Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My Influences

Over the years a number of you have asked who are the key influences in my life, especially those who have formed me as a Bible teacher and theologian.  I always confess that I am not a scholar of the Bible but I am a lover of the Bible.  I have studied with great Bible scholars so I know the difference.  There are a handful of scholars that have shaped me in ways I am still trying to understand.  I will identify the top three with which I have studied and the books or theologians they introduced me to that continue to inspire me.

1) Dr Kenneth Mathews
The first great scholar I studied with was in college.  He is Dr Ken Mathews, who now teaches Hebrew Exegesis and Old Testament at Beeson Divinity School.  He did his PhD in Semitic Languages under David Noel Freedman, one of the three or four greatest biblical scholars of the twentieth century.  Like his mentor taught him, Dr. Mathews taught me to read the parts of the Bible in terms of the whole.  Before Dr. Freedman published his phenomenal book The Nine Commandments, Ken taught me to read the Bible this way.  This reading strategy put me on the trajectory I still follow.  (BTW, along with Nashotah House, Trinity School for Ministry, Regent College and Asbury Theological Seminary, Beeson Divinity is one of the Seminaries to which I direct people for theological training).

2) Dr. Leslie Fairfield
Les was my teacher of Church History at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry.  I have never had a more influential professor, for he asked the questions that directed the itinerary of all my subsequent theological education.  His seminal article, The Anglican Tradition: Three Streams, One River, is the single best short essay on Anglicanism.  It was the first article which we published in our Truro Tract Series.  Les taught me to understand Anglicanism from the "inside out" as a movement of reform and renewal within the wider Western Church AND he taught me that "a church without a memory is a dangerous thing."  During the Anglican Crisis I asked Les who I should study for inspiration and guidance.  He recommend Wesley.  So he, in part, is to blame for my theological interest in and doctoral studies on two heroes of the faith: Augustine and Wesley.   Dr Fairfield is a master pedagogue and I often ask myself "how would Les teach this?"

3) Dr. Dennis Kinlaw
Dennis Kinlaw came into my life during my late thirties while I was teaching at Asbury Theological Seminary and writing my doctoral dissertation.  Dr. Kinlaw is a contemporary of Billy Graham and John Stott, and like them, is an evangelical statesman in the truest sense of that term.  He is simply the most sagacious man I have met and he introduced to me the theology and poetry of Karol Woytjla, who became Pope John Paul II.  His little book of brilliant theology, Let's Start with Jesus, is the single best evangelical entree into John Paul II's nuptial theology (though it was not written for that purpose).  Along with Augustine and Wesley, JPII is the most influential theologian on my thinking.  George Weigel's biography of Pope John Paul II is the only book in my libarary that I read and within four pages begin to cry.  And I still don't know why.  For these, and many other gifts, I owe Dr. Kinlaw a debt that cannot be paid.

Who are the influences in your Christian life and witness?  To name them publicly is not bragging; its gratitude.


  1. 1. Without any question, the Rt. Rev. John Howe's teaching, while Rector of Truro was the greatest single influence in my spiritual life.
    2. Thirty plus years of fellowship with the late Ken Smith and his wife Pat were especially influential in the area of self discipline and the card game of bridge.
    3. The fellowship of believers at Truro, going back to 1979, too many brothers and sisters to name, was an ongoing source of inspiration and encouragement through 2005 when we left Virginia to return to Arizona.
    4. Priscilla Eustace's abiding faith and her display of courage and joy through the most difficult of circumstances in her life were and are today a reminder of the faithfulness of our Lord.
    5.I suppose that over all of these wonderful relationships in Christ, the extraordinary experience of Christ centered, Spirit led worship is what sustained us year in and year out.

  2. Part One

    1. C.S. Lewis: In college I was working on my BFA in Creative Writing at what was then a progressive Rhode Island college in a left-leaning Fine Arts department. During those years I began to read C.S. Lewis, his fiction, his essays, his autobiography, and other works and they had a tremendous impact on me as I moved from my teenage-faith of conversion into a faith for adulthood. In many ways, C.S. Lewis embodies the Dylan quote, "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now." Not only could one go into the deep places, but also one could take their imagination with them. He is my hero.

    2. Festo Kivengere - one of the single most life-changing events of my life was to hear Festo preach at Truro in the early 80s. I was not the same person when he was done preaching. "Therefore if anyone be in Christ, they are a new creation, the old is passed away, behold all things become new." That is what happened when I sat under his teaching - it's never been the same.

    3. Francis Schaeffer - I again read all of Schaeffer's books in college as I moved from my teenage faith to adulthood. In many ways, though, it was his influence that made me begin to think about how to walk my faith in the public square, or in my case, on Capitol Hill.

    4. John W. Howe - one of the single-most influential Bible teachers in my entire life, I walked into Truro in my first semester of college and was blown away that one could be on fire for evangelism, could engage in Holy Spirit worship, and exercise the mind, including facing the doubts. His series, Doubters Welcome was pivotal in my Christian journey.

