Using the Arts to Think Theologically

Date: 31st January 2018

Time: 16:30

24 Hours with a theologian ... David Brown
31 January 2018 to 16:30, Thursday, 1 February 2018

Five sessions will explore how Christian belief and doctrine can be illuminated by taking seriously their treatment in the arts. Because the speaker has written extensively on the subject e.g. in five fat volumes published by Oxford University Press between 1999 and 2008, and across all the arts, inevitably some selectivity is required in this case! So the first lecture will be used to provide an overall introduction, and then the next three will deal with more specific topics, with painting and poetry used as the primary examples, though discussion could easily broaden out to other arts such as film or music (David Brown has just finished with a colleague a joint volume on experiencing God through music, both classical and popular).

Session One: Why theology needs the arts
Here we will explore four important ways in which from the nineteenth century onwards society’s intellectual presuppositions came to be seen as quite different from that in which Christianity received its classical formulation. David Brown will argue that, provided we take the role of the arts and the imagination seriously, so far from this being a disadvantage, it brings with it considerable potential in communicating the Christian faith.

Session Two: Finding God in art and architecture
Here we will explore how even in our own largely secular society encounters with certain styles of architecture (including that of churches) and landscape painting may be used to initiate discussion about a God whom they may help mediate. Some musical examples may also be considered.

Session Three: The Incarnate God in 20th and 21st century art
This session will challenge the view that the arts of today are overwhelmingly secular. In particular, it will observe how some artists use symbolism to raise deep questions about Jesus and the significance of his life, death and resurrection, with even non-believers sometimes contributing with surprising effectiveness.

Session Four: Making the Trinity comprehensible
Preaching on Trinity Sunday is often said to be the assignment clergy most fear. Yet over the history of Christian art there has been an extraordinary range of treatments, many of them profound. Were artists of the past sometimes better than preachers or professional theologians, or how should we read this richness?

Session Five: The Meaning of Christ’s death
It is very easy to get fixated on one particular way of giving an account of the significance of Jesus’ death and suppose that this must therefore be advocated at the expense of all alternative approaches. But if the New Testament is approached as offering a wide range of metaphors rather than a single theory, then a different approach is possible since images and metaphors, unlike theories, do not necessarily conflict with one another. To illustrate how this can happen, we will explore, so far as time allows, the way in which six biblical images were treated in subsequent Christian imaginative reflection: sacrifice, victory, beauty, satisfaction, penalty and pattern.

David Brown retired from the University of St Andrews as Professor of Theology, Aesthetics and Culture in 2015, having previously held positions at Oxford and Durham. His principal interest has been twofold: relations between theology and philosophy, and theology and the arts and wider culture. His most recent publication reflecting the former is God in a Single Vision: Integrating Philosophy and Theology (Routledge, 2016); and the latter a fat edited volume on Durham Cathedral: History, Fabric and Culture (Yale 2015). He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2002 and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2012. He was ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1977, and continues to celebrate and preach on a regular basis at local Episcopalian church in St Andrews.

Venue: Foxhill, Tarvin Road, Frodsham WA6 6XB



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