Book Review: Resounding Truth

Jeremy Begbie’s book “Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music” had been recommended to me a few years ago. I read the first few pages on our West Coast road trip this summer since a friend had it on her bookshelf, and then put it on my list to read in 2016. It took me a while to get through it, but was very good. It’s probably the most academic and technical book I’ll read all year, but was still very easy to follow and understand, and very accessible to my level (or memory ;)) of music theory and history – background that you wouldn’t absolutely need to read the book, but that was very helpful and meant that I didn’t have to stop and look things up while reading. I enjoyed that side of it, though, because it’s been a while since I did anything that engaged me with music theory and history so my brain was eager to have those thoughts again.

A few times I commented aloud “this is so good!” while reading it, and Ezra would ask “what’s it about?” and I found myself struggling a bit for answers, since it was about a lot more than I had expected. Resounding Truth is about how our theology should affect our music, but also pulls a lot from music that helps understand theology more. But that’s an overly-simplistic summary because it’s about a lot more than that, as Begbie traces aspects of music history and church history, applying it to life as a Christian Musician as he builds on things he talked about in previous chapters.

In his conclusion, Begbie asks questions that I think summarize well what the book is about –
“Are music making and music hearing to be understood as embedded in and responsible to an order wider than that which we generate? One that is worthy of respect and trust? … even if not raised with theological concerns in mind, this issue inevitably presses us strongly in a theological direction – if the world is given, then by what or whom, and to what end?” (page 307)
On page 308, he says “my prime concern has been… to jolt the imagination by setting every aspect of music in the context of the breathtaking vision of reality opened up by the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Begbie looks at a lot of pitfalls in how Christians think about music, how having God as Creator should affect the kind of music we write/perform/listen to, and how as Christians Musicians we can take part in the cultural mandate (Genesis 1:28), discovering, respecting, developing, healing, and anticipating together as the body of Christ, musicians and non-musicians.

I am glad I read Resounding Truth more slowly than I read most books, but even so I feel the need to go back over many parts of it and re-read the book from time to time to really grasp everything Begbie writes. And I have some listening to do that I didn’t get around to while reading… like listening to Messaien’s “Quartet for the End of Time” with a better understanding of its history and Messaien’s approach to music.

If you’re a musician I can’t recommend this book enough, and if you have little to no background in music I still recommend it, but you may want to read a book about music history first, or something about art and worldview, like Nancy Pearcey’s “Saving Leonardo” before you read Resounding Truth to be more familiar with some of the music history Begbie builds on.

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