Back    All discussions

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?
I see that philosophical theology can be basically divided into three classes: Rationalist theology, Empirical theology, and Intermediate Theology.Rationalist Theology includes isms such as monism (e.g. Parmenides and Zeno) and non-dualism (Advaitins of India) whose assertions are usually supported by arguments that rationally dismiss experience as false and irrational. This they do with reference to ultimate concepts such as unity, necessity, infinity, immutability, and transcendence (none of which can be predicated of the things of experience). Thus, God becomes the "wholly other" transcendent reality that can only be talked about via negativa.
Empirical Theology, on the other hand, is quite the opposite of the previous. It actually brings religion down to the earth. The gods and goddesses are more human like, and earthly; and, of course, positively understandable in empirical categories. Animism and polytheism are examples of such. In some of them, there is the concept of a Creator who, however, only creates out of pre-existing material. The atheistic religion, Jainism, is more a pluralistic realism in itself and has no place for any special creator God. They retain the idea of the world (including gods, if any) as pluralistic, contingent, finite, mutable, and immanent. Empiricism usually attempts to jettison the rational (e.g. the Logical Positivists attempt to eradicate metaphysics).

Kant tried to bring some union between the two poles.
Intermediate Theology, then would be something that stands at the meeting place of Rationalist Theology and Empirical Theology. The nature of the union may be diverse. I guess we can classify pantheism, panentheism, and probably Buddhist nihilism as the intermediates somewhere between the gods of the mountains (reason) and the gods of the valleys (down to earth experience). Historically speaking, in India, the Buddhist revolt is sandwiched between a very materialistic and Vedic polytheistic age and the Upanishadic non-dualistic age. 

A fourth form of theology, however, is Revelational Theology, which doesn't fall in the field of Philosophical Theology, since it is not founded on philosophical arguments (either on rational or empirical) but is based on some kind of "Divine Revelation". Systematic theologians usually use a branch of theology called apologetics to provide arguments for this, a branch which is usually called Natural Theology.

I would like to hear the Community's opinion on this classification.

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?
Note: Barth and Brunner usually had referred to Natural Theology as the same as Philosophical Theology (and Barth is noted for calling Natural Theology as demonic.)  However, as Mortimer J. Adler has shown, the two are actually distinct. We see that Philosophical Theology usually leads to other conclusions that those affirmed by Revelational Theology.

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?

How many ways are there to talk about God?  -- How many distinct versions of theology are there? -- importantly different ways of talking about the divine, the transcendent, the highest values?  -- Your classification begins with the division between rationalists and empiricists and also notes that the Critical philosophy attempts to unite these two strains from European thinking.  I think this is a clue regarding your project.  Perhaps there are as many styles of theology as there are for philosophy itself. 

 If you are making a classification among types of theology, I suppose an important question is: Why are you making this distinction?  What purpose do you hope it will serve?  Naively the purpose appears to be to understand god-speech better.  Why would we classify types of philosophy?  -- Again, perhaps to understand philosophical questioning better.  Kant perhaps was able to take a step beyond rationalism and empiricism because he clearly distinguished between them and thus had a chance to rethink them and find their deeper underlying unity. 

 Let us say that philosophy -- radical critical inquiry -- breaks down into differentiable trends -- metaphysics, logic, moral philosophy, skepticism, synthesis, holism, atomism, idealism, rationalism, empiricism, historicism -- probably others too.  Then we are likely to discover schools of theology that follow along all these paths.  

 Arguably, Heraclitus is a philosopher (a metaphysician or cosmologist) but also a theologian.  Plato is a moralist, yet again a moral theologian.  Spinoza, Shankara and Vivekenanda are philosophical holists, but they also make theological claims. Sextus Empiricus is a skeptic; so is Nagarjuna; both offer theological ideas.  

 I would argue that the most important distinction among all types of theology is what you are pointing at in making out the category of 'revelational' theology.  That is: there are at least two important kinds of theology; one is experimental, humble, filled with a sense of philosophical doubt, open to revision, open to interpretation, asserted with a questioning and tentative spirit; but another kind is asserted with the summit of human arrogance -- asserted as final, as binding on everyone, as necessary. 

