Context is important.
In the mid-1970s, national politics had taken a decidedly dark turn with Watergate. The economy was something of a basket case, with an inflation rate of just over 11 percent in 1974 and more than nine percent in 1975, partially driven by the spike in world oil prices following the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74.
Thewas surging, beginning to approach its high-water mark. Nostalgia was big. Fantasy was big; the Baby Boom had begun to discover J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. George Lucas had begun to write and film what would become Star Wars in 1977. Into all of this cultural and religious ferment came a book, , a mythical and almost poetic retelling of the life and death of Jesus, written by a relatively unknown pastor in Omaha.
Along with the companion The Song and The Finale, Calvin Miller’s trilogy could be found in both general and Christian bookstores into the 1990s. A 25thanniversary edition was published in 2001, and there have been additional editions since then.
The main character in The Singer is the Singer, sometimes called the Troubadour. He’s called to sing the song that hasn’t been heard before, and experiences some of the well-known events of the New Testament, except told in mythic form. Events include the healing of the demoniac, the healing of a cripple, and the meeting with Mary Magdalene. The allusions and the scenes would have been broadly familiar in the 1970s, but perhaps less so today.
At the center of the story is the conflict between the Singer and the character known as “World-Hater,” who offers various temptations and appears disguised as the high priest who condemns the Singer to death. The singer is hung on a wall, and after his death and collapse of the wall and the machine supporting it, his body isn’t found.
Miller was a pastor at Westside Church in Omaha, Nebraska for 25 years and then joined the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for seven years and later the Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He was the author of some 40 books on popular theology, writing, and other subjects, but was best known for The Singer Trilogy.
The Singer is a beautiful story, told beautifully and written well. It’s more like reading a song than it is reading poetry, but that doesn’t detract from the story.
Next week: The Song, the second volume of The Singer Trilogy by Calvin Miller.