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People Are Talking About Jesus Christ (Superstar) and Some Christians Are Mad

    Once again, Christians have an opportunity to join in on a conversation about Jesus. The Easter live broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar has received rave reviews and the audience was wowed by good production, well done music, and one telling of the last week of Jesus’ life.

    But an article in the Washington Post (to see the article click here), notes the number of people who are in some way not happy with the musical or in some cases, were even offended. They are upset that Judas seems more complex and not simply serves as a flat villain. They are upset at the allusions to some possible romantic feelings between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. They are angry that the story ends with the crucifixion and doesn’t include the resurrection. The list goes on.

    These same criticisms were unleashed when the musical first came out in the early 70s. Then, in a time where religion was even more staid, outcries against Jesus Christ Superstar were loud and virulent. It was pure heresy. A friend of mine shared a story about his then future wife, the organist at their church, playing “Look at All My Trials and Tribulations,” as music during communion in church one Sunday. Hoping to keep church connected, she thought it was an appropriate choice. She was surprised when the backlash came about how inappropriate such a song was for church!


So here are my suggestions:

  • First, relax Christians! The musical has been around for almost a half century. There wasn’t anything super new in this. The production was fresh, well done and current. But the story line and the songs were now in the modern classics category. Whatever outrage you feel the chance to share, you probably have nothing new to say that wasn’t already said forty years ago.
  • Second, no matter how much Christians got caught up in the attention Judas got, no one (NO ONE!) at the end of the program was watching the crucifixion of Jesus and the cross drifting back into the light and thinking about Judas. Reports are that the live theater crowd was watching in stunned silence. And all eyes were where? On Jesus! That's a fantastic outcome!
  • Third, in the context of Easter, in a culture that still has plenty of residual awareness about some Christian themes, the musical doesn’t function in a vacuum. Most people know that the story continues with Jesus being raised from the dead. And since the musical leaves Jesus as the key, likable figure, people want him to make it.


And that leads to the bottom line – any positive discussions in our society about who Jesus was and is are a great chance for the church to be the church. Well-done presentations like Jesus Christ Superstar offer the church a chance to join a conversation that has gone public and has people looking at Jesus and saying, “Wow!” Rather than whining (I am tired of whiny church-speak), the church should join the conversation, share more about the story, and take advantage of this brief window of interest to share the good news in whatever ways make sense. For a few days this week, in part because of a musical, people are actually talking about Jesus!

Dave Daubert 4/3/2018 18 Comments
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Herb
4/3/2018

Well said. Thank you.

Dave 4/3/2018

Thanks Herb! Hope you get a chance to discuss Jesus with someone this week as a result!

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Ken DuVall
4/4/2018

Dave, You are right - in a society that talks of everything aside from church related topics, "Jesus Christ Superstar" gives opportunities to talk about one's belief in an evangelical manner! Lutherans NEED to talk the faith and be more outgoing - JCS gives shy Lutherans a handle from which to express views, thoughts and beliefs!

Dave 4/4/2018

Ken, Yes, Lutherans and most mainline Christians need help and reasons to share their faith and talk about Jesus with others. And you are also right that Jesus Christ Superstar offers us a doorway. Leaders need to help remind the people they serve and lead of the opportunities around us in the next week or two and help people have the alertness to offer gracious witness and discussion with the people around them. Thanks!

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Richard Wilson
4/3/2018

As Paul said I know one thing and that is Christ cruscifide.

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Carl Hansen
4/4/2018

Good analysis, Dave. Thanks for sharing it. I remember the outdoor when this first appeared on Broadway. I was in New York and walked to the theater where it was being performed -- lots of protestors there warning people they watched it at the "peril or their souls."

Dave 4/4/2018

Carl, Yes, there were lots of protests in the 70s over this. And, to be fair, the religious critics of this performance were echoing the same arguments as those protesters back then but weren't protesting - just complaining. But it makes me sad to see the church waste a good conversation on whining and complaining. Thanks for your comment!

