Tuesday, 7 November 2006

Top theological influences

Aaron is absolutely right – our theology may be influenced by books, but the deepest theological influences are almost always non-literary. These are the things that really construct us and constitute us as persons – only subsequently do we also make a few minor alterations through the influence of books.

Aaron lists his own top 20 influences: the environments, people, and lived experiences that have shaped his theology. I doubt that I’d be able to categorise these kinds of influences (which is really the point, since the deepest influences function tacitly). Wittgenstein famously observed that our language can’t even describe the aroma of coffee – much less can we articulate the experiences and discourses that construct us and give us being!

Still, if I were to try to list some of my own “top 20 theological influences,” I’d have to include (in no particular order):

  • The Eucharist
  • Certain Christmas carols
  • Psalm 23 (I was made to memorise this when I was very young, and ever since I’ve inhabited the “space” created by these words)
  • Walking on the beach (I spent my early childhood living on the bay of a small island, and for me the “meaning of life” is somehow inextricably connected with the sound of waves and the feeling of sand between my toes)
  • The experience of family community as I was growing up
  • A certain family/religious discourse in which the presence and reality of Jesus Christ were always unproblematic, always simply a “given” (I realised much later that such discourse is in fact the presupposition of all theological reflection)
  • Leaving the church tradition in which I was raised
  • Unexpected experiences of generosity and forgiveness
  • Conversations with an elderly Brethren missionary
  • Encounters with people whose theology had made them angry and self-enclosed
  • Holding my newborn child for the first time
  • The rich, diverse and surprising experiences of daily family life
  • Conversations with my wife
  • Reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, which gave me “new eyes” (come on, you’ve got to let me include one literary experience!)

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