A Peculiar Orthodoxy

Reflections on Theology and the Arts

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About

World-renowned theologian Jeremy Begbie has been at the forefront of teaching and writing on theology and the arts for more than twenty years. Amid current debates and discussions on the topic, Begbie emphasizes the role of a biblically grounded creedal orthodoxy as he shows how Christian theology and the arts can enrich each other. He explains the importance of critically examining key terms, concepts, and thought patterns commonly employed in theology-arts discourse today, arguing that notions such as "beauty" and "sacrament" are too often adopted uncritically without due attention given to how an orientation to the Triune God's self-disclosure in Christ might lead us to reshape and invest these notions with fresh content. Throughout A Peculiar Orthodoxy, Begbie demonstrates the power of classic trinitarian faith to bring illumination, surprise, and delight whenever it engages with the arts.

Contents
Introduction
1. Created Beauty: The Witness of J. S. Bach
2. Beauty, Sentimentality, and the Arts
3. Faithful Feelings: Music and Emotion in Worship
4. Openness and Specificity: A Conversation with David Brown on Theology and Classical Music
5. Confidence and Anxiety in Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius
6. The Holy Spirit at Work in the Arts: Learning from George Herbert
7. Natural Theology and Music
8. Room of One's Own? Music, Space, and Freedom
9. The Future of Theology amid the Arts: Some Reformed Reflections
Index


Endorsements

"Any work by Jeremy Begbie is bound to bear instruction and delight, and this one is no exception. Thinkers and writers who give equally serious consideration to theology and the arts are rare birds indeed, so it is a pleasure to see Begbie take flight once more."

Alan Jacobs, Honors College, Baylor University

"Orthodoxy, yes, but not at all peculiar--unless it is peculiar for a person so steeped in orthodox trinitarian theology to be so richly acquainted with the arts, or peculiar for a person so richly acquainted with the arts to be so steeped in orthodox trinitarian theology. Only a person as learned and immersed as Begbie in both of these areas of human endeavor could spy the wide range of connections that he brings to light between theology and the arts, especially music, many of them connections I had never noticed, connections that I will want to think about for quite some time. Extraordinarily perceptive. And the range of reading brought into the discussion, with never-failing generosity of spirit, is amazing. This is state of the art!"

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Yale University; senior research fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia

"Jeremy Begbie sets a high standard for a theological engagement with the arts. In this book, he gives an eloquent account of that standard and formulates questions that anyone working in this field must confront."

Judith Wolfe, professor of philosophical theology, School of Divinity, St. Mary's College, University of St. Andrews

"Jeremy Begbie has long been proclaiming, and exemplifying, how good theology does not constrain artistic practice but sets it free. In this delightful and necessary book, he persuasively reveals that trinitarian thought remains a most attractive dancing partner for serious creative pursuits. As many artists today anxiously scan the dance floor for rival suitors, A Peculiar Orthodoxy will help them fall in love with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for the first time, or all over again."

Matthew J. Milliner, Wheaton College

"Jeremy Begbie has established himself at the forefront of serious Christian engagement with the arts. This selection of pieces bears eloquent witness to the fruitfulness of that engagement and demonstrates how it can be conducted in a way that combines intellectual rigor, constructive theological concern, and elegance of style."

Trevor Hart, University of St. Andrews

"Representing a substantive contribution to theological aesthetics, these essays involve a lively and richly suggestive exposition of the work of the Trinity in and through the arts. Here the reader is invited to encounter the Triune God afresh--and to be inspired with affection for such a God. From start to finish, this book is a feast for the heart and mind."

W. David O. Taylor, Fuller Theological Seminary


The Author

  1. Jeremy S. Begbie

    Jeremy S. Begbie

    Jeremy S. Begbie (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is Thomas A. Langford Distinguished Professor of Theology at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. He previously served as honorary professor of theology at the University of St. Andrews; associate...

    Continue reading about Jeremy S. Begbie

Reviews

"Recent decades . . . show a reawakening of interest in robust dialogue between theology and the arts, from theological perspectives on the arts to exploring theological ideas through the arts. Jeremy Begbie . . . has been one of the leading voices in this dialogue for over 25 years. . . . Begbie's clearly structured arguments draw on a vast body of literature in a wide range of disciplines. Readers will benefit from deep engagement with each of the chapters. . . . While I would not recommend this book as a reader's first foray into Begbie's work, it is a significant complement to his other writings and a beneficial resource for a wide range of topics."

