Jeremy Begbie is the Thomas A. Langford Research Professor of Theology at Duke Divinity School where he teaches systematic theology with particular attention to the interplay of theology and the arts. He has performed extensively as a pianist, oboist, and conductor. As an ordained minister in the Church of England, he has also spent time as an assistant pastor in West London. Dr. Begbie recently sat down to answer a few questions about Will Willimon’s new novel Incorporation.
What were your first impressions of the novel, or rather, what seemed to be going on in the novel?
JB: Well, at the very least, the novel is an exposé of the corruption at work in every church to some degree. Obviously, this is an extreme example, but we certainly can’t run away from what Willimon uncovers here. It is an uncomfortable book, for all its Willimon-esque hilarity.
What particularly struck you in particular?
JB: One thing in particular that struck me is that Incorporation is about a church that is not only corrupt, but hugely “successful”. On the outside, the church is wealthy, large, and respected. This should be a chilling reminder to us about the superficiality of our own estimations of what counts as important.
What about this should give us pause?
JB: Well, very few of the characters set out to do what they know to be evil. Many of them seem to just fall into godless ways. It’s not a book about calculating serial killers or child rapists. There is a kind of complacency, rather than a deliberate, knowing, conscious desire to do things known to be wrong. And yet, there is something or Someone that holds them together. In a way, it reminds me of one of Will’s favorite authors, Flannery O’Connor, who openly admits the unattractiveness of many of her characters, but at the same time, compels us to admit that grace is at work among them.
Which characters stood out for you?
JB: My favorite character was Stephen, who gives us a glimpse of what it’s like to be a slightly naïve, wide-eyed, idealistic pastor, with all the idealism of youth, who enters a pretty ugly setting. Admittedly, he’s the only one I really liked.
As a musician myself, I didn’t care much for the musicians, perhaps because I see too much of myself in them and have met too many like this!
What do you think of Willimon as a novelist?
JB: He is excellent – he writes superbly with lovely turns-of-phrases, keeps my attention, and has the ability to capture a scene strikingly. I reckon he should write another one soon.