Resonant Witness: Conversations between Music and Theology

By Doran, Carol | Pastoral Music, May 2012 | Go to article overview

Resonant Witness: Conversations between Music and Theology


Doran, Carol, Pastoral Music


Resonant Witness: Conversations between Music and Theology Jeremy S. Begbie and Steven R. Guthrie, editors. Eerdmans, 2011. ISBN: 978-08028-6277-8. 497 pages, paperback, $34.00.

Some years ago, a seminarian approached the professor following a music class to speak of the frustration his face already expressed. "This class would be more useful to us," he said, "if you would use theological language when you talk about music." To the student's ears and to the teacher's surprise, class discussions of music commentary by theologians such as Augustine, Luther, Barth, and Bonheoffer were understood as "music" not "theology." The student's first language was theology, but that language was unrecognized when it spoke about music; the music teacher's first language was music, so he sometimes didn't recognize its theological import. Each hoped that the other would recognize the value of an unfamiliar discipline and begin learning its new language.

Toward the close of the twentieth century, the door to another such crossdisciplinary collaboration opened as neurophysiologists began exploring ways the human mind understands and processes music. They moved beyond mere anecdotal testimony about the ways music seems to influence human emotions to publish valuable scientific evidence about the ways music actually affects the body and how the human brain understands sound. The commingled languages of science and music began to appear in popular articles and books about music, though the theological implications of this combined research have yet to be explored in any depth.

Beginning in 2002, a "Music and Theology Colloquium," chaired by Jeremy Begbie, was convened in Ely, Cambridgeshire (UK), to explore the hoped-for cross-fertilization of theology and music suggested by the first paragraph of this review. Its goal was "to demonstrate the fruitfulness of theology for music, and the fruitfulness of music for theology, with a view to encouraging sustained engagements between musicians and theologians in the future" (Resonant Witness, page 4).

This cross-disciplinary principle has guided the formation of Resonant Witness; all but four of the essays in this book were developed from two residential meetings of this colloquium. Each of the essay writers is introduced by a generous paragraph on pages 464-470.

The writing expresses the grace and hospitality of the project's goals. For example, care is often taken to attribute value to a variety of cultures, musical styles, roles, and the many life stages of those who participate in both theological and musical pursuits. There is a detailed, useful introduction to what "shapes and conditions" the use of the words "music" and "theology" in the essays of the book (pages 5-13), and a glossary of musical terms (pages 471-480) precedes the index (pages 481-497).

The seventeen essays in this book are varied, intriguing, surprising, amusing, and, above all, informative and challenging. Each of the four sections into which they have been grouped is introduced (pages.

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