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Musician Steve Bell: Music Is A Doorway To Faith

Music, says longtime Christian musician Steve Bell, can open the heart to plant a seed of faith.

"Modern theology is all about controlling outcomes," according to Bell. It is part of our Enlightenment heritage, he says, an endeavor dedicated to "putting a point on things rather than opening people up to a vast vista." As a result, Christian theology and arts has been preoccupied with didacticism, "taking some big concept and bringing it down to a point that's saying, 'This is what you should know, this is the answer,' rather than being more iconic, like icons — a small point opening up to a wide point."

Imagination, Bell maintains in an interview conducted for Faith & Leadership, an online offering of Duke Divinity School, "got reduced behind reason a few hundred years ago," and while reason is "something we need, to know anything," it remains true that anything we know by reason had its start in something someone "apprehended" apart from words that describe it. Because he believes that reason follows inspiration, in his own work Bell tends to affirm post-modern Christian themes that privilege imagination and pre-cognitive knowing, and that at least partially disestablish reason: "The minute you put words to it [some inspiration], you by nature have reduced it. So there needs to be some humility to all of our equations, you know?"

Bell trusts God to lead, and so in his music strives to "take that big thing out there and reduce it to a set of lines or set of melodies that will woo you to the possibility of the mystery." That is, he uses his music to fashion a "doorway" through which his listeners can glimpse what is beyond and, sometimes, through which they can pass. His goal is to "write a poem or sing a melody that gives you a hook into that deeper reality," but, he says, "what you find on the other end, I can't control." What Bell has found is a sense of reality "where there's not a moment that comes to me that I don't believe is [a] gift." It's not naiveté, he maintains, "I just fundamentally don't believe it's dark out there. I don't believe it. I think it's bright out there." See this Faith & Leadership links and resources page for more perspectives on theology and the arts. Also see our feature article, "The Changing Nature of Worship."

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