Music as Parable
Jeremy Begbie once proposed that to make worship, discipleship, and theology more relatable to real life, we must explore how much music can benefit theology. What can music’s movement teach us about how the plan of God really moves? Can music helps us to know truth rightly (logos), to position our whole selves in a posture that can rightly feel those truths (empatheia), and to relate to them in real living (ethos)? What would it mean not only to theologize about music but also through music using the dynamics and tones, rests and requiems, highs and celebrations alike to understand how truths move and feel in our affections and passions? In this way, music becomes a brilliant analogy that we must look along in order to teach ourselves how real truths are going to integrate and harmonize with our life’s embodied melody.
The Scriptures impart several overarching parables, pictures or metaphors when identifying what the goal of a theologian/disciple should become in their pursuits. In 2 Timothy, Paul writes to his protégée Timothy, who was still young and fairly inexperienced in the ministry, giving him this advice: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” Paul’s purpose in relating the life of a disciple to the life of a soldier implies that it involves suffering, fighting, and battling to stay focused and free of entanglement. Further, when Paul speaks of an athlete in 1 Corinthians, as he compares athletics to his own approach to living the Christian life: “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” A Christ-like disciple characterizes an athlete who stands in courage and integrity—following the rules and winning the crown. Discipleship is seen as a gridiron athletic event where the competitor competes in the most strenuous triathlon and gladiator events to gain rewards: The Victor’s Crown, The Incorruptible Crown, The Crown of Righteousness, The Crown of Life, The Crown of Joy, and The Crown of Glory.
Then there’s the analogy that resounds even a bit closer to my heart, as I am a gardener: discipleship as likened to farming. Think about it. We call the ministry of multiplying churches “church planting.” Even Paul likens the growth of God’s church to that of a garden. Paul goes on in similar fashion in the New Testament to liken discipleship further to the work of a master builder, crafting and constructing a structure. He calls himself a master builder, laying a foundation in excellence and building upon it. Ephesians 2:19-22 profoundly exclaims, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Notice the construction language Paul’s uses to refer to the reality and result of discipleship—interconnected, much like a structure. Still another analogy in similar fashion comes to us in Paul referring to discipleship as a body building itself up in love.
All of these analogies complete the picture of how the writer’s of the New Testament envisioned and understood the task of discipleship. Each metaphor paints a different color into the canvas of how we are to understand our own process. I’d like to introduce yet another metaphor that I believe produces a beautiful and cohesive blend to all of them.
Though it seems Paul gives us transpositional images to look along in his writings—metaphors that stand as helpful caricatures in our pursuit of what real discipleship looks like—and these caricatures are useful, I believe there is another parables/metaphors that can help us think more completely about the real process of discipleship: the parable of music. I believe that music as a parable most correctly teaches us what we need to know about discipleship’s deepest truths. In this series, I want to obey Jeremie Begbie’s claims that we should look along music to better our effectiveness in discipling and in broader theological pursuits. We will look at how music’s pitch, repetition, sound and silence, sustain and resolve, forms and improvisation, and rhythms can adequately aid us in both our discipleship practices and in our growing into effective image bearers—reflecting Christ’s likeness.
In the meantime, help me think through this issue. Can you see the need for us to undertake the task of what Jeremy Begbie calls “theologizing through music”? Can you anticipate already some issues I may bring up in further posts where you can already see connections between how music moves and the movement of real life?