Things I'm working on these days
Since I get asked this question frequently enough, I thought I'd go ahead and mention a few of the things that I've been working on recently.
Worship, the Arts and Moral Formation
Two questions interest me about the kind of art that occurs in corporate worship.
1) How does such art not simply complement other functions of corporate worship--like illustrating sermons or decorating spaces--but enable a congregation to do something it could not otherwise do? That is, do the liturgical arts (for want of a pithier term) bring new things to the worship experience, without which the congregation might miss out on an essential opportunity for moral formation?
2) My second question assumes a positive answer to the first. What would be the conditions for a "successful" morally formative experience of art in corporate worship? Provisionally I find myself arguing that the liturgical arts serve not only to deepen our physical, affective and imaginative participation in corporate worship, they also serve to form virtue in us in their own way. That last phrase is key. Any kind argument I might develop further depends on a careful understanding of it.
John Calvin and Musical Instruments
Why exactly does Calvin situate instruments in the “dispensation of shadows and figures”? What grounds does he propose for this conclusion? What kinds of arguments does he make and does he remain consistent throughout?
On the encouragement of the professor who supervised my research, I will be seeking to publish my findings in an academic journal. I confess: it was a thrilling research experience.
Karl Barth on divine and human agency
One of the questions that continuingly vexes not only theologians but regular folk too, including artists, is, What does it mean to talk about human beings having a space "to be themselves"? The fear, and it is a very real one, is that we are merely pawns of the fates or puppets of an absolutely deterministic deity.
A key passage in Barth, among many, would be this one:
"The Ruler of world history is also the Creator who has given this particularity to the various creatures and creaturely groupings.... [God] is far too free not to be able to accept and joyfully to affirm [the human creature] in its particularity…. [Against all degenerative movement towards homogeneity, the work of God] has nothing whatever to do with a leveling down and flattening out of individuals and individual groupings…. To each of them He gives its own glory, its lasting worth, its definite value."
Not easy material, granted, but certainly worth devoting careful attention to, and it holds promise (or peril, depending on whom you ask) for the ways that we think about the artist's vocation.
Theological Aesthetics in the Catholic Tradition
Each spring Jeremy Begbie leads an independent study with his doctoral students. At the moment there are five of us. This spring our lusty group is working through a series of key Roman Catholic texts on theological aesthetics. Our goal is to investigate the way that they have influenced recent Catholic and Protestant writing on theology and the arts.
It's a tantalizing list of texts, but we'll need to bring our A game if we want to understand the not-for-the-faint-of-heart material well.
The Gospel of John, Holy Spirit and Materiality
“Last of all, aware that the physical facts [ta somatika] had been recorded in the Gospels, encouraged by his pupils and irresistibly moved by the Spirit, John wrote a spiritual Gospel.”
It will be obvious if you've read this blog for any length of time that I'm intensely curious about how, say, Pentecostals and Presbyterians, or high church and low church folk, build arguments for the inclusion or exclusion of the arts in corporate worship. If you observe long enough you begin to observe how, in a twist of John language, the Spirit is tossed about this way and that in people's declarations about pneumatology.
There is plenty of work ahead and it's quite fun to have on my hand a hypothesis whose outcome I cannot predict in advance. As always: something begets something. So we'll keep reading both broadly and deeply and see what we find. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to study these different ideas at length.
(First image at top of the page is of one of our Compline services at Hope Chapel. Kate Van Dyke's banners of St. Michael and St. Gabriel hang in the background. How I miss those services.)
And now for something different.