Philosophical theology  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Philosophical theology is the disciplined employment of philosophical methods in developing or analyzing theological concepts. It therefore includes natural theology as well as philosophical treatments of orthodox and heterodox theology.


Philosophy and theology

Tertullian, a Church father had asked the question 'What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?' Here Athens symbolized the philosophical approach and Jerusalem the revelational. Few Church leaders saw any relationship between philosophy and theology. Justin Martyr looked at people like Heraclitus and Socrates as possessing the divine light of revelation and so able to be true philosophers. Justin saw Christianity as the True Philosophy. Philosophy and theology have had deep connections and interactions between them were crucial in the formation of Western (and also Asian) theologies. Thomas Aquinas borrowed much of his concepts from Aristotle, for instance. In modern times, Anthony Thiselton has shown in his Fusion of Horizons the role that philosophy has played in the interpretation of scriptures, i.e., in the field of hermeneutics. Philosophy provides interpretive grids for apprehension of revelation. There are others, like Sadhu Sundar Singh, for instance, who believed that it is the illumination of the Holy Spirit that gives the truest meaning of revelation. Yet, one can't fail to see that cultural grids play an important role in the development of theology.

Philosophical theology (proper)

The problem concerns the problem of the existence and nature of God. The problem of the knowledge of God is a concern of the epistemology of religion. A new field Epistemics of Divine Reality deals exclusively with the epistemological problems surrounding the knowledge of God. Immanuel Kant had argued in his Critique of Pure Reason that the traditional arguments for the existence of God were invalid under his new theory of knowledge which he described to be a Copernican Revolution in the field of epistemology. Instead of the mind conforming to external objects, now external data was seen as conforming to the intuitions and categories of the mind. In such case, causality, relation, etc become mental categories and not an exact representations of reality. If this is true then, man can never come to any conclusion about God based on arguments from cause-effect and design since these concepts are purely mental. The concepts themselves involve a contradiction, a clash which ended in antinomies. Neither finitude nor infinitude could be predicated about the universe since the mind can't conceive of either successfully. The ontological argument assumes the quality of necessity predicable of being, which, however is false since necessity can only be predicated of statements. Thus, the arguments for God's existence fall to absurdity. Kant on the other hand opted for the moral argument as better answering the epistemic problem of theology. He considered ethics a category of practical reason.

Few theologians were content with the modernist Enlightenment and positivist attacks on the rational grounds for theology. Some existentialistic or neo-orthodox Protestant intellectuals like the Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth turned away from philosophy and toward pure faith based strictly upon divine revelation. Reformed epistemologists, such as Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff, assert that belief in God might be foundational (or, properly basic) and warranted without the need for logical or evidential justification, like belief in other minds or the external world, rather than inferentially derived from other beliefs; it can, however, be subject to defeaters, rationally requiring that one give up the belief.

Other issues related to philosophical theology proper are issues related to the nature of God and His relation to the world. In modern times process theology, open theism and Christian panentheism have tried to look at God as the Being who is not only the Source and Ground of all being but also influenced by the people and processes of the world which he created and to which he belongs—rejecting or at least amending the classical medieval doctrine of impassibility.</br>


The doctrine of Christ faces the philosophical problems of how the divine can incarnate as human, how the eternal can enter the temporal, how the divine and the human can be united in one yet remain distinct. Such questions led to earlier heresies like Arianism, Sabellianism, Docetism, etc. One can see how one's epistemic theory can play an important role in looking at such problems. There is obviously a clash between the rational and the empirical. There has been a contrast made between Christology from above and Christology from below. The former emphasizes the divine side of Christ; the latter, the human side. The human side obviously tends to look at it more empirically. The Scriptures call the Incarnation as a mystery of godliness. It baffles human imagination. Yet, it is also important to find a philosophical ground for asserting the divinity and humanity of Christ. One is aware that apart from divine revelation the knowledge of Jesus as the Christ and as divine was impossible. Anyone who saw Him just thought He was a man. It was divine revelation that showed that Christ was God. However, Bultmann and others in their venture of demythologizing the New Testament have looked at Christology as greatly tampered with and in need of being demythologized. There has been a separation made between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. There has also been the problem known as the Scandal of Particularity that relates to how one man, Jesus could be divine and also savior of the whole world.

See also

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