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Drama, Church History and Sacred Cows

Dr. Kevin Bauder’s short series of articles on the theater–and the criticism they spawned–are complete. Well, at least the articles are complete. Tuesdays at SI will be a lot less entertaining from now on. At this point, I’m not convinced that the very genre of drama is illegitimate. I’ve argued that the primary issues as I understand them are content and time management (as opposed, say, to genre and location). So I disagree with Dr. Bauder on a matter about which he has been thinking for a long time, and I confess that doing so feels somewhat like disagreeing with Einstein about quantum physics. (“You know, sir, I once read an article about physics in Reader’s Digest, and I think…”) Perhaps the reason I haven’t thought about the legitimacy of dram is that I’ve been wasting time watching a video series which Greg Linscott affectionately(?) refers to as “Love’s Long Movie.”

At any rate, the main question the articles have raised in my mind is this: what role (sorry) should church history play in the understanding and practices of the church? That was a major sticking point in the discussion which followed the articles, I think. Dr. Bauder cited the fact that Christians through the centuries have opposed the theater. Many of his readers responded with “Foul! Cite a chapter and verse!” Interesting. I’m all for chapter and verse; the Scriptures are to be our rule for faith and practice, after all. But are we wise to dismiss the ideas of previous generations of believers out of hand? Shouldn’t disagreeing with centuries of the saints at least give us pause?

Consider this perspective from the editors of Give Praise to God. Though they’re commenting on worship, their comments regarding the role of church history are germane to this discussion:

“In an age of postmodern indifference to the past (history, tradition), with what C.S. Lewis called ‘chronological snobbery,’ it is time once more to examine the historical roots of Reformed worship. Only arrogance argues that we begin afresh without regard for the hard-fought opinions of the church through the ages. In part, traditions need to be identified that have distinguished one branch of the church from another, but are not necessarily of first importance. They can be laid aside without violation of principle. But other things are done out of the deepest respect for what the Bible says about worship, and these need to be identified and their supporting arguments examined and either reaffirmed or denied.” (Give Praise to God, 373)

While church history is not authoritative, it is at least instructive. GPTG suggests that if we are going to disagree with our godly forebears–and we may–we should at least examine the reasons they had for their positions and thoughtfully determine whether they should be “reaffirmed or denied.” Nick R. Needham states that failure to do so is to “make a virtue of solipsism.” (“Worship through the Ages” in GPTG, 375). Makes sense to me. If we’re going to step apart from our Christian heritage in a matter, we should at least do so on purpose, knowing why. Again, I’m not ready to eliminate drama, but I should probably think through why I’m not.

On another note, two ideas from the discussion struck me as particularly ironic. First, many of my peers have lamented the fact that (in their opinion) there are sacred cows within fundamentalism which, if kicked, result in your being immediately opposed or shushed. “You don’t ask some questions,” is the perception of some. “The party line is untouchable. There’s an unwillingness to rethink some of our positions.” Uh-huh. So it struck me as funny to see Dr. Bauder receive precisely that response for questioning an issue which most of us consider to be a slam dunk. There’s something comical about watching a group who criticizes fundamentalism for its lack of self-critiquing refuse to consider the concerns which an older, wiser man has about our movement, especially when he is questioning the what is very obviously “the party-line.”

The second irony is that many commenters placed the burden of proof in this discussion on Dr. Bauder. The idea is that the one opposing the status quo bears the responsibility to demonstrate why. That argument would make a lot more sense, though, if our generation weren’t so out of step with the status quo of so many Christians of the past, for whom the common practice was to eschew the theater altogether.

Again, I don’t think I agree with Dr. Bauder’s position on drama (though whether or not it is a fit conveyor of biblical truth is a question which I’m considering for the first time). However, I appreciate his willingness to raise the question, endure some undeserved ridicule and make us think. Who knows: maybe he and centuries of believers we respect in other matters are right. We might at least consider that option. Or if they’re wrong, we might at least work to prove it.

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29 Responses

  1. One of the most thought provoking statements he made had to do with what we allow when we’re watching videos. For our family, we have a low tolerance for inappropriate speech and actions in the videos we watch. But it still made me wonder if I am allowing too much into the home. And just for kicks, what about commercials during football games?

