What is Drama?
The word drama comes from a Greek word meaning “to do” or “to act”. This definition is very loose and could be stretched to mean a variety of things, but most people would classify skits, sketches or plays as drama. While this is true, the idea of ‘doing’ or ‘acting’ cannot be strictly confined to a play in the traditional sense. Ancient drama, as used by the Greeks was a ritualistic tradition that honored the gods. It was used to tell stories of the gods and effectively provoked worship from the people. Greek drama is incredibly symbolic in how it uses plot, actors and script. In our culture drama is often used in a satirical sense or plays are written as social commentaries. In the theatre world this is called social drama, however, within the Church this should be classified as prophetic, since drama is being used to speak Biblical truth into a situation. Throughout the Bible we can see God’s use of both symbolic and prophetic drama in His revelation to us, and today the church still enables symbolic drama in the worship service.
The Use of Symbolic Drama in the Bible
The word symbol simply means something that is representing something else. In the Old Testament we see a clear example of symbolic drama in the Passover. The Passover first took place in Egypt and it was to protect the Israelites from the plague of the death of the firstborn (Exodus 12:1-32). The Israelites were to slaughter an unblemished lamb and they were to spread the blood of the lamb over their door, so that their house might not be touched. This unblemished lamb is a clear symbol of the salvific work that Christ would later do on earth. Through the shedding of Christ’s innocent blood we are saved from an eternal death as well. Not only did the Israelites celebrate the Passover in Egypt but they were commanded to continue enacting this symbolic drama. Through Christ we no longer need to atone for our sins by the blood of a lamb, but we still celebrate Christ’s atonement through the symbolic drama of the Eucharist.
The theory of dramatism was proposed by Kenneth Burke and is also known as symbolic drama. In Kenneth Burke’s theory symbolic drama generally has three distinct stages. The first stage is the arousal of guilt. The second stage provides two options; the option of mortification, where one accepts the wrong and asks for forgiveness, the other option entails victimization and blaming others for their sins and problems. The third stage is that of redemption and reconciliation. In the taking of the Eucharist we see each of these steps displayed. Often the Pastor or an Elder begins by calling the congregation to remember their sin, causing an arousal of guilt. Then we are prompted to ask for forgiveness, the step of mortification. As a reminder of our forgiveness and cleansing we take the bread and the wine, representing Christ’s body and blood, which was shed for our forgiveness. We then celebrate that we are reconciled to God and give thanks for this redemption, thus completing the third step. The Eucharist itself is also a symbolic drama that is not so different from the drama of ancient Greece. The early church recognized the symbolic drama and mystery that the Eucharist presented and they revered it, the early churches organized their worship service so that they led to the final climactic act of communion (Webber 658). Through the taking of the Eucharist we are forced to remember our guilt, confess our sins and remember that through Christ’s blood we are redeemed. The drama of ancient Greece was used to tell stories to honor the gods and cause the people to worship. The Eucharist causes believers to remember the cross and should provoke in us a heart of worship that brings glory to the Lord.
The Effectiveness of Prophetic Drama
Another type of drama seen in the Bible and is also effective in the Church is prophetic drama. Prophetic drama differs from symbolic drama. While symbolic drama attempts to use props or symbols to represent something else, prophetic drama uses the medium of drama to speak Biblically grounded truth into a situation. Prophetic drama is seen throughout the Old Testament especially in the prophets. In 2 Samuel 12 the prophet Nathan uses a story about lambs to convict David of his sin with Bathsheba. This use of drama was extremely powerful and likely saved the prophets life from a king who could have reacted angrily when confronted. Drama is very effective in convicting or ministering to audiences. People come to see plays or hear stories with their guard down and their hearts open. Because they are expecting to be entertained they are often receptive to the message or truth that is presented (Webber 660). If the message is relevant then the audience will hopefully leave changed by what they saw and heard. We see this reaction in how David responds to Nathan’s story. He demands to know who the man is that committed the crime. Nathan reveals to David that he is that man. Instead of being angry or defensive, David responds with humility, stating that he has sinned against God (2 Samuel 12:13).
Drama can still be used prophetically today. As stated above, drama that makes a statement about society, good or bad, is referred to as social drama. Social drama or prophetic drama should be used both in the church and in ministry. Within the church it can be used to point out the sins of a community, or the sins that many individual Christians struggle with. Through the art of drama, the audience can see a tangible truth or statement made about the human condition through drama. The first goal of drama should be to tell the story well, but in doing so your audience will be forced to grapple with the message you present (Schultze 157). This gives an opportunity for the Pastor or Elders to preach on how the Christian should respond Biblically to this truth. Drama and preaching ought to work together to communicate effectively, drama by representing a truth in a visible way and preaching by presenting that truth in light of the Word (Webber 670).