 When philosophers start talking about God, there is a kind of test: they cease being philosophers and become dogmatists instead; or they keep their philosophical scruples and tread cautiously in this very troubled, divided land. 

 Just some ideas -- thank you for the question.

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?
Dear Steven,Thank you very much for the ideas! Yes, you are right that there are a myriad of ways of approaching the study of theology; and, there are myriads of theologies as well. My classification is chiefly an epistemological one. Perhaps, more specifically, an analysis of the basic philosophical methods involved in doing theology. Thus, it chiefly addresses the question: "What are the different epistemic sources of various philosophical (not revelational) theologies?"

With regard to "Revelational" Theology, the Six Schools of Indian philosophy traditionally and generally accepted the three sources of knowledge Reason, Experience, and Verbal Testimony (Sabda... since much knowledge that we have comes from secondary sources). The Heterodox Schools (also six) that include 4 schools of Buddhism, one of Jainism, and one of Charvakas rejected the Sabda of the six Orthdox schools, as you may know. The Charvakas were agnostic materialists, quite similar to the Epicureans in their hedonistic ethical views. However, the others did come about some writings that became the corpus of their scriptures. Interestingly, philosophy and theology is so much interlaced in these schools (separated from popular religion) that it is impossible to divide them. Yet, given the nature of the argumentation involved in the theological process... and, also the usual contradictory content of the writings, one wonders if such theologies should be properly classed as "Revelational" or either "Empirical" or "Rational". There is certainly much to be explored: "theologies" cannot be ignored since they play a great role in the lives of a great many in the world.

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?

Yes!  The huge import of theology and its tremendous consequences among seven billion people -- or six, if it is true that atheism / agnosticism is the third largest 'religion' in our time -- demand thoughtfulness and philosophic criticism and understanding.  But why are you studying modes of claim-making, i.e. methodologies, styles, traditions of argument? -- is this a taxonomy of the odd varieties of god-speech?  -- a proposed alphabet, or ground-logic of god-speech? 

This sounds like an ambitious project.  But there may be a few good questions to ask before we devote more time to cataloging the varieties of religious argument.  Philosophy lets its curiosity loose in this intriguing field -- but to what end?  Perhaps the point is to help people identify and assess religious arguments, since all of us are exposed to them, oppressed by them, so often and so persistently.  We need some help.  If that is your project, then it seems worth doing -- it offers an important service.  

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?
Yes, of course, though atheism/agnosticism is not a single and organized "religion" as such, it usually never appears as a lone ideology existing in negation. As there  can be various forms of theism, there are also various forms of atheism/agnosticism, often contradictory to each other. One can be an atheistic idealist, while the other be a materialist, for instance. Historically speaking, Buddhism and Jainism were classed as atheists (or rather say unbelievers as the word nastik suggests) by the Traditionalists. Both the religions do not have any concept of a personal God. Jainism goes on to deny the existence of any God whatsoever. That wouldn't be surprising if one sees that the 5th century BC had some form of a zeitgeist of atheism/agnosticism all over (Greece, India, China...). Confucius made no attempts to explain God, Heaven, or Hell. Thus, atheism/agnosticism has a wider fold and a multifarious face as well. We know it well that Hinduism itself is a class in which atheism/agnosticism can be easily accommodated. One can debunk the Vedas, the Upanisads, the Caste System, and all the myths of Creation taught in the Puranas and still be a Hindu (cf. Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, Neo-Hinduism). One marvels if Non-dualism itself is not another form of atheism quite similar to the monism of the Eleatics.
Thus, there are deep links between philosophy and theology, in the wider spectrum of world religions.

You are right. This is an attempt at a taxonomy based on epistemic sources of theologies; it helps one to know what and where to look at. And, of course, it has a simple procedure.

One good reason is to see if similar theologies have a similar line of argumentation involved. I see that this is proven with regard to rational and empirical theologies this far. It also seems that there is conflict between the two (and tension within religious traditions, including Christian Theology, to reconcile the two lines of reasoning). The Logical Positivists' attempt to eradicate Metaphysics might not be quite different from the Charvakas' scorn of speculative philosophy (unconnected with present experience).

