Speaker Q&A with Aaron Jeffrey: Encountering God Through Beauty
Aaron Jeffrey will speak on beauty at Think Well 2018, with a general talk as well as a special-focus session on music. Originally from Michigan, he is currently a scholar-in-residence with Mars Hill Audio (radio ministry of Ken Myers) and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University (in the UK). He and his family (wife Amy and daughters Payton and Sarah) have lived in the Charlottesville area since 2015. For those unfamiliar with Mars Hill Audio, can you give a little synopsis of where you work and what you do there? Aaron Jeffrey (AJ): Mars Hill Audio is a Christian ministry located in Charlottesville, VA. We initiate and encourage conversations with current leaders in thought in order to develop audio and written resources that aim to help people make sense of the way we experience life today. I serve as Mars Hill Audio’s scholar-in-residence—directing research and contributing as senior editor. Q: Do you have a favorite aspect of your work there, or a favorite interviewee?
AJ: Mars Hill Audio is best known for its bimonthly Audio Journal. Each issue features over 100 minutes of edited interviews with perceptive and engaging thinkers concerning the influences that shape our experience of life (also includes commentary). Every Audio Journal is excellent . . . ahem. People can receive a free demo issue at marshillaudio.org/demo or download the Mars Hill Audio app from the Apple App Store. My favorite interviewees are always my friends: Simon Oliver, Mike Di Fuccia, John Milbank, David C. Schindler, and Adrian Pabst! Can you give a little teaser on your two Think Well talks? Why is this area important to “think well” about? AJ: We will discuss God’s gift of beauty (in general) and music (in particular) in order to relate these concerns to His good work in and among us—shaping our character for the defense and confirmation of the gospel. It is important to “think well” about this because our encounter with beauty produces a more real and profound sort of knowledge than mere rational deduction. Careful reflection is, of course, essential. However, if we do not attend to beauty, then our knowledge-faith will be impoverished and our living communion with God will be compromised. Music is, of course, an important part of modern life. It’s everywhere—influencing us in mysterious ways. How can we, in some way, affirm it while also developing discernment concerning the ways it is forming us for good or ill? How did you get interested in this area? Any particular influences or inspirations? AJ: My interest in this area is most fundamentally pastoral. I want people to “taste and see” God’s goodness in ways that encourage joyful communion with Him in discipleship to Jesus Christ. Hans Urs von Balthasar (20th-century theologian-philosopher) has probably taught me the most on this topic. Any favorite artists (visual or musical)? AJ: That’s a difficult question . . . I will stick to contemporary artists. I appreciate the French composer Olivier Messiaen and the American composer Morten Lauridsen. . . . I know, that does not sound very “cool.” Concerning the visual arts, I appreciate the English artist Walter David Jones. The poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins is superb, though he is not contemporary. I, of course, have to mention J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and George MacDonald as well. In the end, I appreciate all soulful work that attends to the actual standards of beauty’s form. Beauty is, however, not restricted to what we call “the arts.” Beauty surrounds us and offers us opportunities to encounter the true and living God in every moment. What’s one thing people may be surprised to learn about you? AJ: Most people are surprised that I enjoy athletics . . . but I don’t watch sports—again, I know, not “cool.” My children were surprised when I demonstrated my ability to perform breakdance moves! Anything else you’d like to add about yourself or why you’re looking forward to Think Well? AJ: I look forward to the Think Well conference because I enjoy every opportunity to encourage younger people to explore what really matters in order to live the truly good life.