MARS HILL AUDIO Journal
Guests on Volume 127: Christopher Shannon, on the historian's communal role as story-teller; Kevin Vanhoozer, on the dramatic purposes of doctrine; Oliver O’Donovan, on negotiating our way in the created realities; Rebecca DeYoung, on the forgotten vice of vainglory; Thomas Forrest Kelly, on the invention of Western musical notation; and Calvin Stapert, on the life and work of Joseph Haydn.
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Christopher Shannon, on the tendency among historians in the U.S. to tell a single story of progress and freedom, rather than discrete narratives of specific communities, including the Church
“If we truly believe in pluralism . . . then [we] have to let some substantively different stories and different conceptions of the good into the conversation, or [pluralism] is a sham.”
This issue begins with historian Christopher Shannon discussing how American academic historical writing presents a grand narrative of progressivism, which it defends by subscribing to an orthodoxy of objective Reason. In The Past as Pilgrimage, Shannon and his colleague, Christopher Blum, take their cue from Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, in which MacIntyre argued that a community’s conception of the good is rooted and upheld in communal stories and practices. For Shannon, the historian’s craft is to give an authentic re-telling of a community’s vision of the good as it is sustained through story and practice.
Kevin Vanhoozer, on why it’s appropriate and instructive to describe the doctrinal life of the Church in terms of drama
“Doctrine is direction for understanding the drama of the Christ. And that direction for understanding, we only demonstrate that we’ve understood when we participate in that same drama in a knowing, understanding, fitting way.”
In this interview, theologian Kevin Vanhoozer recounts his experience that seminary students think doctrine is of little consequence to the everyday details of ministry. In contrast to this theory/practice dichotomy, Vanhoozer asserts that doctrine is essential for performing the drama of the Christ and is necessary for informing our everyday practices. In other words, the extent to which we perform the creative and redemptive work begun in Christ as the Kingdom of God is the extent to which we perform our roles as disciples of Christ. By combining elements of the language of narrative and practices, Vanhoozer advances that “drama” is story made flesh, which, when we participate as actors, shapes not only our minds and bodies, but also our imaginations.
Oliver O’Donovan, on the nature of moral reflection, the dangers of “spontaneity,” and the possibilities of well-formed moral improvisation
“Spontaneity is doing what comes into your mind. Freedom is not doing what comes into your mind; freedom is doing what you have in your mind.”
Moral philosopher, Oliver O’Donovan, joins Ken Myers to discuss the first two volumes of O’Donovan’s three-volume set on Ethics as Theology. In this conversation, O’Donovan identifies some important touchstones that have guided his thinking about moral reflection, including his insight in Resurrection and Moral Order (1986) that moral thinking and action proceed from, and must resonate with, the realities of the created order. O’Donovan also reflects upon the significance of the thinking moral subject as well as what form of moral inadequacy the “life of the flesh” suggests.
Rebecca DeYoung, on the differences between sins and vices, the nature of true glory, and the character of the forgotten vice of vainglory
“Vice names a pattern in our behavior and our way of seeing the world and our way of feeling about the world that has been built up by many acts over time.”
In part II of the issue, philosopher Rebecca DeYoung talks about the forgotten vice of vainglory. As DeYoung explains, the body of reflection upon the “deadly sins ”—originally conceived as source vices, or capital vices—were passed on from the tradition of moral reflection and practices of the Desert Fathers. After examining the difference between glory and vainglory, DeYoung discusses how vainglory is socially fed and rewarded in our culture.
Thomas Forrest Kelly, on the temporal nature of music and the consequences of the development of musical notation
“I think the really earliest [notation] — these gestural signs — are really not so much a picture of the music, as they are a picture of how the music goes, as how you do a song that you already know.”
Harvard musicologist, Thomas Forrest Kelly, joins us to discuss how music, particularly the remembering and performing of it, mediates for us a foregrounded experience of time. In his book, Capturing Music: The Story of Notation, Kelly looks at the technologies involved in transferring the temporal and aural medium of music into a spacial representation, and how the decisions made along the way reveal and conceal different elements of what we perform and hear in music.
Calvin Stapert, on the life and work of Joseph Haydn, whose music suggests the glory of Creation before the Fall
“No composer has ever achieved the respect of his colleagues and the love of the general musical public to the degree that Haydn did.”
On this final segment of the issue, Calvin Stapert, looks at the life and work of composer Joseph Haydn. Stapert regrets that Haydn’s reception history has fallen victim to a progressive aesthetic, in which the zenith of musical expression was achieved in the Romantic compositions of Beethoven. Stapert argues that while much of Haydn’s music retains the preferred “pleasantness” of the time, it is rarely mere pleasantry. Instead, like the rustic characters of the pastoral tradition, Haydn’s music carries with it a simple profundity that offers insight and understanding.