Christian Doctrines, philosophy

Christian Doctrines and Analytic Philosophy

I’ve been pondering the possibility for analytic philosophy to explore Christian Doctrine. Clearly, the prospects aren’t terribly dim, for some (such as Alvin Plantinga and, to a greater extent, Richard Swinburne) have done this exact thing. I think it is important to utilize philosophy and theology in a mutually beneficial relationship, and I personally find the results when this happens to be singularly beautiful.

Why undertake this project? First, because I’ve seen a number of objections to core Christian theology which have been disturbing to me. This includes challenges to the doctrine of the Trinity, redemption/atonement, baptism, etc. Second, because I think it is necessary–or at least expedient–to outline doctrines in forms that can be analyzed. Objections to Christianity often come in the form of “X doctrine of Christianity is unintelligible, so it’s false.” If it can be demonstrated that X is intelligible, then such objections fail.

Is such a defense Scriptural? I believe so. Paul often utilized philosophy in his witnessing (see Acts 17:28 for an example). He argued from Scripture, but also utilized philosophical insights to witness to the Greeks. Not only that, but Jesus instructs us to love God with all of our mind (Mark 12:30).

How might such a defense look? It will look AWESOME. Okay, seriously, it will look something like this:

Sin (hereafter s) is broadly defined as any act which distances one from God. Now, on Christianity, s is that for which we must be atoned, for all have committed at least one act that can be classified as s. However, all who commit such acts are to be held accountable. But before God, who can stand (Psalm 130:3)? Therefore it must be an act of God to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

I put that together just now for the sake of an example, but I’ll be going into more depth as I explore various Christian doctrines in light of analytic philosophy and Scripture.

I’m excited for this project, though I must admit it will likely take quite a bit of time to put anything together for it, as one must not only utilize analytic philosophy, but also doctrine and exegesis for this kind of project.


The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


3 thoughts on “Christian Doctrines and Analytic Philosophy

  1. Interesting. I look forward to where this is headed. Just a couple thoughts:

    I, too, love analytic philosophy. I also think it can be and has been a powerful tool for theism (e.g. the work of such great minds as Plantinga, Alston, van Inwagen, Swinburne, et al). I have even written in this very field. I have to admit though, I sometimes wonder where the ‘usefulness line’ might be. What I mean is, the body of analytic philosophy of religion is now quite vast, but very little (if any) of it is even remotely accessible to the lay reader. Now, of course this is for good reason. The very purpose of doing philosophy this way is greater precision and (sometimes ironically) mutual understanding, such that ‘breaking it down’ often just isn’t possible, because a simplified wording would not be correct. I get this. But at the same time, it isn’t clear that any amount of sets ‘s’ and persons ‘p’ in situations ‘x, y, and z’ will to be anymore persuasive to most people (even–perhaps especially–philosophers) than any other method of arguing for God. As one philosopher put it (quoting one of his students after a detailed analytic lecture), “You mean that the existence of God might depend on the scope of a quantifier?”

    I’m not really sure if I have much of a point here; your post just reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about recently. I certainly do think the analytic method has something important to contribute. But I suppose I would caution against seeing it as somehow a ‘higher’ or ‘better’ method. But of course you aren’t doing that.

    Posted by Robert Whitaker | May 17, 2010, 11:52 AM
    • I am a bit of an analytic elitist, honestly. I barely want to read anything any more unless it is presented in an analytic format. The main reason is just as you said it–great precision. And I think this is extremely important. The key, of course, is to realize that God is much more than quantifiers, “If… then”‘s, and the like. The reason I called it useful is because I think it is a wonderful tool for making things more precise and clear. Doctrine is–and I think almost notoriously so–an area that could benefit tremendously from some precision and clarity. I hope to contribute. I realize I’m taking on a lofty task, so who knows how much of this I’ll actually be doing.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 17, 2010, 11:03 PM
  2. I agree. I’m thankful that my university has maintained a strong analytic conviction. Good post. Keep it up.

    Posted by A.P. Sullivan | August 21, 2010, 6:15 PM

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