Love and Epistemology (Abstract) – Biola’s CCT

This weekend I will be at Biola’s Center for Christian Thought presenting a paper on the topic of love and epistemology. It is titled: Amo ut Intelligam (I Love so That I May Understand): The Role of Love in Religious Epistemology. Below you can read the sort of long abstract:


Most contemporary discussions about religious epistemology have revolved around discussions about foundationalism, coherentism, realism, anti-realism, basic beliefs, and divine hiddenness among other topics. However, one topic that has received noticeably little attention is the role that love plays in our knowledge of God. This paper turns to the works of T.F. Torrance in order to show how love plays a crucial role in our religious epistemology.

In his epistemological works Torrance presents two basic principles of knowledge: The first principle is that “All genuine knowledge involves a cognitive union of the mind with its object, and calls for the removal of any estrangement or alienation that may obstruct or distort it.”[1] The second principle is that “we may know something only in accordance with its nature.”[2] That is, the nature of that thing prescribes the mode of knowing appropriate to it and determines the way we ought to behave towards that thing. The concept of love plays an important role in both of these principles.

In regards to the first principle, I show that God’s loving act of atonement is what removes the estrangement and alienation from God which prevents knowledge of him. Specifically I argue that given the Holy Spirit’s nature and his role atonement we are enabled to love God and thus to enter into the union of love with God which is necessary to know him. In regards to the second principle I show that this principle entails that in order to know God we must know God in a godly way. Thus given that it is God’s nature to be loving we must approach God in love in order to know him.

Both of these points have interesting implications for the task of theology. The first implication is that only those who love God will be able to have knowledge of God. This does not mean that the person who does not love God cannot hold true beliefs about God, it simply means that these beliefs do not count as knowledge. A second implication is that theologian who desires to know God must be committed to growing in her love for God. This in turn has implications for the personal life of the theologian, i.e. she must be committed to being a part of a community that helps her grow in love for God, she must be committed to loving others as God has loved her, she must seek to eradicate those things in her life which hinder her from loving God, etc.

This paper does not seek so circumvent other important topics in religious epistemology, since discussions about justification, realism, and divine hiddenness are certainly important. Rather it seeks to show that love ought to play a more prominent role in our religious epistemology. By showing this I provide another reason for further research into the nature of love.

[1] Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 25.

[2] Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 25.

Does God Pray? – Katherine Sonderegger

Last week Katherine Sonderegger came in to deliver a paper to the Analytic Theology Seminary. She put forth the provocative question: Does God Pray? Here are my notes from her talk.


  • Does God pray?
    • Answer to this question (exploration of God in prayer) has potential to answer a lot of Trinitarian and Christological questions.
  • Can the Triune God pray?
    • Instinct – We pray, God does not.

The Traditional Account

  • Prayer (tradition says) is a form of lack
    • Human creatures need to pray, their prayer is need.
    • This would make it seem as though God could not pray, b/c God does not lack whatsoever
    • (In one sense prayer can never be answered, our lack – b/c of creaturelyness – will always be)
  • Prayer seeks the unseen (think of it as simply asking)
    • Distinctive part of prayer: seeking out of the unseen
      • What distinguishes prayer from other forms of asking is who it is directed to, prayer stands alone
      • Human act of asking is analogous to prayer
    • Prayer is relation to God, the unseen stands in the realm of eternity, God is the goal of creation
      • To have relation with such reality is to have the formal relation to prayer
    • God’s realation to the creature in prayer is “idea/notional,” ours to God is “real.”
  • It seems we must affirm that prayer belongs to creatures, the Tradition has seemed to define it in such a way that places it in the domain of humanity
    • Places prayer in to the creator/creature distinction
    • Prayer simply marks out that distinct line b/w Creator & Creature

