Drama and Holy Scripture (5 of 5) - Rev. G. Van Rongen

Fifth in a series of five articles on dramatizing biblical stories by Rev.G.van Rongen, taken with permission from Clarion Vol.24, No.22, Year End, Vol.25. No's 1-6 (1975-1976).

Introduction and Biography 2. Drama and Church 4. Drama and these Modern Days
1. Drama and Preaching 3. Drama and School 5. Drama and Holy Scripture


Coming now to a Scriptural evaluation of the "biblical drama" of these modern days as well as of its background ideas, we first of all have to reject the concept of "child centred teaching".

1. Holy Scripture with strong emphasis says that God-fearing parents have to teach their children with authority.

Dr. Rittersma [1] writes (in our translation):

Authoritative teaching was put first and foremost in Old Testament Israel (and also in the New Testament era.) Educating and teaching was a matter of authority. By authority we mean the competence given by God to parents, priests, prophets, officebearers in general, and in particular the absolute authority of God's revelation. The truth of God had to be passed on without any addition or alteration (Deuteronomy 11:8-2a; 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:6; Revelation 22:19).

The Bible teaches us that we have to submit ourselves to the authority of Holy Scripture. A believer's delight is in God's Word; he meditates on it day and night (Psalm 1:2).

2. The basic idea of the theories of "experimental" or "experiential" teaching or whatever it may be called, is that there is good as well as evil in the child, the former to be stimulated and developed.

But Holy Scripture teaches us "total depravity". The teacher has to give moral religious guidance to the child, for nobody is able to find out or contrive or in the way of experience conquer the will of God .[2]

3. We do not like the dilemma "child-centred" versus "Bible-centred" and suchlike. In Scriptural education the LORD God and His authoritative Word, the Gospel of redemption in Christ, must be given a dominant position, but also the parents or teacher play a role, and the child has its place here also. As for the child, it has to be taught - by parents and teachers - to be a man of God - and this has to be done from the Word of God. If we have to use one, we would suggest not the image of a circle but that of a line that as an ellipse turns around several points, this time one of them - the LORD God - taking the most prominent position.


We also reject the modern ideas concerning the Bible that are at the background of the modern educational ideas which we briefly discussed.

1. Bultmann's demythologization is a very subjective affair. This way the Word of God is delivered into the hands of man, and its understanding is dependent on human treatment. Here the theologian takes a position similar to that of the Roman Catholic priest, as a sort of mediator between God and the "ordinary" believers.

2. This movement could easily be stimulated and feel itself supported by modern hermeneutics - methods of Bible interpretation - because it does not want to accept any authoritative "revelation". Matthews [3] must have felt this as a fundamental mistake when he wrote:

But in part, religion is the response of man to the given. It cannot be derived solely from within.

3. Dr. Goldman's system of operating with "life-themes" goes in the direction of a "natural theology" and "innate knowledge of God". It is true, Bible-reading presupposes some knowledge, e.g. of what "light" means. But this aspect is strongly exaggerated here. It is as if the child, via thinking about and discussing the theme of "light" could learn to understand what it means that Christ is "the Light of the World". Not "experience" but revelation can help here!

4. As far as it is used - and deemed useful for educational purposes! - the Bible is considered as being man-centred. It is as if God is there for man, and not man for God!

It is here all a matter of "the experience of the Christian faith". And this then - for we ourselves could also use the same phrase, but in a completely different sense! - not based upon the sacred events of the history of redemption but on the unstable ground of existentialism.

5. The history of drama has already taught us: There are serious dangers in "religious drama": the unavoidable expansion of the dialogue, the increase in the number of players, the insertion of phantasy and fiction.[4] It draws away from the Bible. It is a remarkable fact that it went together with impoverishment in the preaching. [5] Today's "Bible drama" or "religious play" will undoubtedly do the same thing, in particular where it is not used as "a means to bring home Scriptural knowledge" or as "a means of publication" but is performed on the ground of "motives of a psychologic-didactic nature" and therefore must be called "child-centred".

6. The necessity of rejecting this "dramatization of Bible-stories" is the stronger when the propaganda for it runs parallel with the abandonment of God's Word; that is, with a not-integral acceptance of the Bible as the Word of God.