  2. Chris,

    Great comments. I don’t know if Dr. Bauder planned to finish as he did or if he got frustrated at the comments and just wrapped everything up. I wish he would have tried to explain the historical objection. There were people listening.

    It could be that we are not in a position to understand. Over at Remonstrans, the following explanation was given:

    Aristotle names the elements of the tragedy and says explicitly that these elements are arranged in such a way as to incite in us a motivation to act. A pagan says this, not Christians and not non-poets. He is not moralizing, he is describing. He says that by inflaming these passions we are purged. There is catharsis; etymologically, we “take a dump”. We purify ourselves by means of this contemplation and consideration of an imitation of an action.

    You can see why Christians would object to this. This is not an accidental or haphazard or coincidental reference to something immoral which could as easily exist in lyric poetry or an epic, this was the intentional excitation of passions. It was architectural; it was the design of the form. It painted the bull’s eye on the loins of the audience. And for Christians it was playing with fire. It contradicted St. Paul. We were to flee lusts, not indulge them with an idea to purification. They believed we were not to watch imitated actions on stage in order to purge ourselves. I mean this wasn’t just anti-Christian: this was anti-Hebraic. This was going 180 degrees in the wrong direction.

    I’m ashamed to admit that I have no idea what that means. I can read the words but I still don’t understand the objection.

    And, of course, I have other questions. Like did Christians historically reject the theater for the same reasons? I.e., was it always the same basic objection? And even more fundamentally, what types of works fall into that category?

    Alas, it appears that I will never get those answers and am reduced to going on merrily in the dark.

  3. Remonstrans seems to be saying two things: (1) drama is designed to produce an emotional, fleshly response, and (2) it was designed to let loose/purge the flesh. If that is true of all dramatical productions, then we have a problem. But is it?

  4. What does it mean to let loose or purge the flesh?

  5. I’m only guessing from your quotation, but he seems to view drama as a way to indulge fleshly fantasies by watching evil being acted out. Perhaps this is one’s way of “letting off steam” and so purging the urge for the moment. If the early dramatical productions were anything like most of Hollywood or some operas today, I can see where they were coming from.

  6. I read all of Bauder on drama and all the comments and I didn’t see the “don’t question the status quo” feedback. I read a lot of people accusing of that when someone questioned Bauder’s thesis. I read a lot of folks asserting that anyone not fascinated by Bauder’s “new” idea is somehow closed-minded. On the good side, by questioning the very medium itself, Bauder seems to have made some folks re-evaluate their current habits.

    Aristotle, Plato, the Church Fathers and even the “trouble-making gadfly” are interesting and perhaps instructive, but I see so much in Scripture that seems to use drama without any attempt to justify the medium. I’m not asserting an arguement from silence. I am suggesting that we use God’s methods to convey God’s truth.

    Aristotle says that drama is explicitly designed to incite in us a motivation to act. Doesn’t that sound like a good (if partial) definition of preaching? His idea that drama is carthartic is. . .umm. . interesting. FWIW, I’ve heard the same thing said about music. Not put so crudely as the “trouble-making gadfly” states it, to be sure. I’ve even heard people criticize professional sport (especially football, for some reason) for the same thing!

    For that matter, I’m not sure that almost all of Bauder’s arguements haven’t been leveled against one or another of the arts at some point in church history. It’s interesting to read the Early American debates on what was appropriate music for the church– not only Psalmody vs. Hymnody, but the style of the music itself. Reading of those that condemn the organ as “the Devil’s instrument” or observe that the “viol will incite our young people to lewd actions” or that learning to read music is “pope-ish”is enough to make one question the condemnation of the current generation in other arts.

    If Bauder had limited his questionings to “acting” or even “portraying evil”, I may be intrigued. I wrestle every day with what is apporpriate for my children, my church, my high school students, my college students. But “drama”, or Bauder’s term “theater”, is too broad a term to have a profitable discussion. Maybe it was deliberate ambiguity? Maybe it was a half-baked idea?

    Dave Stertzbach II

  7. I’m only guessing from your quotation, but he seems to view drama as a way to indulge fleshly fantasies by watching evil being acted out. Perhaps this is one’s way of “letting off steam” and so purging the urge for the moment. If the early dramatical productions were anything like most of Hollywood or some operas today, I can see where they were coming from.