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?
The idea of a taxonomy of atheisms, alongside another project in which theology was the subject being divided up into meaningful categories, might offer results.  If there is a rationalist atheism (perhaps the Carvakas or Daniel Dennett), and also a rationalist form of theology (Parmenides and Zeno, which you cite above -- perhaps we should include Spinoza), then some questions follow:
--- is the 'rationalism' more a common factor than the difference over theism?  Rationalists of all stripes share a common orientation to the world.  God-speech is not therefore a defining orientation for these thinkers -- regardless of the prime denial, or prime assertion, these thinkers think about the world in fundamentally similar ways

--- if this is the case, what light does this throw on the subject of theology?  Is the prime assertion merely one sort of assertion among many other examples?  Or perhaps it makes no assertions at all -- its significance is not propositional

--- rationalism is just one case; presumably the principle of the parallelism between theism and atheism is general; thus there are empiricist theologies and empiricist atheisms -- Aquinas argues from observing the world, and so does Richard Dawkins.  Dawkins and Aquinas may therefore be kindred thinkers.  Their antagonism is an artifact of current politics, current trends in popular culture -- in the thirteenth century and presently.  

This kind of analysis argues for the primacy of philosophical orientation, deeper even than theology.

Good problems anyway -- thank you for sending your thinking into the universe


God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?
Yes, I think the "rationalism" would be a more common factor. The key term to look in philosophical theology would be "Ultimate Reality", since the term "God" is much infused with meanings borrowed from popular religion. There is also the debate in Eastern Philosophy if Ultimate Reality is personal (atma), non-personal (anatta), or trans-personal. Spinoza is an important example of a rationalist analyis of Ultimate Reality. The discussion extends even to Hegel's "doctrine" of the Absolute Spirit and Heidegger's analysis of Dasein, a lot to do with the philosophy of Consciousness (an important theme, by the way, in the Upanisads).  

To quote one example of what light this analysis would throw on the subject of theology (especially the Christian one), one chief problem posed to Christian Theology is the problem of reconciling the concept of transcendence (rational) and immanence (empirical). The Upanisads tried to explain that through the theory of Maya, which actually denies that there is an "Other" transcendent reality: THIS Reality is THAT (as expressed in the aphorism Tat Tvam Asi, Thou Art That). The experience of plurality and immanence is the work of Maya. Yet, Ultimate Reality is still, rationally speaking, known via negativa (neti neti). In Christian Theology, however, the Ultimate Reality is the "Wholly Other" (what is usually understood by the term "God"), and the distinction is explained by the doctrine of Creation ex nihilo (a doctrine quite strange to both reason and experience -- there certainly is an analysis of magic, illusion, and dream in the Mandukya Upanisad, for instance; but, it dismisses all of them as lesser and relative realities (not absolute) if not unreal, applying the conclusion by analogy to all empirical experience alike). That might be one example of this basic epistemic conflict. I think David Hume, and also later, Kant had good reasons for dismissing arguments from this-worldly-reality to the Christian "Wholly Other" (including the traditional empirical arguments of Aquinas), for there was a nihilo in between the two (and no rational or empirical way to explain the link). Kant's solution is interesting. With reference to that your proposal of rational atheisms and empiricist atheisms seems relevant (both reason and experience are confined to This-Worldly). Won't it be interesting to see if all rational theologies and empirical theologies are also forms of rational atheisms and empirical atheisms, in essence, philosophically speaking (far removed from the aggregates of popular religion). That may explain why philosophical theologies and revelational theologies are worlds apart. 

So, you're right the analysis drives an orientation much deeper than theology; it should provide a proper approach to the study of theology itself. And, there is much work to be done in this field.

Thanks for your indepth responses. 

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?

relationship to the transpersonal: personal, impersonal, non-personal…whatever these relationships or our imaginings about them may be, whatever connection human beings make to the transpersonal, to 'Ultimate Reality,' to God -- to the ineffable -- in whatever case, rationalists of one kind denounce this idea, explain it; and rationalists of another kind assert this idea and reason it out.  Thus also empiricists point to the world as evidence for an amazing 'second' Reality, and empiricists with different principles, such as Charles Darwin, see the 'present' world in spite of their narrow milieu and by very painstaking observation

reconciling transcendence and immanence: the maya theory, that the world is an illusion, is the counterpart to the dukkha theory, according to which, whether suffering is real or merely imagined, it is in both cases our duty to treat it as if it were real -- to treat pain and offer service to suffering.  Suffering supersedes our scruples about reality

 I am trying to understand your statements:

 "Won't it be interesting to see if all rational theologies and empirical theologies are also forms of rational atheisms and empirical atheisms…

 …that may explain why philosophical theologies and revelational theologies are worlds apart."