In ministry, drama can be utilized to portray both the depravity of man but also God’s love and salvific work. I have used and have seen how valuable the Lifehouse drama can be in some overseas ministry. The Lifehouse drama can be considered prophetic drama because it speaks truth about the human condition. We’re all searching for our identity and we search for it in all the wrong places. The Lifehouse drama presents many of the common places humans go to in search of fulfillment and identity; it displays relationships, money, self-image and addictions. Finally it shows our inability to be satisfied by these lusts of the flesh and how this desperation can lead to death. The drama does not end there, it shows in a symbolic way how Christ takes up our failures, vices and addictions and frees us from them through the cross, opening up the possibility of a redeemed relationship with Him. The Lifehouse drama is silent, there is only music, no lines or words, which is one of the reasons it is so helpful in overseas ministry. Often times God gives us tools to love and bring His message even when we do not understand the language as well as we would like, drama ministry is one of those tools. Drama can be effective without words; seeds can be planted for the Gospel, translators and people from the local church can then share with the crowds in the peoples heart language.
Why the Believer should Engage with Drama
The only work of creation that the Bible says is created in the image of God is man (Genesis 1:26-27). Being created in God’s image means that we, as His creatures represent God, with this representation comes responsibility (Genesis 2:15-17, Genesis 9:5-6). One of the ways humans often represent God is through Art, because God is Spirit (John 4:24), we cannot create an image of Him (Exodus 20: 4), but we can create works of art that express our emotions, feelings and our relationship with Him. The Psalms specifically are works or poetry and song, mostly by David, that express His relationship with God.
Being created in God’s image means that man has been bestowed with certain attributes, man has intellect, man has a soul, and man is capable of making choices (Isaiah 29:24, Psalm 119:11, Genesis 3:6, Romans 1:21). It is through these gifts that man is able to have a relationship with God (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23-24), it is also through these endowments that we are able to create. Animals were not given these endowments and we do not see animals attempting to mimic their Creator by creating. Man however, because he was created in God’s image is granted the ability and instinct to create. It is a gift and a privilege and it should be used within the church to edify, and also to glorify God.
Even though humans have the unique and God given impulse to create, drama has often been criticized and denounced by the Church (Schultze 154-155). In 1642 the Puritans banned all theatre in England, the ban lasted for 18 years. Though when man was originally created he was good (Genesis 1:31), Adam and Eve’s sin (Genesis 3:6) corrupted mankind so that all humans are now born depraved and sinful (Romans 3:10); this depravity often leads works of art to represent human pain, brokenness and depravity. These representations can be vulgar and explicit, making the Church uncomfortable. Due to such obscenities, the Church has often had a reactionary response to drama and forbid it. This response is flawed. The Church should collectively recognize that though drama could be used to promote a sinful practice that does not mean that the art itself is inherently sinful. The beauty of the incarnation of Christ is that God came, took up humanity and became flesh (John 1:14). His life, death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) has redeemed our fallen state, when we believe in Him and cast ourselves on His grace we will be saved. In Christ, Paul claims that all things are acceptable, however, not all things are beneficial (1 Corinthians 6:12), in our justified state is important for us to create art from a redeemed perspective (Colossians3:10). We must still portray truth, but it should not be our subjective truth, rather the infallible truths that are presented to us in God’s word. In 2 Corinthians 3:3 we are told we are a letter from Christ, and the letter is written on our hearts. It is our responsibility to share this letter with a broken world. This can be done through the words of a book, through the words of a preacher, or through the words of prophetic drama. Prophetic drama can be used to speak to our church and especially our community. Drama should also be used symbolically in the Eucharist to remember the incredible God we serve and His grace in saving us. For the Christian, drama is not off limits and it can absolutely be used to glorify God.
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“Chapter 15: Introduction to Drama in Worship.” Music and the Arts in Christian Worship. Ed. Robert E. Webber. 1st ed. Vol. 2. Nashville: Star Song, 1994. Print.
Schultze, Quentin J., and Robert Woods. “Chapter 11: Evangelicals in Theatre: Inching Toward Center Stage.” Understanding Evangelical Media: the Changing Face of Christian Communication. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008. Print.
Schaeffer, Francis A., and Francis A. Schaeffer. Art and the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2006. Print.
Foss, Karen, and Robert Trapp. “Introduction to Kenneth Burke.” Nothing Here. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. <http://bradley.bradley.edu/~ell/burke.html>.