    Andy,

    You may be right but then doesn’t that just go back to content, rather than to the genre itself. In other words, how is watching Sheffey or Twelfth Night going to allow me to indulge fleshly fantasies?

  8. Hi, Dave. It’s been a while, friend. As I said, I’m not convinced of Bauder’s position, and clearly don’t really understand it. I agree that the concept of “drama” is extremely broad. Is reading a novel aloud drama? Quoting poetry? A Panosian-type first-person church history presentation? A dramatic reading of Scripture?

    However, in response to a couple of your comments…

    * I don’t think Bauder’s idea is particularly “new.” His thesis, whether you agree with it or not, is actually really, really old.

    * I’m not seeing the connection between drama and preaching. Not at all.

    * Even if you think Dr. Bauder’s idea is “half-baked,” its not fair to tie to his ankles the concepts of his to defenders, Dissidens (who certainly shouldn’t be confused with his defenders) or the music-haters throughout history. If you disagree with him, at least engage his ideas rather than writing off others’.

    * Regarding those throughout history who have rejected the theater, we’re not exactly talking about a bunch of quacks. A short time ago I came across this excerpt of a letter from Spurgeon to Josheph Parker (a contemporary, fellow-pastor, and one-time friend of Spurgeon’s):

    “The evangelical faith in which you and Mr. Beecher agree is not the faith which I hold; add the view of religion which takes you to the theater is so far off from mine that I cannot commune with you therein.” (You can see the context here).

    Again, I don’t even agree with Dr. Bauder. But to regard his ideas as “new” is to ignore history. And to dismiss them as “half-baked” would probably require that we give the topic more attention and research than most of us have. Back to the main point of the original post: we may very well disagree with our forebears in this area as we do in several others, but we should at least know why. And at this point, I don’t.

    (See? I knew the criticism wasn’t over.) :)

  9. Back to Andy E.,

    I think you’re right about the content being the problem. But Bauder noted that for him a well done movie gets his attention so easily that he wants to keep watching despite bad content. I can understand that. But that same problem applies to any media. Good books are hard to put down even after reading foul language or worse.

  10. So Chris,

    You and Stertzbauch are friends? That’s great! You’ll have to come out here and run in the annual marathon they have in Phoenix.

    Great topic – good points and counter-points all the way around.

    Joel

  11. I think we have to ask which church history we are going to follow or at least give heed to. Much of the old church leaders came from tough backgrounds and had a lot of baggage. I think of Calvin and his whole Geneva thing, some of the church “fathers” who came from Catholic backgrounds and did not even separate from it after being saved, and others who even persecuted those who baptized by immersion. In those areas we ought to know who we are listening to and where it is coming from. I think Baptists should get their church history from the non-Protestants and non-Reformers in that Baptists trace themselves to different roots (Waldensians, Petrobrusians, Anabaptists, etc.).

  12. Joel,

    Dave & I are old Zeta Chi brothers.

    And, now that you mention it, my brother Jeff & I considered meeting in Phoenix for their marathon. It’s all about R&R, ain’t it? :D

  13. Derek,

    I don’t disagree with the point about picking and choosing which history positions we adopt. That was the point of my original post; let’s think through it and make a conscious, informed decision regarding whether or not we agree with Christians of prior ages on this particular issue.

    As for your last point, seeing as I’m not a Baptist… :)

  14. I’m with AEfting. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get more.

    I am yet to find a qualified source that synthesizes the Christian objections to the theatre. As I’ve read Christians from earlier ages who have held this view (and I had run into it long before Dissidens ever mounted his soapbox), I’ve not been able to identify a core theological objection to the theatre. I assume Dr. Bauder recognizes this problem as well, or he would have presented the substance of the historic objection. The closest I’ve come is in the etymology of hypocrite, with its actor/dishonest association. Dr. Bauder seems more interested in the power of the drama than the “dishonest” nature of acting.

  15. Chris,

    I’m working hard to be able to hike 18 miles in one day – That will be Lord willing the last week in April down and out of the canyon. I can’t imagine running over 20-odd miles like you marathon guys do. So, you and your brother come to Phoenix, If I can work it in my schedule – I will be the dorky dude that drives the car to point’s a, b, c, d, e, etc….to make sure you guys have your water, powerade, etc……

    I’ll bring Dave and his orchestra – they can play Chariots of Fire for you!

