I have been doing a quite of bit of thinking about the relationship between theology and philosophy lately. That was partially spurred on by thoughts of going back to school next fall but also because I have been doing some reading in religious epistemology – I have been making my way through T.F. Torrance’s Reality & Evangelical Theology.
As I have been thinking about this topic I happened to have stumbled across an old copy of Faith and Philosophy, in it there was an article by William Eisenhower titled “Creative Interchange Between Philosophy and Theology: A Call to Dialogue.”
In this article Eisenhower argues that theology and philosophy have been in dialogue for the last 2000 years, however the last 50 or so years have been a period where these two disciplines have been divided. As we enter into this third millennium, philosophers have become interested in religious questions, this should be welcomed by theologians. He believes that both disciplines have much to gain from one another. In one sense he is preaching to the choir, I already believe this (after all I studied philosophy and theology). However, one part of this paper, which I found very interesting was how he defined both of these disciplines.
When we talk about philosophy and theology we tend to assume that we know what we are talking about. To a certain extent we do: philosophy is what philosophers at universities do and theology is what pastors and theologians do at seminary. However Eisenhower seeks to go deeper than these trivial definitions – in doing so he applies an analogy used by Henry Nelson Wieman:
If religion is like eating, then reality which interests the religious person is analogous to food. In that case the theologian is the one who puts this food into such a form that it is palatable and can most readily be eaten. The theologian is a good cook. But the philosophers is a dietician. He does not present God in a form that is digestible to the ordinary religious person. That is not his business… the theologian talks about beefsteak and lettuce. The philosopher talks about starches and calories.
To take this analogy further, theologians eat the meals they prepare. In other words, they are committed to their own work, there is a certain loyalty or faith that is associated with “their” theology – they are committed to the Church and to the Faith. However, like the dietician, the philosopher is not preparing anything for consumption. The philosopher is not required to stand into a personal relationship or a relationship of faith and trust towards her work. A philosopher who analyzes faith does not need to have any sort of commitment to the Church or to faith.
So according to Eisenhower the difference between the Christian theologian and a philosopher is personal commitment to the object of study. But does this really work? What about the Christian philosopher, does the philosopher of religion automatically become a theologian the second she puts her faith in Christ? The Christian philosopher of religion is certainly using philosophical methods (probably analytic philosophy) so does she automatically become an analytic theologian? It seems to me that these sort of questions point out the fact that this “definition” or “analogy” falls apart. At first glance this analogy is attractive, but at the end of the day we cannot delineate between theology and philosophy based upon the criteria of personal commitment to the object of study, or else there would be no such thing as Christian philosophers.