Jeremy Begbie and The Triune Chord
I watched a videothe other day from a musician and priest named Jeremy Begbie. He’s also a professor of theology at Duke Divinity School.
Begbie was a classical musician before he came to faith. When he heard about the unconditional love of God embodied in Jesus, he was hooked. In his formation as a newfound Christian, he was curious how the world of the Gospel relates to the world of music. Of course, as he explained, there is an obvious way: as a musician, you can always write hymns and songs for Christian worship.
But he provided two other ways which I found to be really fascinating:
Theology for music
Theology for music is when you begin with a Christian worldview and you explore how that plays out in the world of music. This makes me think about artists (not just musical artists) in the secular world who aren’t in the Christian category per se, but their Christian faith fuels the art they provide for the secular world. I’m thinking about people like JRR Tolkien, Kendrick Lamar, Bobby McFerrin, CS Lewis, (yes, and dare I say it, Justin Bieber).
This is a powerful form of ministry. I think of people like David Brooks, who is (my favorite) NY Times op-ed columnist. He came to the Christian faith late in life, and his work is fueled by his faith, but his articles are very secular.
This is all super fascinating and a way of communicating that I’d like to dabble more in. But it’s the next thing Begbie talked about that really blew my mind…
Music for theology
Here’s where things get really interesting… Music for theology is when you take music and ask how it can help do theology better. Begbie uses the theology of the Trinity (and this is where it gets suuuuuper deep). He says that theologians rely on visual aspects of the Trinity too much. For me, this makes me think of the ‘Father’ being a booming old man in the clouds, the ’Son’ being Jesus, and the ‘Spirit’ as this ephemeral loving and animating thing that works in the spiritual realm.
But it’s easy to get things askew when we’re talking about the Trinity in the visual realm because it’s hard to visualize three-in-one-ness. In the seen world, we cannot see two different objects that occupy the same space as different. When you have two colors - red and yellow, for example - occupying the same space, you can’t see them as red and yellow. Either they hide each other, or they blend together and make orange.
But in the world of sound, one note doesn’t just take up one place; it occupies the entirety of our audible world. If you add another note (or, to be triune about this, another two notes), all of the notes fill the same space, and yet we can hear them as distinct. “They fill the same aural space, and yet I hear them as three notes,” Begbie says.
This makes me think… As Christians, we proclaim that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.
God, characterized as ‘the Word’ is an audible thing. Not a visible thing.
In this way, God isn’t an object that takes up space and displaces other objects.
Rather, God is (perhaps) like a triune chord that accompanies all things, holds us together, renews us, and restores us.
I dunno… Kind of a whimsical thing to meditate on this fine evening.
Along the Way with Jonas Ellison is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.