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Music, Modernity, and God: Essays in Listening
Music, Modernity, and God: Essays in Listening
Jeremy Begbie
Oxford University Press, 2014
272 pp., $55.00

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Mark Peters


Music Therapy for Theologians

Jeremy Begbie’s “essays in listening.”

The man who has many answers
is often found
in the theaters of information
where he offers, graciously,
his deep findings.
While the man who has only questions,
to comfort himself, makes music.

In this brief poem from her 2012 collection A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver makes room for our doubts and questions and uncertainties, things not generally welcomed in "theaters of information" such as government or news media or the university. Such doubts and questions have likewise been suspect in the Christian church, despite the biblical record filled with such inquisitive, sometimes even doubtful, persons as Moses and Gideon, David and Jeremiah, Mary and Nathanael, just to name a few.

So what can we do if we have questions about theology? Mary Oliver's answer: make music. Jeremy Begbie agrees. In Music, Modernity, and God: Essays in Listening, Begbie invites those of us who have questions about the modern world—and particularly questions theological in their nature—to turn to music and really listen to it. Yes, listen to music itself, and also listen for the ways music has embodied our questions—about God, nature, humanity, technology, and more—and sought to answer them. This is not an escapist listening, but rather a listening to enter into a deeper understanding of God, the creation, and humanity.

Begbie broadens the scope of our thinking about the intersections of music and theology by asking not only "What can music learn from theology?" but also "What can theology learn from music?" His primary audience is theologians, not musicologists, though the book should be read by musicologists, too, as well as anyone else interested in the interrelationships of music and theology. Begbie summarizes his project thus:

How might an engagement with music, and discourse about music, contribute to the formation of theological language, and to a more faithful, enriching, and fruitful "inhabiting" ...

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