Some Love from Begbie: Bonhoeffer on Music

Arts and TheologyReading more from Jeremy Begbie’s Resounding Truth, he brings up Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s use of polyphony as a metaphor for the Christian life. According to Bonhoeffer, the life of the Christian is similar to a counterpoint in a piece of music. The counterpoint can be confident of its appropriateness as long as there is a firm “principal or central theme” of which to ground our responsive voices.

This principal or central theme is what is called the cantus firmus. As long as we have a strong cantus firmus in our lives, we do not need to fear our polyphonic melodies. As in a Bach fugue, they reinforce and shed new light on the cantus firmus, not by changing the cantus firmus, but by interacting with it.

This is a great metaphor for the Christian life, but what about representing this in music? There was a similar idea going on in this piece for communion (4.13.08), and I played it this past Sunday during the passing of the bread. There were two common reactions: one where people just commented on the quality of the playing itself (which I humbly receive) and the other reaction was from those that really seemed to get the big picture: work, rest, etc. Now I understand that being in group 1 doesn’t necessarily preclude someone being in group 2, they can be both, but I almost felt like the playing itself can be distracting if one doesn’t “get it.”

Now I hope this doesn’t come off pretentious, but one the staff members at the church made the comment that I shouldn’t limit myself to those who may not completely understand what is going on, that I should leave space and give them room to come to a point of understanding. But without teaching and speaking on this topic, I think that is pretty close to impossible. If I didn’t read the books I’ve read, I would probably be just as lost- and I’m a musician! Think of the person who is not the music nerd that I am. So I’m waffling back and forth on how far “out there” to go. Eventually, my plan is to develop a Sunday school class where some of these topics can be brought up and discussed.

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