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Getting the Blues: A Review

October 29, 2009

Stephen J. Nichols, Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches Us About Suffering and Salvation (Brazos, 2008), $22.99 CDN. 192 pages.

Check out my review of Stephen Nichols’ Getting the Blues (Part 1Part 2), published last spring in Crux, Regent College’s quarterly journal. I had almost completely forgotten about the review, which explains why I’m putting it on the site a year after I wrote it. Picture 1

The review was actually in the can long before spring. I had pitched the idea to a receptive editor at a fairly large religion and culture website. When the economic downturn left him on the outside, there was nobody available to read my finished review (despite trying for months!!). Frustrated, I finally sent it to the good folks at Crux, who quickly gave it a home.

Publishers Weekly calls Getting the Blues “a splendid little book,” and I would have to agree. The blues, in all their variegated splendour, have a lot to teach us, and Nichols is an excellent guide to the genre. There are no prerequisites required. Nichols packs his little book with information, a veritable who’s who of the blues.

Like many evangelical academics, Nichols self-consciously reflects on evangelical identity in a pretty honest way, and says the blues has much to teach Wheaton and Colorado Springs.Picture 2

It’s one of the facets of the evangelical subculture that might surprise outside observers. Mark Noll might be right, there’s not much of an evangelical mind, but you can still find some pretty sharp ones if you care to look (for instance, at Noll himself). Nichols has written other books along these lines, including Jesus Made in America, a cultural history of American Jesuses.

For all of that, my review stops short of unqualified endorsement. Any book on the blues might do well to take stock of black theology, which has already tread upon these grounds a quarter century ago. Nichols stops short of really engaging with black theology, admittedly not an easy task. He also has a tendency to push the blues into a systematic theological frame, where it doesn’t quite fit.

But read this book for yourself.

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