Piper answers the question: What are your thoughts on drama and movie clips in church services?

I particularly like this part:

I went to a drama at our church four days ago. I believe in drama. I believe in the power of drama. But let drama be drama! And let preaching be preaching! Let’s have the arts in our churches, but don’t try to squash it all into Sunday morning. So I get worked up about these things.


20 Comments

  1. Safe to say then that Jesus using parables in his talks was a token of unbelief in the power of preaching?

    I suppose so. I think Jesus would agree completely that entertainment does not save. But he would also say that preaching doesn’t save.

    He would probably say that only G-d saves. Probably.

  2. Not that safe. I don’t think anyone would confuse the conversational style of teaching Jesus adopts in the gospels with preaching—teaching and preaching still being wholly different things. Further, it is even in some ways inappropriate to speak of the parables as being teaching (though we frequently do), because one of Christ’s chief purposes in the parables was to further blind the unbelieving.

    As for whether preaching saves? If preaching, properly speaking, is the proclamation of the Word, then it may be fair to say that it does in fact save—as faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. God has ordained that the proclamation of his word will not return void, so it seems those who point to preaching as a means of grace are on pretty reliable ground.

    Out of curiosity, how does one pronounce G-d anyway? Is it pronounced God or Gee Dee (as in the minced proclamation of “God damned”). Or does the fear of the vowel carry over to pronunciation as well, rendering a sound closer to good, but with a much more terse length of the o͝o (kind of like in cheap sci-fi when an author might name a character G’davar)?

    The Danes last blog post..20090417.teaParty

  3. As you guessed, I was going for cheap sci-fi.

    Maybe no one would confuse Jesus’ speaking style with preaching (why is it called sermon on the mount, I wonder?), but Piper himself isn’t keeping his comments limited to merely the preaching, but the entire service.

    Most churches allow their services to be supplemented by many things other than preaching — singing, for example. Prayer. Communion. Testimony. Scripture reading. Contemplation.

    Some might go so far as to say that a church service isn’t a sermon with add-ons, but a journey that the sermon is only one piece of. In that case, all pieces aren’t deemed worthy by whether they supplement a sermon, but rather on whether they help with the journey — is the congregation transported to the presence of G-d?

    Oh, and I would never argue that preaching is not a means of grace. I would, however, argue that it is not the only means of grace. And it is a means, not grace itself.

  4. Well, I’m going to go with, “It’s just a horrible idea, horrible.”

    And against Sean’s “some”, I definitely would not say that “a church service is a sermon with add-ons.” If it were, then I think there’s no lasting argument against the use of such media as drama and film and pizza.

    “Some” should realize that the entire worship service itself is a drama of sorts in which the entire people, clergy and laity alike participate.

    Scotts last blog post..Vos on the Distinction between the Reformed and the Lutherans

  5. For the record, I’m a dum-dum. I misread the comment Sean left and consequently said things that didn’t make sense in (actual) context. I wanna give it a better shot:

    I agree with Sean’s “some” that a church service is more than a sermon with add-ons.

    What I disagree with is his implication that the “journey” (to use his language), by virtue of entailing more than just a sermon and some songs, could reasonably include a skit.

    Additionally, I would call out Sean for his shady use of the phrase “means of grace.”

    Scotts last blog post..Vos on the Distinction between the Reformed and the Lutherans

  6. At least I’m not alone, as Mr. Clark points out: http://www.collidemagazine.com/blog/index.php/1117/we-respectfully-disagree-with-john-piper

    Scott: “means of grace” is Dane’s phrase. Feel free to call him out on it, although I’m not sure I see what is shady in its usage.

    Nice use of the pejorative “skit,” — good to start by reducing all of the dramatic and visual arts to the least respected form.

    So, you don’t feel that there is any way to “reasonably include” the use of parable anywhere within a church setting? If we truly can not use Jesus as a model for the many ways in which the gospel can be proclaimed, then I suppose we must agree to disagree.

    Sean Gaffneys last blog post..Potions Master

  7. I think I’d side with Piper on this one, although I’m not sure that drama and videos belong in the same category here. I do think that if church leaders want to use videos or drama in their preaching they need to do a lot more thinking about the medium, how it functions, and what it conveys.