J.A.T. Robinson [6], calls the Lord's Supper - "eucharist" according to him - a drama based on Christ's saying "Do this". He is only one exponent of the "liturgical movement" who wants to return to a sort of "enacting" of sacred history in what these people call "Liturgical Time". Even this "liturgical movement" itself is the product of the abandonment of God's Word as it has been preserved for us in the Old and the New Testament writings. It is no wonder that in those circles the preaching is no longer central in the Church service and consequently not the pulpit, but "the Table" is in the middle of the "liturgical centre". The whole of the liturgy becomes a matter of enacting, and therefore it is not strange that one wants to introduce drama into the liturgy.


We have also to reject "playing" sacred history. For the main question is here: Can God's Word be played?

We would like to take the following into consideration:

1. The peculiar character of God's Word can never make a child - or an adult - "find" it. God's Word is not the subject of "searching" ("religion is search", as Goldman claims). It is revelation. "These are the words of . . .", "Thus saith the LORD . . .", and "Revelation of . . .", this is how the Bible introduces itself. This means that it cannot be enacted in the sense of the movement for (religious) school education.

 2. The history of all sorts of plays on the theme of "The Prodigal Son" has taught us: It cannot be played. Even its character as a parable makes it impossible, while as far as this parable gives revelation to those who have ears the message is clear enough and there is no need to try to "find" it in the way of a play.

3. History can teach us a lot of things: God's Word was profaned by "biblical plays". This danger is even more serious now that one wants to play in a "child-centred" way and modern pedagogical ideas are at the background: no authority, please, but let the child develop itself!

4. It is really striking that the historical books and other sections of the Bible that contain "stories" have been put in the past tense. Even the teacher who tells these stories has to bring this into account and make it clear to the children: These things are not happening today but they have already happened: on these sacred events of the past, our faith rests!

5. It is a remarkable fact that "biblical plays" are introduced where - under the influence of existentialism - exemplaric exegesis flourishes again, and consequently the history of salvation is not understood and acknowledged as such.

6. God's Word requires preaching, proclamation. See e.g. II Timothy 4:2. Zacharias Ursinus said it already [7]: In the romanized church the office of the minister of the Word has been transferred to the office of images. We should not again introduce "books of laity". This is an insult to Him Who did not have His Word written for the "clergy" only but for all believers - although He has it proclaimed by special preachers.

7. The element of "Einmaligkeit" of the sacred events that means that they happened once only, and God's way of speaking by means of prophecy, forbids their "repetition" by playing them. "Enacting" is an impossibility when we faithfully take this peculiar character of God's Word into account.

8. The peculiar character of God's Word means also that the understanding thereof lies on a level which fundamentally differs from the understanding of any other subject. Holy Scripture itself claims to be understood only when the Son of God through His Spirit opens one's understanding (Luke 24:451.

9. Where would the limits be? Is it possible to "play" God Who takes such a dominant "role" in the history of salvation? How far could one enact "Jesus", the Sinless One? Profaning lies at the door, and also infantile-inadequate, at any rate unbiblical, impressions of God and Christ.

10. Can a Christian play evil with a clear conscience? Is this, not only pedagogically but in particular Scripturally, correct? Or should we not teach the children to hate sin and flee from it? [8]

11. Holy Scripture teaches us to "remember" the great events of sacred history. [9] We have to take their great significance, their comfort, their admonitions, to heart for today. This is done e.g. in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, which is definitely not a matter of enacting Christ's Selfsacrifice on the cross. In the "Sursum Corda" - "Let us not cling with our hearts to the external symbols of bread and wine, but lift them up on high" - of the Form for the Lord's Supper we are referred to heaven where our Saviour is now. He is no longer on the cross. This is what our children must be taught, at home, in catechism-class, at school: To remember!


The conclusion is therefore - to say it with Martin Luther -: "Das Wort sollen Sie stehen lassen!" In other words: Hands off God's Word!

Therefore we should keep our children and ourselves far from "dramatization of biblical stories", and more generally be on our guard against the un-Scriptural trend in today's modern educational ideas.


[1] Z. Rittersma, op. cit., pages 74-75

[2] Same, page 91

[3] H. F. Matthews, op, cit., page 89

[4] Z. Rittersma, op. cit., pages 23-24

[5] Same, page 21

[6] J.A.T. Robinson, Liturgy Coming to Life, page 59, see also 51

[7] Zacharias Ursinus, op. cit., page 112-2

[8] Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 33 No. 89, Lord's Day 44 No. 113

[9] Z. Rittersma, op. cit., page 124.