The “Alternative” Account

  • Could it be said that the one almighty God could pray? We are brought to this question through Scripture.
  • Is divine prayer an instance of “accommodation” i.e. of humanizing God, for our sake?
    • The bible does not simply refer, the word of blessing which is just God himself lies within this book.
    • Holy Scripture will convey and contain a teaching about God in human words and for human ears.
  • Romans 8
    • Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words, Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God
    • This is the Spirit who prays with us and for us
    • Language – emphasizes mystery.
    • The characteristic description of the creaturely act here is ascribed to the Holy Spirit
    • Its eschatological
  • What shall we make of this for the doctrine of prayer and for the doctrine of the Trinity?
  • In Romans 8 – Paul has given us a glimpse of the economy
    • This entire section of the letter concerns those who are in Christ Jesus
    • Non condemnation rests on the Father giving the Son for us
    • Christ gives himself for
    • Its anchored in the divine sending and being sent to rescue and redeem
    • This just seems to be the pattern of the divine economy
    • Through Romans 8 – are verb forms which mirror this economy
  • This illuminates how the sending of the Son and Spirit can be a new event in the life of God.
    • Thomas – we should not speak of processions and missions, rather they have eternal and temporal end.
    • According to Scriptural witness something has taken place in the life of God toward us
    • Seems to imply that God experiences something “new” which is only possible with us – God hands himself over to us, undergoes this new even with us.
      • Apart from creation God could not have these events for his very own
    • The temporal missions are the birth of the new for God himself
    • But the Tradition firmly asserts that God is eternal, perfect, complete, does not lack, become, does not undergo something new
  • Consider Jesus at prayer (alongside passages of Spirit praying)
    • Quite striking is Jesus steady rhythm of being at prayer both privately and publically
  • In Scripture – Spirit and Son are wrapped up in seemingly same characteristics of creaturely prayer
  • How does this shed light on the inner life of the Trinity?
  • Might we suggest that the divine processions are prayer?
    • Father “utters the word”
    • Father “breathes, spirates, expresses”
    • This reflects prayer

The Meaning of Love – 5th Annual CCT Conference

A week from today I will be over at Biola’s campus for their 5th Annual Center for Christian Thought conference.


This year’s topic is “The Meaning of Love.” The conference will be exploring questions like:

  • What is love?
  • What are the ethical implications of Jesus’s love commands?
  • What should be made of the Christian notion of enemy love?
  • What can be learned from recent scientific work on love about intentional practices likely to conduce to a loving character?
  • What light do ethical theories shed on the moral dimensions of love?
  • What is the relationship between love and justice?

To top things off they have a great line up of keynote speakers including:

  1. George Hunsinger – “Agape and the Long Defeat”
  2. Nicholas Wolterstorff – “Love and Justice – and Beauty Too”
  3. Thomas Jay Oord – “Love’s Essential Aspects and Diverse Forms”
  4. Lynn G. Underwood – “Perspectives on Compassionate Love: Science, Spirituality, and the Arts”

Hunsinger’s paper looks to be especially interesting. He will be comparing Karl Barth’s work to J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. In this paper he will be comparing Tolkien’s Nazgul’s to Barth’s concept of das Nichtige (the power of nothingness). Sounds fun!

In addition to the keynote speakers there are over 30 breakout sessions. These include papers by friends of mine, Thomas Ward and Jordan Wessling. Thomas was my T.A. in my medieval philosophy class when I was a sophomore at UCLA. Jordan is one of two post-docs on our Analytic Theology team at Fuller. And of course, yours truly, will be presenting a paper titled: Amo ut Intelligam (I Love so That I May Understand): The Role of Love in Religious Epistemology. Its a riff on “I believe so that I may understand.”

Overall the conference looks like a lot of fun. So if you are free next Friday and Saturday come down to Biola’s beautiful campus for what seems to be the makings of a really interesting conference. Register here.

Johnny Mac on Developing Leaders

Now – if you know me, you know that I am not John MacArthur’s biggest fan. (Surprise surprise!) However, this short video by him about leadership development is so good, I can’t help but share it. MacArthur is absolutely right, strong churches will have a huge influence for God in this world, but strong churches begin with strong leaders…

Missions Insights with Dr. John MacArthur: Why Invest in Training National Pastors? from TMAI on Vimeo.