Mark A. Peters,

Christian Century

"The gifts of this volume are manifold. . . . First, it gives an account of theology and the arts that drives us deeper into the scriptural witness of the central mysteries of Christianity, namely the Trinity and the Incarnation. The work persuasively demonstrates how a robust commitment to this 'peculiar orthodoxy' allows us to sound the depths of human creativity as it, in turn, bears witness to the gospel. Second, it discloses the ways Christianity's peculiar orthodoxy resoundingly responds to the deep suspicion in the postmodern milieu that any 'orthodoxy' is a foreclosing totalitarianism that restricts human freedom. Third, as a model of theological writing, A Peculiar Orthodoxy is a careful work of faithful thinking that bears witness to the 'language renewing' and reason-transforming event that is Jesus Christ. . . . The precision and care of Begbie's own language is theological writing at its best. In the years of thought embodied in A Peculiar Orthodoxy, Jeremy Begbie has pioneered a path for an exploration of the arts that is abidingly faithful to the peculiar witness of Scripture."

Danielle Davey Stulac,

Englewood Review of Books

"Begbie laments that too little in the arts-theology conversation draws on Scripture or finds inspiration in biblical orthodoxy. . . . Begbie models--in a diverse array of standalone essays--the sort of direct, unembarrassed engagement with this 'peculiar orthodoxy' that is lacking in much theological writing about the arts. . . . It's refreshing to see Begbie--a towering figure in the arts-and-theology world--not only call out the laziness of so much Christian writing about the arts but also elegantly model the alternative: rigorously Christocentric conversations between art and theology, in a way that enhances both. . . . A Peculiar Orthodoxy has much to offer anyone interested in the arts and theology."

Brett McCracken,

The Gospel Coalition

"The book serves wonderfully as an introduction to several different aspects of theological interactions with the arts (or perhaps more accurately, artistic interactions with theology) without burdening a neophyte reader in the subject with extended argumentation. . . . Begbie's writing is clear and engaging, but the aspect of his writing that is most appreciated is the way in which the historic orthodoxy of the Christian faith, and especially the content of the Scriptures, provides boundaries for the appreciation and analysis of artistic creations. . . . Begbie demonstrates not only great skill in guiding others through the world of interactions between theology and the arts, he also demonstrates a willingness to be, first of all, an orthodox Christian in the world of art. . . . Many may benefit from this book, and if artists embody Begbie's approach to the arts, the world will benefit."

George Scondras,

Southern Baptist Journal of Theology

"A Peculiar Orthodoxy provides a refreshing understanding of the relationship of beauty, art, and theology that doesn't devolve into either sentimental gloss or dogmatic suppression. Begbie defends art from suspicious theologies and theology from idealistic art. This is a well-researched, carefully argued book that will likely play a role in Reformed discussions of art and beauty for years to come."

David Beadle,

Living Church

"A celebrated artist and theologian, and perhaps the leading scholar in the intersection of theology and the arts, Begbie asserts that orthodox theology--particularly trinitarian theology--can be applied in peculiar ways in the arts, lending itself to a unique and beautiful expression of faith. . . . For those interested in reaching to the edges of current thought in theological aesthetics, this is the book for you. Begbie's careful, elegant style is as imaginative and evocative as his artistic vision. This book does not merely introduce theology and the arts; it applies it to real, pressing situations in the church."

Leitourgia

"Remarkable [and] substantive. . .  [A] splendid, serious, major [contribution] towards a Christian view of aesthetics and the arts."

Byron Borger,

Hearts and Minds Books

"Jeremy Begbie is a joy to read. . . . Pastors and professors should engage with Begbie's work, inviting their congregations and classrooms into conversations around the 'peculiar orthodoxy' Begbie finds through the theology of the arts. . . . Begbie's intellect is impressive. His exemplary style of interdisciplinary theology is notable. But his ability to provoke worship leaders beyond the generalities and cliches of worship into the profundity of it all is the true gift of this book."

Zen Hess,

Theology Forum blog


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