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NOTE: This post was written by guest blogger, J.T. Turner.
I wasn’t always an academic; I wasn’t always a churchman. In fact, though I’ve professed Christian faith for as long as I can remember, my first love was sports. This love led me to play ice hockey at university. I wanted to graduate, of course, but I didn’t wanted to study. I wanted to play hockey. And so I did. But, hockey had become an idol. And, like all idols, the fruits of its worship spoiled; they didn’t satisfy. Eventually, I left it behind.
But, while I was at this Christian university, my curiosity was piqued for biblical and theological matters. Even though I was a journalism major, I was required to take two theology courses, two bible courses, and one philosophy course. Even still, I wasn’t a thoughtful student, so I neglected to think about these sorts of matters further than what was required to get a ‘C’ mark in the course. By God’s grace, though, I picked up a persistent prayer request: “God, make me fall in love with you and the things that will help me know you in a better way.” I don’t suppose I knew what I was praying at the time; but I do trust that the Spirit was interceding for me “with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26b).
Fast-forwarding a few years, I knew I needed to get serious about being an adult and, thus, getting a job that might help provide for a family. So, I went to work for a company where there simply wasn’t much work to do. I could pass the 40 hours a week by reading. And, so I did, picking up a number of entry-level books in biblical, theological, and philosophical studies. I don’t even remember why I bothered reading these books; but I loved them and the information they contained. I couldn’t get enough of the material. This was the sort of stuff I wanted to study; so, I decided to go back to my Alma Mater, Liberty University, to pursue an M. A. in Philosophy of Religion. I attribute this sort of move to the Spirit’s intercession during my aforementioned prayers.
At this stage, I encountered a slight snag. The program assumed one had majored in something relevant to philosophy of religion and that one had done well as an undergraduate student. I did neither. So I was well behind the 8-ball.
The first year in the program was an absolute slog. I had a lot of background reading to do. But, through the program, very fine thinkers, particularly, Dr. Thom Provenzola, Dr. Ed Martin, and Dr. David Baggett, taught me how to do philosophy in the analytic mode. In all of this, I fell more and more in love with this kind of thinking. And, importantly, I fell more and more in love with the one to whom my thoughts were directed, the God revealed in Jesus.
Now, almost simultaneously, I was beginning to realize that Christian involvement in the life of both the universal Church and local church is absolutely essential to God’s mission to heal the cosmos. Because of this, many of my philosophical ideas were, through conversation, sifted through the filter of fellow church-folk, some academics, some not. This helped shift my focus from philosophical questions to theological questions, and, in particular, concerns about the clarity with which Christian doctrine is communicated.
Because of this shift in focus, I went to Erskine College and Seminary to pursue a Th.M. in historical theology. Again, I applied analytic methodology to my research questions. It was, after all, the way I’d been trained to think. Doing so began to shine a light on differences in theological works: e.g., the kind of theological method employed by Aquinas and the kind employed by Barth. I loved what Aquinas was doing; I found his sort of method helpful and clear. I loved Barth’s emphasis on Jesus; that was great. But, I found his sort of method murky and less helpful. For good or ill, I wasn’t going to do theology that way.
Now, when I applied to Ph.D. studies at the University of Edinburgh, I applied to do theology with Prof. David Fergusson. Again, I had some theological questions I wanted to research, and he had the sort of scholarly background that I thought would work for my project. Moreover, my real aim in study was to help the Church. I thought I could best do that in theology.
So, I took my analytic methodology and began researching in systematics. I didn’t know that what I was doing was called ‘analytic theology’ until a few months after my Ph.D. began. I’d just been doing analytic theology the whole time I was seriously studying theology. Once informed, I was directed to a growing and exciting field of study. I was only too happy to attempt to add to its body of literature and its communication of theological truths.
Now, post-Ph.D., I’m working on the AT project at Fuller. All in all, work on this project is another important answer to my earlier prayers, such that my growing love of God drives me to love His people and to work on answers to questions that are important for the Church.
J. T. Turner is a Research Associate on Fuller Theological Seminary’s Analytic Theology Project for the 2016 – 2017 academic year. He holds a PhD from The University of Edinburgh, a ThM from Erskine College and Seminary, and an MA and BS from Liberty University. Turner’s current research projects include writing a book on the metaphysics of afterlife in Christian theology, and work on constructing an analytic theology of what some biblical theologians call “holistic eschatology.”