"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
August 16, 2006

Theological Biography And Theological Vocabulary

Frank Rees made a very insightful comment a few weeks back in response to my post on theological biography (theology and what to do about it), “But one last thought. You and I have both read those big names and big books. We can pass over them now. Do you think others can do without […]

Frank Rees made a very insightful comment a few weeks back in response to my post on theological biography (theology and what to do about it),

“But one last thought. You and I have both read those big names and big books. We can pass over them now. Do you think others can do without them, or their counterparts today, completely?”

Frank’s question cuts to the core of what might be the limitations of a poorly conceived approach to theological biography. I have to admit that when I started to think about a biographical approach to theology, my fear was it would legitimise laziness by giving the impression that reading historical texts had no value.

Goodness knows there is enough lazy and misinformed theology out there; we don’t need any more.

In contrast to this impulse, we need a sense of theological formation. What I mean by that is we need to wed the notion of spiritual formation to the study of theological method. Our method for writing theology is our process of being spiritually formed.

Initially this means we will see our theologising as a spiritual practice, an outworking of curiosity, discipline and humility. However, it will also carry a deeper significance; our theologising is a moral act. Not just what we theologise about, but how we do it will be an ethical outworking of our growing spirituality.

Of course, if our spirituality is shallow,undisciplined, solipsistic and a-historical, we will ignore the great Christian thinkers who have come before us. That is not a failure of a theological biography approach, but a failure in the process of spiritual formation. Narcissists will produce bad theology, whatever method they choose.

Beyond that we need to develop a robust notion of theological vocabulary. A grounding in great theological works is akin to what a writer or poet receives by being grounded in the classics, or a film-maker has by being familiar with key directors, what a musician develops by prolonged exposure to the most innovative composers. It is not an intellectual exercise alone, but a resource for framing one’s expression and finding one’s voice.

I’ve become acutely aware of this whilst taking a Film Music course with Berklee. I’m a long way behind many of my fellow students because they has a richer classical music vocabulary than I do. Put simply, I’m missing a lot of quotes, references and cues in the film music I listen to and feeling some limitations in the ideas I try to compose. It is stunning how much film music simply recycles existing ideas in classical music (and other genres). I haven’t spent the last 20-25 years listening to wide range of classical music and it has caught up with me.

Theological biography doesn’t mean we write and speak as if theology began with us. What it means is that accept we are one voice among many voices and our responsibility is to speak with that voice clearly and from within our context.

[tags] Theological Method, Theological Biography [/tags]

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Responses
Mary Hess 16 years ago

What a fascinating set of musings you’re on about lately! I think you’re right that part of the issue is being part of a conversation. But I also think that historical theology has far too narrowly conceived what we mean by theology, and in doing so cut huge numbers of people out of the conversation. So beginning from a position of biography, and bringing those questions to historical/classical sources is a creative way to begin (I’m thinking here in particular of Terrence Tilley’s work with reinventing tradition).

But anyway, the main reason I wanted to comment was to ask you to write more about what you’re learning in your film music course. I’m convinced that “soundscapes” — the sound that pervades our meaning-making — is a crucial part of theology, but haven’t found many ways to think about that. My hunch is that film music — more than any other space — might be a place where people are consciously working on this. So I’d love to know more of what you’re learning! And what you’re reading and listening to!

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Thanks Mary.

Certainly something about the professional “game” of theology, if it is either to serve the church or describe its lived faith, is broken.

Thanks also for the encouragement to blog on the film music course. You are right that there are big links between the music and the meaning-making. If you have a copy of Forrest Gump handy, fast forward to the scene where Forrest runs for the first time (he has the leg casts and the kids are throwing rocks at him). Why does the music start when it does? It is a great example of the music fulfilling a narrative function.

As far as the course; right now, I’m bogged down in very mundane stuff about timecodes and bar lengths; it’s tricky and involves this weird stuff called mathematics. However, I will blog on the course in the near future as there is *a lot* of good ground to cover.

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