 To me the first part seems to say: theisms are forms of atheisms ... I don't get this idea; I would say that theisms and atheisms stand on the same ground, as it were ... they are antagonists about the same proposition ... but more primarily, the prime assertion precedes the prime denial.  Therefore it is false to assert that belief is a function of disbelief.  Belief precedes doubt and makes doubt possible (Wittgenstein makes this point).  Strictly speaking, atheisms are forms of theisms; both forms work in the same frame of reference, but assertion precedes denial

 The second part: the reason why philosophy is completely opposite to theology (in spirit) is that philosophy is more comfortable with openness and theology is more attracted to exclusivity.  (Perhaps it doesn't seem like worshipping if the object of my worship is arbitrary). 

The believing mind does not -- save in exceptional cases -- freely give up its history, symbols and sacred places -- say, out of a deeper confidence that it will find a new way to express the prime assertion

 Thus your proposition, that theism is somehow a function of atheism, seems wrong, wrongheaded -- and this idea cannot be the explanation for why philosophy and theology take opposite sides in the world

But -- we can console ourselves for mistakes in what we are reasoning about because these subjects are so difficult --

we are unlikely to get very far …

but thinking is always worth doing 

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?
You are very right that the assertion "theism is a form of atheism" would be self-contradictory. However, when I refer to rational theologies such as monism and non-dualism that deny the existence of any Reality apart from that which forms the substrata of this Universe, then it wouldn't be wrong to say that such rational theology is a form of "atheism" (the belief that denies any necessary, immutable, infinite, and transcendent theistic reality or "God," apart from the world we're living in (despite the experience). With regard to empirical argument, I think David Hume was being honest when he said that the teleological argument could best argue for a polytheistic (pluralistic) concept of gods. Polytheism also denies a transcendent divinity, in essence. With those meanings in mind, I don't think there will be a contradiction involved in saying that there could be forms of atheistic theologies. However, if we also include beliefs such as polytheism, pantheism, and panentheism under "theism", then my proposal would certainly be self-contradictory. But, I speak with reference to the definition of atheism as the denial of a necessary, eternal, infinite, immutable, and transcendent divine being, who brought this world into existence out of nothing. I think that concept is impossible for any rational or empirical theology.

But, you're right that there is that difference between philosophy as an analytical discipline and theology (or religion) as an exclusivist belief system (in many cases)... an "ism". Also, when a philosophical system becomes dogmatic, e.g. communism, fascism, it is not very different from the exclusivity of a religion. It defines consequences for people.. as we also have previously noted.

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?
In addendum, I just found some statements in an article on Atheism and Agnosticism on the SEP (, and it seems they relate to this problem of definitions. I quote:
‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God. I shall here assume that the God in question is that of a sophisticated monotheism. The tribal gods of the early inhabitants of Palestine are of little or no philosophical interest. ...
The word ‘theism’ exhibits family resemblance in another direction. For example should a pantheist call herself an atheist? Or again should belief in Plato's Form of the Good or in John Leslie's idea of God as an abstract principle that brings value into existence count as theism (Leslie 1979)? Let us consider pantheism.
At its simplest, pantheism can be ontologically indistinguishable from atheism. Such a pantheism would be belief in nothing beyond the physical universe, but associated with emotions of wonder and awe similar to those that we find in religious belief. I shall not consider this as theism....
...A. N. Whitehead, too, had a theory of an emergent deity, though with affinities to Platonism, which he saw as the realm of potentiality and therefore he connected the atemporal with the contingent temporal deity (Whitehead 1929). Such views will not deliver, however implausibly, more than a finite deity, not the God of core theism. God would be just one more thing in the universe, however awesome and admirable.
This brings us naturally to the question of what we might consider to be an adequate concept of God, whether or not we wish to argue for the existence of such a being. Some profound remarks were made on this by J. N. Findlay in his article (‘Can God's Existence be Disproved?’ (Findlay 1949). The heathen may worship stocks and stones but does not see them as merely stocks and stones. More and more adequate conceptions of God still portray God as limited in various respects. A fully adequate conception of God, Findlay said, would see God as not only unlimited in various admirable properties but also as a necessarily existing being. Thus ‘There is one and only one God’ would have to be a logically necessary truth. Now logic, he held, is tautologous and without ontological commitment. So God's necessary existence would have to be something different from logical necessity. The trouble is how to see what this could be. 
One thing that will not differentiate the theist from the atheist is to say that God, if he exists, is necessary in the sense of not being dependent on anything else for his existence. The atheist will say that the universe fits this bill because the universe contains everything that there is and so is not caused by anything else. It is indeed hard to see what an adequate conception of God and his necessary existence could be. 

