Radical theology in preparation: From Altizer to Edwards

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Charles Winquist


Altizer, Thomas J. J., Edwards, Jonathan, death of God

Subject Categories

Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


This dissertation explores the relationship between Thomas J. J. Altizer's Christian atheism and Jonathan Edwards's Christian theism. It is organized around the idea of conversion as a response to a prior act of divine grace. When Altizer interprets Nietzsche's "death of God" as such an act, he expands the problematic of conversion to the level of theological discourse and thus brings it to bear on the distinctions of God (transfiguration), self (conversion), and world (apocalypse). The thesis argues that this linking of the death of God to that of man situates atheism at the end of a discursive sequence whose prior terms are theism and humanism.

According to Altizer, Christian theology faces the choice of maintaining the traditional language of God's transcendence at the price of becoming blind to contemporary experience, or falling silent by seeing that experience. In response, Altizer turns his theology away from God's being towards God's speech. By reading this turn through Gilles Deleuze's analysis of the visible and the speakable, the dissertation recasts atheism's relation to the tradition in terms of systematically different forms of discourse. Altizer's tracing of the possibility of a Christian atheism that is both visible and speakable to divinity's self-negation, suggests an analogy with the theistic conception of grace. I argue that Edwards's theism produces the otherness of God through a continual veiling of its essence that is repeated in his understanding of the affections, the trinity, and the creation. However, such a discursive otherness can be differentiated from post-structuralism's absent transcendent signifier only indirectly: Altizer's analysis of speech for signs of God's death is best understood as an atheistic version of Edwards's analysis of the affections for signs of God's transcendent grace. Although atheism has theism for its historical and discursive other, Altizer's "total presence" does not simply eliminate the other: instead, it marks the irreducible proximity of otherness as the becoming idiomatic of faith--at once the passing of theism's discourse and the recurrence of otherness as an alterity inherent in speech.


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