In “Truth Part 1,” I talked about how theater sought to proclaim truth. In “Truth Part 2,” I talked about how theater can help us learn to be more truthful. Today, I want to talk about why I believe Christians should use theater to communicate truth.
The relationship between the Christian faith and the theater has often been a strained one. Puritanical fervor even shut theaters down in England for a period of time. Even in the twenty-first century many Christians are still hesitant about being involved in the theatrical arts. The concerns about glorifying God and not compromising one’s standards in a theater setting are real; however, these concerns are present in every other profession, and in everyday life, as well. The greatest tragedy of the stage is not a play, but the fact that Christians are so afraid of theater’s supposed power to corrupt that they fail to capitalize on the power that theater has to expose and change the culture.
I recently stumbled upon an old tract from the 1800’s that condemned theater-going, especially the attendance of Christians. I expected the typical reasoning that theater should be banned because it is a place of debauchery, but I was surprised to read the accusations that theater was a waste of time and of the mind.
Theater is a waste of neither.
I believe that God has communicated truths to His people through theater since the days of the Old Testament. One of elements that Aristotle considered necessary for a play is “spectacle.” Aren’t the Old Testament sacrifices a spectacle? Not a spectacle in the goofy, gaudy sense of the word, but a spectacle in the awesome way that the watcher is overwhelmed by the beauty, the grander, and the glory.
God used beautiful costumes, a glorious set, the conflict between a righteous God and wicked people, and the theme of substitution to point to the character of Christ, the protagonist who will come to accomplish His goal of reconciling the antagonists to Himself. The Old Testament sacrifices were a symbol, a shadow, a play, pointing to the truth that humanity needed a Savior.
Our Savior also used a form of theater—storytelling—to communicate truth. The Parables are divine stories, told with the elements of a good play – a gripping story, relate-able characters that are desperate to accomplish their goal, a fitting resolution to the conflict - to force the audience to face the truth about themselves and their world.
In directing an actor, Hamlet exhorts him to remember that:
Sometimes, Jesus spoke in Parables to hide truth from the crowds, choosing only to reveal their meaning to His disciples. At other times, Jesus spoke into a person’s life by using the parable as a mirror to show the hearer a reflection of his soul.
This is why theater is so amazing: it allows us to hold up a mirror to our audience members. In that reflection of truth they see themselves. Depending on the play, they will see hope or despair, justice or oppression, gladness or depression, and quite often, a combination of all these things and more.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the crowd “the truth will make you free” and prays to His Father that He would “sanctify [the disciples] in Thy truth.” Doing a theater is a way of exposing people to the truth of God. That’s why it is so important that the Church participates in the art of the stage. We cannot guarantee the outcome of proclaiming truth, but we have the duty to it. Sometimes, it is more effective to challenge or encourage a person through a story, or a play, than it is to tell them directly.