God and Modernity: A New and Better Way To Do Theology
Review "Begbie effectively and thoroughly examines the natures of both verbal and doctrinal languages that communicate and miscommunicate. Begbie argues that music is capable of yielding highly effective ways of addressing and moving beyond some of the more intractable theological problems and dilemmas which modernity has bequeathed to us. A Journal of Bible and Theology. Related Video Shorts 0 Upload your video. Share your thoughts with other customers. Write a customer review. There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Kindle Edition Verified Purchase. I greatly enjoyed this book. Begbie is quickly becoming one of my go-to scholars concerning the intersection of music and theology. He is also one of the few making an argument that music itself can contribute to theological conversations and actually help further it.
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That said, be forewarned that this is definitely on the scholarly level of reading - not a quick or easy read. I absolutely love Begbie's continual insistence of footnotes as opposed to endnotes , and also just highly recommend his books. I have included my chapter thoughts below for anyone who is curious on what he discusses throughout the book. Begbie starts his engagement with modernity and music with an exploration of Calvin's theological formulations in regards to music.
The most insightful aspect of this chapter, in my opinion, is how he explores the idea that, while Calvin's articulations about music seem to be very restrictive, how those restrictions were practiced and carried out--even under the supervision of Calvin in the Genevan Psalter--reflected a deeper and broader understanding and appreciation for music and its natural 'order' in creation.
This, in some ways, draws out connections with Luther's more fully developed theology of music. Fascinatingly, Begbie's quick detour to compare Luther's views with Calvin's merely strengthens Begbie's point that Calvin's view and treatment of music are a result not merely of his own scriptural study and reflection, but also the humanist worldview and approach to music which had come to the forefront in Calvin's time.
Luther, on the other hand, seemed to hold a much more 'classic' appreciation for music, specifically in how it was situated much more explicitly in God's action in creation, almost as if music itself were something God created himself, and, in that, music reflects something of the nature and being of God which cannot quite be articulated. Begbie also seems to have laid a solid foundation for engaging with enlightenment and post-enlightenment approaches to music by starting with Calvin.
One possible reason for this is how Calvin seemed to so thoroughly deviate from what was, up to that point, the tradition of the church in how it approached and understood music. Yet, even in his difference, Calvin displayed a depth of understanding and an even cosmic-level appreciation for music.
In his third chapter Begbie approaches the music of Bach and engages two different scholars who have attempted to deal with Bach's music theologically, Butt and Berger. Berger seems a little light on theology in general or at least his articulation of it , and while Butt has some solid observations and insights, he seems to assume a specific model of time and eternity which are not quite consonant with where Bach was when he composed. All in all, an excellent chapter engaging Bach and there are a ton of pretty solid points concerning Bach and his non-linear and circular concept of time, which he seemed to have utilized or illustrated in his music.
The fourth chapter dives into the debate of natural theology of music, specifically working Rameau and Rousseau against each other. Begbie does continue to build off some of the understandings of Bach's music established int he previous chapter. He also connects Bach's work to two other composrs he explored a little more deeply in Music, Theology, and Time--Boulez and Cage. These took two totally different approaches to music composition--one going for complete adherence to 'rules' he created for composition, the other striving to let music spontaneously be what it is--and yet their resulting works sounded surprisingly similar.
In the end, Begbie does not seem to have much of a determinative verdict, merely that Natural Theology seems to have some areas where it can validly contribute to the conversation concerning theology and music. As an interesting change, Begbie's fifth chapter emphasizes not Bach but Beethoven. He starts off by noting an early but significant work by E. Hoffman analyzing and reviewing Beethoven. Begbie also considers and alludes to some of Kant's philosophizing about music. Yet he spends most of his time interacting with Andrew Bowie, in some places embracing Bowie's observations and in the end also heavily critiquing Bowie's rejection of theology.
One of the more fascinating themes which Begbie is chasing down throughout the chapter is the idea that the conceptual foundation of language is something similar yet non-articulate.