    Blessings!

    Joel

    PS – Looking forward to being back in Ohio (Dayton)in a few weeks. Straight Ahead! Have a great Lord’s day tomorrow.

  16. Joel,

    When i worked with the DoD, they used to send me out to Phoenix on a regular basis to visit the Motorola facility in Chandler. I remember the first time I tried to hike Camelback and couldn’t make it to the top. It was embarrassing. So, I determined to get in shape for my next trip and when I got a chance to try again, I made it up and down with no problem. After that I did Squaw Peak. So, with those two challenges under my belt, I decided to tackle the Grand Canyon. I have some pretty good stories to tell about that adventure, but let’s just say that even though I nearly died, I did go down and up in a single day. I took the S. Kaibab trail both ways, which I think is 15 miles round trip. The second 7.5 miles are the toughest!

    That was back when I really was a young fundamentalist. Not sure I could make that trip again today. :)

  17. Chris,

    Phoenix welcomes you and Jeff with open arms. But I ain’t running no marathon, Dr. Joel! THAT would require several medical emergency teams be on standby.

    You are, of course, right. I shouldn’t have used inflamatory language. And to connect Dr. B with “the trouble-making gadfly” wasn’t fair either. “Half-baked” I used because I didn’t feel like he led us to any conclusions. “New” was in quotes deliberately because I was poking fun at the folks who responded to Bauder with “Hey, that’s true. I never thought of that.” His thesis (What was it again?) isn’t new. And most of his arguements are the same things I’ve had thrown at me for years.

    That I dismiss Bauder’s article (not his ideas) is not because I haven’t had to make these judgement calls before. Or that I refuse to consider his thoughts. (I went through quite a bit of Scripture searching (and soul-searching) when I directed a play from the book of Hosea with my high schoolers years ago. You can imagine the consternation that initially engendered. Though no one came to me AFTER the production to quibble about the handling of God’s Word and the presentation of it on stage.) It is because he didn’t define his terms. And he didn’t state any conclusions.

    I need to do more research on the church history question. Like, several year’s worth. But initially I have several questions:

    In what context were “they” preaching against theater? (Were they really referencing the medium of theater? Or were they warning against what was going on in the theater? Much as we would warn against all movie theaters, though not necessarily the medium.)

    What other spectacles were they preaching against? (No one has answered Bill Katka’s statement that they were preaching against spectacle of all kinds. Thus, professional sports should be as suspect as theater. I didn’t say that, though.)

    Why have I read so much about drama’s roots being in the church? OK somebody could be off in their recording of history. True. But several sources sometimes indicates that there is something to the idea.

    Regarding drama and preaching. I like to illustrate it this way: When you call on Deacon Jones to close the service in prayer, is it praying or is it public speaking? Of course it’s both. He’s using public speaking to communicate his prayer so that we all may pray with him. Right? It’s not fair to say, “He’s praying, he’s NOT public speaking.” Is it? Of course he may pray without employing the skills of public speaking. He may be a politician who does a lot of public speaking without praying. But in this case he is praying through the medium of public speaking.

    So when you preach are you setting aside public speaking? Storytelling? Acting? *gasp* I’ve heard some extended illustrations that were nothing but dramatic monologue or storytelling or whatever you want to call it. Where do we think young men learn to be effective public speakers? Not homiletics class. That’s a necessary study, but correct exegesis doesn’t mean you can communicate it effectively.

    Is it fair to say:

    Too much theater + poor Bibical content = poor preaching?

    Fine Biblical content + poor presentation = not effective preaching?

    Here’s an idea I’ve been pondering. I’m not willing to make any proclamations yet, so consider this a Bauder-esque question. Why do we reject a poor musical performance as unable to communicate the Word of God. For instance a singer employs some of Garlocks five vocal sins. We would write him/her off. Why then do we excuse preachers who use wrong public speaking techniques? “Well, he needs a little bit of refining, but his message was true.” Still pondering. . . .

    Dave

  18. This will be my 8th trip down and out of the Canyon. You just have to be serious about conditioning. Not Marathon serious – but serious enough that you work on it for several months working up to the Canyon.

