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My interest in, what would become, analytic theology began in my undergraduate days at Biola University. I had two characteristics sparked and nurtured at Biola: (a) an attraction to the interdisciplinary and (b) a penchant for the analytic.
The former emerged as I participated in the Torrey Honors Institute, a great books-based interdisciplinary general education program. As we worked through reading the classics of Western literature, it became apparent that a number of the distinctions we currently make between academic disciplines are rather artificial. Is it really clear where psychology ends and politics start in, say, Plato’s Republic? Is it really clear where literature ends and philosophy starts in, say, Augustine’s Confessions? Is it really clear where prayer ends and theology starts in, say, Anselm’s Proslogion? It didn’t seem to me like many of the ancients were too concerned with disciplinary lines, and I wasn’t sure I should be either.
The attraction to the analytic emerged in the general philosophical climate of Biola in the early 2000s. Although I was a humanities major, and a biblical studies minor, within the humanities major I had a philosophy emphasis. The philosophy at Biola was heavily influenced by the analytic stream of contemporary philosophy as practiced by J.P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, and the devotees of Dallas Willard, Alvin Plantinga, and Richard Swinburne. Thus, this was the style of philosophy in which I was trained and in which I found benefit.
By following a call to theology and ministry, I purused an MDiv at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I loved that the MDiv scratched my interdisciplinary itch, by requiring courses in such diverse areas as systematic theology, preaching, biblical languages, and pastoral counseling. But I found my penchant for the analytic a bit frustrated. The theology I was encountering in my systematics courses all seemed to flow from the continental philosophical tradition. I found the prose, concerns, and approach of much of the contemporary theology I was reading to be confused and confusing. This caused me to retreat to the ancients once again, where I took courses in medieval theology at Boston College. In medieval theologians like Thomas Aquinas, Peter Aureoli, Duns Scotus, and others I found a style of analytical reasoning and engagement with philosophy that resonated with my own sensibilities.
I ended up doing a ThM in historical theology (focusing on the English Reformation) as I discerned what to do after seminary. I had a number of things on the table. I was discerning a call to both ordained ministry and further academic work. I liked the way theologians of the past approached theology, but felt I wanted to be more constructive than historical. I had also received some advice to pursue further study in philosophy. But I knew that all along my interest in philosophy was only to the extent that it could help me with my properly theological interests.
I recall thinking, “I just wish I could do theology, but do it kind of like an analytic philosopher.” I expressed this wish to myself while looking into PhD programs during the fall of 2009, which just so happened to be shortly after the publication of Analytic Theology edited by philosopher Mike Rea and theologian Oliver Crisp. I pursued Crisp’s work further, notably his pieces on Christology, got in touch with him, began my doctoral studies with him through the University of Bristol, and the rest is a bit of history.
What I like about analytic theology is that it allows me the space to move in many of the areas I’m interested in. First, because its theology I can work on the topics that are of most interest to me (like the Eucharist, Christology, and other central Christian doctrines). And since I think that all theology ought to be done for the Church, I can see my academic work as flowing out of my call to ordained ministry. Secondly, the interdisciplinary nature of analytic theology means I don’t have to feel too concerned about operating at the intersection of theology, philosophy, history, and biblical studies (it’s a busy intersection). Thirdly, my analytic training is obviously able to come to use and I didn’t have to leave that aspect of my formation behind to pursue academic theology. Finally, because I see such affinity between the analytic approach of today and the approaches of many of the theologians in the past, I feel like I can pick up the conversations from many theologians in the past with relative ease (well, I can jump in with ease, contributing is quite a bit more difficult!).