An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology

Analytic theology is one of the cool, sexy hip things happening. – Michael Bird


What is analytic theology? I’ve written quite a bit about that question on this blog before. And honestly, a lot of people have throw in their two cents regarding this question. But what we have in Thomas McCall’s An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology is probably the clearest most concise, most accessible introduction to the topic. As Oliver Crisp says in a blurb “until now it [analytic theology] has had no introductory text…McCall provides a stellar volume for this purpose.” 41muf9-ot5l-_sx331_bo1204203200_

McCall begins this introduction with a brief history of analytic theology, chronicling its emergence from analytic philosophy to analytic philosophy of religion to what we have now, analytic theology. He notes that there is no single decisive settled meaning for the term, but we could say that:

Analytic theology signifies a commitment to employ the conceptual tools of analytic philosophy where those tools might be helpful in the work of constructive Christian theology. (16)

He then addresses some of the common objections people have made about the movement including: “analytic theology relies on a univocal account of religious language,” “analytic theology is an exercise in natural theology,” “analytic theology is naïve with respect to the history of doctrine,” “analytic theology is only apologetics for conservative theology,” and “analytic theology isn’t spiritual edifying.”

[It should be noted that the last objection in particular is an objection that hits close to home for me. I’m a part of Fuller Seminary’s Analytic Theology project whose stated purpose is to focus on three Big Questions as case studies to road test the value of analytic theology in a vocational context: prayer, divine love, and the theological implications and engagement of the sciences of human origins…. The project hypothesizes that Analytic Theology (AT) provides a rigorous intellectual framework for the training and formation of church leaders. Our team will approach this in two ways. First, by “thickening up” AT theologically, providing examples of work that showcases the virtues of AT in written outputs and publications on the three Big Questions of the grant. These are prayer, divine love, and theological anthropology in conversation with the sciences. Second, we will bring together theologians and scholars with pastors and church leaders to explore the ways in which theology, and AT specifically, may be of service to the life of the church.” So yeah, I do think it can be spiritually and pastorally edifying.]

The work McCall does in laying down the foundations of Analytic theology will be very helpful for those seeking an introduction to the topic. But for those who are sort of familiar with analytic theology the later 4 chapters will be of greater interest. In these chapters he addresses the relationship between analytic theology, Scripture, the history of doctrine, and culture. The final chapter addresses how analytic theology stands in relation to theology’s proper posture and approach to its ends. McCall ends with some suggestions about how the analytic theologian may relate to modern theology, the theological interpretation of scripture, global Christianity, and pastoral concerns. In McCall’s opinion, the future of analytic theology is quite promising, precisely because it represents a renewal of older ways of doing theology.

Case Studies

One of my favorite things about this book were the “case studies” that McCall did over the course of each chapter. In the chapter on Analytic Theology and Scripture McCall uses Analytic theology to help bring clarity to what we mean when we say X is biblical. The term “biblical” and “unbiblical” often gets thrown around without sufficient precision. This actually makes for some poor arguments when arguing that one’s position is “biblical” and an opponent’s position is “unbiblical.” McCall places the term “biblical” on a spectrum between stating that: The Bible explicitly asserts P –> the Bible includes sentences that assert p and sentences that assert (not)P. This set of distinctions is important and is helpfully brought to the forefront of our theological work with the help of analytic theology which places a large amount of importance on clarity.

Besides the ctommccall-005ase study on the term “biblical,” McCall applies the virtues of analytic theology to put D.A. Carson’s use of the term “compatibilism” under the microscope. This is an excellent example of how analytic theology can help us to do even biblical theology. In his chapter on historical theology he uses analytic theology to address several contentious Christological controversies: 1) the metaphysics of the incarnation and 2) physicalist Christology. In his chapter on culture McCall takes on recent discussions about creation and evolution. This is likely McCall’s least innovative case study. Nevertheless, this is probably one of the most “practical” of the studies. What the creation/evolution debate really needs is clarity, as the debate suffers from proponents on both sides speaking past one another in broad generalities about the opponents supposedly held position. Consider even how some of those involved in the debates tend to make it an all or nothing issue: evolution or creation, with no clear working definition of what exactly these terms mean. If the dialogue is to go forward these sides need nuancing, and McCall helps bring this to the table.

