Part III: Begbie on Re-Sounding God’s Truth in the World of Music

[This is the concluding post for this series:  click on the links for Part I and Part II].

Lastly, turning to a section entitled, “Anticipating,” (chapter 10), I highlight some of the more constructive ways in which Christians might re-sound God’s truth.  Having just discussed how the cross of Christ alone is able to meet three very legitimate postmodern suspicions-escapisms of various flavors, a naïve optimism in human nature, and violent domination-Begbie helps us to see how music can express and embody an already-not-yet, authentic Christian hope.  The hope that Begbie envisages is decidedly not a future only, other-worldly nay-saying hope, but hope “of a future tasted now:  the remaking of this world and of our own humanity, previewed in the raising of Jesus from the dead, and to be enjoyed now through the Spirit” (263).  Following the lead of Russian theologians such as Berdyaev and Bulgakov, Begbie contends that the arts possess the ability to make manifest a proleptic taste of a fully redeemed, re-created cosmos.  Here the picture is not of music transporting us to a world wholly unrelated to our present world, but of music functioning iconic-ly, enabling us to experience now something of the beauty and harmony of the new creation.  There are of course countless possibilities as to how music might grant us such a foretaste.  The very structure of a piece is, for example, one such possibility.  As Begbie explains, “[t]he phenomenon of a future anticipated can also sometimes be found in the way a piece is structured, creating a sort of parable in sound of Christian hope-as when, for example, an ending comes ‘too soon'” (266).  Just as Jesus’s resurrection is a proleptic picture of the final resurrection of God’s people at the end of the present age (wherein the future irrupts into the present), so too music can reflect this “ending-in-the-middle” aspect of the Christian narrative.   For example, in the third movement of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony no. 41 in C major, we find a “perfect cadence,” which is typically a signal for closure, after the end of the minuet section (266).  However, the piece continues and the presumed ending functions as a transition to something new, to the trio section.   By structuring his piece with a surprise perfect cadence, whose ending turns out to be a new beginning, Mozart communicates the basis of an authentic, Christian hope:  “[t]he resurrection of Jesus is the ending, but found in the midst of history, generating a new beginning” (267).

In sum, my overall impression of Begbie’s book is extremely positive, and I highly recommend his book to anyone interested in engaging theology and music in a refreshing, imaginative way.  Although one might have hoped for more space given to non-Western music, Begbie shows sensitivity to such concerns and is careful not to exalt Western tonal music as the standard for Christian music or music in general.   Begbie has helped us to see the fruitfulness of bringing music into conversation with theology, and we are thankful for his fresh reflections, which have, no doubt, stirred our imaginations “by setting every aspect of music in the context of the breathtaking vision of reality opened up by the gospel of Jesus Christ” (308).

7 thoughts on “Part III: Begbie on Re-Sounding God’s Truth in the World of Music”

  1. Dear Ms Nielson,

    I am an new reader to your blog, but am thoroughly enjoying my visits here. I am working toward my MA in Theology from Briercrest College and Seminary in Saskatchewan Canada and am working on a project on Arvo Part. I would very much like to read the article you wrote on his music, but it no longer appears on your website.

    Carol Heynen

  2. Cynthia,

    Thanks for responding so quickly! I actually can only see the title of your post, but the actual text does not appear.


  3. Thanks a lot for the helpful review of Begbie’s book. I enjoyed your posts very much.

    BTW, Begbie’s presentation at a recent Wheaton College Theology Conference was truly outstanding and inspiring. The guy has a great sense of humor.

    In any case, thanks for a wonderful blog. Plan to peruse it on a regular basis.

    Ante J.

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