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Intersection of Life and Faith

Solely Sola Scriptura?

  • Stan Friedman Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2007 4 Apr
  • COMMENTS
Solely Sola Scriptura?
Neal Morse made headlines when he left his critically acclaimed band, Spock's Beard, after he had a religious conversion. His first solo album Testimony (2003) told the story of his journey to faith. Since then, he has explored theological themes through a series of concept albums. His latest, Sola Scriptura, tells the story of Luther's stand against the Catholic Church. It has sold faster than any of his previous solo works, but also has drawn criticism for its portrayal of Catholicism. Morse's rejection of the Trinitarian view of God also has raised questions about the orthodoxy of his beliefs. He says they're based solely on his interpretation of Scripture (sola scriptura), but admits that his views on the Council of Nicaea were shaped in part by a special on The History Channel. We caught up with Morse recently to ask about these issues and more—including why he thinks prog rock is the best way to express his spiritual journey.How does progressive rock provide a good musical background for telling the epic stories of your concept albums?Neal Morse Progressive rock is so theatrical, and it's boundless. In progressive rock, each section can progress to another section and then to another section. You're not stuck in a particular song format. You can go to wherever the story wants to go, and there's freedom to use all kinds of music.Why did you make Sola Scriptura?Morse I really didn't want to do another concept album—I've done five in a row—so I resisted a friend's idea that I do one on Martin Luther. But I prayed about it for several months and God just put it on my heart and kept saying, "Yes, that's the thing I want you to do." That was the first step, and then I went to library and checked out books on Luther and the Reformation.So far, the lyrics of Sola Scriptura have overshadowed the music. How do you feel about that?MorseOh, I'm glad! The secular audience generally thinks that the lyrics don't matter as long as they fit the music, and I was like that. I'm glad people are paying attention to what I am saying. That's one of the main reasons I made the album.Is Sola Scriptura an attack on the Catholic Church?Morse It takes place in Luther's time, but I go beyond that all the way to the book of Revelation. I think it's important to understand that throughout history, the church fell away from Jesus and his teachings. It fell away from "Love your enemies," for example. That's what I'm trying to paint through Martin Luther and the Catholic Church. That is the first step to understanding Sola Scriptura.The second step would be to ask, "If the church fell away and got poisoned and tainted, then what else besides 'The just shall live by faith' got twisted?" What else do we see in the Scriptures that we don't see in the church, or do we see in the church but don't see in the Scriptures? What do we all need to reform?In "The Conflict," the second track on Sola Scriptura, you have the Catholic Church of that day declaring, "Look, I've got great big armies like a General/I may have a mistress but at least I'm a hetero" Why did you write those lines?Morse I read about a pope who wanted to be known as the conquering pope, like a great general, and I thought what a contrast to Christ's life. There was another pope that was homosexual, and another pope had a lot of mistresses. I wrote that line mainly because I was looking for something to rhyme with "general," but I wasn't sure whether I should leave that. I prayed about it, and even up to near the end of the album I wondered if I should change some of the lines because they were pretty hard. But a couple weeks later, a friend who didn't know anything about the album said to me he was reading that Luther was so appalled by the immorality when he went to Rome. One of the priests said to him, "We may have mistresses, but at least we're not homosexuals." But of course, all the sins of the flesh are equal. They're not listed by degrees.Is the criticism fair that the story of Martin Luther and the Reformation often neglects the shortcomings of the reformers?Morse I don't really want to focus so much on Martin Luther and the Catholic Church, but on what is the spirit of the corrupt church and what is the spirit of the true church? My thought is that there is this spirit in the church that wants to kill everything that isn't like it. Even the reformers had it, and the reform churches may still have it.When do you believe the corruption of the church began? Morse It seems to me that there was a steady decline. My goal is to have people step back and take a look at the big picture. What are the fruits of this declining church?Why did you include liner notes about Martin Luther's anti-Semitic comments?Morse I was pretty much done with the album. Then one day I was looking for something on the Internet, and came across these anti-Semitic remarks by Martin Luther, and I was really disheartened and felt strongly that I should say so. I want people to know that I know. I didn't feel like I should scrap the album, because I still feel that God used Luther to bring more light to the world and the church. [See "Was Luther Anti-Semitic?" from Christian History & Biography.]Your message board has a long, ongoing discussion about your views on the Trinity and the nature of Jesus, but can you give a thumbnail sketch of what you believe?Morse I believe there is one God the Father, that he has a son, Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the