What if church really is the ‘Theatre of the Gospel’ ?

” The Church is a theatre of the Gospel in a double sense; the space designed for the performance of plays (place) and the lived presentation of dramatic action (people)…. The Mission of the local church is to constitute itself as a theatre of the gospel, walking the way of Jesus Christ across the stage of the world” (Vanhoozer 2014; 170, 172)

So what you might say, well, what if this was actually true – what would it mean if Church was the Theatre of the Gospel? We would have to ask what kind of theatre – and what kind of Gospel? – and then – what kind of church.

Church is big conversation at the moment, theres every incarnation of church from Messy church, cafe church, youth church. Mission was the big conversation before church became the big conversation. But Where is God & the gospel in either conversation? What of the relation between God and the world, and the purpose of the church in the world in that relationship? Without leaping too far – but if the purpose of the church (and i mean church in the thin space of people) was about being local performances of the Gospel- might that change the questions and the conversations?

This might be the first of a series of reflections over the next few weeks, focussing on Church as the Theatre of the Gospel, and what that might mean for aspects of church such as working with young people, mission, new church expressions, and being individual & collective performer. As it might be that by thinking about the church in this way there is the grasping hold of something more profound about the world, the church’s involvement in it, and improvising performances of a theatrical gospel church.

Though first its worth thinking about the first questions- what kind of theatre? , and what kind of Gospel?

Theatre, not unlike the church, occurs in particular spaces, it is more concrete than abstract. It is uniquely only ever one presentation, one performance at one time, it is bound to its locality – yet every local performance represents something of the universal. The Space of the theatre, and the church only becomes dramatic when what is acted takes place, it is otherwise space, and not place.

For Augusto Boal, redemptive theatre is a space of equal performances, where the wall between audience and actor, between reality and mask are diffused in one collective performance, that redeems all to the role of ongoing actor. (See Boals Theatre of the Oppressed)

“The Church is local in that whenever the community gathers it does so to demonstrate in its embodied life a particular way of being in the world.. the church is the place where scenes (parables) of the kingdom are enacted” (Vanhoozer 2014)

Local performance of the Gospel ( as church) enact the subversion of the parables, as Ricouer suggests, the over-abundance of God in the beatitudes, and the fruitfulness & faithfulness of the Spirit – in Christ. To be Eutopia in the place between the scenes of Act 4 (Now) and the coming Act 5 (not yet).

The Gospel that the church is charged with performing as it enacts the parables, as it communicates to culture (prophetic) as it speaks truth in love, calling for justice, forgiving rather than judging and creating a place for undistorted communication by lifting up every voice.

If Church is the theatre of the Gospel, then as well as prophetic, it is also practical, it is tangible and real. It is reactionary, interactive and improvisatory. It is active and lived. It is enacted with God acting along with the church as part of Gods world. Mission might be to bring more of God into the action where the world hasnt realised him yet. Yet as Church which might gather to rehearse, it is also the process and the goal of the drama.

If the stage of the world is the space where the church performs, then the role of the church, as people is to follow the way, follow the shepherd, follow the cloud in the sky that liberated the Israelites. One more step into the future.

The Church is a showcase neither for moralism nor for civic religion, much less for technology or for individual personalities, but a theatre of the strange new world of the gospel- a theatre not of ethics or entertainment, but of edification and eschatology” (Vanhoozer 2005)

What might Church as Theatre of the Gospel mean for new expressions of Church i wonder, or for working with young people, for mission, for the organisations also acting theatrically as part of the world – what kind of performances might ‘para-church’ be?

What does thinking about church as theatre of the Gospel mean for church as we know it as it is now. Does Church as theatre open up the need for performances in front of live audiences, where many can become part of the action, interacting live.

Might performances that enact the Gospel include less adulation of Christ, and more enactments of Christs way in the world- Justice, love, mercy and Hope for all. I wonder.


Author: James

Currently I work part time for both Frontier Youth Trust (www.fyt.org.uk) and Communities Together Durham (www.communitiestogetherdurham.org) and am also self employed and do various aspects of youthwork consultancy, including training, writing, lecturing, seminars and written pieces, including organisational consultancy, community profiling and detached/youthwork training. Please do get in touch if I can be of help to you in your church, project or organisation to develop your youth and community work. I have contributed to 'Here be Dragons (2013), and two recent articles in the youth and theology journal and 'ANVIL' the CMS online journal. My recent employment includes, working for FYT as a youthwork development adviser, being the centre director at Durham YFC, and before this I was known as 'Mr Sidewalk' as I was the project coordinator for the Sidewalk Project in Perth, where I facilitated the delivery of 5 years of detached youthwork on the streets, schools and communities to engage with young people , and support through alcohol misuse issues. In 2017 I completed an MA in Theology & Ministry at St John's College, Durham, and in 2008 graduated from ICC (now NTC Glasgow) with an honours degree in youth work with Applied theology.

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