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Sep 26

Teaching theology through art

Posted on Saturday, September 26, 2009 in Pontifications

For my Systematic Theology class, we’re reading Christian Theology: An Introduction by Alister McGrath.  In a passage on some Trinitarian ideas that are difficult to understand and even more difficult to explain, he wrote the following:

“But how could these difficult ideas be expressed?  And, more importantly, how could they be communicated to ordinary Christians?

“One of the most influential answers was given by the great Methodist writer Charles Wesley (1707-88): through hymns.  For Wesley, hymns were not merely a means of praising God; they were an instrument of theological education.  In 1746, Wesley published a collection of 24 short hymns concerning the Trinity.  Individually and collectively, they manage to communicate and explain the two trinitarian notions we have just been considering without technical language or theological fuss.  Here, for example, is the concept of appropriation, applied to redemption:

“Father of Mankind be ever adorn’d;
They Mercy we find, In sending our Lord,
To ransom and bless us; Thy Goodness we praise,
For sending in Jesus, Salvation by Grace.

“O Son of His Love, Who deignest to die,
Our Curse to remove, Our Pardon to buy;
Accept our Thanksgiving, Almighty to save,
Who openest Heaven, To all that believe.

“O Spirit of Love, of Health, and of Power,
Thy working we prove; Thy Grace we adore,
Whose inward Revealing applies our Lord’s Blood,
Attesting and sealing us Children of God.”

Okay, so what Wesley did?  I want to do that with musical theatre.

Yes, I realize it’s not a direct comparison — after all hymns were already being used to praise God, while that’s not the intention of most musical theatre productions.  But I think musical theatre has incredible potential to communicate theological truth.

Twice now I’ve produced a musical revue pulling together songs from various musicals and highlighting their spiritual themes or pointing out spiritual applications of the songs.  However, I’ve been frustrated by the limitations of working with others’ material — there are spiritual truths I’d like to communicate for which there are no songs out there.

I’ve been impacted lately by listening to the cast recording of !Hero: The Rock Opera, a Christian-produced retelling of the Gospel story.  Despite its flaws (one of which is that they didn’t make it conducive to reproduction by others), it has helped me to envision some aspects of the Gospel in a new way (can you imagine being the one that Jesus saved from embarrassment by changing water into wine?).  Obviously there are several other Bible-based shows out there with varying degrees of orthodoxy — Godspell, Superstar, Joseph, Children of Eden, etc.  But there aren’t enough.

I think I want to do something about that.  What exactly, I’m not sure.  I’m not a composer or lyricist, so I may need to focus on some sort of producer role.  Hmmm…..

(This is what happens when I’m studying theology while one of the songs I’ve used in God on Broadway — “I’m Changing” from Dreamgirls — is playing in the background).

Sep 16

How to own a book

Posted on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 in Pontifications

I’m reading the classic How to Read a Book for my Theological Research Methods class and was struck by this passage:

“When you buy a book, you establish a property right in it, just as you do in clothes or furniture when you buy and pay for them.  But the act of purchase is actually only the prelude to possession in the case of a book.  Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it — which comes to the same thing — is by writing in it…

Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author.  Presumably he knows more about the subject than you do; if not, you probably should not be bothering with his book.  But understanding is a two-way operation; the learner has to question himself and question the teacher.  He even has to be willing to argue with the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying.  Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author.  It is the highest respect you can pay him.”

And this is where I refrain from mentioning that I almost never mark in books (I’m still startled every time I run across the one verse in my Bible I’ve underlined).  I guess it’s time to develop a new habit…

Sep 5

The quest for beauty

Posted on Saturday, September 5, 2009 in Pontifications

My theological studies have taken me away from doing much blogging, but every now and then they offer up a quote I need to pass on.  Such is this, coming by way of Alister McGrath’s Christian Theology: An Introduction, it is actually a quote from a C. S. Lewis sermon entitled “The Weight of Glory”:

“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.  These things — the beauty, the memory of our own past — are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.  For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have not visited.”