Review: A Brighter Witness: Conversations on the Christian and the Arts

A Brighter Witness: Conversations on the Christian and the ArtsA Brighter Witness: Conversations on the Christian and the Arts by Dwight Gustafson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love Dr. Gustafson’s choral (and other) compositions. I’ve sung them in German in Germany and in Polish in Poland.

I’ve sung under Dr. Gus’ baton as the great man patiently led us college kids (emphasis on “kids”) in a masterpiece (Handel’s Messiah) that we couldn’t possibly understand like he did.

I’ve even heard Dr. Gustafson preach—and preach very effectively—to a small Sunday gathering of barbershop singers. (Beat that!)

And now I’ve read his little collection of quick essays telling stories of his extensive artistic and musical travels. I journeyed with him to see Renaissance art and hear challenging music in Europe; I stepped backstage with him, the conductor, after grand operas; I watched a touching scene Christmas night in a local hospital, as carolers (Dr. Gustafson’s family) bring joy to a sad place.

The shortness of his essays reminds me of a choral gem, Arvo Pärt’s setting of “Bogoroditse Djevo.” The piece makes its point quickly and eloquently, and then, gracefully, it departs.

A very few of Dr. Gus’ gems don’t end quite so gracefully, as if two measures were accidentally added by the printer to an otherwise wonderful piece of sheet music. Yes, several of his moralizing applications (especially at the beginning of the book) seemed out of place. But he presents so many touching anecdotes and rich vignettes that I felt it quite easy to forgive him. A short time well spent.


I’ll provide just one quote, a bit of “moralizing” I felt was well done!

The world beckons in all our decision making, not least in our choices in the arts. Immediate mass communication has determined for us what is normal and acceptable by mass vote, not by any predetermined standard. Quality and value have been replaced by popularity, by average taste which has already become trivial and banal when the digital revolution began. What once was ugly now passes by without comment, let alone protest. Discrimination has been swept aside by desire. (70)

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Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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