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?

With your clarification, I understand what you are getting at with regard to atheistic theologies.  In a sense, even a consistent materialist has a theology -- but 'theology' in this case is roughly equivalent to cosmology: a general theory of the universe.  Socrates would argue that theism and atheism and cosmology and like studies are all pretty far from the immediate problems of human ignorance facing moral demands.  Philosophy in Socrates' version is simply the obligation to think.  But as we have noted in our discussions above, if this stripped-down Socratic quest (to become and remain thoughtful) evolves into a definite philosophy, such as rationalism or skepticism or empiricism, then this new creation is on a par with atheisms, theisms, and other isms … categorized as a definite kind of ism or view.  Then the taxonomic work you are proposing can begin. 

 The citation from the Stanford Encyclopedia begins to argue about what counts as a 'theism' and what an 'adequate idea of God' might look like.  Again I think it is germane to ask why anyone would want to make these distinctions.  For centuries, Buddhism was discounted as a religion, and was labeled as a mere 'philosophy,' because (at least in the Theraveda tradition), it lacks any reference to God.  This is an arbitrary and foolish construction, denying legitimacy to hundreds of millions of people (who consider themselves to be 'religious' and Buddhism surely a 'religion').  Thus in this case it looks like the attempt to categorize 'theisms' is a way of reinforcing one idea of worship and excluding others.  It flattens out the phenomena and refuses to recognize outlying examples that offend some or other party cause.

 Philosophy descending into 'philosophies' and 'isms' is unproblematic as long as the new creation (whatever it may be) then becomes a new object of scrutiny and has to answer the Socratic elenchus and cross-examination.  This activity seems to me the core concern of philosophy, though we often let our curiosity wander off into distant corners of the intellectual universe.  We just have to learn how to get back to the core concern of thinking.  

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?
Despite of the basic unanswered question whether God exists or not this classification takes in to account that God exists as a concept and one of these four theological philosophies would help us understanding His existence. There may be many more concepts about God which might have not coined as philosophies yet. 
Very surprisingly when we talk about the Almighty and these philosophies, we have people who strongly stick to one philosophy and there are people who flip their stance as per the situation or as per their convenience. The theory of Multiple Thinking Environments categorize this type of thinking behavior in to 'conflicting thinking environments' and 'Environment of fear'. 

If we hold that God and Universe are same and everything composes God, then Body should also consists of God or Universe. This is nothing but what Empiricists support except for the fact that not every human being is a God. However if advaits is considered as part of Rationalism, then there are evidences in Bhagavatam and other Vedic literature that God exists everywhere and in everyone. But one must practice to get liberated and realize the Almighty. For me intermediate theology does not exist and Budhist Nihilism is different from what this article suggest as intermediate theology. 

Pantheism sounds to me more like a philosophy that attempted to work as a bridge between theists and atheists by saying everything everywhere is a form of God or in other words form of this universe. Though it looks different from the two most popular theologies, this is something that would answer many of the questions related to theology, I will go with Revelational Theology. 

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?
Steve, I agree with your point. 
However I am not able to draw a relation between transcendence and immanence to Maya theory and Dukha theory. In principle Maya is more of a belief, Dukha is more of a perception, transcendence is experience and immanence is again a belief. Can you please elaborate?

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?
Thanks for an interesting disussion. But Buddhist nihilism? I would reject the idea of such a thing. I can never understand how the dhamma can be interpreted as nihilistic. Nagarjuna proves the reality of Kant's and Hegel's fundamental phenomenon, albeit that he proves the ultimate unreality of everything else, and there may be ne better exposition of the Buddha's philosphical position.  .

It is interesting to wonder what proportion of religious practitioners are theists. I'd guess it's around two thirds, but with Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism etc. doing so well the proportion could be falling fast. This makes classification projects tricky.   

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?
Reply to Ravi Singh
Ravi:D. Marbaniang argued for several versions or types of theology.  Theology breaks down into basic stances -- for example, rationalism and empiricism.  I offered the idea that basic philosophical stances might be more primitive than the opposite basic stances Theism and Atheism.  If there are rationalist atheisms and theisms, and empiricist theisms and atheisms, then rationalism and empiricism underlie the phenomena of belief and doubt, as basic prototypes of seeing/reasoning -- perhaps because there are something like 'rationalist' and 'empiricist' temperaments. Some people approach the world by reason-seeking; some by fact-seeking; these temperaments -- if they are basic kinds of motivated search -- have a kind of psychological depth that precedes someone's decision about believing or doubting. They may be basic existential stances or ways of approaching the world.  

Rationalist theist: Anselm

Rationalist atheist: Critias

Empiricist theist: Aquinas

Empiricist atheist: Dawkins

I can make out several other sorts of temperament -- I am still working on this project.

In the discussion begun by D. Marbaniang he expressed the idea that religious traditions wrestle with the problem of reconciling transcendence and immanence.  Christianity must unify God and man; in Vedic traditions the idea comes up that one of the two halves of this opposition is merely illusory -- what we see is maya -- perhaps because the present world is an illusion or perhaps because our fantasies about heaven are an illusion.  Clearly there is a problem philosophically that certain words or rites or beliefs -- certain ones and not others, which happen to be spoken and performed and believed by a contingent group of people -- hold the key to Absolute truth.  The contingency or immanence (worldliness) of human practices stand on one side -- the necessity and transcendence (otherworldliness) of religious assertions stand on the other. 

I offered the idea from Buddha that suffering supersedes our scruples about reality -- about what is real and what is merely illusory -- the existence of suffering makes discussions about reality and immanence and transcendence seem ridiculous -- these discussions "tend not to edification" and don't seem to help us address suffering or lessen it. 

According to your scheme (if I understand it)

Maya is a belief

Dukkha is a perception

Transcendence is experience

Immanence is a belief

Looking at this, I am not entirely sure what you are getting at.  These terms are all 'loaded' -- that is, they are fraught with histories and divisions and age-old controversies.  Much has been made of all of them, to opposite effects.  To me the term dukkha addresses immediate experience -- every human being can and will learn what Buddha is getting at with his use of this term (or a version of it current in his time).  It is not a judgment or an ethical characterization but a description -- just pointing to this kind of thing, dukkha.  So, as you say, maybe it is a perception. Nonetheless you have to learn the term and have examples pointed out to you, as in the story of seeing old age and disease and death, before you begin to perceive it in the world.  

But maya and transcendence and immanence are philosophers' terms.  Maya I think is a way of talking about the experience of seeing through something.  Behind it is something else.  Transcendence could simply be about waking up, jumping to something other than the natural state one is in.  Theologically it becomes the idea that God is outside the world.  'Immanence' suggests to me the substantiation of something in a worldly form; it is something like 'hereness.'  Theologically this becomes the idea of the divine inside 'this' world -- the presence of Christ, say, or of sacredness at a definite physical location.  

The maya theory is the idea that everything before us is a vanishing nothingness.  The dukkha theory is the idea that the problem of suffering pushes everything else out of the way.  Talking about maya is a way of discounting what is happening right now.  Talk about dukkha is a way of bringing us back to what is happening right now.  At least, this is how I understand these terms … what do you think?

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?

It is interesting that your last classification of Theology is listed as last. The term “Theology” is a Greek word which means “The Study of God”, a theistic deity and in the theological community pacifically the Hebrew God revealed only through the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. It was not until the 17th century that Theology evolved to include the study of gods and religion in general.

