[A] theology which is responsive to the crucified man Jesus as the true God, knows that it is fundamentally different from something like philosophical theology in this one thing: single-mindedly and unswervingly, based on its specific task, it attempts to think God from the encounter with God… (Eberhard Jüngel)
One division of theology that still has me asking questions about its approach to doctrine is the analytic philosophical kind.
I’m not saying I understand it as I should so the nature of this post is part exploratory and part an ice-breaker in the sense of initiating a discussion on the ways and means of doing theology this way. To this end, I introduce Eberhard Jüngel whose proposal for doing theology looks a little different.
While AP is a cluster concept and includes many methods and teachings, I suppose the one voice that I find speaks the loudest from the theological quarter is that of the conceptual and logical analysis that attends and undergirds the formalism of arguments. While certain doctrines are assumed as normative for Christian belief, they are still brought to the bar of a particular system of logic, albeit striped of their scriptural and doctrinal setting, for the sake of coherence and plausibility. Doctrines typically discussed in this mode include God’s existence, the presence of evil, the metaphysics of God’s omnipresence, Christ’s hypostatic union and the perichoretic relationship of the Trinity.
One of my concerns is shared by Ingolf Dalferth who can agree to a certain extent with the outcome of the solution-based process undertaken by the analytic-philosophical theologian, but as he explains, ‘the theoretical way the problem is posed leaves all the suggested solutions with a ring of practical insignificance’.
In God as the Mystery of the World, Eberhard Jüngel claims that the first decision we have to make when we try to learn and speak about God has to do with the difference between philosophical and evangelical theology (a description of each comes from his juxtaposing the one with the other, one which I believe warrants AP’s inclusion squarely in the former and in many respects precludes much of what passes for Anglo-American evangelical theology from the latter).
Jüngel explains, ‘a theology which is responsive to the gospel, meaning a theology which is responsive to the crucified man Jesus as the true God, knows that it is fundamentally different from something like philosophical theology in this one thing: single-mindedly and unswervingly, based on its specific task, it attempts to think God from the encounter with God…The possibility of thinking God is, for evangelical theology, not an arbitrary [or abstract] possibility, but rather a possibility already determined by the existence of the biblical texts and claimed already by faith in God. Theology must think God in the concrete context of a history which, beyond the momentary aspect of the ‘I think’, implies experiences of God which have happened and are promised’.
To accomplish this, Jüngel offers ‘Three basic hermeneutical decisions’ implied by the approach of evangelical theology as he conceives it:
- One cannot arrive at a concept of God by beginning with a new definition of thought and proceeding to such a concept as it emerges from the analytics of thought
- The task of thinking God as God is guided by a very definite possibility which is given with a special relationship of God to human thought which claims to have general validity.
- This possibility which guides thought in the task of thinking God as God is steered by the reality of the biblical texts.
Jüngel believes the key difference of how we conceive of God hinges upon the reality that the Word precedes thought and analytics. My concern is that the mode set forth by the analytic-philosophical kind, as precise and efficient as it appears, renders our ‘conceiving of God’ and the task of theology too remote from our encounter with God, it remains too scripture-doctrine-lite, and finally corresponds too much to an image that doesn’t present God as a personal agent in relation with us. One of the things we want to maintain is that God not only precedes and disrupts our best thinking, but also encounters us and moulds our thinking by causing us to worship him.