[asa] what is a theologian?

From: Cameron Wybrow <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>
Date: Mon May 04 2009 - 21:22:16 EDT


I'll come back to the larger question of theologians in TE and ID in a
separate post, but I can't let one of your remarks go unchallenged.

You wrote:

"Neither Frederick Copleston nor Etienne Gilson was a theologian, whether
Protestant or otherwise. Both were historians of philosophy. They
certainly count as major modern thinkers, but not as theologians."

If I may ask a pedantic question:

What's a theologian?

1. Someone who has a doctorate in theology?

2. Someone whose prime area of research is theology?

3. Someone whose prime area of teaching is theology?

4. Someone who has a vast knowledge of theology, and speaks and writes
pertinently about it?

5. Someone who writes "original" theology, and offers personal theological
opinions or new "systems"?

6. Someone who is an expert on the history of theology?

7. Someone who is an expert Bible scholar?

8. Someone with a Divinity degree?

9. Some combination of the above?

10. None of the above?

The question is relevant to your claim, I think. For example, if we take
number 4, I would wager that Etienne Gilson's knowledge of Christian
*theology* (certainly on the Patristic and Medieval side, anyway) dwarfs
that of John Haught, whom you are calling a theologian. And Father
Copleston would certainly qualify under numbers 4 and 8.

I believe that Calvin's only degree was in law, so I don't think he would
qualify if number 1 or number 8 were absolute requirements. I believe that
Kierkegaard was a minister, however, so presumably he had a Divinity degree,
and would qualify under number 8, but would flunk the test under number 1.
Yet both Calvin and Kierkegaard have influenced the course of Western
theology, in the real world where everyday Christians live and breathe and
feel and think, far more than any German or American academic theologian I
can think of.

Then there is Gerhard von Rad, the great Old Testament scholar, whom many
would call a "Biblical theologian". He might make the cut under #1, as
Biblical studies in Europe is often part of the faculty of "Theology"
(whereas in North American universities they are increasingly separated,
with Biblical studies frequently taught in Religious Studies departments).
He would certainly make the cut under #7. But he doesn't write about the
kinds of things that John Haught writes about. So does he fail to make the

Then there is Jeffrey Burton Russell, the historian, who wrote one of the
most extensive studies (4 volumes) on the history of the Devil. He would
probably qualify under 6, even if his expertise in that area is fairly
narrowly defined.

Then there is Ivan Illich, the famous social critic, author of *Deschooling
Society* and *Tools for Conviviality*. He has, I believe, a doctorate in
theology, though his great works are not in that field. He would qualify
under number 1, but not under the other categories.

Or, how about a Ph.D. in English who has spent her life studying the
theology of Milton?

Or a Ph.D. in Political Science who is an expert on the relation between the
theology and the politics of Dante?

Or a structuralist anthropologist who offers a new interpretation of Genesis

What about the late Father Neuhaus, a man with a Divinity degree and steeped
in vast reading in theological subjects, who regularly offered his own
theological judgments in the pages of First Things?

Where does our own George Murphy fit into the picture? Obviously he meets
criterion number 8. Does he meet criterion number 1?

We could also ask: Was Darwin a zoologist?

By analogy with number 1 above, the answer would be "No", since his only
degree was in Classics. (He dropped out of both medicine and theology.)
But are you prepared to say that Darwin was not a zoologist?

Sorry to make difficulty, but I think you may see what I am driving at.


To unsubscribe, send a message to majordomo@calvin.edu with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Mon May 4 21:23:02 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon May 04 2009 - 21:23:02 EDT