RESOUNDING TRUTH by Jeremy Begbie
In The Invention of Art, Larry Shiner walks his reader through a history of the so-called “Modern System of Fine Arts” from its inception in the 18th century to the present, ending at a difficult place: The view of the arts we take for granted is a relatively recent cultural paradigm that has outlived its usefulness. Shiner pronounces the system dead, notes that we cannot simply back up to a pre-modern perspective, and concludes the tour wondering what the solution will be.
Jeremy Begbie’s Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music (Baker Academic, 2007) points toward an answer. A theologian, philosopher, ordained minister, and accomplished pianist, Begbie has been thinking through theology and the arts for some time, first with Voicing Creation’s Praise and then Music, Theology and Time. In Resounding Truth, his gift for lucid, engaging communication provides readers with a remarkably even-handed, circumspect exploration of Christian theology and attitudes about music. In so doing, he offers a substantial and practical perspective from which to respond to Shiner’s implicit invitation. Begbie begins with a brief assessment of common cultural attitudes and misconceptions about music, with particular attention to Christians. He follows this with a focused survey of ideas about music from biblical times forward, taking time to compare and contrast the musical concerns and attitudes of influential church figures such as Luther and Calvin.Alongside this, he steps into the thinking of composers from Johann Sebastian Bach to Olivier Messiaen and James MacMillan—composers who put their Christian perspectives into musical practice. Throughout the exploration, Begbie treats his subjects and their ideas with gracious respect, giving each room to be heard and considered. As he opens the door widely to Christian wisdom, Begbie challenges readers to think through their own views.
Resounding Truth is astonishing in its ease and clarity. Its warm, open tone belies the breadth and depth of its scholarly foundations (explanatory endnotes supply a wealth of resources for further exploration and study). Even those interested in other art forms will find Begbie’s careful treatment of the world of music ripe with perspective on the arts as a whole, and will come away with a renewed and expanded vision of what the arts could be. In an era marked by the uncertain drift of cultural globalization and fragmentation, the world of the arts desperately needs Christian wisdom. We can greatly benefit from the insight Begbie’s book provides as we consider how to rethink the arts and “sing a new song unto the Lord.”