What is your first musical memory?
I remember hearing my mother play the piano — I must have been about 4. The sounds seemed to open up a sort of magical world of wonder and delight.
Describe your earliest musical influences.
My main influences were my teachers, above all a piano teacher I was lucky to have in my teens. He was a major concert pianist, a theorist, a major academic, and a brilliant instructor. Somehow he managed to combine all the things that are important for a musician: sheer hard work, intellectual curiosity, and emotional involvement. He was also a deeply committed Roman Catholic — but I only found that out later.
I was also bowled over by watching Leonard Bernstein on TV — he embodied a mixture of practice, theory, and educational flair that has served as a model all my life.
As far as the music itself is concerned, I found I could listen to virtually anything: Brahms, Copland, the Beatles, Oscar Peterson; my tastes were (and are) fairly eclectic.
You have not always been a Christian. What brought you to faith, and what led you to ordained ministry?
I was about 19, already beginning a career in music (no other career was ever on the radar screen), when I started having conversations with my friend Alan Torrance (now a distinguished theologian). He suggested to me that Christianity was basically good news, that it centered on a person and not on impossible ideals, and that behind it all was a hospitable God who actually wanted our company.
All this came as a bit of a surprise to me, lazy agnostic that I was. He introduced me to his theologian father, James, an extraordinary man, and I went to hear him lecture. I didn’t understand a word he said, but I knew he had something I didn’t have, and I wanted what he had.
After a few weeks, I found myself a Christian, grasped by the grace of God. Life instantly got much harder, but I’ve never looked back. I soon sensed a call to ordination, and after a degree in theology, served as a pastor in a Church of England parish in West London. And then, unexpectedly, I had a call from Cambridge to teach theology in a seminary there.
After a year or two I realized this was going to be my vocation as an ordained minister. I’ve been at Cambridge, teaching at Ridley Hall and in the University for 23 years, and loved it.
I’m basically a theologian who frequently works in the arts, not an artist who dabbles in theology. Nothing excites me more than helping people discover that the good news is a lot “gooder” than they thought.
To watch a video of Jeremy Begbie, visit Faith & Leadership, the magazine of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.