Theology and the Blues
Edited by Justin McLendon
While all music genres incorporate religious imagery, the blues has its origin in the soil of the church. In its infancy, the blues was considered the “Devil’s Music,” often dismissed as undermining the church’s gospel songbook. The initial resistance, however, could not suppress the organic development of a genre of music born from suffering. The great Mississippi Delta bluesman, Muddy Waters, once said, “The blues was born behind a mule.” Behind a beast of burden, the working man found in the blues a way to console the everyday experiences of struggle, sin, loss, despair, love, grief, sin, death, and the fear and hope of crossing the River Jordan into eternal life. The church’s gospel songbook explores doctrinal foundations set to music, but the blues dares to uncover insight into the lived experiences of spiritual journeys. Though the ghosts of blues legends still roam honky-tonks and juke joints, the music their struggle created is celebrated throughout the world. While Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters, B. B. King, and Stevie Ray Vaughan speak to the blues’ past, modern blues flourishes from the American rock-blues of John Mayer to the soaring guitar spells of Joe Bonamassa (who at the age of twelve opened for B. B. King) all the way to the Serbian born Ana Popović to the Icelandic blues-rock band Kaleo. In short, the blues is thriving.
Theology and the Blues showcases theological themes inherent within the organic and expressive genre of the blues. Instead of asking, ‘what can theology teach us about music,” Jeremy Begbie claims we should instead ask, “what can music teach us about theology?” Blues music teaches us how theology is lived, questioned, jettisoned, and distilled within humanity. The blues offers safe space to explore the raw material of our fallen condition, urging our voices to join the universal, primal cry for new creation. Music teaches theology, and if we listen carefully, the blues teaches us a theology our world desperately needs.
Potential Topics include but are not limited to:
- Confession, for the blues candidly, and sometimes humorously, depicts the honesty required with the Almighty.
- Drift, because there is a prodigal impulse in every wandering heart.
- Love, because the human heart longs for intimacy in all its mysterious profundity.
- Unrequited love, because sometimes hearts quake under love’s rejection.
- Lament, for this world is not the way it was supposed to be, and the blues especially incorporates the biblical concept of lament.
- Loneliness, for every pilgrim experiences painful isolation in this East of Eden life.
- Grief, for our hearts leak pain at the horror of loss; and death, for the promised Christian hope of eternal life resonates with every rhythm change of twelve bar blues.
- James Cone, Liberation Theology, and the Blues
Proposals should be between 300–700 words. Please attach a CV and abstract of your proposed chapter. Chapter length will depend on number of submissions but are expected to be 5000–7000 words. Email proposals to email@example.com with the subject line “Theology and the Blues Proposal.”
Proposal Due Date: November 15, 2021
Chapter Submission Due: May 1, 2022