Thursday, July 13, 2006

Johann Sebastian Bach

I plan to occasionally blog on a historical Christian figure who influenced his/her culture. I think it's often helpful to learn from Christian men and women who, in their own time, wrestled with how to live for and influence others for Christ.

I thought we'd start with the brilliant composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, who influenced the culture of his day through a Christ-centered use of his gifts. This article in Reformation21 by Greg Wilbur gives us a brief window into Bach's life and work. In this well written article, Wilbur proposes that through his life's work in the arts, Bach offers us a model for cultural change -

"Sebastian Bach remains an agent of the power of cultural change through his clear presentation of the gospel in his work, his commitment to biblical excellence, and his reformational approach to cultural change."

It's a worthwhile read.

The article notes compelling points about Bach, his worldview and how he exercised his unique gifts.

1. Bach's vibrant faith was expressed in gospel-centered work. His work appeared to be infused with marks of his biblical convictions. Wilbur writes:

"Bach’s personal understanding of biblical truth resonates throughout his
music as he presents sound and weighty doctrine in a manner that challenges the listener to consider issues of the faith."

As a side point, I'm not sure how biblical truth translates into classical music but I'll take Wilbur's word on this.

2. Bach was a serious biblical scholar. He wasn't just devoted to music, he was devoted to the study of God's word.

"The margin notes he wrote in his personal Bible testify to the depth of Bach’s knowledge and study of scripture and clearly indicate he was a thorough student of Scripture—especially as it related to his specific calling."

3. Bach pursued excellence in his work for the glory of God. There was no sacred/secular work dichotomy for Bach.

"Bach labored to make his work as excellent or perfect as possible. Everything was to be done for God’s glory alone—all work, all music, tuning instruments, writing keyboard exercises, positioning orchestras, loving his wife, teaching students, dealing with criticism, watching over the care of his students. Everything! If all of these things are to the praise of the Most High Almighty God, ought they not to be the very best that can be offered?"

Few (none?) of us are in possession of unique skills equal to Bach's but we can still learn from this man. How can we apply these lessons in the work that we're engaged in? What aspects of Bach's life serve as a model for cultural change that can be applied in other fields of endeavor and in our sphere of influence?

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