father; and the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of God. I'm neither Trinitarian nor Oneness Pentecostal. I think I'm something different. I simply like to say that I'm a disciple of Christ. I believe that the best thing to do is to stick with Scripture—sola scriptura.Do you believe Jesus was a created being?Morse I wouldn't put it that way. I think "begotten" may be distinct from "created." I don't want to make less of God's Son than some people say I do. He is the unique Son of God, and all power has been given to him in heaven and earth. But a son comes from a father. In 1 Corinthians 15:28, it says that in the end times Jesus is subjected to the Father. In the Gospel of John, Jesus doesn't do anything except what the Father tells him to do. I don't see in the Scriptures how Jesus and God can be co-equaI and the same person. I'm just trying to acknowledge what the Scriptures say—that all power has been given to him, and that we should worship him and serve him.Weren't these issues settled for Christians at the Council of Nicaea, when the Arian view of Jesus as a created being was rejected and the Trinity affirmed?Morse I probably need to study it more. I'm not sure exactly what the Arians believed. I think that the Council of Nicaea was not a godly event. I was watching the History Channel where it showed that Constantine really didn't care how it came out; he just wanted unity so he could conquer other nations. So it seems to me that the spirit of conquering was very present there, but I wasn't there, and I don't want to pretend to be an expert on the Council of Nicaea.Do you see yourself as a teacher or a prophet?Morse When I prayed to the Lord and asked what my gift was, I felt more like my gift was that of an evangelist. But these albums take on more of a teaching kind of mode, but they also could be considered evangelism. If I were to come to your church, my gift would be more of an evangelist. I testify a lot about what God has done in my life. I usually don't get into the meat of the doctrine. I guess I save that for the albums. I'd like to open people's eyes to more of God's truth, if God will allow it. He has to do it. The Spirit of the Lord has to reveal things and draw people.How have Christians responded to your views on the Trinity?Morse There are some who have separated from me over this issue, and there are others who have not. I'm just praying that the Lord will lead us all into his truth.You stress the importance of Christian unity and charity to one another. What does that mean to you?Morse I like to use those Scriptures in Ephesians 4:3 and Ephesians 4:13. It seems to me that we should endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit until we all come to the unity of the faith. I'd like to see more of that.How can Christians have unity if there isn't a common understanding on the nature of God?Morse I understand that, but I see something different in the Scriptures. I don't see Jesus cutting people off, unless they're actively trying to tear down what he's doing. An example is Mark 9 where the disciples want Jesus to rebuke the man who was casting out demons in Jesus' name, and he told them, "Whoever is not against us is for us." So I think if people are endeavoring to do what the Lord is calling them to do, then I think we should really embrace them as brothers until we all come to the unity of the faith.How do we reach that unity?Morse I think we need to ask how we can be more like the disciples that Jesus was teaching and looking for. I encourage people to read the Bible themselves daily. As it says in the book of Acts, the Bereans were more noble because they searched the Scriptures daily to see if these things be so. If we continue in these things, God will open our eyes more to his truth so that things that were corrupted can be restored. Then we will call come together in the unity of the faith.Do you enjoy the theological debates and discussions as much as it seems?Morse I do! I have to hold myself back because I don't want to operate in my own spirit. I want to operate in the spirit of Christ. In religion we can bring our own spirit to the table and I try to be careful about that.Are you surprised that people who followed you in your secular career continue to pay attention?MorseI'm amazed! Sola Scriptura is selling faster than any album so far. I keep thinking if I do this, the bottom is really going to fall out of this thing. I thought that, too, when I dropped out of my band and made Testimony. So all along my mind's always telling me that this is going to be a disaster, but God is always saying, "Come forth, come forth. Everything's going to be all right."Do you ever look back on your CDs and think, "I don't agree with that theologically anymore"?Morse Not since I got saved, but certainly on some of the secular things that I wrote before I got saved. I would like to play some of those songs again because I like a lot of the music. But there are parts that I don't agree with now. That becomes a problem because I don't want to sing something I don't believe.Why have you done tours in which you've played acoustic concerts in European churches?Morse We've done that three or four times now, and the last one was awesome. We had atheists and others who've never experienced the Holy Ghost having an experience with the Lord. A lot of people are really coming to know Jesus, and it is really exciting.Learn more about Neal Morse at his website, www.nealmorse.com. You can read our take on his album Sola Scriptura by clicking here© Stan Friedman, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.