Faith's Knowledge: Explorations into the Theory and Application of Theological Epistemology

By Dagle, Mike | Anglican Theological Review, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Faith's Knowledge: Explorations into the Theory and Application of Theological Epistemology


Dagle, Mike, Anglican Theological Review


Faith's Knowledge: Explorations into the Theory and Application of Theological Epistemology. By Paul Tyson. Eugene, Ore.: Pickwick Publications, 2013. vii + 202 pp. $28.00 (paper).

Paul Tyson s unique and wide-ranging book is an engaging examination of what he calls "the largely abandoned territory of epistemology and transcendence" (p. 15). It is unique primarily in that it gives equal space to both theory and application, a refreshing direction for a work of theological epistemology. The subject matter itself is also unique. An undergraduate student studying epistemology would not recognize many of the concepts, concerns, and questions throughout Faith's Knowledge, which illustrates why Tyson thinks the work of theological epistemology is important. Tyson takes the modem tradition of epistemology to be nominalist, individualistic, and ultimately rooted in the unnecessary separation of faith and reason, theology and philosophy. Tyson takes many of his cues from the theological sensibility known as Radical Orthodoxy, often following John Milbank's genealogy of secularism. Tyson proposes an explicitly theological approach to tmth and knowledge, arguing that "Western epistemology has fallen into a credibility hole ... because it is not grounded in an adequate meta-epistemology... an adequate theology" (p. 3).

Important to Tyson's own genealogy is the contrast he draws between Aristode and Plato. Whereas Plato's approach to philosophy is rooted in religious desire and human participation in transcendence, Tyson argues that Aristotle's detached style is open to a nominalist emphasis. A "protomodem Aristotelian naturalism" (p. 29)-or a natural theology rooted in an understanding of natura pura-emerges as Aristotle's influence increases after his réintroduction to the West in the twelfth century. Whereas Plato's religiously-oriented philosophy left no room for the separation of faith and reason, Aristotle's "seeks no contact with the Divine but is content to postulate about the divine instead" (p. 34). The detached objectivity of modem epistemology, foundationalism, and secularism can then be said, in a sense, to have Aristotelian roots.

Tyson acknowledges that recent scholarship has problematized a strong contrast between Aristotle and Plato, but he is primarily interested in particular ways Aristotle can be read and his influence on medieval theology, rather than the proper interpretation of Aristotle as such. Tyson also makes passing reference to Aquinas's great achievement in grounding the Aristotelian emphasis on nature in the doctrine of creation. Elsewhere, Tyson chastises Heidegger for a "totalizing tendency" (p. 43) in his reading of Western metaphysics since Plato. While genealogies of modernity are crucial and often illuminating, they also ran the danger of this same totalizing tendency. The nominalist medieval readings of Aristotle that Tyson emphasizes are important. Just as important, however, is Aquinas's integrative mode of theological inquiry. To use the classic metaphor, our genealogies should not discourage us from an eclectic use of diverse philosophical waters that can be turned to theological wine. …

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