Christianity began with an experience, the experience of Jesus—his teachings and his deeds, the impact he had on people, the feeling for life which he communicated. People talked about this experience, formed opinions about him, and even took sides. Some of those who were attracted to him became regular followers and some of those were selected by him as his intimate companions.
The culmination of this experience was his death, a shocking and traumatic event, followed by a completely unprecedented experience which his followers could scarcely describe, much less understand. Convinced that he was truly though uniquely alive after his death, they struggled for an adequate way to express their experience. The language of exaltation and resurrection served as well as it could, but the language and descriptions were meant to carry people to the experience itself.
This remains the goal of theological reflection. The starting point is experience—a full, deep, meaningful embrace of life. Reflection as a method involves recognizing what is in an event, naming it, relating it to other experiences and reflections, letting it shape the future.
The challenge of theological reflection is to keep theology in the service of experience—not just any experience, however, but the authentic experience of God’s presence in our midst. To meet this challenge, theology must be critiqued by experience and experience must be critiqued by theology. The interplay is not always pleasant.