Here's another "five-minute book review"; I have piles of books I'm supposed to review on this blog, but very little time in which to do it. So, I'll just write my first thoughts about the book really fast now and then and share them with you. I’m especially planning to read and review several of the staple works on the Arts & Faith, and then maybe at some point a few of the many books that are sent me in my capacity as Book Review Editor of Sehnsucht: The C. S. Lewis Journal. I’ll plan on reading and reviewing Andy Crouch’s Culture Making next.
Beholding the Glory: Incarnation Through the Arts edited by Jeremy Begbie
I must say, I was a little bit disappointed with this book. It is brilliant, but maybe a bit too much so. It was hard to really get anything out of it that I could hang on to, think about, and (especially) apply. It was, honestly, a little over my head. I expected amazing, world-rocking, paradigm-shifting essays like Dr. Begbie’s talk at Biblical Theological Seminary last year. Well, I didn’t get any of that until the very last essay in the book—and lo and behold! –it’s the text of that very same talk. So just that one essay is worth the price of the book, and then there’s also the excellent introduction, and then there’s the concept as a whole, which is fantastic.
The concept is pretty well encapsulated in the title. The original idea is to see what the various art form can teach us about the doctrine of the Word become flesh. That’s pretty awesome, right there. And the book is set up with the maximum interest and scope for fabulous work: each chapter is Through… one of the art forms, with an explanatory subtitle. So we have (just a sampling) “Through Literature: Christ and the Redemption of Language” by Malcom Guite, “Through Dance: Fully Human, Fully Alive” by Sara B. Savage, as well as through poetry, icons, sculpture, popular music, and then Begbie’s own chapter on music.
I think one problem is that only Begbie himself really gets what this book was supposed to be all about. Only he has the wide enough vision, deep enough theology, and professional enough expertise in his field (he’s a concert pianist) to really know what he’s talking about. And he’s a top-notch communicator. The others had one or two of those qualifications, but lacked the full arsenal. Some lacked the ability to make their ideas clear and memorable. Some are not practitioners of the art they were discussing. Some just had wacky perspectives and used bizarre examples (especially in the poetry and sculpture essays).
Also, the volume is intentionally wide-ranging theologically. The authors represent the gamut of Christianity: Anglican, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and a few flavors of Protestant. However, this left the book feeling a little loose around the seams. There are different denominations because (among other reasons, many of which are historical rather than religious) we take our doctrines seriously; we have some sharp differences, and we hold our positions tightly. Putting them all together in a book on what may very well be the most important doctrine of Christianity—the incarnation—is bound (pun intended) to sacrifice either unity (as a book) for truth (of doctrine) or truth for unity. Or both. I think there’s a little of each.
However, let me reiterate that Dr. Begbie’s essay on music is more than worth the price of the book. I am thrilled to have the text of that fantastic presentation. And I think that there really is a whole lot more wealth for me to glean from the rest of the essays, but that they are just dense enough, and their concepts foreign enough to me, that I will have to read the book several times in order to absorb them. But for now, I think I’ll move on to Andy Crouch. More later.