July 6, 2012
June 11, 2012
After treating the intellectualism of Hegel and his followers, Bavinck turns to the Romanticism of the period which oriented religious thought along the affective and aesthetic domain of the human person. This domain of feeling was thought to be the proper domain for religion, not the rational domain strictly speaking, though the concerns of modern reason and skepticism were never far away. Romanticism was found in Wordsworth and Coleridge in England, Rousseau in France, and, most importantly for dogmatics, Schleiermacher in Germany. Here is a brief excerpt from Bavinck’s incisive appraisal of this approach:
One then, naturally, slips into the error of confusing and equating religious feeling with sensual and aesthetic feeling. Known to us all from history is the kinship between religious and sensual [erotic] love and the passage from one to the other. But equally dangerous is the confusion of religious and aesthetic feeling, of religion and art. The two are essentially distinct. Religion is life, reality; art is ideal, appearance. Art cannot close the gap between the ideal and reality. Indeed, for a moment it lifts us above reality and induces us to live in the realm of ideals. But this happens only in the imagination. Reality itself does not change on account of it. Though art gives us distant glimpses of the realm of glory, it does not induct us into that realm and make us citizens of it. Art does not atone for our guilt, or wipe away our tears, or comfort us in life and death.
[Reformed Dogmatics, volume 1, p. 267]
To be clear, Bavinck does note the positive connection between religion and art: “From the beginning religion and art went hand in hand. The decline of the one brought with it the decay of the other. The ultimate driving force of art was religion. …In religion, specifically in worship, the imagination has its rightful place and value.” (Ibid., emphasis mine)
March 27, 2012
Take an hour out of your day and watch Roger Scruton explain the value of art, beginning with an engrossing display of 20th century art as rebellion against form:
For more on Scruton’s work on aesthetics:
His latest book is the publication of the Gifford Lectures from 2010 at St. Andrews.
February 2, 2012
Here is Pope Benedict XVI describing why the organ is better than guitars in worship:
The organ has always been considered, and rightly so, the king of musical instruments, because it takes up all the sounds of creation – as was just said – and gives resonance to the fullness of human sentiments, from joy to sadness, from praise to lamentation. By transcending the merely human sphere, as all music of quality does, it evokes the divine. The organ’s great range of timbre, from piano through to a thundering fortissimo, makes it an instrument superior to all others. It is capable of echoing and expressing all the experiences of human life. The manifold possibilities of the organ in some way remind us of the immensity and the magnificence of God.
Okay, he’s not directly contrasting with guitars, but it’s probably in his mind after a few too many hokey John Paul II masses.
December 29, 2011
I’m finally joining the rest of the blogging world and doing a year end list of favorite books, films, and such. Thus, [tongue in cheek] others can benefit from my impeccable tastes and standards!
The Assurance of Faith: Conscience in the Theology of Martin Luther and John Calvin by Randall Zachman (Fortress, 1993). A gracefully written and fascinating historical monograph. Can assurance truly have an objective ground? His conclusions are basically in line with Barth.
The Theology of Schleiermacher by Karl Barth (Eerdmans, 1982).
The Theology of the Reformed Confessions by Karl Barth (WJK, 2002). These lectures, and those on Schleiermacher, were delivered in Göttingen during his first major academic post, following his pastorate at Safenwil. These early lectures are immensely interesting for anyone with even a remote interest in Barth. They have shed a lot of light on my reading of the CD.
Reformed Theology by R. Michael Allen (T&T Clark, 2010). For those who want a higher level introduction to Reformed theology, respecting both the classical and modern strands, Allen will be my first recommendation. A much-needed book.
The City of God by Augustine (Modern Library, 1993). At times, I really wished that Augustine would just condense the material and move on. The choice morsels are spread throughout.
Seven Days that Divide the World by John C. Lennox (Zondervan, 2011). Lennox is Professor of Mathematics at Oxford and Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science. This is one of the very few books that I have read with a satisfied sense that the author actually respects both Scripture and the work of scientists. Unlike John Walton (The Lost World of Genesis One), Lennox believes that material, not just functional, claims are being made by the creation narratives, which thus limits the reach of evolutionary explanations, especially in regard to the origin of humans.
Lonesome, On’ry and Mean by Waylon Jennings (RCA Victor, 1973). I’ve been collecting country albums from the sixties and seventies. So far, this has been my favorite. If you have never given country music a chance, start here.
The Taker/Tulsa by Waylon Jennings (RCA, 1971). This is the beginning of Waylon’s “outlaw” break with Chet Atkins, the famed Nashville producer who created the “Nashville sound” of smooth, pop-sensible country. Despite this fact, Atkins was really quite brilliant, but Waylon needed to expand and produce his own material. It begins here, and it is amazing.
Mama Tried by Merle Haggard (Capitol, 1968). A good place to begin with the great Merle Haggard. The title track, “Mama Tried,” is a favorite.