    All of you guys are welcome to come with us to the Canyon. Just call dad (Dr. Jerry Tetreau) at IBC ahead of time so he can count on you for the trip.

    Andy,

    I can’t believe you went up and down the Kaibab – You obviously didn’t get the “water memo.” Water is only on the Bright-Angel trail – not Kaibab! Wow….you lived to tell about it!

    Dave,

    Nice Epistle. I will try and see you later this week at your Dad’s church in Tucson. Not sure I can make it – but I’ll try – By the way, I didn’t tell Chris I would run with him on the Marathon – I only told him I would give him water – I can do that without medical attention. But you’re a funny guy Stertzbauch!

    Later guys!

    Joel

  19. Actually, I did get the “water memo” and so I did carry a gallon jug of water with me. What I didn’t get was the “food memo.” I didn’t set out to hike the whole thing in one day. I just sorta went from level to level and next thing you know I’m at the bottom, at noon, with no food. Not good. But I didn’t realize how “not good” until I started back up and realized that going up hill is significantly more difficult than going down! Someone had mercy on me and gave me some trail mix on the way up, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have made it. I did have a box full of donuts in my car — that thought kept me going.

  20. Just some thoughts on this matter – even though I am not well-versed on church history and its interfacing with drama:

    1. God gave us his words and narratives carefully. Details are important but often what is left out is important as well. For instance, a while back Mel Gibson’s film brought the crucifixion to the big screen. The gratuitous nature in which the material was presented would have been my biggest objection (I’ve not seen the film, just heard from those who have). The emphasis on the physical torment of Christ skewed his presentation.

    2. When I read my Bible I am not concerned about it flaring up temptation in me. I would imagine that if drama is used it ought to follow a similar pattern.

    3. Sin always causes death. That should figure into any dramatic presentation. Evil should get its just rewards.

    I would think that dramatic productions would be very useful tools for provoking one another to good works. I must confess, I am a bit mystified as to the core struggle. I’ve probably over-simplified things.

    Somewhere in reading this material, someone mentioned mandate. As far as a scriptural mandate for drama, social action, or any other thing – one may argue that there is none. I guess the answer to that should be that there may not be a mandate against such actions either.

  21. The blog post with dissidens referenced above was part of an interaction I had with him to help me better understand his opposition to theater as a medium (I went to dissidens’ post about the subject after realizing Dr. Bauder may not actually get into that discussion at all in his SI series).

    Besides the record of historcial opposition to theater by the church (a strong one in my mind), he had two other main objections to theater as a medium (or form), both drawn from the writings of Aristotle as confirmed by Pascal and Augustine:

    1) Theater can negatively alter our consciences (Pascal). I think we can all understand this one.
    2) The catharsis/purgation objective that was intrinsic (“architectural”) to theater as a medium (Augustine). Andy Rupert’s understanding of catharsis/purgation is the same as mine. This architectural appeal means the theater by design wants to excite our passions on a visceral level (“the loins”) first, whether or not the intellectual follows. And this excitation is with a view to cleansing the soul. When our passions are thus excited, it produces a change in our actions.

    Although I sincerely appreciated the time he took to give me the Cliff’s notes version, I wasn’t completely convinced that his arguments couldn’t apply to other areas of literary or musical art as well, making them unconvincing for distinguishing against theater as a medium. I pushed back on this and he did expand a little more towards the end of the thread.

    He said that a novel or short story will seek to fully flesh out its characters and their psychologies, but playwrights intentionally do NOT do this. They want us to buy into a caricature so they can move our feelings/passions a certain direction. He said literary and theatrical art both deal with the same subject matter, but theater is seeking to do something different with that subject matter. It is seeking to incite us to feel/think via the visceral and thus form our consciences via the visceral. Again, I couldn’t get all of the way there with him (I think a well-written novel can and does attempt to do the same thing), but that was probably through no fault of his own. He generously spent a lot of time responding to my questions when it was obvious I did not have much (if any!) wheelbase on the Aristotle/Pascal/Augustine arguments.

    My bottom line without doing further research (which I still want to do at some point): The two objections are powerful warnings to us as Christians. I tend to believe (as Aristotle describes) that theater is designed to appeal first and foremost to our visceral instincts, both because that jibes with my personal experience (and Dr. Bauder’s as well) and, more importantly, because that seems to be the record of the church’s objection to the form. However, I need to read more before I get to the point of objecting to theater as a medium.

