Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? by Thomas McCall (pt 1)

In view of what he calls ‘a dearth of engagement with the work being done by analytic philosophical theologians’ (p. 4), Thomas McCall has written Which Trinity?  Whose Monotheism?  Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology (Eerdmans, 2010) in hopes of promoting more interaction between systematicians and Christians doing analytic philosophy.  Both spheres have much to learn from one another, McCall urges, especially when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity.

The book contains three major sections.  The first unpacks different proposals for understanding the Trinity that have been proffered by analytic philosophers, delineates theological desiderata that demand more attention than they have received in the analytic world, and then evaluates the various analytic trinitarian schemas in light of those desiderata.  The second deploys the ‘conceptual tools of the analytic approach’ in appraising the doctrine of the Trinity in Robert Jenson, Jürgen Moltmann, evangelical debates about the ‘eternal subordination of the Son’, and John Zizioulas.  The third concludes the book with ‘theses for scholastic disputation on the future of Trinitarian theology that is both faithful to its truly theological heritage and attentive to contemporary metaphysical issues’ (p. 7).

I’m interested to engage this book on two levels.  First, I’d like to explore how exigent and promising are the proposals being developed by analytic philosophers on the doctrine of the Trinity.  Second, I’d like to explore more generally (and perhaps only implicitly) what to make of philosophers who are Christians and passionate about theological issues (not simply theologians with a watchful eye on philosophical stirrings or a keenness to glean things from philosophical resources [say, speech-act theory or Aristotle on causation]) taking up the task of constructive work in Christian doctrine.  A related question: should there be such a thing as ‘Christian philosophy’ or simply Christians who do philosophy in its own right and perchance see some of their insights utilized ad hoc by Christian theologians to whom the work of dogmatics is properly allocated?

Any thoughts before we get into the content of the book?

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8 thoughts on “Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? by Thomas McCall (pt 1)

  1. I just finished Oliver Crisp’s god incarnate, and while it was good for what it was; it reminded me of why I don’t like analytic theology, it’s “analytic” ;-) . I spent most of my undergrad, and some of my seminary only working with analytic theology; and I was very disheartened to believe that this was what systematic theology entailed. But then I found my heart again when introduced to some Puritans (like Richard Sibbes) and Reformers like Calvin and Patristics like Athanasius, and systematicians like: Gunton, Karl Barth, TF Torrance, Webster et al.

    I’m not a fan of analytic theology, it has its place — somewhere ;-) — just not for me.

    • I have my hesitations too about the analytic movement. As I work through McCall’s book it’s honestly a bit of a challenge to keep an open mind, which I want to do lest I quickly dismiss something without really being able even to give a substantive critique of it. I’m all for being logical and making fine distinctions where appropriate (as seen in my admiration of Turretin et al.!), but when I see what Swinburne, Plantinga, and others attempt to do with the doctrine of God, I find myself thinking, ‘These guys don’t think like theologians.’

      I haven’t read Crisp’s work on Christology yet, but I hope to soon.

      • Steve,

        I agree with you. It’s not that I want to totally chuck the analytic approach as a discipline, but I don’t really see it as commensurate with theologizing, per se. After I read something in the analytic realm, one effect it does have on me, is that it causes me to think more critically about distinctions/categories etc. So for that, I do think philosophy can be helpful; but I don’t think that just because someone has training in this field, that this necessarily equips them to be theologians ipso facto.

        I was accepted to do the MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot (one of the degrees your venerable cohort here has ;-), and it didn’t work out for me to do it (I have quite a few friends who have done that program at Talbot and its served them well). I still wouldn’t mind picking up that degree, but again, as my friend (Joe Gorra) who does have his degree from there in that program has said: “it’s not a degree in theology, Bobby, but philosophy” (my paraphrase). Anyway, I say all of this just to reinforce that I do see a place for this discipline, it’s just that I don’t really see its place in theology (at least methodologically); if that makes sense?

        Maybe I’ll have to read McCall’s book now, just to reinforce my continued reticence in this area.

        PS. You mention Turretin, which brings up his enlectic theology. This is one of the reasons I don’t think I can appreciate analytic theology, it usually (by method) seems to be enlectic in orientation; and that doesn’t jive with the “positive” “revealed” kind of theology I’m more interested in.

        If you ever do read Crisp’s book, let me (us readers) know what you think.

  2. I’m a bit of a fan of the recent analytic theology movement. While it certainly has limitations, on the whole I think it a good thing. I haven’t read McCall’s book (and his chapter was my least favorite in the Analytic Theology volume edited by Rea and Crisp) but I’ll be interested to see how your engagement turns out.

    I do think that there is a place for a positive ‘Christian philosophy’ not just Christians doing philosophy. It seems to be that if a philosopher is using Christian theological concepts as starting points, as premises – then they are doing Christian philosophy. If they aren’t arguing up from some other concepts to theological concepts, it seems to me that is Christian philosophy and it seems to me there isn’t anything wrong with that philosophically or theologically.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Mike. I think that, if the analytic philosophers are in fact beginning with theological commitments and concepts in hand, what they do with those concepts can still be puzzling or (at the risk of sounding a bit harsh) theologically clumsy.

      • “what they do with those concepts can still be puzzling or (at the risk of sounding a bit harsh) theologically clumsy.”

        Of course! I just mentioned the ‘starting point’ bit in reference to your question of whether or not there should be such a thing as ‘Christian philosophy’.

        And of course to speak of analytic philosophy/theology as a whole, as a monolithic movement entity doesn’t get us very far anyway. You mentioned Swinburne and Plantinga, there is a wide amount of disagreement between just them (especially it terms of what philosophy can and can’t do).

  3. Why privilege theology? It’s always been a rather hybrid enterprise anyway: half Bible, half Philosophy. God himself said, “come let us Reason together”; and most classic theologians stressed reason and logic.

    So if Philosophy comes up with some different conclusions than conventional theology? Then maybe in some cases, we should simply consider revising Theology after all.

    On a case-by-case basis, to be sure. Though my personal feeling is that conventional Theology needs a very, very thorough and widespread reformation, anyway. While reason-based scholarly theology/religious study is in effect, already undertaking that, even as we speak.

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