Begbie seems to be pointing towards music as that which illumines the inarticulate part of communication. Throughout the chapter the theme of music representing and embodying some greater order or reflecting some deeper truth about reality. Begbie is working at it from some different angles, which enable him to articulate it in essentially trinitarian language at the end of the chapter, specifically noting the reality of the Word become flesh, dwelling among man Essentially Begbie is arguing, as he has elsewhere, that music offers a way of thinking and knowing and understanding which is intrinsically different from the most common sort of reasoning people engage in: In this chapter he barely touches on the temporal side of the revelations possible via music, but he soundly argues for 'interpenetrative' reality of music and chords as highlighted by Zuckerkandl.
Begbie also does a good job of pointing towards the areas which such 'audible' conceptions can have huge implications trinitarian, communal, Christological, etc. The thesis will also consider the foundation upon which these eras are built and see what they have in common and what sets them apart.
The eras have humanism in common, but conformism or standardization and pluralism separate them. Through the dualism of Greek philosophy and the fall story of the Old Testament, I will show the origins of conformism and pluralism and propose a path to overcome them. I will discuss how, as Christianity comes across Greek dualism, the field of practical theology and theological practice has trended toward prioritizing theoria over praxis.
In the tradition of Hebrew beliefs and the good news of Jesus Christ, practice and life are one, and I will emphasize that if one was to be prioritized, it should be practice. Therefore, it seems probable to me that new forms of the Marxist conception of the world will appear in the future. For the moment, we cannot be but perplexed: Relativism has thus become the central problem for the faith at the present time. No doubt it is not presented only with its aspect of resignation before the immensity of the truth.
It is also presented as a position defined positively by the concepts of tolerance and knowledge through dialogue and freedom, concepts which would be limited if the existence of one valid truth for all were affirmed. In turn, relativism appears to be the philosophical foundation of democracy. Democracy in fact is supposedly built on the basis that no one can presume to know the true way, and it is enriched by the fact that all roads are mutually recognized as fragments of the effort toward that which is better. Therefore, all roads seek something common in dialogue, and they also compete regarding knowledge that cannot be compatible in one common form.
A system of freedom ought to be essentially a system of positions that are connected with one another because they are relative, as well as being dependent on historical situations open to new developments. Therefore, a liberal society would be a relativist society: In the area of politics, this concept is considerably right. There is no one correct political opinion. What is relative — the building up of liberally ordained coexistence between people — cannot be something absolute.
Thinking in this way was precisely the error of Marxism and the political theologies. However, with total relativism, everything in the political area cannot be achieved either. There are injustices that will never turn into just things such as, for example, killing an innocent person, denying an individual or groups the right to their dignity or to life corresponding to that dignity while, on the other hand, there are just things that can never be unjust.
Therefore, although a certain right to relativism in the social and political area should not be denied, the problem is raised at the moment of setting its limits. There has also been the desire to apply this method, in a totally conscious way, in the area of religion and ethics. I will now try to briefly outline the developments that define the theological dialogue today on this point. Nonetheless, only now has it come to the center of the Christian conscience. Moreover, it joins in many ways with it and tries to give it a new, updated form. Its means and methods are very varied, therefore, it is not possible to synthesize it into one short formula or present its essential characteristics briefly.
On the one hand, relativism is a typical offshoot of the Western world and its forms of philosophical thought while, on the other, it is connected with the philosophical and religious intuitions of Asia, especially, and surprisingly, with those of the Indian subcontinent. Contact between these two worlds gives it a particular impulse at the present historical moment. The situation can be clearly seen in one of its founders and eminent representatives, the American Presbyterian J. His philosophical departure point is found in the Kantian distinction between phenomenon and noumenon: What we grasp is not really and properly reality in itself, but a reflection on our scale.
At first, Hick tried to formulate this concept in a Christ-centered context. Jesus is consciously relativized as one religious leader among others.
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The Absolute cannot come into history, but only models and ideal forms that remind us about what can never be grasped as such in history. Therefore, concepts such as the Church, dogma, and sacraments must lose their unconditional character. To make an absolute of such limited forms of mediation or, even more, to consider them real encounters with the universally valid truth of God who reveals himself would be the same as elevating oneself to the category of the Absolute, thereby losing the infiniteness of the totally other God.
