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By Sarah Ashley Sheaffer
On Friday, February 11, 2011 approximately eighty people gathered at Wake Forest Baptist Church for the lecture, "The Sound of Freedom: Music of Liberation" presented by Dr. Jeremy Begbie. Center Director, Dr. Bruce Little opened the lecture by welcoming those in attendance and providing introductory comments about Dr. Begbie and his work. Dr. Little concluded his introductory comments by reading from John 8:31-41 which provided the foundation for Dr. Begbie's lecture on music and freedom.
Dr. Begbie began by establishing the inadequacies of visual representations of theological concepts relating to God, humanity, and freedom. Using the Trinity as his prime example, he bolstered his claim that musical harmony offers explanatory power for certain theological realities that visual images simply cannot. Dr. Begbie continued by proposing that sound perceptions of interpenetration and sympathetic resonance provide a far more satisfactory analog to the concept of freedom within the triune Godhead, between God and the world, between God and humanity, and between people. Dr. Begbie went on to substantiate his claim through various visual aids, piano demonstrations and other apropos sound bytes. The lecture concluded with Dr. Begbie's final thoughts on freedom and how the understanding of it derived from musical concepts applies to the life of the church today.
Following the lecture, Dr. Little moderated a brief time of question and answer between Dr. Begbie and lecture attendees. Those who asked questions inquired about various topics including divine sovereignty and human freedom, the analogical value of music in a relativistic system of thought, and the application of Dr. Begbie's research findings to ministry in the local church.
Dr. Little concluded the evening with closing comments.
Student musings on Dr. Begbie's lecture...
Dr. Begbie did a wonderful job of wedding together fine arts with theology. As a Christian and an accomplished musician, he opened the ears of his audience and challenged them to think deeply about theology while allowing music to assist with its understanding. The purpose of the lecture was to show that music could serve as a unique illustration of tenets of the Christian faith that can sometimes be difficult to understand.
The lecture opened with a brief description of how visual illustrations can break down in their attempt to explain things in theology. Dr. Begbie used the Trinity as an example of this. A picture can often describe the Trinity, while never fully describing how the three natures of the Trinity work together. Musical notes however, can interpenetrate each other symbolizing the Trinity while preserving their distinct tones representing the Father, Son, and Spirit. Dr. Begbie pointed out that in a cord, just like the Trinity, the lower note sets off the higher note, while the higher note enriches the lower note.
Dr. Begbie’s use of musical notes and the Trinity was also an illustration of freedom and God. He points out that the world would tell a Christian that true freedom cannot be experienced in God. The more God is involved in their lives, the more He restricts them. However, to the Christian, God is freedom. He has saved and redeemed his children, and they are truly free. Freedom is not simply the absence of constraint, as the world would tell Christians. The world would argue that two things could not be in the same place at the same time—meaning that a Christian cannot follow God and experience freedom. Dr. Begbie would suggest that the example of the notes of a chord could help demonstrate this. The combination of notes needed to make the chord is an example of two things in the same place at the same time complimenting each other.
On February 11th I attended one of the best presentations of this semester. Dr. Jeremy Begbie absolutely challenged and educated me in ways I never could have anticipated. His unique style of incorporating music with theology is brilliant and effective in conveying the truth. For me there were several highlights of the night that I will detail below.
First off, the contrast of visuals and sound got my attention right away. I have always been someone who benefits from hearing the class lectures and learning audibly, so I connected with his point about understanding things more clearly in sound right away. Never though did I envision harmonizing the Trinity and God interacting with humans through sound. It was by far the clearest explanation of these two truths I have ever heard. It makes the argument of how God is both transcendent and immanent understandable, and how the Trinity functions independently of one another but are in fact, unified.
One of Dr. Begbie’s main points was that of freedom and how music is liberating. Once he explained how the lower note frees the upper note to be itself, I understood several theological truths from the night. I am reminded of his quote, “We are freed by the other, for the other.” I was instantly taken by the wisdom and truth of this statement. It explains how there is no burden by being in relationship with God, but instead freedom, because we were created for God.
The experience overall was wonderful and very beneficial to my theological training while in seminary. Dr. Begbie helped connect some major dots of vagueness for me, and for that I am thankful.
Dr. Jeremy Begbie gave a fascinating lecture reflecting upon the implications of musical sound for theology. He began by demonstrating how visual illustration can obstruct our understanding of subjects like freedom and the Trinity. For instance, if we think of God’s freedom and ours visually, we feel sure that the more God is active among us, the less freedom we possess. Also, the three most common Trinitarian heresies are the most easy to visually conceive.
He then argued convincingly for the primacy of musical sound in illustrating the Trinity and freedom. For, only in sound, can many tones fill up the whole space, making one sound while still being distinct. In music, we have the realities of interpenetration and sympathetic resonance. We hear how tones can resonate individually and yet can simultaneously cause other tones to ring more beautifully, the harmony bringing out the glory of each individual tone. We can thereby conceive that freedom within the body of Christ is not a matter of self-asserted personal space or elimination of unique personality, but a matter of being freed by the other for the other. In music, we have a precise illustration of the harmony between the one and the many.
In sum, his lecture was entirely convincing and clarifying. It is a seed of thought that is now firmly planted and will grow with many applications.
The main thing I can say is that this evening was definitely not what I was expecting. I think going into it I thought it was going to be a night of music. I had no idea that Dr. Begbie was going to be conducting a lecture on how there is freedom in sound. Dr. Begbie’s lecture was very enlightening and provided an alternative way to minister to people. I really liked how Dr. Begbie contrasted sight and sound in the context of freedom. I had never theologically thought about it in that context before.
I do not think that he could have used a better example to explain it than the Trinity. That example completely put the whole theory into perspective—that one cannot visualize God’s triunity, but that it can be heard in music. The fact that the Trinity in terms of sound doctrine can be understood to have a three note resonance of life without exclusion or merger; yet all remain individually distinct, is a great way of explaining it. Again, this idea of the freedom of sound is something that I have never thought of before.
With this new perspective of how sound can affect our theology, I think it will affect how I conduct ministry. It is a new way of explaining certain areas of theology that may help people better understand. I think this area of freedom in sound will be greatly beneficial in helping with the advancement of the Gospel. I am glad that [I] had the opportunity to attend this lecture and learn about new perspective of theology that will be greatly beneficial for ministry.
Enjoy the event slideshow: