What might Theodrama mean in Youthwork ?

Referring to the work of NT Wright, Bartholomew/Goheen and Kevin Vanhoozer, in Here be Dragons, Passmore asks the question ‘What might all this theatre and theodrama mean in the youthwork context?’  This question raises a number of subquestions, and thats without trying to determine ‘the youthwork context’. The first of which would probably be ‘what is the Theodrama?’ and, secondly, how might this be a helpful metaphor for, or to shape,  theologically underpinned practice?

Albeit there is a minor discussion about the number of acts in scripture, 3, 5 or 6 (See Vanhoozer 2014:95-104 for some exploration into this), I prefer using 5 Acts, primarily because they refer to the dramatic acts of God in the Biblical Drama, so these are:

Act 1 Creation,

Act 2 Election of Israel (Covenant),

Act 3 Sending of Jesus (Christ),

Act 4 Sending/emerging of Community/Church and

Act 5 Return of the King ( Consumation)   (NB it might be easier to remember the 5 C’s).

(You could add Act 2: Fall – yet this is less of an act of God in the theodrama, than an act of Humanity in response to God, though that acts 2-5 have some relation to the Fall,  God is no less God because of our actions )

The question to reflect on is : What does each act of the Biblical Drama show us about the Trinity in its communicative action towards creation?

So for example, in our team meeting at Durham YFC yesterday we outlined the drama as above, and reflected on the creative energy of God (act 1) and how God , after creating the life of the universe, creates space for humanity in creation, space for openness and conversation with him Gods dialogue partner¹, space to name the animals. We then did the same for acts 2-5, in turn, and as we spoke, virtually each in turn, our declarations of God in the Theodrama, acted in a way as statements of faith, statements of purpose. So, in Act 2, the covenant,  we see how God invests in his people, makes promises,  but also gives clearer guidance for obedience – almost makes a contract with humanity.

Talking about this way for the interjecting communicative act of Christ (act 3) is profoundly challenging, yet to do so provides a small indication of the dramatic nature of God; the one who interupts the cosmic fourth wall, the one who embodies humanity (and thus at the same time endorses it Thiselton 2007:242-4), and does so not with power but in a particular place, growing from the vulnerability of birth and childhood. The Character of Christ; his understanding of the world, his connection to his Father, his speech-acts, his actions in life despite awareness of impending death, his acceptance of minority groups, his embodiments of a new way of being,  are all only a tiny representative of the Christo-dramatic acts in the 3rd Act.

We did the same with Acts 4 & 5, albeit in recognising our place in the drama – between Acts 4 and 5 – we have only hope-shaped pictures of the renewing of the world, the promise of restorative Shalom to go on for the final Act 5 – as we play a part in act number 4.

Yet, its not possible, and its not intended, that these acts of scripture are to be seperated out, they act as canonical unison, it is a whole play of scripture with acts of limited intervals; so, again as we reflected yesterday, we realised the connections between the acts 1-5; We considered the risks God took in creating a free willed humanity, making promises to that humanity (act 2), becoming like that humanity (3) and then empowering that Humanity even further in the emergence of the church (4). We realised that ‘making’ was a Godly word at the beginning of each act – God who makes (1), promise of making a great nation (2),  The making of the Christ, through the human gestation/birth/growth process (3), and the instruction to go and Make disciples (3-4). We reflected on the restoration of relationship, that started with act 1, and makes completion in act 5, in that God already determined that Humanity was not good when left alone.  These are a few examples from our discussion yesterday, there are many more..

So, going back to the original question ; what does the Theodrama mean for youthwork?”

On one hand we need to recognise our place in the overall drama – as improvising actors in the fourth act, and in addition, we have the example of the Godly acts within the Drama to embody in our work, so:

How might a Theology/understanding of the creative acts of God appear in reality? – not just by doing creative things ( ie art/drama) but creating spaces for conversation & relationship…do we do this in clubs, groups, streets – actually leave space for conversation- and who talks?

How might an understanding of Gods covenant promise be real with young people? do we fear making promises, instead reduce promises to trades (if you do this, ill do this) – yet is covenant more about belief/taking a risk in a person/community – that a personal promise – i will make you , i choose you…

What of our work is Christological? What about the risks God took in becoming Son? – and how did the faithful relationship/covenant before enable this to be a calculated risk?  – so at what time/place will an appropriate risk be suitable with a young person?   What might it mean to embody Christ in youthwork practice?  – an ideal – but we’re not asked to be perfect – just Holy. Do we prepare young people for a unknown future – and how is this replicated in the relationship between Jesus and the disciples- yet belief in the disciples is invested none the less.  What of Christ – his servitude, humility and vulnerability is reflected in our practice – or would be considered good outcomes!

In youthwork – what of Gods action in the emergence of the community of church is part of our youthwork practice?  Is this akin to the ‘norming’ phase of a stormed group work? – whereby the storms of the early disciples were most evident in the power battles and Holy week.  How do we encourage community ( to reduce act 1 ‘aloneness’) in youthwork- how are the ways we ask young people to become aloof/alone/bullied because we ask them to ‘different’?  What is it about the openness and sharing, or the passion and martyrdom of the early church that is part of christian faith based youthwork?

And finally – what about the future promises of renewal, restoration of all, and Shalom – how might we be active in doing what we can to bring about the Kingdom, challenging injustice and knowing that this wont come without challenge – how might we help young people be the agents of redemptive change in their communities – and how might this be a community approach – not just the example of young people trying to change a culture from the bottom up?

I sometimes get stuck in trying to develop strategies for youthwork, maybe its a human comfort zone to think in this way or a result of taking models of youthwork from managerial professionalism. Yet to think about the Theodrama, is not to bring about a new strategy – but to use this overall (canonical) drama to be a theological inspiration for a creative, covenantal, christike, community, improvisation, in working, with young people, as we look forward together performing with them to the fifth and final act.

¹McFadyen (1990)


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