In the beginning of creation, God spoke directly with mankind and because man became distant from God, God chose to communicate about himself in writings at God's direction. These writings are what we call revelation from God. Within Theology there are various study methods used to try to understand the content of these writings or what is now referenced as the Scriptures or the Bible, and how these writings, collectively, all relate to one subject matter – God the creator. Thus, we have Systematic Theology, Biblical Theology, Dogmatic Theology, Covenant Theology, Dispensational Theology and so on, as systems of study about one God.

Parallel to these methods of study comes the foundational studies in Biblical Hermeneutics and Upper and Lower Criticism. In the end, what you reference as “Revelational Theology” was once the only kind of theology understood in the world. If you go back to Aristotle you would find this topic translated into the philosophical discipline of Metaphysics of which my book “Made in the Image of God” focuses on.

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?
Hello Reid, Thank you for the comment and sorry for the delay in response!

I agree with your historical analysis of the term "Theology". Different religions have different scriptures and different schools of interpretation. Anthony Thiselton's book "The Two Horizons" tells us that philosophy does play an important role in hermeneutics. There are also issues with regard to the nature of religious language (is it univocal, equivocal, analogical, symbolic, or mere functional?). Much of it relates to the approach one takes (rational or empirical). This is clear in the clash between the results of classical theology (quite philosophical) and open theism (more empirical) with regard to the doctrine of divine foreknowledge. Faith does seek understanding; but, the method of seeking needs clarification. 

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?
Usually theology is divided into natural theology and revealed theology. Kant certainty presented a tertium quid or via media in natural theology during the Enlightenment period with his Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals as well as some of his other works (i.e. Prolegomena). His work in philosophical theology and philosophy of religion are usually subordinate to the natural theology school of thought. There's a sense that both the senses and reason are natural, and so I would categorize both under natural theology. The man-God relationship is such that humanity can know God with what He has naturally endowed humanity with; we are able to pursue God via media, via analogia, and via positiva
Revealed theology tends to be empiricist but that camp usually can shine a very transcendent God on theology like Jean-Luc Marion, who talked about God via negativa in his book God Without Being. I think there's a sense that God, in this camp, is a God who transcends our natural abilities to sense and reason, and, therefore, cannot know God without revealing himself to us instead of us assenting or pursuing Him. For real revealed theologians, we wouldn't accept, but could be very very caution of, someone presenting an extreme example of divine revelation such as being divinely inspired to commit suicide, to be unjust in any fashion, or what have you. 

Ultimately, I think the four classes that you have can be reduced to the two divisions I listed above because it comes down to the "man-God" relationship as it's called.

Hopefully this is helpful,

Joseph Norris

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?
Hi Domenic,

As a postscript to your comment on seeking; the foundational method for seeking in theology is the discipline of biblical hermeneutics or in long form the art and science of Scripture interpretation. Within the Catholic persuasion Thomas Aquinas was very influential in writing for their methods. On the Protestant side I recommend two works. The Interpretation of Prophecy by Paul Lee Tan (Th.D.) and Biblical Hermeneutics by Milton S. Terry, his work is considered a classical work written in the Eighteen Hundreds. A reprint version is now available. These two works agree in the area of the prose in Scripture, but will differ on the method and rules that deal with prophesy in Scripture. I lean toward Dr. Tan's view when it comes to the interpretation of prophecy.

As a side note, I am always amazed at what it take to complete a true Th.D. Four years of undergraduate work, four more years for your Th.M, then four more years for your Th.D and within all of this, there is the language requirements. Two years of Greek, two years of Hebrew and then picking two more languages to complete, usually German and Latin. In the end, it's not a short span of ones life to spend is it?

I only made further comment here because you showed some interest in the original question and response. I hope there is something here that may influence you to investigate further into your original inquiry to the subject.


God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?
Thank you Joseph for the insights!
Yes, I recognize the two ultimate divisions. Mortimer J. Adler, in an article, defines natural theology as actually apologetics - something done by believers in God and differentiates it from philosophical theology that only a non-believing philosopher does...

My classification was not based on ontic classes: God (as wholly other) different from man. I was looking at the divisions methodologically and epistemically. Thus, I find that the rational method purely leads to some form of non-empirical conclusions such as monism and the empirical methods lead to the very opposite. 

God of the Rationalists or God of the Empiricists?
Thank you for the references, Reid!