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Mary
4/4/2018

I was at a friend's house on Sunday night, so I didn't watch it until Monday (grateful that NBC had it up online right away). I saw the movie years ago, but I liked this production SO MUCH. As a former theatre person, I was tracking the choices made across the whole show and I was really impressed with the subtleties that were everywhere. I will say that the sound mix had problems from time to time. In a live performance, where perhaps the audience hasn't been a factor before, this can happen - but I think they could have solved the vocal issues. Other than that, I thought the whole thing was great. I've heard many people say that they disagreed with the casting of John Legend as Jesus, that the role is written for a rocker to sing (someone mentioned Stephen Tyler). I think Legend was fine; it's hard not to be overshadowed by an immense talent like Brandon Dixon. Legend is an R&B/jazz singer, which I think was a good contrast to Dixon's solid Broadway intensity. Others complained about

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Jane
4/3/2018

I have loved Jesus Christ Superstar since it came out and I was a child listening to it. It is a reason why I became a guitarist, as those riffs were so powerful and well-placed. It also helped my Christian journey as Gethsemane is one of the most powerful retellings of Jesus's angst filled conversation with his Father in the garden. Having always been attracted to guitar based rock and roll, Jesus Christ Superstar spoke more to my faith than traditional church music or even the classics like Handel's Messiah. (I know this is heresy to some music lovers, but so be it!) I am devout in my faith, although very imperfect, and I have never had a problem with Jesus Christ Superstar. I love everything about it and I love the fact that they brought it back. I hope the conversations continue!

Dave 4/3/2018

Jane, yes it is a way that many of us have encountered the story of Jesus in a way that connected when others wouldn't. Music, story, and the edginess of it all have an impact and allow people to reflect. I too hope the conversations continue!Thanks.

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Debra
4/3/2018

Thank you Pastor. I remember buying the album when it was first released. None of my friends would even listen to it. I was so disappointed because I thought it was an amazing way to open dialog about Jesus, about Holy Week. Sadly, the only thing I heard was how "wrong" it was from the people around me. I read and reread books in the bible to understand more about the story. In fact, at that point in my life I hadn't been to church more than once or twice and my parents never spoke about anything religious. So that musical opened a lot of ideas/thoughts/windows for me. I guess it was a catalyst for the journey I took to look for answers.

Dave 4/3/2018

I had the same experience. I didn't go to church in the 70s as I grew up in an unchurched family. Musicals like JC Superstar and Godspell helped me learn the story and develop curiosity. Without them, my journey from unchurched to pastor would have been very different and may not have happened. That's part of why it makes me so sad to see Christians take a wonderful chance to have a discussion and use it to simply criticize what was mostly excellent work. Thanks Debra!

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Gregg Blossom
4/3/2018

And if I remember the "original" movie version, the ONLY actor we don't see get back on the bus is Ted Neely, the one playing Jesus. This is a very subtle reference to the tomb and impending resurrection. I found that VErY powerful as well.

Erik Olson 4/5/2018

Gregg - also in the movie version, Ted Neely doesn't get off the bus in the opening scene. Mary carries a robe to the middle of the dance circle and Jesus appears in the middle of the circle. And in the closing scene, you can see below the horizon, a shepherd walk across the screen followed by a flock of sheep - another hint of resurrection.

Dave 4/3/2018

Yes, there are more than a few pointers to the resurrection. In the version Sunday night, the way the light backlit the cross as it departed was at least a hint, in my mind. And the final reprise of Jesus Christ, Superstar seems to celebrate Jesus as a heroic figure and not just a dead failure. Thanks for the comment.

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Jan
4/4/2018

Jews might be more offended as the villains in black, or women, since Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute, but it is a brilliant musical, and captures Jesus' humanity so movingly, I cried my eyes out.. Judas, like Javert in Les Miserables, is a complex villein. Time to grow up, people. This is not Disney.

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Rev. David A. Peters
4/3/2018

It was so great to hear the audience (the crowd) cheering and clapping and hollering as the actors appeared and as they sang their songs and told their stories. I think the crowd gathered for the performance really understood what was going on--perhaps not everyone, but most. I was glued to the TV and was so tired from Sunday morning Easter worship services that I really wanted to go to bed, but I could not, because the show was just so good. Thanks to all the actors, the song writers, and the choreographers and directors and whomever else for a great production. Nothing to complain about here.

Dave 4/3/2018

That was my reaction, too. It had been a long day and my wife had fallen asleep as the show began. But part way through she woke up, was drawn in to the story and show, and was awake and alert and engaged almost immediately. It was done well enough to keep people's attention and offered more than enough content for people to think about. No complaints from me either!

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