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.