Received wisdom

Norrington’s genius is not really for persuading.  It’s for provoking, and for liberating us from the dead weight of received “wisdom.”

-Richard Morrison, BBC Music Magazine

Sir Roger Norrington is a conductor whose unconventional musical interpretations have informed the art-music world.  Morrison’s entire article on this musical iconoclast was fair and equally informative.

Far from mere questions of period sensitivity and literal interpretation of questionable tempo markings in composers’ scores, though, a more significant question is begged in my longing heart:  Will a “provoker” arise among Christians to liberate us all in the same vein? 

I am usually discouraged, but only rarely surprised anymore, by the influence that received “church wisdom” seems to have among otherwise thinking people.  Since the Apostle Paul was already writing needed correctives in the middle of the first century, it stands to reason that later theological developments were likely to have moved further from the original intent.  This natural presupposition causes me to look cautiously and curiously, not adoringly or subserviently, at the writings of “church fathers” and at the practices of believing communities in the 2nd, 4th, and 16th centuries, etc.

Although we must learn from later history (in which God did not inspire as He did in the earliest days), we dare not worship it.


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