This project might not be for everyone but, for some, it could be a dream come true: a 1980s-style rock opera based on the life of Martin Luther.
Neal Morse is a master of what is called “prog-rock,” a hybrid genre of rock and classical music pioneered by bands like Yes, Genesis and Kansas. Morse has led a popular prog-rock group called Spock’s Beard.
Sola Scriptura (Radiant Records, 2007, available at Neal Morse's Web site) is soaring, bombastic and gloriously self-indulgent.
In terms of content, the project doesn’t tell the story of the Reformation so much as it uses themes from Luther’s struggle to present a universal tale. It opens with a dark portrait of a community that conquers and kills in the name of God. The Luther figure arises as a solitary believer who asks, “How can I keep silent when I know the truth?” After a struggle with his conscience, he makes his witness public (posting it on a door). He is then hunted like “a wild boar in a vineyard” and cast out by those who are “party to the lie.” This all leads to the work’s stirring conclusion: “God can change the world with just one willing soul.”
The tone of this epic is decidedly apocalyptic: each character represents “good” or “evil” with nothing in between. Historically we know that Luther had many faults and the Roman Catholics he opposed had many virtues. But this is no nuanced history lesson, and Morse wants the “corrupt church” in his drama to be identified with the generic threat of coercive, self-serving religion that can exist anytime, anywhere. We all know the demonic allure of seeking power and self-preservation, and yet (like Luther) we know we’ve been chosen by God for something better: to be people marked with the cross of Christ.
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers