Contemporary Readings in Theology and the Arts

"What are you thinking about?" (Chicago, June 13, 2013)

The texts I include below are key texts which my doctoral friends and I read this past term. While Jeremy Begbie supervised our sessions, in stimulating fashion as always, each student took the lead to pull together a list and to present a summary of ideas and questions. It was a fantastic seminar.

Let me offer, though, a big fat caveat to this list.

When I say that these are key texts, I do not mean that they are the best or the most important texts. Nor do I mean that they are representative of a broad consensus across the academy. I mean rather that they represent significant theological initiatives within various ecclesial communities, and in some cases, significant theological implications for all of us in the business of the arts, whatever capacity that might be. It also bears mentioning, perhaps obviously, that we used the term “contemporary” very loosely. The fact remains that the field is fledgling and as such the resources are relatively meager.

While we scoured the field to find the best resources in our respective arenas of research, our categories remained idiosyncratic.  They represent still what the six of us in the room find interesting. 

We postponed to a future date readings in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions (except for a handful) as well as Liberal Protestantism, which, altogether, represents a chunky omission. We focused on poetry instead of literature, because the former seemed more “needy” as it were than the latter. We neglected altogether the disciplines of dance, theater, film, visual art, the electronic arts, the food arts, and every sort of hybrid art. If Bo Helmich, our forerunner in the program, had been around, we would have engaged contemporary readings on beauty. As it stood, we made the best of our limited interests under our limited class time.

A last limitation of our list is this. 

It restricts itself to academicky books, which intentionally or not presumes that theology properly happens in formal, academic settings, when the fact is that theology happens just as often in blogs, in church bulletins, at the coffee breaks, in conference plenary talks, in popular books, in online magazines and in the songs that actual congregations actually sing because they’ve written by a respective member, and in any number of common practices of Christian communities. Needless to say, it’s tricky business attempting to track down theological ideas when you venture beyond the controlled premises of academic publications.

If you wish to find out what else is being written these days, check out Transpositions’ book reviews. They’re doing a fabulous job keeping us up to speed on a wide range of publications. Or see Duke's Initiatives for Theology and the Arts for another fine list of reviews. Or also Matt Milliner's occasional reviews. (Please let me know if there are other good lists floating in the interweb.)

That being said, I offer this list, in neither logical nor alphabetical order, in the hope that it will not only further but deepen the conversation about which many of us care deeply. Oh, and one more thing. No, we didn't read all these books cover to cover. We're not that good.

Theology and the Liturgical Arts

1. Bruce Ellis Benson, Liturgy as a Way of Life: Embodying the Arts in Christian Worship (2013).
2. James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (2012).
3. The Message in the Music: Studying Contemporary Praise and Worship, edited by Robert Woods and Brian Walrath (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007).
4. Teresa Berger, “The Essence of Doxological Speech and Its Relationship to Theological Reflection,” in Theology in Hymns? A Study of the Relationship of Doxology and Theology According to A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists (1780), translated by Timothy E. Kimbrough (1995).
5. Jeremy S. Begbie and Steven R. Guthrie, eds., Resonant Witness: Conversations Between Music and Theology (2011).
6. William A. Dyrness, Poetic Theology: God and the Poetics of Everyday Life (2010).
7. Charles E. Farhadian, ed., Christian Worship Worldwide: Expanding Horizons, Deepening Practices (2007).
8. Steven Guthrie, Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human (2011).
9. Charlotte Y. Kroeker, ed., Music in Christian Worship: At the Service of the Liturgy.
10. Nicholas Wolterstorff, every one of his art-related essays in Hearing the Call: Liturgy, Justice, Church, and World (2011), compiled by Mark Gornik and Gregory Thompson.

Theology and the Built Environment

1. Timothy J. Goringe, The Common Good and the Global Emergency: God and the Built Environment (2011).
2. Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry (2003).
3. Philip Bess, Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism and the Sacred (2006).
4. Ellen F. Davis, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible (2008).
5. Edward Casey, Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World (2009).

