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shelves logo bw.jpg (10022 bytes)On the Shelves

On the Shelves features book recommendations from a variety of Princeton Seminary faculty and staff, with the hope that these suggestions will help alumni/ae choose books that contribute to their personal and professional growth.

From Martin Tel, the C. F. Seabrook Director of Music
Music through the Eyes of Faith by Harold M. Best. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1993 and Wiser Than Despair: The Evolution of Ideas in the Relationship of Music and the Christian Church by Quentin Faulkner. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1996.

Many authors have responded to present conflicts in church music by publishing “how to” manuals. The problem with these books is that they attempt to give answers to the wrong questions. People ask frantically: “What can we do musically in our church to satisfy the competing desires of our people?” Perhaps the question really is not so much wrong as it is premature. There are a priori questions to be addressed — questions of the theological and philosophical “why” of church music. In our haste to alleviate the seeming crises in church music today we too often avoid the necessary theological reflection. By default we operate out of theories based on personal taste and preference. I am suggesting two books from my shelf that I think deal with the bigger, more important questions.

Harold Best’s book is widely accessible to pastors and musicians alike. Yet Best also demonstrates a very serious theological and philosophical reflection on the contemporary issues in church music today. He does justice to the demands of both aesthetical theory and cultural pluralism. Best avoids the “what” and “how to” questions and cuts to the “why” questions. This is not a volume of “pie-in-the-sky” philosophical ruminations. The reader will recognize immediate possibilities for practical application in their own ministry, and this should come as no surprise. I believe it was John Dewey who stated that “there is nothing more practical than a good theory.”

If Harold Best’s book is “widely accessible,” then it would be fair to say that Quentin Faulkner’s text is academic in its approach and more difficult to chew. However, as a practicing church musician, I have found this book to be the best source today for coming to an understanding of my music ministry in the context of a rich history of ideas. Faulkner reminds us that the contemporary church is not isolated but that there has been a logical progression leading to contemporary “crises” in church music. He challenges us to counter the arrogance that assumes that we can solve these crises independent of historical and ideological precedent. I believe church musicians and pastors will find it enlightening to explore the philosophies that have exercised and continue to exercise powerful influence on the music of the Christian church. As with Best, one will find no easy answers, but the careful reader will certainly be asking better questions.

Copyright 1998 Princeton Theological Seminary
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