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Nicholas Wolterstorff

Jamming with the Seraphim

Can we find models for theology in music?

Beholding the Glory:
Incarnation through the Arts

edited by Jeremy S. Begbie
Baker Books, 2000
160 pp.; $11.99, paperback

Everybody is aware of mutual recriminations between artists and the church. Members of the church criticize one and another piece of art as perverse, sacrilegious, destructive of faith and morals; last year's tirade by the mayor of New York against a painting of the Virgin in a display of contemporary British art at the Brooklyn Museum of Art is but one of many recent examples. And artists criticize the church as a threat to artistic freedom, as having no aesthetic taste, even as being hostile to the arts. Of course that last charge is ridiculous; name the congregation in which there is no music and no visual art! One may think it's pretty bad music and pretty bad visual art; but there it is, in abundance. And as to the other charges by artists against the church: surely they need to be qualified before they come even close to the truth. Some members of the church are a threat to some cases of artistic freedom, some members of the church are lacking in aesthetic taste. And on that last: Christians scarcely have a monopoly on poor taste.

There's a related complaint of which most people know little: a complaint against theology by people engaged with the arts. I mean, a complaint against Christian theology by Christians engaged with the arts. Christians already immersed in the arts read books or take courses in theology and find themselves in a different sphere from that with which they're familiar, one in which the arts they love are almost completely ignored. Some don't mind this shift in mentality; they happily put their love for the arts in cold storage while they immerse themselves in theology. Others feel so alienated that they want nothing more to do with theology. But there are some in whom the conviction arises that this is not how it has to be. Theology is missing out on something. Theology has always borrowed insights, concepts, and the ...

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