    5. Alister McGrath - His book, Systematic Theology, was the textbook for a Systematic Theology course I took from Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. He also spoke at The Falls Church and his ability to speak to theology in ways I could understand increased my desire to learn more about the theological underpinnings of our faith. His approach permitted me my first real theological confrontation of my theological upbringing in Christian Science which I tackled in my final paper for the class - and got an A in the course and another major turn in my Christian journey. I thank Dr. McGrath for that.


  3. Part Two

    6. Nicky Cruz - one of the first books I read after starting my journey to follow Jesus was The Cross and the Switchblade, by David Wilkerson. But the book that had a major impact on applying the Christian faith to the poor and suffering was Nicky Cruz's book, Run, Baby, Run. I read it many times in high school and heard him speak and his testimonies of how God can transform the lives of those in great distress laid a deep foundation for my passion for evangelism.

    7. Madeleine L'Engle - Reading Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art was another major turning point in my Christian life and my engagement with art and literature. She inspired me that you could go deep into the creative process, even pass through the wilderness and find the truth that sets us free.

    8. Diane Knippers - my mentor, Diane Knippers showed by example how to engage in the political process in both the public square and the church. While many Christians engaged in politics would so often end up mirroring the very thing they opposed, becoming enraged or burned out, Diane exemplified how one could stand for principle, but engage compassionately with those with whom she disagreed. She was able to navigate what was often the trickiest of theological and political waters, especially in the church, but did so with humor and compassion.

    9. F. Scott Fitzgerald - I add him here because it was his book The Great Gatsby that caused me to finally understand the doctrine of original sin. Growing up in Christian Science that doctrine is non-existent and in my own journey as a Christian believer, I had to discover what this doctrine meant not just with my head, but with my heart. Christian Science practices a theology of denial and denial can enforce hardness in the heart, especially about something as pivotal as the doctrine of original sin. Reading the Great Gatsby was the breakthrough vehicle for me and so I add the author here.


    10. Bob Dylan - not surprised are you? But yes, his work after 1997 has influenced me theologically as he continues to take a sharp and rather wry (and often not without humor) look again and again at the consequences of sin, and of the coming judgment - and yes, of redemption. He is so true.

    -Mary Ailes

  4. To name a top 10 would be too difficult, and it would be entirely composed of people out of the public spotlight who I know but most others don't. So here are my top books: the first two are my desert island ones apart from the Scriptures, and the others are honorable mentions.

    1. J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955)-- Due to the popularity of Peter Jackson's films, this may seem a little too easy or contemporary. But for me, this dates back to August and September of 1980, when as a 13- and 14-year-old I devoured each part in one week each (the first two) and two weeks (for the third, since school started at the same time). Tolkien's moving story of self-sacrifice impacted me powerfully upon first reading. When I found the book Tolkien and the Critics in our high-school library a few months letter and read an essay about the profoundly Christian thrust of the saga (by W. H. Auden, if I remember correctly), I realized that I had intuitively recognized that already but hadn't previously formulated it. Looking back, I am profoundly grateful for how God used LOTR to stir my longings and keep me aching for good things that could only be fulfilled in Christ. (At the time, despite some deep intimacy with God in earlier years, I was apart from him.) Today, I am still profoundly moved by the book's deeply Roman Catholic, sacramental worldview. Much of the work is so imprinted in my memory that I've only reread sections of it since that first (and only) complete read. And I've got a long essay in my head concerning how Jackson surprisingly included well so much of the Christian worldview in his films, only to massively stumble in the third movie. (Feel free to ask me about it sometime.)

    2. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen's Life of Christ (1958) -- This book took me almost two years to read on a nearly-daily devotional basis on account of its depth. Written during a dark night of the soul that the author experienced over several years, the work reveals Sheen's intense desire and struggle to hold on to his savior on almost every page. Sheen's often lyrical prose reveals deep spiritual truths that you'll probably otherwise never imagine. This is an emotional book more than an intellectual one, although it is not short in the latter department. Read it to fall in love with your creator, savior, master, and lord. While Sheen was Roman Catholic, only about 15 percent of it (at most) should cause trouble for Protestants.

    Honorable mention -- Archbishop Arthur Michael Ramsey's The Gospel and the Catholic Church (1933). Do you think the evangelical and the catholic cannot coexist? Ramsey, arguably the greatest Archbishop of Canterbury from the last century, convincingly argues that they are instead two sides of the same coin. This is a very heady work that needs to be taken slowly. Read it to gain a greater love for Anglicanism.

    Honorable mention -- M. Eugene Boylan's This Tremendous Lover (1947). This is a dense work of Roman Catholic spiritual theology that will be foreign and challenging to many Protestant sensibilities. (It was to me.) The title refers to Christ, but the book is just as concerned with what it means to be part of the body of Christ. It brought me to a greater understanding and appreciation for the implications of such imagery, and increased my love for both Christ and his Church.

    Honorable mention -- Robert Asty's Rejoicing in the Lord Jesus in all Cases and Conditions (1682) and similar Puritan works. OK, let's swing things back to a Protestant end. The Puritans were masters of spiritual direction and soul care, and to read them performing this task can be very inspirational and moving. Just pick up nearly any Puritan work (some are easier than others -- the well-known John Bunyan can be just as mystical, or more so, than any medieval Christian) and you may just find your heart strangely warmed.

