A Review of Thomas H. McCall’s Book, “An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology”

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I was mostly disappointed in this book. While I liked the brevity (only 180 pages long), this book felt less like an invitation, more of a defense: An attempt at taking analytic theology out of the closet and arguing why it should be out in the public for all to see. Of course, I’m not opposed to that agenda. But I have my reservations, and McCall didn’t really address them. Nor did I see what at all was distinctive about his work. More than anything else, this book felt to me like a simple repeat of what is already out there on the subject.

I suppose if someone is just now barely getting into the field, this book would work fairly well. If someone is asking, “What in the world IS analytic theology?” then this book is probably the book to read. McCall does a very good job describing the uniquenesses of “analytic theology” as well as a defense against some of its’ main objections. This was probably the highlight for me. McCall does well in expanding Michael Rea’s original description in the book, Analytic Theology: New Essays in the Philosophy of Theology (2009), Fleshing out how exactly analytic theology is properly analytic, and how it is intended to be properly theology. Since in Rea’s book there was *only* 80 pages of of a “defense of analytic theology” it makes sense McCall would further clarify. Which he does. Over, and over, and over again.

But, I didn’t feel like McCall got much further than that. Reading Rea’s book was a much more substantive task than reading McCall’s book, to say the least. Rea’s book showed just how creative analytic theology can be, and challenging in all the right ways. Not so much here. Much of McCall’s book was dedicated to mini “case studies” which were fairly illuminating to how analytic theology can further the theological task, but essentially felt like simple, little, snapshots. Colorful, but not at all panoramic.

My reservations about the potential of this task for the sake of the church remains: How can/does this field of study truly serve the church? I’m still trying to be convinced. I’m looking for examples. I was prepared to finally believe(!) since Chapter 4 is titled, “Theology for the Church and for the World.” I thought, finally, someone will show how this can be the case! But I was sorely disappointed. All McCall does in this chapter is clarify a few key terms in the debates between Creationism vs. Evolutionism and the doctrine of original sin. Sure, that can be somewhat helpful tangentially, but if I’m interested in those subjects, or my church is, then, assuredly I’ve got better resources to go to than those few glosses on a subject.

With the few pages left in the chapter, McCall gives us a few general recommendations “toward broader horizons in analytic theology” and “toward a global analytic theology” but he never really talked about the church, per say. Again I ask: HOW IS ANALYTIC THEOLOGY ABLE TO SERVE THE CHURCH? (When I say “Church” I’m talking about actual churches! Not a standard, theoretical idea of grouped theological statements of which certain people might purposefully/accidentally “represent” – I’m thinking of those Holy-Spirit-inspired gatherings of the most unlikely people who are at the least, weekly focused on the Gospel). Can analytic theology serve real churches in real time? To me: this is a very basic question. McCall did say that further work within analytic theology needs to be done in the area of ecclesiology, but that is a far thing from showing how analytic theology actually serves the church.

When analytic theologians say “analytic theology serves the church”, what they seem to be meaning is that analytic theology can help us to properly retrieve our history, analyze our traditions, enhance our doctrinal conversations, and clarify our terms. Sure, this is all well and good. But hardly any of the people in my church (maybe none: including me) could actually follow the analytic conversations as they are as the analytic theologians currently do just that. Let alone would most congregants I know be asking the same questions analytic theologians are asking – since most congregants aren’t theologians, nor are they analytic!

Further, I’m not quite convinced it’s even possible to faithfully exegete Scripture from the pulpit in an analytic mode. This makes me all the more skeptical of its usefulness for me, personally. If I did preach analytically (or even lead a Bible study in this way), I would lose people like crazy – even though I aced all my logic courses in college. But hear me out: I’m not saying I don’t ever analyze Scripture with and even for God’s people, but I’m saying I don’t do it in the way analytic theologians do it with each other. So far, this is on purpose. I mean, I know what it means to be analytic, but most people in the pew don’t like that sort of thing! I’ll let you guess how many people would fall asleep if in a sermon or Bible study I said, “let’s assume we have P1 (then explained), then P2 (then explained), then P3,” and so on. My hunch is that as people arrive on Sunday morning or Monday nights, they aren’t hoping to hear analytic theology which helps them to sort out all their analytic quandaries! They are trying to figure out life – which ends up seeming much more of a complicated and important thing.

So, yes, analytic theology can maybe help the church’s theologians, and maybe even the academic pastors as they think and write about their own Christian traditions. But the statement that analytic theology serves the church? That still needs to be shown. I haven’t even been able to tell if it can help the people I know (or even minimally, me) on either Sundays or throughout the week as we live our real lives in real time with each other.

On page 177, McCall tells us that analytic theology “must face up to its pastoral responsibility” which he means to say that this work should be done “with appropriate sensitivity to the depth of affective issues in theology.” I agree. I’m just disappointed that I’m still having to wait to see this happen. I’m not looking for analytic theologians to give me more good Biblical theology, or systematic theology, or even public theology here – I’m looking for some more good practical theology to be used by church people. Can analytic theology give some? If not, I remain unimpressed. Let’s get on with THAT task, instead of spilling another few hundred pages on analytic definitions and analytic defenses. Let’s do some good ol’ practical analytic doxology, shall we, if there is such a thing?!

 

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