New Books: Reader in Contemporary Philosophical Theology

The great advantage and attraction of philosophy is that no question is scandalous to it. Nothing lies beyond its critical gaze. With its tools of analysis and reason, philosophy is well placed to operate as a meta-discipline (or second-order discipline), able to clarify concepts, arguments, and other cognitive issues internal to a field. At a foundational level, it can examine the presuppositions and assumptions within a discipline, as well as providing a conceptual grid and common lexicon to relate different disciplines.

Philosophical theology is a branch of theology which seeks to take advantage of just this – applying philosophical methods and techniques to clarify theological doctrines. Distinct from the philosophy of religion (or natural theology) – which takes a preparatory, justificatory role to the enterprise of theology itself – philosophical theology is not neutral but assumes and works from certain theological tenets. Questions such as the concept of God, the nature of divine attributes, the nature of divine knowledge, God’s relation to time, God’s relation to humanity, and the origin and ground of our ideas of God, all make up the subject matter of philosophical theology.

It’s important to point out that modern philosophy, however, has not been always so friendly to the project of theology. In fact since the eighteenth century, its role has been much closer to mortician than handmaiden. David Hume’s assault on miracles and proofs of God’s existence, Immanuel Kant’s rejection of our cognitive ability to get beyond the limits imposed by the empirical world,  the Vienna Circle’s trumpeting of the verification principle and insistence that theological claims fail to express meaningful propositions, and many others have all seriously challenged not only philosophical interest in theology, but also the viability of doing theology at all.

But since the 1960s, the philosophical landscape has changed. Atheist and naturalist Quentin Smith, writing in the journal Philo, charts the trend:

By the second half of the twentieth century, universities and colleges had been become in the main secularized. The standard (if not exceptionless) position in each field, from physics to psychology, assumed or involved arguments for a naturalist world-view… This is not to say that none of the scholars in the various academic fields were realist theists in their “private lives”; but realist theists, for the most part, excluded their theism from their publications and teaching, in large part because theism (at least in its realist variety) was mainly considered to have such a low epistemic status that it did not meet the standards of an “academically respectable” position to hold. The secularization of mainstream academia began to quickly unravel upon the publication of [Alvin] Plantinga’s influential book on realist theism, God and Other Minds, in 1967. It became apparent to the philosophical profession that this book displayed that realist theists were not outmatched by naturalists in terms of the most valued standards of analytic philosophy: conceptual precision, rigor of argumentation, technical erudition, and an in-depth defense of an original world-view…

…[R]ealist versions of theism, most influenced by  Plantinga’s writings, began to sweep through the philosophical community, until today perhaps one-quarter or one-third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians. Although many theists do not work in the area of the philosophy of religion, so many of them do work in this area that there are now over five philosophy journals devoted to theism or the philosophy of religion, such as Faith and Philosophy, Religious Studies, International Journal of the Philosophy of Religion, Sophia, Philosophia Christi, etc. …

Quickly, naturalists found themselves a mere bare majority, with many of the leading thinkers in the various disciplines of philosophy, ranging from philosophy of science (e.g., Van Fraassen) to epistemology (e.g., Moser), being theists. The predicament of naturalist philosophers is not just due to the influx of talented theists, but is due to the lack of counter-activity of naturalist philosophers themselves. God is not “dead” in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.

The Reader in Contemporary Philosophical Theology is a new textbook, coming out at the end of this month, that speaks to this resurgence of interest in Christian doctrine. Edited by Oliver Crisp (based at the University of Bristol, England), the Reader features articles by these leading philosophers apart of this new renewal of Christian philosophy. Addressing traditional theistic doctrines from the infallibility of Scripture to penal substitution, the textbook will definitely interest both theologian and philosopher alike. I am a little surprised at the exclusion of any discussion of divine providence and divine knowledge (perhaps understandable because these are often more standard fare in some philosophy of religion textbooks), but the lineup still looks strong. Both enterprises will not be hurt by cross-discipline interest and in fact theology especially has much to gain from philosophy, and particularly in the rigorous thought of the analytic tradition (unfortunately, many prominent theologians are inordinately captured by continental philosophy). With so few books around like this one, I’m excited about getting my hands on it.

Table of Contents

Introduction – Oliver D. Crisp

I. Inspiration and Authority of Scripture
Section Introduction
Alvin Plantinga, ‘Sheehan’s Shenanigans: How Theology Becomes Tomfoolery’
Stephen T. Davis, ‘The Bible is True’
Nicholas Wolterstorff, ‘True Words’
Paul Helm, ‘Infallibility’

II. The Trinity
Section Introduction
Cornelius Plantinga Jnr., ‘Social Trinity and Tritheism’
Brian Leftow, ‘A Latin Trinity’
Peter van Inwagen, ‘Three Persons in One Being: On Attempts to Show that the Doctrine of the Trinity is Self-Contradictory’

III. The Incarnation
Section Introduction
Peter Forrest, ‘The Incarnation: A Philosophical Case for Kenosis’
Eleonore Stump, ‘Aquinas’ Metaphysics of the Incarnation’
Thomas P. Flint, ‘The possibilities of Incarnation: Some radical Molinist suggestions’
Thomas V. Morris, ‘Rationality and the Christian Revelation’

IV. Sin and Original Sin
Section Introduction
Robert Adams, ‘Original Sin: A Study in the Interaction of Philosophy and Theology’
Marilyn McCord Adams, ‘Sin as Uncleanness’
Keith D. Wyma, ‘Innocent Sinfulness, Guilty Sin: Original Sin and Divine Justice’

V. The Atonement
Section Introduction
Oliver D. Crisp, ‘Penal Non-substitution’
David Lewis, ‘Do We Believe in Penal Substitution?’
Philip L. Quinn, ‘Abelard on Atonement: “Nothing Unintelligible, Arbitrary, Illogical, or Immoral about it”’
Richard Swinburne, ‘The Christian Scheme of Salvation’

392 pages.


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