  22. Dr. Joel,

    I won’t be at the Preachers’s Prayer Meeting. I have to teach that day. I would much rather be fellowshipping with Godly men than motivating young people, for sure. I have heard that there is always a sweet time of prayer. Better than some preachers’ “fellowships” I attended where all we did was sit around and gripe about our sheep. Ick!

    Jim,

    You are exactly right. Moral tone is more important than the presence of objectionable elements. Christians who base their viewing (or reading) habits on “How many swears are there?” are not using the Bible as a literary guide. The Bible uses all of the catergories of objectionable elements. The issue is purpose (Is there a reason for this objectionable element to be included?), graituity (How much evil is depicted and how?) and moral tone (Is evil always presented as distasteful?)

    Kent,

    You raise some interesting issues. Am I being fair to reduce the objections to theater to these?

    1. Theater appeals to our visceral instincts (our passions, our emotions, “our loins”; It is more Dianysian, to apply Bauder’s
    2. Theater is instrinicly a catharsis for evil.
    3. Theater was the origin of the word “hypocrisy” which has evolved in modern usage to one who is deceptive.
    4. Theater was objected to by Christians throughout history.

    Are there others? Are these stated objectively?

    Dave

  23. Obviuosly I have trouble spelling “Dionysian”. Actually I just have trouble speling. . ..

  24. Dave — First of all, I don’t want to be dissidens’ mouthpiece because he is quite erudite all on his own and I certainly don’t want to misrepresent his positions. So please read this as my interpretation of his objections to theater, nothing more.

    I think your first two points are really one objection in dissidens’ mind. First of all, he would say that a good tragedy includes both Dionysian and Apollonian elements and he took Dr. Bauder to task for putting a seeming dichotomy there — i.e. written literature or text is Apollonian ergo good and theater is Dionysian ergo bad.

    Second, you can’t miss the point that theater appeals to the “loins” by design, it is “architectural”. It is doing it on purpose. And the reason for this designed-in appeal is to excite our passions to do two things: 1) provide a cleansing (“take a dump” in a spiritual/emotional sense, or “letting off steam” as Andy Rupert said); and 2) move our passions to change. (By the way, dissidens’ spent a lot of time explaining what “passions” were and it’s something much deeper than just a strong feeling or emotion or like for something. In the classical sense, our passions are the base driving forces that motivate our actions, or as dissidens put it, “our visceral and animal impulses” which lead to “a way of life”.)

    This cathartic affect was ungodly because it was focusing people on their visceral or animal urges with a view to purging, which is just the opposite of the biblical mandate. We purge our lives of sin and mortify the body as we focus more on Christ and the gospel, and as we let Him through the Spirit and the Word control our lives and our passions. We’re to “flee youthful lusts” not engage them with a view to purging them. According to dissidens, knowing this designed in purpose for theater, the early church thought it incomprehensible to partake of its entertainments.

    Your third point was never discussed in the dissidens thread to my knowledge. I personally don’t think this point is a strong argument.

    Your fourth point is correct and is one of the strongest objections in my mind which have given me pause. Chris’ post regarding this is right on. We should not lightly throw off centuries of Christian convictions without taking the time to engage in the issues and principles and thinking that drove those convictions. I think this is where a good portion of the SI discussion was lacking in my mind.

    Sorry for the long response. Hope this helps! :-)

  25. Thank you, Kent, for your explanations. I still have some questions, though. You wrote:

    Second, you can’t miss the point that theater appeals to the “loins” by design, it is “architectural”. It is doing it on purpose. And the reason for this designed-in appeal is to excite our passions to do two things: 1) provide a cleansing (“take a dump” in a spiritual/emotional sense, or “letting off steam” as Andy Rupert said); and 2) move our passions to change.

    I just happened to read the following in Vanhoozer’s, The Drama of Doctrine, “Dramas are not devised primarily to convey information but to move us, to persuade us, to delight us, to purge us of unwanted feelings.” This sounds like “cleansing” and “letting off steam.” Obviously, this is a well-known aspect of drama. What I don’t understand is (1) how this is unique to drama as opposed to literature, say; and (2) how this applies to all drama.