From this point of view, which is not only present in the works of Hick, but also in other authors, affirming that there is a binding and valid truth in history in the figure of Jesus Christ and in the faith of the Church is described as fundamentalism. Such fundamentalism, which constitutes the real attack on the spirit of modernity, is presented in different ways as the fundamental threat emerging against the supreme good of modernity: On the other hand, the notion of dialogue — which has maintained a position of significant importance in the Platonic and Christian tradition — changes meaning and becomes both the quintessence of the relativist creed and the antithesis of conversion and mission.
Only if I suppose in principle that the other can be as right, or more right than I, can an authentic dialogue take place. According to this concept, dialogue must be an exchange between positions which have fundamentally the same rank and, therefore, are mutually relative. Only in this way will the maximum cooperation and integration between the different religions be achieved. For the latter, the divine can never enter unveiled into the world of appearances in which we live; it always manifests itself in relative reflections and remains beyond all words and notions, in an absolute transcendency.
Nonetheless, they seem to mutually confirm one another in their metaphysical and religious relativism. The a-religious and pragmatic relativism of Europe and America can get a kind of religious consecration from India which seems to give its renunciation of dogma the dignity of a greater respect before the mystery of God and of man. In turn, the support of European and American thought to the philosophical and theological vision of India reinforces the relativism of all the religious forms proper to the Indian heritage. In this way, it also seems necessary for Christian theology in India to set aside the image of Christ from its exclusive position — which is considered typically Western — in order to place it on the same level as the Indian salvation myths.
The historical Jesus — it is now thought — is no more the absolute Logos than any other saving figure of history. Under the sign of the encounter of cultures, relativism appears to be the real philosophy of humanity. As we pointed out earlier, this fact, both in the East and in the West, visibly gives it a strength before which it seems that there is no room for any resistance.
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Knitter, tried to overcome the void of a theory of religion reduced to the categorical imperative by means of a new synthesis between Asia and Europe that should be more concrete and internally enriched. Interreligious dialogue must be simplified radically and become practically effective, by basing it on only one principle: However, whereas Marxism makes only what comes logically from renouncing metaphysics concrete — when knowledge is impossible, only action is left — Knitter affirms: Where do I find a just action if I cannot know what is just in an absolute way?
The failure of the communist regimes is due precisely to the fact that they tried to change the world without knowing what is good and what is not good for the world, without knowing in what direction the world must be changed in order to make it better. Mere praxis is not light. This is the moment for a critical examination of the notion of orthopraxis. The previous history of religion had shown that the religions of India did not have an orthodoxy in general, but rather an orthopraxis.
From there the notion probably entered into modern theology. However, in the description of the religions of India, this had a very precise meaning: In those religions, a believer is not recognized by certain knowledge but by the scrupulous observance of a ritual which embraces the whole of life. The meaning of orthopraxis, i. To be orthodox thus meant to know and practice the right way in which God wants to be glorified.
It refers to the cult and, based on the cult, to life. In this sense, here there would be a solid point for a fruitful dialogue between East and West. No one thinks any longer about following a ritual. The word has taken on a new meaning which has nothing to do with the authentic Indian concept. To tell the truth, something does remain from it: If the ritual meaning which was given to it in Asia is excluded, then praxis can only be understood as ethics or politics.
This is no doubt excluded in the relativist, ethical discussion since there is no longer anything good or evil in itself. However, if orthopraxis is understood in a social and political sense, it again raises the question regarding the nature of correct political action. The theologies of liberation, animated by the conviction that Marxism clearly points out to us what good political praxis is, could use the notion of orthopraxis in its proper sense.
To this extent, the Marxist theologies of liberation were, in their own way, logical and consistent. As we can see, however, this kind of orthopraxis rests on a certain orthodoxy — in the modern sense: Knitter is close to this principle when he affirms that the criterion for differentiating orthopraxis from pseudo-praxis is freedom.
Nonetheless, something is clear: Actually, it is a fact that in Asia concepts of the theology of liberation are also proposed today as forms of Christianity which are presumably more suitable to the Asian spirit, and they place the nucleus of religious action in the political sphere. When mystery no longer counts, politics must be converted into religion.