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Schubert Ogden on the Relationship between Theology and Philosophy

W. David Beck, Liberty University

Abstract

In this dissertation I examine the proposals of Schubert Ogden in favor of the view that theology is an integral part of metaphysics. My construction of his sytem yields two arguments designed to demonstrate this view of the relationship between theology and philosophy. What is unique to Ogden's specific position is his use of an existentialist epistemology and anthropology derived from Heidegger and Bultmann as a basis for a process metaphysics influenced by Hartshorne and Whitehead.

Odgen's first argument involves the main components of his epistemology. I summarize it in the following propositions. (a) A proper theology conforms to two criteria: it is adequate to its origination tradition and intelligible to contemporary secular man. (b) The starting point of all thought is subjectivist, that is about the self. (c) Theology is therefore possible only as existentialist analysis. (d) Theology cannot use objectifying language, either in relation to the self or to God. (e) There can therefore be no objective historical events that provide differentiating content for theology. (f) Theology then falls within the scope of philosophy as a general analysis of existence.

Ogden's second argument is formulated within his metaphysics. I summarize it thus: (a) Faith in meaning (e.g. in science, ethics, and religion) is unavoidable. (b) Unavoidable faith implies a real God. (c) An existentialist epistemology is compatible with a process metaphysics. (d) A process metaphysics leads to a panentheistic view of God and the world. (e) The panentheistic principle that God is the paramount example of metaphysical categories dictates that God is to be understood by analogy with the self. (f) The world is then, by analogy, to be understood as God's body. (g) It follows that every real world act and event are, in part, God's action. (h) As with every self, some of God's actions are more characteristic than others. (i) I can determine that those events and actions are characteristic of God to which I respond by realizing authentic human existence. (j) By this criterion, the life of Jesus most fully represents God's character. (k) Therefore, Christian theology, i.e., the understanding of existence based on Jesus' life, is also the right philosophical understanding of man and God in general.

I contend that both of these lines of argument fail. The first depends on an inconsistency within Ogden's system. Ogden appears to affirm but also deny the concrete activity of God in history. Ogden's epistemology, particularly as it is applied to theological language in the project of demythologizing, explicitly forbids the use of objectifying language in reference to God. God is always subject, not object. Events characteristic of God are recognized only by a criterion of subjective response. Nevertheless, it is clear that Ogden's panentheism requires the general truth that all events are, in part, God's actions in history. Indeed, some events adequately represent God and are thus truly his. I show that there is a fundamental tension between the subjective base of his existentialist epistemology and the objective base of his process metaphysics.

I contend that Ogden's second argument fails to establish a workable criterion for the identity of theology and philosophy at any level. More importantly, his metaphysics fails to derive from his epistemological base any justification for his use of analogy. Again the split between the existential epistemology and the process metaphysics invalidates Ogden's system.

I argue, in conclusion, that Ogden's attempts to prove that theology is an integral part of metaphysics miss the true issue. He does not confront the possibility of distinguishing theology from philosophy by the source of its content, but deals only with the issue of unique items of content.

Suggested Citation

W. David Beck. "Schubert Ogden on the Relationship between Theology and Philosophy" Faculty Dissertations (1980).
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/david_beck/9