    Let’s take Sheffey for example. There is a scene in there were young Sheffey and his hoodlum friends throw corncobs at a preacher for fun. This scene is a depiction of sin but I don’t see how that scene “purges me of unwanted feelings.” I’ve never had the temptation to throw corncobs at a preacher. I’ve never had any passion to do that. So how does Sheffey “provide a cleansing” to me? And how does that differ from what would happen if I read, The Saint in the Wilderness, Sheffey’s biography?

  26. Again, just so I’m clear, I’m not saying I agree with dissidens’ arguments here. I’m just explaining his points as he understands the objections of the church divines in past centuries. As I’ve said before, I can’t get all of the way there with him for some of the same reasons you just mentioned. (But dissidens would make the point that just because we can’t understand it doesn’t obviate the clear teaching of the church for centuries. Maybe the problem is with us and our lack of research/understanding. Some of our SI friends would contend that there is a different cultural context. I don’t know.)

    Like you, I personally struggle to see how other forms of literary/musical art can’t appeal to my visceral passions in the same way as theater does. I will say two things though that should make us all think twice about form:

    1) I do think a decent argument could be made that the theater is so visual that it can more easily bypass the intellect/heart and appeal straight to the “loins”. That’s why all Christians should approach it with extreme caution.

    2) I also think that just because we can’t always evaluate and perceive an attack on our visceral passions does not meaan it is not happening on some level.

    Dissidens also tried to explain that the approach and design of an author toward his/her literary work is different and less intentional to affect the visceral passions. Again, I still can’t see a true distinction as clearly as he seems to be able to.

    Your point about the Sheffey film is well taken. Dissidens did say at the beginning of his thread that this is the conversation that needs to be undertaken — the form/content vs. content only conversation.

    At the end of the day, even though I’m not completely convinced of his arguments, the discussion certainly has illumined my thinking and caused me to do a lot of self-assessment.

  27. good evening,
    i just spent a good deal of time reading this entry. it had the word “drama” in the title and caught my eye.

    for the past three years i’ve been directing full-length dramatic productions for our church. people have been saved. kids have been saved because of skits i’ve directed in children’s church. all to God’s glory. i was an interp major and never directed more than a scene in intro to dramatic productions. all that to say, God created all things including the arts (music, art, drama…) when sin entered into the world it touched every aspect of creation including the arts. those who are gifted are sinners, therefore, sin is evident within the gifts. but that doesn’t mean the arts can’t be used to bring glory to God. just like it doesn’t mean that man can’t glorify God.

    also, i can’t ignore the fact that Jesus’ parables are dramatic narratives. Jesus used it; that’s all i need.

  28. btw, i found your site through a list of bob jones bloggers. sorry for intruding.
    drama’s my passion, so i had to read the entry.

  29. I’ve enjoyed reading this blog immensely. Found it while searching for new ideas for my theatre students at Liberty University…I am a professor of theatre at a conservative Baptist university, and have started a track called “drama ministry” in our growing theatre department. I have, like the last entry, seen MANY come to the saving knowledge of Christ through theatre! Entertainment for entertainment’s sake is WRONG. But I can’t help but see the importance of illustration in sharing the gospel. Yes, Jesus preached with beautifully detailed pictures and allegory. Is that not what we are doing by putting his Truth on the stage? Theatre is art and art is BEAUTY. God could have created just a functional world, but he created a functional AND a beautiful world. The tree for example, bears fruit AND is beautiful. Can we not preach the gospel in a way that is both functional AND pleasing to the eye? Drama opens up the mind and heart in a way that a three point sermon cannot. It tears down walls and connects with the human spirit. The medieval church thrived on drama within the church walls and THEN decided to take it out into the streets through cycle plays….a parade of sorts, portraying short dramatic recreations of bible stories. In doing so, they brought the gospel to the unchurched people! During the time when the bubonic plague was making everyone doubt the existence of God, seeing the Word of God portrayed realistically in front of their eyes brought them back to the LIVING GOD! Must go back to working on a script I am writing…we are taking it to homeless shelters in Pittsburgh. My students are chomping at the bit to minister and connect with these people through the art that they love! Thanks so much for your insights!

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