone to exchange. Yearly ETS/EPS and AAR meetings being held close by may have helped. The birth of philosophy programs at seminaries like Talbot brought faculty of theology and philosophy close by. Professional friendships have a story to tell here. Eventually, in the first decade of the 2000's Oliver Crisp and Michael Rea sit down at Notre Dame and discuss what could be done to help philosophers and theologians talk to each other more, engage more, etc.. And on the story could go until we are where we are today with study centers, journals, grants and other efforts all put forward in support of analytic theology- way of engaging in Systematic theology using some of the methods, literature and personalities of analytic philosophy (as exemplified by Christian philosophers). So here we have the rise of AT as a result of natural convergence of fields. 

Analytic Theology: A Second Cause (Response)

Much briefer but still worth noting is a second cause for the rise of analytic theology. That seems to be a response to - among other things - challenges to the traditional Christian faith. Here I am thinking of the publication of John Hicks book The Myth of God Incarnate. As Randall Rauser briefly summarizes the story here (Click here for Rauser's blog)... and I quote him here...

In 1977 John Hick published The Myth of God Incarnate, an edited collection of essays by leading scholars which fell like a bomb on the playground of British theology. The objections to the incarnation presented by the contributors to that book were many, but perhaps the most incisive was presented by Hick himself as he railed against the very coherence of the doctrine: “To say, without explanation, that the historical Jesus of Nazareth was also God is as devoid of meaning as to say that this circle drawn with a pencil on paper is also a square.”The Myth of God Incarnate put many Christians on notice: the doctrine of the incarnation was under attack, not simply from the historians and textual critics, but from the philosophers.”

I have heard more than one person suggest (maybe for a total of three including Rauser) that much of the current AT literature kicked off in earnest thanks to the atmosphere surrounding the response to Hick's book. One of the best examples would be The Logic of God Incarnate (note the similarity in title's) by Thomas Morris. In this case, we have the rise of AT as a result of the convergence of challenges to Christian doctrines. One could perhaps include in this field Open Theism mentioned in the first part, and well as the problem of evil (POE). Here we see theological problems that are uniquely susceptible to philosophical solutions: God and evil, God and time, God and knowledge, the Hypostatic Union, the Trinity, and perhaps in the last 20 years, the Atonement. Much like the earliest history of the church, where Christian theology developed in response to doctrinal challenges, we see the same thing occuring (not that it ever stopped) 2000 years later.