Jeremy Begbie on the potential of the Reformed tradition

Jeremy Begbie is one of the leading theologians discussing the connection between christian faith and the arts. Very recently, I discovered a (pre-publication) article of his, titled: ‘The Future of Theology amid the Arts: Some Reformed Reflections’. (Because of the pre-publication shape of the article, Begbie asks the reader not to cite this version. I will respect that and summarize his thoughts).

In the initial pages, he outlines his perspective on the discussion between theology and aesthetics in different strands of Christianity. He argues that the lack of dialogue between these strands in the early 1980s, has completely disappeared by now. Reformed evangelicals do not hesitate to be inspired by Roman Catholic of Eastern Orthodox writers and thinkers. But it seems as if the Reformed tradition is in this respect always to some degree suspicious. Isn’t the Reformed tradition iconoclastic, extreme suspicious to the (figurative) arts, and so forth. Those are the questions of Begbie, and they seem to hit the mark, according to me.

Begbie knows of some careful corrections in the past decade of this picture of the Reformed tradition. A number of studies argue for a different and more nuanced perspective. But the shadow of doubt still remains… But then Begbie makes a very interesting observation. From whence comes this shadow of doubt, he asks. And doesn’t the Reformed tradition possess enough riches to be explored? What striked me in this suggestion is the similarity in this respect between the situation in theological aesthetics and in sacramentology. Concerning sacramentology, the same observations could be made. The Reformed tradition is still regarded with suspicion, not only concerning the arts, but also concerning the sacraments. And for the same set of reasons, just mentioned.

That’s a pity, Begbie argues. We need the Reformed tradition in the debate about theology and the arts. And I add: we need the Reformed tradition in the ecumencial debate about theology and the sacraments.