To take an example: For some time I have been convinced that many of the problems the church has had with the doctrine of the Trinity have arisen because we have been far too captive to visual models of thinking.

Megan Morr/Duke Photography
Begbie and students discuss sacred art at Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art with adjunct assistant professor Anne L. Schroder, curator of
Academic Programs (center)

It’s very hard to see oneness and threeness together. But when you approach the Trinity by thinking of the overlapping resonances of a three-note chord, everything looks — or rather sounds — different.

This is not a case of the church abandoning Scripture and getting new doctrinal standards from music; but it is a matter of allowing music to access in its own distinctive ways the wonderful realities of which the Bible speaks.

What attracted you to Duke?

I was attracted to Duke for many reasons, but most of all because of the quality of the faculty, the very high reputation of the Divinity School worldwide, and the eagerness of the school to develop a theology and arts program. What’s more, the combination of “seminary” and “academy” was very appealing — all my adult life I have been trying to find ways of holding these two worlds together.

What are your impressions of the state of the arts at Duke in general, and of divinity students here in particular?

I have found a remarkable artistic energy here which bodes very well for the future. Many of the faculty and students are already highly committed to the arts; they see clearly that the church needs to engage the arts as never before.

Many of the students are painters, poets, songwriters, and so on — and many are producing professional quality material. Recently the student body mounted a superb arts exhibit — all their own work.

The students I have taught are very highly motivated, energetic, thoroughly committed to the church. They are also extremely bright — among the brightest I have ever taught.

The establishment of Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts (DITA) coincided with your appointment here as Thomas A. Langford research professor of theology. What is DITA and what are its goals? 

DITA’s basic aim is quite simple: to promote a vibrant engagement of theology and the arts in Duke Divinity School, one that will serve the aims of the school within Duke University. It has three streams: research, teaching, and artistic practice. We want to combine cutting-edge academic research with first-rate teaching, and interweave these with exhibits, concerts, performances, workshops, and more. I can think of nowhere in the United States better suited to bringing these things together.

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