Denys Turner once offered a provocatively titled lecture, “How to be an Atheist”. Here he argued that in order to be a sophisticated atheist, one must learn to deny the most sophisticated forms of belief in God. Similarly, if one is to be a sophisticated Christian, we can equally argue that we need to learn to negate the most sophisticated forms of unbelief—or, indeed to recognise the various shades of grey. This unit charts a course through a variety of modern forms of unbelief in order to provide students with the skills required to avoid precisely those problematic forms of belief that are negated and to get inside the heads of various thinkers. The supposition is, then, that behind every atheism is a problematic theism that ought to be denied. This unit functions to provide two things then: first, it serves as an introduction to modern philosophy insofar as it pertains to the question of God, and, second, it serves as a course in the doctrine of God and negative theology as the students learn in practice the art of negation endemic to the Christian tradition.

Unit code: CT9300T

Unit status: Approved (New unit)

Points: 24.0

Unit level: Postgraduate Elective

Unit discipline: Systematic Theology

Proposing College: Trinity College Theological School

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Learning outcomes


Critically evaluate the relationship between a variety of forms of atheistic philosophy and Christian belief


Describe key elements of modern philosophical works.


Outline aspects of the history of modern forms of atheistic philosophy and their critical importance to Christian theology.


Identify and critique theological assumptions embedded within non-theological text.


Critically engage with negative theological traditions, and how they might find application in contemporary questions of nonbelief.

Unit sequence

Prerequisite: an introductory unit in Systematic Theology or Philosophy


Socratic dialogue and flipped learning.

Indicative Bibliography

  • Bowie, Andrew, Aesthetics and Subjectivity: From Kant to Nietzsche 2nd ed (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003).
  • Buckley, Michael J., At the Origins of Modern Atheism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990).
  • Caputo, John D., What Would Jesus Deconstruct: The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007).
  • Coakley, Sarah, Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002).
  • Funkenstein, Amos, Theology and the Scientific Imagination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986).
  • Jantzen, Grace, Becoming Divine: Towards a Feminist Philosophy of Religion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999).
  • Lloyd, Vincent, The Religion of the Field Negro: On Secularism and Black Theology (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017).
  • Pinkard, Terry, German Philosophy 1760-1860: The Legacy of Idealism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
  • Turner, Denys, Faith, Reason and the Existence of God (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
  • Ward, Graham, The Politics of Discipleship: Becoming Postmaterial Citizens (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009).


Type Description Word count Weight (%)

Major Essay (3500 words)

0 50.0

Short Essay (1500 words)

0 30.0

Forums (equivalent to 1000 words)

0 20.0

Unit approved for the University of Divinity by John Capper on 18 Oct, 2018

Unit record last updated: 2019-04-30 15:00:26 +1000