Bach and God & Dream with Me


Bach & God,” by Michael Marissen (Oxford University Press, 2016).

Marissen, a professor of music, takes on the intriguing and worthwhile task of examining Johann Sebastian Bach’s music in relation to his theology. As most people are aware who know anything at all about Bach, the composer was a devout Lutheran who gave God the glory for both his sacred and secular works. It’s easy enough to use the words of Bach’s church cantatas and other religious works to give us a clue to his theology, but Marissen goes further, using the very structure and character of the music itself to discern where the composer’s religious sympathies lie. It’s a perfectly legitimate approach, given the way that composers have always used music, even apart from lyrics, to express ideas, thoughts, and emotions.

Unfortunately, I think Marissen understands music better than he understands theology, and is not always willing to take a balanced view of the latter. Thus, he suggests that Bach may have been too much on board with Luther’s anti-Semitic sentiments. Though his analysis of the music offers some evidence for his theory, I would say it’s not conclusive evidence, and it doesn’t help that he judges many passages from the New Testament itself, including some of those that Bach set to music, as inherently anti-Semitic. Seen outside of their context, they might indeed appear that way, but an out-of-context reading is hardly enough to make his case. Marissen’s book is very interesting reading, especially for musicians and theologians, but much of it should be taken with a grain of salt.

Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win,” by John M. Perkins (Baker Books, 2017). Foreword by Randy Alcorn.

John Perkins’ latest book is part a memoir of his long and inspiring life, part theological reflection on the way forward through a contentious landscape. At 86, he has a wealth of hard-won wisdom to share. Over the years, Perkins lost his brother (a combat veteran) to a white sheriff’s bullet, saw his children suffer the cruelty of white classmates, and was himself arrested and beaten severely for protesting racial injustice. Given all this and much more that he’s endured, it would not be surprising if Perkins looked back in anger.

Instead, Perkins’ deep faith helps him to tell his story with courage and compassion, not just for the African-Americans who have struggled and suffered, but also for their tormentors who understood nothing of the love of God that he knows so well. He has firm but loving admonitions for both the white and black communities, and his thoughts on justice, redemption, and reconciliation are absolutely indispensable to a deeply divided nation. His story gives new meaning to the words “Love your enemies.”

Note: This will be the last Review Roundup at BreakPoint, as my last day here is November 10. Thanks to our readers for all your support and appreciation over the years!

Image courtesy of fstop123 at iStock by Getty Images. Review copies courtesy of the respective publishers.

Gina Dalfonzo is editor of and Dickensblog, and the author of “One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church” (Baker, June 2017).

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