Friday, March 13, 2009

Jeremy Begbie, Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music

I’ve chosen this book because it’s a book I eagerly awaited and, when it was published at the beginning of 2008, it would be an understatement to say that it didn’t disappoint. I knew what to expect having read some of other Jeremy Begbie’s writing, and having heard him speak on a number of occasions.  He is an accomplished musician, a theologian of substance, and an excellent communicator, and the way in which he has brought music and theology together has sounded a deep resonances in me.

Jeremy is part of a movement which calls itself, ‘Theology Through The Arts’.  Theology of the arts asks what theology can bring to the arts. But theology through the arts asks what the arts can bring to theology: how can the arts help us think and re-think the gospel that we hear?  ‘Resounding Truth’ focuses especially upon music, an area which has been hugely neglected.

At the start the book he spends a fair bit of time bringing clarity to what music is, and in the process providing a hugely useful map of the current musical landscape.  He goes on to look at music in action in biblical times, before moving rapidly through church history, hitting on prominent thinkers in relation to music. A chapter on JS Bach leads into a chapter on three musical theologians, Schleiermacher, Bach and Bonhoeffer; and then two theological composers, Messiaen, and James MacMillan. There is superb material in these chapters, but the study expands in the next section of the book.

Jeremy Begbie puts forward ‘a Christian ecology’, ‘ecology’ in the sense of ‘a guiding framework’ but also in the sense of a doctrine of creation asking what kind of world does God create and relate to, and what might our role be in relation to the created world at large?  Having laid this foundation he asks this question: ‘Where might music find a place in the ecology sketched in the last chapter? In the purposes of a Triune Creator who has created and gathered up all things in Jesus Christ and now perfects all things by his Spirit – what can music contribute? In a world crafted out of freedom and love that praises God in its goodness but is never divine, a world made to flourish toward its end, a world of ordered openness and diverse unity – where do the sounds of singing and playing belong? And in the human vocation to focus and articulate creation’s praise, to discover, respect, develop, heal, anticipate, together – how might music play a part?’

I can’t do justice to the answer to these questions that he pursues and develops in the rest of the book, except to say that I’m still exploring them!  So, if this flicks your switches, go read! But in the meantime, try this nugget, ‘The church is the song of God – God’s “breathing out” of his own trinitarian polyphony.  It is the way the world hears the music at the heart of God and joins in.’

For me, this book is absolute gift, because it brings together the two worlds I know best. And I confess to frequently drawing on the creative thinking that I’ve found here and will continue to do so. Thank you Jeremy!

No comments: