A professionally trained musician who has performed extensively as a pianist, oboist, and conductor, Jeremy Begbie considers himself first a scholar and professor of theology.
“I’m basically a theologian who frequently works in the arts, not an artist who dabbles in theology,” says Begbie, who joined the Divinity School in January as the inaugural Thomas A. Langford research professor of theology.
A native of Great Britain, Begbie will maintain his ties with Cambridge University, where he is a senior member of Wolfson College and an affiliated lecturer in the faculty of divinity and the faculty of music. Among his priorities as director of Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts is developing collaborative programs between the two institutions.
Begbie is the author of Voicing Creation’s Praise: Towards a Theology of the Arts (T & T Clark); Theology, Music and Time (CUP), and most recently, Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music (Baker/SPCK), which won the Christianity Today 2008 Book Award in the theology/ethics category.
As your career shifted toward the study and teaching of theology, how did that affect your artistic practice?
From the start, I have tried to keep my faith and art together. That has worked out in three main ways.
The first is through music in worship. I have done what I can to promote good-quality music in churches in the United Kingdom — through writing, workshops, and by playing for my own church choir week by week. I am committed to a variety of styles in worship, and have been privileged to work with many fine musicians, from Matt Redman to Stephen Cleobury.
The second way is by asking, “What can theology give to the arts?” Christians have been given incredible resources to renew every dimension of life — including the arts. Why apologize for theology? During spring semester I explored the doctrine of the Spirit with a class, and at every turn we were dazzled by the implications that spill out for drama, painting, music, and so on.
The third way I have been trying to integrate theology and the arts comes by asking: “What can the arts do for theology?” The arts can help us not just express what we already know, but discover what we don’t know, or don’t know well enough.