I’m a Lonesome Fugitive by Merle Haggard (Capitol, 1967). More proof that Haggard was doing outlaw country long before it gained a moniker.
Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars (Sensibility, 2011). These are two of the loveliest voices I’ve ever heard. Even if the songs sucked (they don’t), I would still listen.
Actus Tragicus by J. S. Bach (a long time ago). This has become my favorite piece from Bach. Haunting. Strikingly similar to Jar of Flies by Alice in Chains — I’m probably the only person who makes that connection.
Forget movies. Television has dominated for the last decade as Hollywood continues to lose all the best writers to the TV networks. I have watched more television series than I care to admit (thanks to Netflix). My favorites this past year have been Dexter and, of course, Friday Night Lights. On the surface, these are two completely different shows with completely different demographics, but it is hard to name any other show with better personalities and character depth than Dexter and FNL. Truly remarkable and utterly addicting. Also, The Tudors was surprisingly well done. Based on the first couple episodes, I thought it was just soap opera and eye candy, but it quickly becomes a nuanced account of civil strife and personal turmoil, with great sensitivity to the religious and moral struggles of the characters. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is captivating in every single episode. His performance is worth the price of the DVD set.
November 8, 2011
Until I find the time to actually do a substantive post, I will just continue pointing-out stuff like this:
CBD has a great deal on Living Beyond the Word: Visual Arts and the Calvinist Tradition, ed. Paul Corby Finney (Eerdmans, 1998). It’s currently only $9.99. It’s a very nice volume, with a variety of essays and great illustrations throughout, similar to a coffee table book. For those interested in the topic of Reformed aesthetics, I really enjoyed William Dyrness’ Reformed Theology and Visual Culture. For theological aesthetics in general, you obviously must go to Hans Urs von Balthasar’s The Glory of the Lord.
If you are buying from CBD, you should also check-out Lesslie Newbigin’s Signs amid the Rubble at only $2.99. I’ve never read it, but it’s Newbigin — he’s only ever amazing.
July 22, 2011
My second post in two days — I’m on a roll!
According to Mr. Dylan, in the liner notes to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,
What made the real blues singers so great is that they were able to state all the problems they had; but at the same time, they were standing outside them and could look at them. And in that way, they had them beat. What’s depressing today is that many young singers are trying to get inside the blues, forgetting that those older singers used them to get outside their troubles.
This may be something of a stretch, but as I read that I thought this is similar to what Barth says about Mozart. Mozart’s music is a participation in the ordering of creation from chaos, standing over the darkness in triumph. The blues artists were likewise conquering their problems (“had them beat”) by creating order out of the chaos. Interestingly, this isn’t a naive or idealist illusion of order (for either Mozart or the blues singers) but an order found right there in the material of creation.
December 8, 2010
Blogging has been a little light because I’ve been obsessed with the TV show, Friday Night Lights. I’ve been watching through the first four seasons on Netflix. I am truly in awe of this show. I’ve never actually seen a TV show capture Southern culture with any real authenticity, much less be able to capture its pervasive evangelical religiosity without caricature. The characters are as genuine and interesting as anything on Lost, but you don’t have to worry about time warps and parallel universes driving the plot in later seasons. The second through fourth seasons are particularly realistic, including a fair number of depressing episodes. The courage to present stark tragedy is a risky move in the television industry, which is partly why FNL has received a lot of critical acclaim and awards but only modest ratings.
I’ve finally made it to the infamous abortion episode in the fourth season. Yes, as you could expect, I was a bit pissed. Adoption was never really considered as an option, and the moral pragmatism throughout is profoundly disappointing since genuine moral struggles and resolutions had heretofore driven much of the show’s drama. Matthew Anderson wrote a great blog post highlighting this contradiction in the show’s moral fabric. All the same, this is still an amazing show, well worth owning or streaming through Netflix.
September 7, 2010
Here’s a break from theology.
Hulu is streaming the classic courtroom drama Witness for the Prosecution (1957), starring Charles Laughton with lots of wit and humor. He was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for this performance. Unfortunately for Laughton, Witness was released the same year as Bridge on the River Kwai, starring Alec Guinness, who would win both the Oscar and the Globe for best actor. Bridge also beat Witness for best picture at both events. Laughton, though, already had an Oscar for his performance several years earlier as Henry VIII.
Two more reasons why Witness is so good: it was based on a short story by Agatha Christie and was directed by Billy Wilder.
August 20, 2010
Der Spiegel has highlighted some of Germany’s worst architecture during the post-war rebuilding, when modernist trends were dominant. The examples are truly horrendous, and they would be funny if not for the fact that they actually exist, in real communities with real people. Those poor souls.
It’s hard to decide which is worse: the materials being used (concrete, metal plates, and so on) or the actual designs.