In his book Free At Last?: The Gospel in the African-American Experience, Carl Ellis talks about theology through musical metaphors. He writes, “Like classical music, the classical approach to theology comprises the formal methods of arranging what we know about God and his world into a reasoned, cogent and consistent system. Classical theology and classical music reflect God’s oneness. The unity of God’s purpose and providence is reflected in the consistent explanations and consonant harmonies of classical music and classical theology. “
“But God is not just classical. God is also jazz. Not only does he have an eternal and unchanging purpose, but he is intimately involved with the difficulties of sparrows and slaves. Within the dynamic of his eternal will, he improvises. God’s providential jazz liberates slaves and weeps over cities!”
He concludes, “Theology bears analogy with music in that it too can be approached as formal or dynamic.” Classical theology is concerned with “propositions” while Jazz theology is concerned with what happens when those propositions interact with pain, life and the moment! “
I think the church’s theological vocabulary needs both classics and jazz. In life as in music – it’s only by having spent time in the woodshed learning the old standards – doing our scales – that we develop the dexterity which allow us to syncopate, improvise and respond to the call of Divine Love! Likewise, in life as in jazz, no moment is just a moment. Every moment is pregnant with the possibility of God being revealed to us. Each instant of life has the potential of God using us to make something beautiful; broken strings and all! Our theological language need to reflect both these realities.
The same God whose Spirit song called this world into being, is still preserving and sustaining it, still improvising with us, in us and through us. And because of that we are able to do wonderful things with the instruments that have been given to us! As such, I would ask you to consider the possibility that the Holy Spirit might be composing yet more beautiful music for the Church to sing. It may well be that the very best of humanity’s collective song has yet to have been sung!
So long as our bass line continues to be a strong and abiding faith in God our creator. So long as our common melody is expressed in lives lived in praise of Jesus our Saviour. So long as the harmony of our song remains grounded in the continued presence of the Holy Spirit working in; among and through us for the world’s salvation; this can and will be most certainly true! AMEN