Sophisticated Theology: Theological Method

As I work through “The Polkinghorne Reader”, I was reminded of the comments of people like Jerry Coyne and Eric MacDonald that theology is “just making stuff up”, and am reminded of how MacDonald struggled through a couple of books on theological method because he just couldn’t find anything that really talked about it.

So, in the interest of starting at the beginning, in the reader Polkinghorne summarizes what J.R. Carnes has said about what theology should ascribe to in its methodology:

1 Coherence. The discourse must hang together. The ultimate achievement of this would be total consistency, but because of the considerations we have been discussing, theology may have to be content to live with some degree of paradox (just as science had to live for a while with the unresolved conflict between the wave and particle natures of light until it found the higher rationality of quantum field theory).

2 Economy. Theology is not wantonly to multiply entities and explanations. This criterion might be thought to give preference to monotheism over polytheism.

3 Adequacy. Theology must be sufficiently rich in concepts to be able to discuss all its matters of concern.

4 Existential relevance. There must be an interpretive scheme which links theology with the actual content of religious experience.

[pg 83 – 84]

He also discusses natural theology:

Natural theology may be defined as the search for the knowledge of God by the exercise of reason and the inspection of the world.

[pg 94]

So, here’s the challenge to all those who deride theology. Put aside that some theologians may not hold to these standards, and some of the niggling details (like, perhaps, what the matters of concern for theology are). If theology is held to these standards, and if people practiced natural theology as defined here, what would be wrong with theology as a field? What is wrong with these specific standards as an academic practice for an academic field?

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