Tuesday, June 12, 2012

In Light of the Tony Awards: Christianity On Jesus Christ Superstar

Meet me in person and it won't take you long to figure out that I have a strong passion for musical theatre. I've been involved in the theatre community for quite some time, and that involvement has led me into quite a few intellectual dilemmas that I play out often in my head. One of those dramas comes from a musical by a favorite composer of mine: Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Webber wrote the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar" along with lyricist Tim Rice, who has been quoted as saying that the musical and its creators view Jesus as a man and nothing more. I find this interesting because, aside from one particular song, the "pop opera" seems to covey the contrary. In fact, when Jesus goes before the authorities, he still uses the famous "I am" statement that clearly portrays him as the promised Messiah and as God himself.

The show takes certain liberties with characters, especially Judas, who drives the narrative of the story, and Mary, who falls in love with Jesus and has an entire song about how she doesn't "know how to love him." I have little to know problem with these changes. It's entirely possible that a woman could fall in love with Jesus. That love doesn't affect essential doctrine at all.

As for Judas, his character is strongly critical of the direction Jesus' ministry takes. His concern for his own life and the lives of Jesus' followers leads him to betray Jesus, and the show's title comes from Judas' misunderstanding of Jesus' mission and purpose. There are plenty of ways the historical Judas can be viewed. The Bible doesn't give us too many details, and the way that Webber's musical portrays the character is in no way blasphemous. In fact, Judas' point of view serves as the perfect example of the ignorance and misunderstanding that so many had - even the disciples (until Jesus rose from the dead and opened their eyes).

If the show were just from Judas' perspective, I would have no problem with the musical - not even its lack of a resurrection scene. The problem is, there are certain scenes that cannot be from Judas' perspective, as he is not present to witness them. One of these scenes, in particular, poses the essential problem for the Christian who wants to like this musical (and I do want to like it - I quite love the music, itself).

In the Garden of Gethsemane scene Jesus sings the song "I Only Want To Say." Take a look at the lyrics below and tell me if you see the problem.
I have changed I'm not as sure
As when we started
Then I was inspired
Now I'm sad and tired
Listen surely I've exceeded
Tried for three years
Seems like thirty
Could you ask as much
From any other man?
I'd want to know
I'd want to know my God
I'd want to know
I'd want to know my God
I'd want to see
I'd want to see my God
I'd want to see
I'd want to see my God
Why I should die
Would I be more noticed
Than I ever was before?
Would the things I've said and done
If I die what will be my reward?
If I die what will be my reward?
I'd have to know
I'd have to know my Lord
I'd have to know
I'd have to know my Lord
Why, why should I die?
Oh, why should I die?
Can you show me now
That I would not be killed in vain?
Show me just a little
Of your omnipresent brain
Show me there's a reason
For your wanting me to die
You're far too keen on where and how
But not so hot on why
Alright I'll die!
Just watch me die!
See how, see how I die!

Oh, just watch me die!
This one song presents Jesus as a mere man with no knowledge of God's will and no certainty in his purpose, a man without God's omniscience. But we know from the Bible that Jesus did indeed understand God's will, even if he also felt weak and tired and did not want to suffer the fate of the cross. Scripture also confirms that Jesus was not mere man, but fully man and fully God. He may have held back his omniscience at times to make a point or to lead someone to faith, but he always had those "powers."

Thus, unfortunately, much to my regret, I cannot approve of the musical. "Jesus Christ Superstar" clearly purports a view of Jesus as just man, one that contradicts Scripture and that contradicts other elements within the musical. If Judas had witnessed the Gethsemane scene, perhaps Jesus' lyrics could have taken on a meaning filtered through Judas' eyes, but without that, Jesus takes on a persona that is indeed wrong and contrary to Scripture. Furthermore, the answers to Judas' questions are staring us straight in the face. It's ironic that the creators of this musical can't seem to figure that out.

On the subject of Christian approval of the musical - I can support the creators' rights to put their viewpoint out there, and I can appreciate their talent displayed in the wonderful music of the show, but just because I support someone's right to believe in a particular political position, does not mean I am going to go out and financially support it or protest right along those who do support it.

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