Have you ever noticed that when it comes to describing the Bible and its uses, there is the tendency to drift into dualist language? So, for instance, someone might say that the Bible needs to be ____________, but not ____________. I use the term Inspiring and not insipid above, which isnt one i have heard, but others in the first column can include Authoritative, Proclaimed, Revered, Obeyed, Transformational and in the second category comes things like Informative, illustrative, imagination ‘just self help’ , ignored, – and some of these for good reason. No one thinks the Bible should be ignored in Youth Ministry I hope. However I wonder whether these kinds of distinctions are helpful, especially when it is quite clear that the Bible is a complex book, sorry, collection of many books and there needs to be a renewed thought about how the Bible becomes part of the ongoing practice of faith based youthwork.
In response to the above, what would be the problem with thinking that the Bible in its entirety needed a long list of imperatives for it? So, whilst it is rightly authoritative it is also to be imagined, and illustrative, and metaphorical, and Inspiring, and challenging, and provoking, and directive, and informative, and reflective, and poetic, and soulful, and and.. well the list goes on, but the point it that with such a large text, how it invokes Human behaviour in accordance with it takes a variety of stances. And a variety of interpretative positions, such as historical, literary or narrative.
However, what if the Bible wasnt a book anymore? What if it was an inspirational script to be followed and improvised from?
Samuel Wells (and Richard Carter) put it like this;
Before the Bible became a book, it was a collection of scrolls. It was not a vehicle for private devotions, it was a script for performance, a rallying cry for Mission, a tirade seeking repentance and a chorus of comfort (and discomfort too). It was a community forming sacrament, and reading it aloud was a church-creating event. It was not reduced to static meaning or easily memorised fundamentals. When Jesus said in the synagogue “today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ he set a template for reading it ever since. For us our response might also be “make our lives and deeds a scripture for the blessing of your people in days to come” (rather than ‘thanks be to God’)
In other words, The Bible is always a Drama. (2014; p224)
If you picture the dynamic of the relationship between an actor, the director and an author in the preparation and performance of theatre, this may help to illustrate it further. Especially as Von Baltasar suggests, we, as Humans are drawn onto the stage of the dramatic arena, where we find not a God to be looked at, but one in action engaging with the world and our free duty is to respond. However, going back to that relationship, the author, actor and director have a complex symbiotic relationship. All are reliant on each other, all contribute to the success and failings of the individual project and all play different parts, yet in the performance the eyes of the audience, and their participation falls solely on the creativity and performance of the actor to fulfil both the authorial intention (what is to be performed) and directors contextual suggestion ( ie how it is to be performed). Though the Author and director play a huge role in enabling the actor to perform appropriately- but in the real performance, a good actor wont be re-reading the script, they are performing it.
The Bible itself might not just be the script, it also points to a bigger drama, the bigger story of Gods drama that we become part of – known by some as a Theo-Drama ( see my previous posts on Theodrama in the subject index, or Vanhoozers Drama of Doctrine, 2005), one that started with Creation and ends with the Consumation. It is a drama which doesn’t just communicate to the world but involves and engages it, God communicated to the world throughout, this communication culminating in Jesus who became an actor along with humanity. The Biblical text is a script not to be told, but also acted, and story not just to be told, but embodied. The Script and the Theodrama create a new reality one where many become called into, not just a self help for this world.
If the Bible was ‘originally and should have always remained a drama’ (Wells, 2014) It then stirs the imagination, it is illustrative, it evokes not just the mind, or the heart, but also the body, the senses, and requires a new rehearsal for performance and improvised performance in every new setting, in order that it is fulfilled. The question is not, for the Theodrama proponents like Vanhoozer whether the Bible is authoritative, for it is, it is also the source material for a Dramatic production and an ongoing improvisation for actors as they respond to it and also the holy Author in their midst. But it also must stir the imagination, must stir the feet for action, must stir the eyes to see the world differently and must stir up the call to respond.
The Bible is drama – lets keep a dramatic play of it going on the stage of the world – and not reduce it to classroom testing, moral reasoning or propositional analysis. And Drama is action, Theatre is drama with a live audience. So, when thinking about the Bible and Theology in Youth Ministry lets evoke action responses and embodied re-enactments, of love, of peace, of forgiveness and of reconciliation- and also the stories.
For children and young people lets give them ways of developing creative imaginative views of the Bible, so that its not just an epilogue, or a test, or a stick for morality – but a script of God speaking, and a drama of Gods purposes that they can be responding to. So that their lives are in call and response to him in their dramatic existences.
Before the Bible became a book, it was a story that many people acted in response to Gods call. It is our ongoing role in the drama to do the same.
Richard Carter & Samuel Wells Holy Theatre, enfleshing the word in Theatrical Theology (edited Lugt/Hart, 2014)
Hans urs Von Baltasar, Theodrama 1, Trans 1980
Vanhoozer, K, The Drama of Doctrine, 2005, also Remythologising Theology (2010) Faith Speaking Understanding (2014)