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Philosopher Calvin Seerveld on art and Bible translation

04 July 2023

Three questions for philosopher and Institute for Christian Studies professor emeritus Calvin Seerveld


philosopher calvin seerveld

You publish on such a mix of topics, from art theory to translations of the Bible’s wisdom literature. What’s the point of your latest book God Picks Up the Pieces: Ecclesiastes as a Chorus of Voices (Dordt Press, 2023)?

The Bible, I believe, is God-speaking literature. You will only understand Ecclesiastes if you realize it has a back-andforth character like Job. My fresh literary translation catches the blunt, colloquial colour of the original Hebrew that Luther wanted Bible translation to have. The Older Testament can give Newer Testament Christians and unbelievers something vigorous and penetrating to chew on.

You taught philosophical aesthetics in Toronto at the Institute for Christian Studies for decades, past usual retirement age. What is that and why teach it?

Aesthetics, as I understand it, is theoretical examination of the nuances afoot in God’s world, especially the human capability to be imaginative. Teaching aesthetics with Christian antennae provides students with insurance against becoming a dogmatic sourpuss. Probing the meaning of instrumental music, laments, watercolour or oil artistry, and literature, enriches a person with insights hidden to mere passersby.

What advice would you, as a nonagenarian, give to young Canadian Christians interested in making art?

Writing short stories, composing tunes and engraving woodcuts are great hobbies which complement being a parent, office worker, farmer, businessperson or whatever. But making art your professional vocation is a tough choice prone to financial trouble, unless you can do it employed by an institution. Freelance artists need advocates to encourage people to pay for poems for birthdays, portraits for anniversaries, sculptures for our homes, and new psalms for our congregations.

Calvin Seerveld is professor emeritus of aesthetics at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto.

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