Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Godspell: Forget About the Resurrection; It’s How Jesus Makes You Feel That’s Important

“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise...and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins... If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (The apostle Paul, from 1 Corinthians 15)

Is it truly necessary for a soul-satisfying subscription to Christianity that Jesus was an actual Person, that His teachings and miracles were historic events, and that His death on a cross (let alone His resurrection from the grave) occurred in a true space-time continuum?

Of course.

As the apostle Paul emphasizes in the passage quoted above, if Jesus’ death and resurrection were not (in every physical, evidential, and rational way) true historic events, then our religion is not only worthless, it is tragic.

Nevertheless, the relativistic spirit of our age has deeply corroded the life of the church so that we now have many Christians who are deeply desirous that their religious experiences provide emotional satisfaction, social interaction, and an uplift in self-esteem but who disregard as unimportant (and maybe even false) the bedrock teachings of orthodox Christianity. Those teachings must include original and universal sin, the wages of sin being eternal judgment, the desperate need of all mankind for salvation, the miraculous intervention of God into human history, the time-space reality of the gospel events, and the imminently reasonableness (and relevance) of the written Word of God.

Stephen Schwartz, the composer of the music and lyrics to Godspell, once defended the 1971 musical’s lack of a resurrection scene, by saying the truth or falsity of the thing didn’t really matter. It was what Jesus’s teachings and examples stimulated in others that was important. It’s a sentiment quite popular nowadays; that is, religion is an irrational, subjective leap whose purposes are completely served if they provide satisfying sentiments for individual adherents. Universal, objective truth? That ain’t where it’s at, brother. It’s just about what works for you.

Schwartz wrote in a later edition of the musical’s script, “Over the years, there has been comment from some about the lack of an apparent Resurrection in the show. Some choose to view the curtain call, in which Jesus appears, as symbolic of the resurrection; others point to the moment when the cast raise Jesus above their heads. While either view is valid, both miss the point. Godspell is about the formation of a community which carries on Jesus’ teachings after he has gone. In other words, it is the effect Jesus has on the others which is the story of the show, not whether or not he himself is resurrected. Therefore, it is very important at the end of the show that it be clear that the others have come through the violence and pain of the crucifixion sequence and leave with a joyful determination to carry on the ideas and feelings they have learned during the course of the show.”

Get the picture. Godspell was designed to emphasize merely the “effect” Jesus had on others, “the formation of a community,” and “a joyful determination to carry on the ideas and feelings” that came from being around Jesus. The musical doesn’t care about a physical resurrection and therefore, it doesn’t care about the express purpose for the crucifixion in the first place. No, history, rationality, theological continuity and integrity — these mean (for all intents and purposes) nothing to Stephen Schwartz and to so many who are intent on preaching a new doctrine…even when they must disrespect and distort the foundational doctrines of Christianity and the historical record to do so.