Bach the Evangelist

The distinguished journalist Uwe Siemon-Netto has written an article for an Asian publication on the huge appeal in Asian cultures of Johann Sebastian Bach. The article includes specific accounts of people converting to Christianity through his music:

Maruyama is passionate about Bach – she attributes her conversion from Buddhism to Christianity to his music. “When I play a fugue, I can hear Bach talking to God,” she told Metro Lutheran, a monthly church paper in the Twin Cities.
. . . . . . . .
eipzig’s late “superintendent” (regional bishop) Rev. Johannes Richter used to wonder even back in the days when this city was part of Communist East Germany: “What is it about his work that evidently bridges all cultural divides and has such a massive missionary impact for Christianity in faraway parts of the world?”

For years, Richter observed with growing fascination how in his Gothic sanctuary, Japanese musicologist Keisuke Maruyama studied the influence of the weekday pericopes (prescribed readings) in the early 18th-century Lutheran lectionary cycle on Bach’s cantatas. When he had finished, he told the clergyman: “It is not enough to read Christian texts. I want to be a Christian myself. Please baptize me.”
. . . . . . . .
Why would even listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which contain no lyrics, arouse someone’s interest in Christianity? This happened when Masashi Yasuda, a former agnostic, heard a CD with Canadian pianist Glenn Gould’s rendering of this complex Clavier-Übung, or keyboard study. Still, Yasuda’s spiritual journey began precisely with these variations. He is now a Jesuit priest teaching systematic theology at Sophia University in Tokyo.
. . . . . . .
Rev. Robert Bergt, musical director of Concordia’s Bach at the Sem concert series, has first-hand experience with the missionary lure of Bach’s cantatas in Tokyo. He used to be the chief conductor of Musashino Music Academy’s three orchestras in the Japanese capital. Bach’s compositions brought his musicians, audiences and students into contact with the Word of God, he said. “Some of these people would then in private declare themselves as ‘closet Christians,’” Bergt told Christian History magazine. “I saw this happen at least 15 times. And during one of them I eventually baptized myself.” While only one percent of Japan’s population of 128 million is officially Christian, Bergt estimated that the real figure could be three times as high if one includes secret believers.

How does this tie into our discussion of “witnessing” to people?

HT: Paul McCain & Cyberbrethren

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • fw

    I am not sure it means anything. I have seen converts to mormonism because of donny and marie, to the witnesses from michael jackson, to nichiren shoshu buddhism from tina turner, to scientology from tom cruz, to islam from cat stevens, to the bahai faith from seals and crofts… people becoming converted from listening to fugues…. not.

    but.

    The passions oratorios of Bach. well….. they ARE the clasp for the jewel of God´s Word..Jesus, just as father bach intended them to be…they are as powerful a preaching as I have ever heard.

    And it makes perfect sense to see someone driven into the pericope .. to the Word… to understand Bach. When what someone does or writes drives you into the scriptures, that is probably never a bad sign.

    He preaches rather boldly for someone who is dead.

    So just maybe…..

    I would be interested to hear from the good organshoes on this one!

  • fw

    I am not sure it means anything. I have seen converts to mormonism because of donny and marie, to the witnesses from michael jackson, to nichiren shoshu buddhism from tina turner, to scientology from tom cruz, to islam from cat stevens, to the bahai faith from seals and crofts… people becoming converted from listening to fugues…. not.

    but.

    The passions oratorios of Bach. well….. they ARE the clasp for the jewel of God´s Word..Jesus, just as father bach intended them to be…they are as powerful a preaching as I have ever heard.

    And it makes perfect sense to see someone driven into the pericope .. to the Word… to understand Bach. When what someone does or writes drives you into the scriptures, that is probably never a bad sign.

    He preaches rather boldly for someone who is dead.

    So just maybe…..

    I would be interested to hear from the good organshoes on this one!

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    I presented this story in a Bible class during Advent. The story also mentioned how the Japanese would be perplexed because their language had no precise word with which to translate Bach’s word for “hope.” Well, as I was studying Scripture, I recognized that this did not mean dynamism was missing from Japan, or even perhaps certain kinds of optimism. Christian hope, as Advent reminds us, is like that of those who waited for the first coming of Christ. Reflecting on the often dark background of hope, my pastor decided to preach a sermon a couple weeks later on the 39th generation (out of Matthew’s 42). What would it be like to be them? Yet the promise was fulfilled. Bach’s talk of Christian hope, along with other themes in his librettos, was what was doing the evangelizing.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    I presented this story in a Bible class during Advent. The story also mentioned how the Japanese would be perplexed because their language had no precise word with which to translate Bach’s word for “hope.” Well, as I was studying Scripture, I recognized that this did not mean dynamism was missing from Japan, or even perhaps certain kinds of optimism. Christian hope, as Advent reminds us, is like that of those who waited for the first coming of Christ. Reflecting on the often dark background of hope, my pastor decided to preach a sermon a couple weeks later on the 39th generation (out of Matthew’s 42). What would it be like to be them? Yet the promise was fulfilled. Bach’s talk of Christian hope, along with other themes in his librettos, was what was doing the evangelizing.


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