Creatively Faithful Theology

Monday, November 28, 2022
First Day of the Nativity Fast
Commencement of Advent in the Orthodox Church

Growing up, I was taught many things about the Christian faith that did not seem exactly right. One puerile notion that was especially debilitating was this idea that fidelity to tradition was somehow antithetical to the more romantic adventure of discerning revival, i.e., what God is doing NOW, in our own day and age. According to this notion, the divine mercies that are “new every morning” have to make a clean break with what came before, and the Christian revolution should break with the old, worn out traditions as well.

G.K. Chesterton was the first to reveal to me the falseness of this dichotomy and provide an unforgettable picture of what constitutes a true revolution: A creatively faithful theology founded firmly in the conservation of tradition, constantly reinterpreting it to an ever-changing present. Chesterton writes:

But all conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone, you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white, you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post, you must have a new white post.

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, Chapter 8

Our family, by God’s grace, is now involved in one of these creatively faithful revolutions—adapting a classic Christian allegory for a modern stage. Since John Bunyan’s publication of his Pilgrim’s Progress in 1678, the book has been translated into countless languages and, like the Bible, has never been out of print. Now our own company, New Life Fine Arts, endeavors to represent this timeless classic to a contemporary audience. Our musical Celestial City, written and directed by Pastor David MacAdam, recreates Bunyan’s allegory within the context of the author’s life, especially his arrest and imprisonment for preaching in a manner not sanctioned by the state church of England. Like another Apostle Paul, Bunyan’s imprisonment does not have the silencing effect desired by his foes. Rather, as St. Paul writes,

I want you to know brethren that the things that happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the Gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.

Philippians 1:12-13

And the fruit of John Bunyan’s chains is an allegory of Christian pilgrimage which is at once faithful to timeless, Biblical truth, yet ever fresh and new to each succeeding generation.

In the allegory, the protagonist Pilgrim leaves the City of Destruction to journey to the Celestial City, a symbol of heaven. Along the way, he encounters fellow travelers that either help or hinder him. I play one of the characters who try to hinder him, or rather tempt him to reinterpret the clear instructions from the Lord of the Celestial City. My character Mr. Opportunist is based on the real-life neighbor of Bunyan, Paul Cobb, who visits him in prison and tries in vain to persuade him to give up preaching and go free. In the allegory, his fair-weather friend and wife are transformed into Mr. & Mrs. Opportunist of the City of Hypocrisy. Their message to Pilgrim and his companion Faithful is to find the short-cut to salvation, to trade in their crosses for creature comforts. But Pilgrim and his companion are undeterred by the lesson, for Pilgrim’s book (the Holy Scriptures) commands him to follow the narrow, more difficult way which leads to life and not the false hope of those who follow mere worldly opportunities.

Among the many friends who help Pilgrim on his journey is one whose supernatural assistance comes at just the right moments of need. The aptly named character Help, whom the director has always cast as a woman, reminds Pilgrim of divine aid and herself provides such assistance in the Lord of the Celestial City’s name. She is for me a symbol of the Most Holy Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is called by the Church Queen of the Heavenly Hosts and the Directress leading all pilgrims to her Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And this is not just because the character is a woman, for she is not just any woman, this Help. She combines within herself a motherly tenderness along with a fierce, even manly minded stance against evil. Though I suspect some may object to this comparison of Help with the Blessed Virgin Mother, one thing is clear about the presence and power of Help in MacAdam’s musical: the role Help plays in Pilgrim’s salvation is not a mere morality tale of struggle for virtue in this world, but a struggle against, “… principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Here is a sample of her otherworldly power as Pilgrim witnesses the martyrdom of his companion and then hears Help’s duet battle with arch-enemy Apollyon:

This creatively faithful, Christian allegory in musical form packs a walloping punch in the cosmic battle for the soul of humankind and all creation. For time fails me to speak of Vanity Fair, the Mansoul Ballet, Evangelist, the Palace Beautiful, and many other people and places that bring edification to the soul through this musical medium. In this holiday (holy-day) season, give your friends and family something more than chasing the wind of consumption and over-indulgence. Make a pilgrimage to Groton, MA for one of eight performances in December and witness the power of creatively faithful theology to connect you with the life of the world to come.

3 thoughts on “Creatively Faithful Theology

  1. Thanks for writing and sharing your reflections on one of the most powerful musicals I have ever seen. I for one am so grateful to see it come back to the stage. Your thoughts around the character of Help gives me new food for thought. Thank you.

    • Catherine, I am glad this has prompted deeper insights. I too am very grateful for the return of Celestial City to the stage, as it is my favorite of Pastor David’s God-inspired creations. May our good and man-befriending God give us all deeper and deeper insights into His love this holy season of Advent.

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