How I got into AT – Trent Dougherty

June 28th, 2016 by

NOTE: This post was written by guest blogger, Trent Dougherty. 

In a potentially misleading but very real way, I got into Analytic Theology as an evangelical in high school. A burnt out party boy by 16, I then “got saved” and entered a very loving church full of very good people. These very good people, though, like most people today lived almost exclusively from emotion. I wish not to disparage the importance of the emotional life one little bit (far from it) by I needed (and still need) rational structure to my life. I had rarely been to church before I got “saved,” so when I saw the book of Acts in my first bible, I thought it was a play, like with Act 1, Act 2, and so on. Few ever came to the Sacred Scriptures with less theological understanding than me.

As I eagerly read the Scriptures, I found them neither perspicuous on the whole nor self-interpreting. I was left with much puzzlement about much the contents and how it all fit together. I hasten to add that like “the boy that driveth the plow” it was clear to me that the main things were the plain things, and the plain things were the main things: I was a sinner, saved by grace, freed by Son of God by the Father’s plan, and guided by the Holy Spirit in to a life of Christlikeness (I haven’t gotten very far on that at all, but don’t blame the Holy Spirit!). Still, there was so much else going on, and it seemed impossible that it wasn’t important just in virtue of being secondary in some sense. Thus I endeavored to gain some theological understanding by any means possible.

The first thing I did was to ask my Pastor about what tied certain key concepts together. That is, I was, essentially, asking him for an analysis of key concepts. A pivotal moment came when I was a junior in high school. After doing some study, Pastor Ron got me this definition of “sin”: A willful transgression of a known law of God. Forget for the moment whether that is an adequate analysis. It was like a massage for my mind: “A willful transgression of a known law of God. The parallelism was like warm honey and the distinctions it pointed to were immediately apparent: A forced (say) transgression of a known law of God would not entail sinning nor would a willful transgression of a law of God one had good reason to believe was not a law of God. No one had to tell me these things, they were transparent from the elegant formulation. If someone had defined sin for me as “breaking God’s law” we would have wasted a bunch of time with counter-examples. This was analytic theology, and I loved it.

From then it was book after book after book. In those days, kiddos, there was no, and you didn’t find theology at Brentanos or Lemstone Books. Thus I was dependent on the Christian Book Distributors newsletter and whomever I could talk to locally. Fortunately, about this time the church I had moved to—a Baptist Church with a pastor who converted from Hinduism—hired an associate pastor who had specialized in systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, who had worked primarily with leading evangelical protestant Thomism, Norman Geisler. I read nearly all of his books, and that got me onto Aquinas, whom I read voraciously. I could not get enough Aquinas, and ordered a bunch of Pontifical Academy translations from Toronto and got on the Loome Theological Booksellers newsletter list. I acquired over the next three years a massive library of Thomas and Thomistic classics. My greatest love was reading about God’s attributes and about the analogy of being. Then I graduated from high school.

In college, I found little sympathy for Aquinas, and though I continued to use Geisler for training young evangelicals in defending the Christian worldview (the notion of a Christian worldview—or at least the term “worldview” has fallen out of favor in evangelicalism for clearly faddish reasons I don’t understand), but when I sought out who was defending orthodox Christian theology in the academy, it was almost entirely a group of people associated in some way with the Society of Christian Philosophers. In a series of edited volumes and a few monographs from the mid-late 80s through the mid 90s, a formidable group of people—Marilyn McCord Adams, Robert Adams, William Alston, Robert Audi, Thomas Flint, Fred Fredoso, Thomas Morris, Alvin Plantinga, Eleonore Stump, Richard Swinburne, Linda Zagzebski—put forth quite a magnitude of scholarship pertaining to God’s nature. It was love at first sight, and, importantly, fully recognizable as essentially the same thing Aquinas was doing. Many times these writers drew on the works of Aquinas explicitly, but even when they didn’t, and even when they used methods more directly tied to the history of analytic philosophy (as if there is a thing homogeneous enough for that name to be very helpful without provisos and caveats), like Richard Swinburne, it was clear they were on the same path as Aquinas. And it was equally clear that it was the path I wanted to tread for the rest of my life.

I think philosophical theology lost its way a little bit after the turn of the millennium, and I think that bringing in people with more theological training and getting in close dialog with people in the world of theology has been very helpful. So when Mike Rea and Oliver “Crispy” Crisp started the annual Logos conference, I was sold. I think I’ve only missed one from the start. And starting The Journal of Analytic Theology (just out in a huge fourth volume!) seemed the next logical move. For me, it’s been a long time in coming, and I’m hopeful about its future (keep an eye out for my “Advice to Analytic Theologians” in the forthcoming Christian Philosophy Today and Tomorrow: Conceptions, Continuations, and Challenges, edited by Aaron Simmons, OUP).


Trent Dougherty (PhD Rochester) is Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department and a fellow of the Honors College at Baylor University. He publishes regularly in Epistemology, Philosophy of Religion, and Philosophy of Language.  He is the author of The Problem of Animal Pain: A Theodicy for All Creatures Great and Small (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2014).  He is the editor of Evidentialism and Its Discontents (OUP, 2011), the co-editor (with Justin McBrayer) of Skeptical Theism: New Essays (OUP, 2014), and author of numerous essays, reviews, and reference works in his areas including the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and Oxford Bibliographies. When not writing, he enjoys gravity sports, gardening, and gourmet cooking with his wife and four children.  

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