How I Became Involved in Analytic Theology – Jesse Gentile

September 30th, 2016 by

NOTE: This post was written by guest blogger, Jesse Gentile.

I would have loved to have been introduced to analytic theology earlier in my education. I did my first formal theological training at Dallas Seminary just over ten years ago. The theologians I knew at the time did not make philosophical theology an explicit part of our curriculum (the term analytic theology wasn’t being used yet). The closest I probably came to learning about what would later be called analytic theology was when a theology professor clarified for me that the article we were reading was “…by Cornelius Plantinga, not Alvin Plantinga.” So close! In all seriousness though, I recall instances, as a student, in which I encountered paradigmatic issues in “philosophical theology” and sensed something was lacking in my ability to work through them. I could enumerate pertinent verses; I could list out positions in introductory evangelical writings; I could do exegetical work; but I lacked the resources to think past a certain point when directly working with the concepts themselves.

By way of example, I recall writing a paper on divine foreknowledge (in the context of soteriology). I even recall the staircase in Moser Library I was descending when I first came across a reformed author using the term compatibilism. Something about his usage of this term struck me as problematic. It seemed to me that God was determining the actions of people and yet the writer insisted that such persons were still free. Furthermore, since there was a name for this position (Compatibilism), I thought this was supposed to validate the theological moves the writer was making. At this point in my education, all I could do was assume that this was an “advanced” concept I would have to revisit. Little did I know that it is a rudimentary position that anyone who takes a course on free will learns about – along with a set of other options with which to contrast it. At the very point where I should have critically interacted with a theologian’s use of a philosophical term, I backed away because I was unsure of how to proceed or what my options were.

After several years of itinerant preaching among Plymouth Brethren congregations throughout North America, this sense of incompleteness in my ‘theology skills” had not abated. I knew I was making substantial truth claims about the way the world was and that those were not as carefully thought through as I wanted them to be. And, I wanted to do something about it. Among the options I considered was completing an MDiv (I already held an MA in Biblical Studies and an MS in Instructional Design) so that I could apply to PhD programs in systematic theology. During one of my visits to various schools, I wound up in the office of Scott Rae at Biola University. Scott and Tim Pickavance (professors in Talbot’s philosophy program) both urged me to consider philosophy, if my ultimate aim was a PhD in theology. They expressed a genuine concern that I not become another theologian who makes statements about theology that are unclear or philosophically naive.

At that meeting, my concern for theological precision was echoed by instructors who offered help in just that way. (It didn’t hurt that I had always wanted training in philosophy!) For the next three years, I worked through their MA in philosophy of religion and ethics. I took courses in epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of language, God and time, philosophy of science, disagreement, normative ethics, applied ethics, and so forth. I was introduced to Plantinga, Swinburne, Peter van Inwagen, Audi, Augustine, Anselm, Richard of St. Victor, Hunt, Stump, Zagzebski, Alston, and many others. These classes introduced me to tools that I lacked but could not have found on my own. They gave me tools for thinking about thinking, questions I never thought to ask, and new conceptual categories. Most importantly they offered examples of Christian philosophers who plied their trade in theological waters.

During my studies, I came across several articles, and a few books, by Oliver Crisp. When I saw that he was launching an Analytic Theology project at Fuller, I jumped at the opportunity to study with his team. As a theologian, I not only want to use exegetical tools in my study of Scripture, I also want to know how to use the tools of analytic precision in the “theological-thinking” that follows! Because of the circuitous route I took before “doing” analytic theology, I am also interested in creating tools that will make it easier for pastors to ease into analytic theology. I understand how newcomers can view “philosophical-talk” with suspicion. I want to help show them why their investigations will be richly rewarded.

Jesse Gentile is a new PhD student at Fuller seminary studying systematic theology. He has interests in theological anthropology, epistemology, ethics, technology and pretty much everything else. Jesse is the father of two awesome elementary school kids and is the husband of Ella (who works as a wills and trust attorney). He regularly does itinerant preaching among plymouth brethren assemblies throughout the U.S. Jesse hold’s degrees in Biblical Studies, Philosophy, and Instructional Design.

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One response to “How I Became Involved in Analytic Theology – Jesse Gentile”

  1. Anthony Too says:

    Warm greetings Jesse, I am AnthonyToo, an elder at Jalan ImbiChapel(JIC), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
    Danny Ooi HockLye, reminded me about your continuing interest in everything theological, BibleCentered, n with an assembly background. He is assisting in the Senior SundaySchool syllabus n teaching. I recall bro Mike Atwood mentioning you, as he had ministered to us a number of times in BibleReading conferences. The background of JIC can be read in Precious Seed articles. Bros DavidDunlop, ShawnAbigail, Sandy McEarchern? , BoydNicolson Jr, DavidGooding, etc., have ministered to us previously. Just dropping a line to connect, as I have included your interest in my list of theological students, teachers in the academias. I am responsible for the teaching ministry in JIC n have initiated an assembly based biblical n theological research fellowship to engage n inform on such matters. Hope to have prospects of inviting you sometime once we know your interest areas. For now, WarmRegards. Anthony

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