Thursday, May 31, 2007

Theology in a Minor Key

Steve Nichols on Theology in a Minor Key: The Blues and Harmonizing the Curse and the Cross.

Here's the opening:
He was born with sight. But, when he was seven his stepmother threw lye into his face making him blind. Unable to work the fields, he took up a guitar, playing for the rows of sharecroppers picking their way through the cotton fields. He sang mostly gospel, but in a style that was all blues. I don’t know of any who would label Blind Willie Johnson a theologian. But I certainly would.

Jeremy Begbie, a Cambridge scholar who is considered a theologian, has argued for music’s intrinsic ability to teach theology. As an improvisation on Begbie’s thesis, the blues, it may be argued, is intrinsically suited to teach particular elements of theology that often get overlooked and downplayed in contemporary, especially American, evangelicalism. The blues is a good teacher of what may be called a theology in a minor key, a theology born out of experiences of blues artists like Blind Willie Johnson. This begs some definitions first of the blues and secondly of theology in a minor key. With those definitions in hand, we’ll see how the blues helps us harmonize the downbeat of the human condition, given life under the curse, with the hopeful melodies of redemption, given the promise of the cross.
We’ll find these two apparently discordant themes coming together in the story of a widow, Naomi.