T&T Clark Handbook of Analytic Theology
Series: T&T Clark Handbooks
- ISBN: 9780567681294
- Published By: Bloomsbury Academic & Professional
- Published: February 2021
Analytic theology (AT) has hit its stride. What began (on at least one story) as metaphysical ruminations on the Trinity or the Incarnation by a few philosophers has blossomed into a distinct discipline or, if one prefers, method for doing theology. And its interests are not limited to a handful of core Christian doctrines. In no place that I am aware of is AT’s diversity and rigor on display more than in the T&T Clark Handbook of Analytic Theology.
Edited by James Arcadi and James Turner, the handbook contains thirty-seven entries and an impressive twenty-one-page bibliography. Summarizing each entry well in such a compact review would be some combination of foolish and impossible. In lieu of such a summary, I will instead offer (1) a summary of the contents by its parts; (2) a review of the volume’s strengths and weaknesses; and (3) two questions about the future of AT.
Arcadi’s introduction does what analytic theologians do best: defines the nature and scope of the project. The intended audience is “the student or scholar who is working on a particular theological topic” (4). Each entry thus includes both “a ‘lay of the land’ survey” and “a constructive offering” (4). The entries are helpfully organized into six parts. Part 1 includes six entries on theological method, most of which concern AT in the wider theological world. Part 2 offers eight entries on the doctrine of God. The entries cover models of God (like classical theism) and divine attributes (like omnipresence, omnipotence, love, and providence). This part is probably closest to what many imagine when they think of AT. Part 3 comprises four entries on the second person of the Trinity, engaging topics like the nature of the Incarnation and the atonement. Part 4 has three entries on the Spirit—each a welcome addition to an otherwise barren landscape. Part 5 is the largest and most diverse. It includes eleven entries on a diverse set of themes, from topics as traditional as creation, the image of God, and sin or as culturally located as race, disability, and gender. Part 6 concludes the volume with five entries on the experiences and practices of Christians. The bibliography (compiled by Jesse Gentile) at the end is worth the price of the book (softcover version) alone.
The volume has too many strengths to name. The entries are exceptionally well written and cover an impressive range of scholarly content, usually in ten to twelve pages. Covering such complicated content in such a compressed way must have been torture to these analytic theologians, but they pull it off well. Entries typically (but not always) show an adept ability to cover not only relevant work from AT, but also from the wider theological tradition. The entries are perhaps best considered as scholarly icebreakers: they are designed to get one into the conversation, and not to exhaustively analyze a topic. And this is where the volume excels. A student writing on any of the themes covered in this volume should find their corresponding entry valuable—whether they are in the AT camp or not.
The volume has weaknesses, but they are largely unavoidable given the nature of the book. For example, I would have liked to have seen a diversity of views on a given theme. Controversial topics like tradition, classical theism, deification, charismatic gifts, eschatology, or the sacraments are—inevitably—written from a particular viewpoint. This is not to suggest that the authors of these entries did not deftly handle controversial themes: across the board, they did. But I found myself wondering how a proponent of a view contrary to the authors’ might present the material. Without re-producing a “four views” series, I wondered how the andbook might have integrated opposing viewpoints within particular chapters. And because of the viewpoints of particular scholars (once again, an inevitability), some of the entries felt uneven. Some basically amounted to literature reviews, while others were more constructive. These weaknesses—if they can be called such—are but musings for how the volume might have been improved.
A handbook of this sort—one conceived and written by those considered the leaders of the AT “movement”—can hardly avoid speaking for the movement as a whole. The contents of this handbook are, therefore, not merely a useful resource, but a statement about where AT is now, and where it is going. As someone who considers himself a member of the AT camp, I conclude this review with two questions about the subfield’s future.
First, what are the limits of AT? There are two ways we might think of AT as having “limits.” First, there are potentially methodological limits. Is AT only part of theology—along with, for example, historical and systematic and liberation theologies—or is AT just theology? The difference might seem semantic, but it is important. AT needs to consider whether it is only one of many methods of doing theology, or whether it exemplifies and exhausts what theology should be. Second, does AT have speech limits? When, if ever, does mystery begin and our speech end?
Second, does AT have a standard hermeneutic? Questions of method are bound to set us off in all sorts of directions and, at the end of the day, most theologians simply want to do theology and not talk about theology. But the question seems especially important for AT. To put a finer point on the matter: what of the Bible v. Tradition v. Metaphysics? That is not to suggest that the three are at odds. Far from it. But because the three intermingle—and indeed are irrevocably intertangled—we need to sort out the role each plays in our theology. Inevitably, the answer will vary from theologian –to theologian. But does AT suggest, or even require, a particular answer? Or, like all theologians, will analytics sort themselves according to their own hermeneutical theories? This will likely depend on what one thinks about the nature of AT (and is therefore related to the first question). But it is an important question that this volume does offer some tantalizing hints toward.
Since AT values clarity and parsimony of expression, let me conclude this view by saying simply that I recommend this volume.
Derek King is theologian-in-residence at Lewis House, University of Kentucky.Derek KingDate Of Review:August 31, 2022