  5. My musical/lyrical inspirations (as a former English major with little knowledge of music per se, "lyrical" is the key word):

    1. Hymns -- Nothing can stir my heart more in this department than hymns. (Praise choruses, while they have their place, generally don't work as well.)Charles Wesley's "And Can It Be" is my favorite, with his "Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending," Mary Byrne's translation of the Irish "Be Thou My Vision," and Reginald Heber's "Holy, Holy, Holy" rounding out my top four (in order: "Holy," "Vision," "Clouds").

    2. The remaining three are contemporary artists who have approximately equal weight in my eyes:

    *U2 -- Often given to heights of ecstasy in the Christian mystical sense (I have a book in my head waiting to be written about lead singer/lyricist Bono's Christian mystic tendencies), this band consistently sees human love, while important, as a shadow and reflection of divine love. ("Love" is Bono's favorite synonym for God.) Just as gratifying, the band's songs over the years collectively embrace all aspects of the Christian life. The theology/spirituality expressed is in the vast majority of cases orthodox, although it occasionally skirts the edge.

    *IONA -- This British/Dutch Celtic Christian/progressive rock/folk/(in earlier years) jazz band is one of the most talented, if most unknown, bands existing today. For the most part, each album deals with a different theme related to Celtic Christian spirituality (e.g., their most popular album, Journey into the Morn [1995], is an album-length exposition of the hymn "Be Thou My Vision" and its contemporary implications). This band caused me to fall in love with Celtic Christian spirituality when I first listened to them in '93, and the impact has remained over the last two decades.

    *Rich Mullins -- For many years, this almost-Roman Catholic (he was set to enter the Roman Catholic Church but died shortly beforehand) and semi-monastic (having started his own "order," the Kid Brothers of St. Frank, because he didn't feel like he could become a Franciscan) performer was the most outstanding lyricist on the contemporary Christian music (CCM) scene. His often jaw-dropping poetry (see songs such as "The Color Green," "Calling Out Your Name," "Growing Young," and "Peace")was matched by a challenging life of austerity (he had others control his income and parcel out to him only what the average American would make in any given year) and ministry (he served the denizens of a New Mexico Native American reservation, teaching them music).

  6. Finally, my strongest Christian leader influences:

    On a non-personal level (i.e., people I have not known):

    1. (tie) Archbishop Arthur Michael Ramsey and the Rev. John Stott -- Both Anglicans, the first an Anglo-Catholic, the second an evangelical. Considered together, the theology of both testifies to Ramsey's thesis that the evangelical and the catholic are two sides of the same coin. And both considered together remind me of why I am an Anglican and why I could probably never feel at home more in another Christian tradition.

    2. Pastor John MacArthur -- While I am now Anglican enough to disagree with much (sometimes I think most) of MacArthur's theology, his commitment to biblical exposition continues to inspire me after some 23 years.

    3. Pope John Paul II -- He impacted me greatly from about '93 (when I read his encyclical The Splendor of Truth) into the early 2000s (when I fell in love with Anglicanism). He has been less of an influence since then, but my admiration and respect remain.

    On a more personal level, I'll particularly note Bishop Martyn Minns and the Rev. Richard Crocker (from many hours of working with them in a variety of capacities); the Rev. Kelley Schroder, former singles pastor at Christian Fellowship Church, then Vienna, VA, and Fr. Harold Hammond, rector of Shepherd's Heart Anglican Church, Fairfax, VA (for their strong heartbeats for pastoral care); the Rev. John Mabry, former pastor of Rivermont Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Lynchburg, VA (for providing a model of the pastor-as-public-discipler); and the Rev. A. Howell Franklin, former pastor of Old Forest Road United Methodist Church in Lynchburg (for his long sermons that still stand out in my memory over 35 years later. And while I've had little contact with him, the godliness of Bishop Keith Ackerman is also greatly inspiring.

    Another great personal influence from afar was my mother's Aunt Madeline Hastings. Madeline's husband, the Rev. Woody Hastings, was struck with Parkinson's while in his 40s, when the two of them had young children. For 30-to-40 years, she cared for him daily (with little-to-no outside help), supported the family by running a gift shop from out of their house, and raised the children essentially on her own. I cannot imagine what dreams she saw never realized, including (I would assume) dreams of serving the Lord. She remains inspirational some five years after her passing.

    Finally, a few academicians, in no particular order:

    *Dr. Leslie Fairfield's workbook on Anglicanism, The Anglican Ethos, helped me fall in love with this branch of the Christian faith. He was also an outstanding tour guide on a Trinity School for Ministry study tour of Celtic Christian sites in Ireland.

    *The Rev. Sudduth Cummings was an outstanding teacher of a Trinity School for Ministry class that used Fairfield's workbook. He taught us to love the daily office and provided an Anglo-Catholic perspective that was then new to me (although his great Anglican hero is John Wesley).

    *At Virginia Tech in the '80s, Dr. Donald Stump and Dr. Thomas Gardner provided good examples of being Christian English professors.