Just What Exactly Is Analytic Theology?

All the time I’m asked, “just what is analytic theology?” And “what makes it different from philosophy of religion?” Or even better, “What makes it different from philosophical theology?” Well in a sense it is a form of philosophical theology but only more theological in nature…. My quick answer to the question “what is analytic theology?” Is that analytic theology is theology performed in an analytic key – that is it takes the form and virtues of analytic philosophy to do theology. Sometimes its hard to tell what is analytic theology and what isn’t but the reality is that analytic theology just “feels” analytic. You just know it when you see it. I realize that is not a very helpful definition and that really doesn’t get to the root of the problem. So to help bring a little more clarity, I want to refer you to a paper titled “Analytic Theology as a Way of Life” by William Wood.

In this paper he helps us distinguish between philosophy of religion, philosophical theology, and analytic theology. I find his remarks to be super helpful.

It is helpful to distinguish analytic theology from other related forms of philosophical and theological inquiry. Consider first analytic philosophy of religion. On my understanding, the specific task of analytic philosophy of religion is to use the tools of philosophy to investigate arguments for and against the existence of God, as well as to investigate the properties or attributes that the major monotheistic traditions would ascribe to God: omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, and so forth. Philosophy of religion, in short, concerns what might be called (non-pejoratively, at least here) “bare theism.” In distinction from philosophy of religion, we next have philosophical theology. Philosophical theology, as I understand it, uses the tools of philosophy to investigate the theological claims made by a specific religious tradition. Thus, Christian philosophical theology investigates the meaning, coherence, and truth of specifically Christian doctrines like the trinity or the incarnation.

Where does this leave analytic theology? One might worry that analytic theology is just another name for analytic philosophical theology and not anything new or distinctive. In my view, however, this worry is spurious. It is true that there is no sharp distinction between analytic theology and analytic philosophical theology. Nevertheless, the label “analytic theology” functions as a quick and easy way of letting one know the nature of this particular kind of inquiry: it features certain presuppositions and assumptions but not others; it features a certain kind of writing; it appeals to some intellectual influences and interlocutors but not others; it features a certain kind of writing; it appeals to some intellectual influences and interlocutors but not others; it similarly presupposes a certain set of intellectual villains, and so on. The label “analytic theology” is better than the more venerable label of “philosophical theology” as a shorthand description for this kind of inquiry. It is better because it is more specific. There are many different kinds of intellectual work that can justifiably be called philosophical theology—Kant uses the term, Schleiermacher uses the term, and there are many forms of philosophical theology that have nothing to do with analytic philosophy. The label “analytic theology” describes those forms that do.

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