What Could Analytic Theology Say in Charleston?

What does Analytic Theology have to say for justice? Not, what does Analytic Theology have to say about justice, but what does it have to say for justice? And most specifically right now: what good can analytic theologians offer up, as analytic theologians, when it comes to the shootings in Charleston? I’m not looking to provide an answer here, but I would like to pose the question. I would also like to clarify why I’m asking it and what I think the difficulties in answering it might be.

First, a clarification; I am not asking it as if I were an absolute outsider, or in an accusatory tone. I still don’t claim the analytic tradition as entirely my own (and if I did, I wouldn’t have the skill to back it up), but I am more shaped by it than any other. I’m asking because it seems an important question to answer, especially for those of us who seek to practise theology (analytic or otherwise) as Christians.

Second, a difficulty; without wanting to sound overly gap-yah, centres of Analytic Theology are (almost by definition) unlikely to obviously and directly confront people on a peer level with the direct experiences of those communities which endure racial and economic suffering. Taking Oriel as my example, we can say what we like about attempting to make admissions open to people from all background- all the same, look around formal hall: unless things have changed a lot since I was there, very few of the people dining there will be at the sharp end of systematic oppression. This can be generalised, sometimes less fairly and less accurately, across college life.

The point here is not just that the ivory tower is set apart from a great deal of suffering and injustice, such that it is either difficult or impossible for those within the tower to speak with those communities suffering injustice. This is probably the root of it, but the matter is a bit more specific: it is that the atmosphere within which I remember studying theology at Oriel is so rarified that it is practically impossible for the kinds of concerns facing the black community in Charleston to play a formative role in theological thought developed there. And if it does, it is the role of the abstract- not the visceral. (To clarify: I cannot speak from a better position here. I am not trying to write as if I were more worldly.)

Third, a second difficulty; analytic writing is opaque to 99% of the world’s population. Yes, I have made that figure up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be correct. Whatever we might say about clarity and precision, analytic methodology does not lend itself to clear communication outside of a very specific community of people well versed in the usage of certain (pseudo-?)technical terms. This makes it hard to say anything which could be of real use to others outside of that community without either coming off as or just straight up being condescending. But it is important to do so- the meat of theology is not found in libraries. It’s found in churches like Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. And if the words in the libraries cannot be spoken in the churches, in some form at least, then they are lost as theology. Could we speak analytic theology in churches? How would we preach a pastoral sermon in Newhallville, New Haven, Ct., according to analytic-theological principles?

Finally, the importance of the question: Analytic Theology can, and I think should be, a spiritual discipline for those who practise it as Christians. And this ties a moral imperative into its practise: the imperative to use it in the service of Christ as a resource which could be employed by the least of His brothers and sisters.

Anyway, I would love to hear and read people’s thoughts on the matter.


One thought on “What Could Analytic Theology Say in Charleston?

  1. Am about to rush off to Barty, where I will party with my not-especially oppressed peers. I will try to engage with this more carefully at some point (as I will with Jake’s post), but just on the issue of preaching analytic theology. I suspect that a grounding in analytic theology should serve the preacher much as a grounding in Hebrew or in Patristic trinitarian debate should serve the preacher. You don’t preach like a Hebrew textbook, or (God forbid!) like a Patristic polemic, but being able to draw on the understanding that your scholarship has brought you will enable you to proclaim the faith more clearly and more powerfully to your congregation. So with scholarship in analytic theology, I should hope. See you soon, Alec.


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