Theology and the Arts in the Reformed Tradition

1. William Dyrness, “Seeing the Word: Aspects of the Visual Culture of the Reformation” in Faithful Performances: Enacting Christian Tradition, edited by Trevor A. Hart and Steven R. Guthrie (2007).
2. Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Why Philosophy of Art Cannot Handle Kissing, Touching, and Crying,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 61, No. 1. (Winter, 2003), pp. 17-27.
3. John W. de Gruchy, “Holy Beauty: A Reformed Perspective on Aesthetics within a World of Unjust Ugliness” (online essay: 2001).
4. Jeremy Begbie, “Music, Word, and Theology Today: Learning from John Calvin” in Theology in Dialogue: The Impact of the Arts, Humanities and Science on Contemporary Religious Thought, Festschrift for John de Gruchy, edited by Lyn Holness and Ralf WΓΌstenberg (2002).
5. Jeremy Begbie, “The Future of Theology amid the Arts: Some Reformed Reflections” in Christ Across the Disciplines: Past, Present, Future (Eerdmans: forthcoming).

Theology and Poetry

1. Patrick D. Miller’s "Poetry and Theology." Theology Today 52, no. 3 (October 1, 1995): 309-312.
2. Jeffrey, David L. and Gregory Maillet, Christianity and Literature: Philosophical Foundations and Critical Practice (2011).
3. David C. Mahan, An Unexpected Light: Theology and Witness in the Poetry and Thought of Charles Williams, Micheal O'Siadhail, and Geoffrey Hill (2009).
4. S. T. Kimbrough, Jr., “Lyrical Theology: Theology in Hymns,” Theology Today 63 (2006): 22-37.
5. Brian Wren, “‘Echoes of the Gospel’:  How Hymns Do Theology,” Praying Twice: The Music and Words of Congregational Song (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009).
6. Baker, Anthony D. "Our grass-stained wings: an essay on poetry and theology," Anglican Theological Review 94, no. 3 (June 1, 2012): 507-516.
7. Martin, Paul. "Poetry as theology: an Orthodox perspective." Greek Orthodox Theological Review 52, no. 1-4 (March 1, 2007): 145-195.
8. Malcolm Guite, Faith, Hope and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination (2012).

Theology and the Arts and Natural Theology

1. Keith Johnson, “Natural Revelation in Creation and Covenant” (unpublished essay).
2. Keith Johnson, “When Nature Presupposes Grace” Pro Ecclesia 20:3 (2011).
3. Anthony Monti, A Natural Theology of the Arts: Imprint of the Spirit (2003).
4. Jeremy Begbie, “Natural Theology and Music” and “The Nature of Music: Rameau, Rousseau and ‘Natural Theology” in The Oxford Handbook of Natural Theology (2013).
5. Frank Burch Brown, “Aesthetics and the Arts in Relation to Natural Theology” The Oxford Handbook of Natural Theology (2013).
6. David Fergusson, “Types of Natural Theology” (online).

"I've got Jesus on my mind" (Chicago Temple, June 13, 2013)

"Three pitchforks and four discomfited people" (The Art Institute of Chicago, June 13, 2013)


You actually have had opportunity to read all of those? Like, recently?

Dang, I need to become a student again . . .
Paul: to reiterate what I mention before the list, we did not read every bit of every book. But it is a doctoral program and that means we do in fact read a lot; and there's a lot more out there, I'm afraid.
Yeah, I noticed that later in the day when I was able to go back to the post. Disregarding my own pet peeve of reading things too quickly; product of my environment I suppose. Regardless . . .

. . . my own humble library is gathering dust. I did read something recently though suggesting that quality is more important than quantity in reading as well, to paraphrase something I believe in general about life, which alleviates a little of the sense of loss :-p
ceciliabrie said…
Apparently we need some more women in this field??!...or perhaps a better way to capture/include the contribution of women to the field?
Brie: trust me when I say, "I know, I know." We have three stellar women in the program studying with Jeremy, and there are a score of others out and about making significant contributions to the field. Eventually, their writings will see the light of day and hopefully be widely read.
Brewer said…
David, thanks for the Transpositions Book Reviews shout-out. I'm happy to say that I've passed the baton to my colleague Denny Kinlaw whose interests include American Literature and the intersection of literary theory and theology in the work of David Foster Wallace. I'm excited to see where he takes things.

And regarding Theology and the Arts and Natural Theology, we've just announced our Imaginative Natural Theology Symposium with contributions from Philip Tallon, Hans Boersma and Russell Re Manning – I've included a number of what I take to be the key texts in this conversation in FN9. Cheers, CB
Good to hear that, Chris. Well done.

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