Some Thoughts

As Mike Bird said – Analytic Theology is one of the cool, sexy hip things happening. He is absolutely right. However the future of analytic theology will be determined by how well it can weave its way into the life of the church. If analytic theology is to stay insider game, played by a small group of experts, the movement will likely die. However, if analytic theology is to become something more than a mere fad it will have to do something… it will have to prove that it has something to contribute to the life of the church. McCall’s work in this introductory text shows that Analytic Theology has what it takes to become more than a mere fad – if done well – analytic theology will become a staple part of the church’s task of thinking and speaking about God in a way that honors the Christian faith.

Note: I received this book this book from IVP in exchange for an impartial review.

The Nature and Value of Faith: Four Problems

Last week Dan Howard Snyder (Western Washington University) came to the Analytic cfyvn_euyaabdtqTheology seminar to throw out some ideas about the nature of faith. Here are some notes….

  • The Problem of Trajectory – Typical College Student
    • Doubt to getting “out”
    • If I lack faith (i.e. doubt) maybe I should just drop out of this whole Christianity thing
    • Problem: Stay in or get out
    • Supposedly: You can’t have Christian faith if you have doubt (to be a Christian is to be a “believer”
  • Theorizing About Faith
    • Claim: You have Christian faith only if you believe in BCS (Basic Christian Story)
    • Distinction between “Faith in” vs. “Faith that” (person/relations vs. propositions)
      • Maybe Third: Global Faith – Ability to Bring a narrative together
    • Claim: You can have Faith that the BCS is true only if you believe that it is true.
      • Which of these 3 kinds of faith apply to this claim?
      • This claim is true only if “Faith entails Belief”
        • Necessarily S has faith that p only if S believes that p.
      • Two part view – Necessarily S has faith that p only if (1) S has a positive conative orientation toward p and (2) S believes that P.
      • Three Part View (Doxastic Version) – Necessarily S has faith that p only if (1) S has a positive conative orientation toward p and (2) S believes that P, and (3) S is resilient in the face of challenges to living in light of the good S sees in the truth of what she believes.
  • Faith Without Belief
    • Thesis – Faith entails belief: Necessarily S has faith that p only if S believes that p.
      • Issue: Ignores Seeming vs. Believing
      • Specificity problem: Makes “p” too specific, that’s not how it is with other complex cognitive attitudes
      • Alternatives Problem
        • Case: The Defensive captain example
      • Three Part View (Non-Doxastic Version) – Necessarily S has faith that p only if (1) S has a positive conative orientation toward p and (2) S has a positive cognitive stance towards p, and (3) S is resilient in the face of challenges to living in light of the good S sees in the truth of what she believes.
  • Faith and Resilience in the Christian Life
    • Resilience in the face of counter-evidence
    • Resilience in the face of contrary emotions (dryness, diminution of desire)
      • No longer desiring, but still intending
    • Application to the problem of Trajectory
      • Apply these 3 requirements to faith to the student
        • Believing is out of the question right now, but for now let “assumption” be the leading cognitive state
  • Problems for this account of faith:
    • Unity Problem – two versions
      • Faith is defined in many ways, there isn’t anything which unifies them, so we can’t define “faith” in this one way.
      • What unites these 3 aspects into one attitude?
    • Fictionalist Problem
      • If you think you can have faith in BCS without believing it then you have to believe that a religious fictionalist could have faith as well. (Religious Fictionalist – acts on/engages on story that she doesn’t believe but sees pragmatic value in it)
    • The Bible Says Problem
      • This theory is just not what the Bible says about faith.
      • Can’t have faith w/o propositional belief, can’t please him if you don’t believe he exists.
      • In Bible Faith and Doubt are contrasted
    • The Problem of Practice
      • How can a skeptical Christian engage in Christian practices with integrity?
      • What will prayer be like for her? All her prayers will be insincere or malformed…

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 345 other followers