    In a (somewhat) analogous setting, in the teaching profession there has been a lot of debate about the usefulness and value of video in the classroom. On the whole I’ve found that it discourages critical thinking, signals to the students that “learning” has ended and “entertainment” has begun, and in general lowers their expectations as to the seriousness of the subject and their obligation to learn.

    Naturally, there are some exceptions to this observation, but my point is that we should not be hasty to include video (and maybe drama) into our sermons. If we do chose to include them, it should only be after we’ve thought and prayed long and hard about how the congregation will interpret these mediums and how they will or will not honor God.

    My sense is that people need less dramatization and mediation, but I could be wrong.

  8. @Sean – You’re using “means of grace” in a shady way cause you’re tweaking it to mean something it’s normally not intended to mean. Sure, drama can be a means of grace. Sure, a painting can be a means of grace. But in what way? And of what grace? These are pretty important questions to answer before tossing around a phrase that’s that loaded.

    Usually when people speak of “means of grace,” they’re referring to a special means that God typically uses to gracefully bring individuals into union and communion with him. Many of the trappings of old school Christian religion fall under this rubric, and they are typically things identified in Scripture as being such things. You mentioned prayer, Scripture reading, sermons, and Communion. Those are all things that can be fairly identified in Scripture as the ordinary means through which God graciously interacts with his people.

    A block of wood might remind us of the trees of Eden, of God’s creation of diverse forms of life, or of the vessel upon which our Savior died. One might very well come across a block of wood some day and might, in remembering all those things, be encouraged in their faith. Heck, one might even note that God has graciously given them trees and wood for the sake of building houses and protecting their family, and thus be further encouraged in their faith. All these things are good. All of them, in God’s providence, are ways or “means” by which a block of wood effected the “grace” of God. But this is hardly grounds for identifying a block of wood as a “means of grace” – at least, not as we would normally speak of it.

    It is no different with the incorporation of other media into Christian worship – be they scripted dramas, sculptures, movies, or slide shows. Sure, God can use them in various and sundry ways to encourage certain people’s faith. But the question for worship is not what might work or even what seems to work. Rather, Christians are to worship God according to the regular means to which God has specifically attached his promise, trusting that if they are faithful to do so, there will be no question of God’s presence.

    Now, outside of formal Lord’s Day observance, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with church members presenting some sort of dramatic presentation. And God very well might use the experience in some really helpful ways. But, were the church not to offer such a venue, I think there wouldn’t be even the least bit of harm done to the Gospel and the presentation thereof.

    Finally, I think what most troubles me about the fact that this is even a question is that it demonstrates that people no longer consider worship something in which we have full and active participation. Incorporating cinematics and plays into worship services indicates that the laity’s sole role is to sit and contemplate the presentation before them, and in doing so, they somehow find God. That’s some kind of skubala.

    I’ve already mentioned this, but I want to touch on it one more time. The liturgies of Word and Sacrament alone, wholly unaided by clever human novelties of art, are far more dramatic in their own right/rite than anything a guild of thespians can throw together. The reason people want drama in their worship services is because they don’t realize (or they don’t care?) that in sitting under the reading of the Word of God, they live out in flesh and blood, the presentation of Law at Sinai. The reason people want other people to act out rehearsed lines in front of them, is because they don’t realize (or don’t care) that they, in eating the bread of the Supper, are re-en-acting so many biblical episodes, not least the night in which their Savior died.

    In short, the main reason I’m opposed to the incorporation of skits and the like into Christian worship is because I think it makes a mockery of the dramatic nature inherent to Christian worship.

    Scotts last blog post..Vos on the Distinction between the Reformed and the Lutherans

  9. Scott says “…special means that God typically uses to gracefully bring individuals into union and communion with him…”

    and “…things that can be fairly identified in Scripture as the ordinary means through which God graciously interacts with his people.”

    I am of the mind that the telling of the parables was a way that Jesus brought individuals into union with himself.

    I am of the mind that the times spent with the woman at the well was a way that Jesus graciously interacted with his people.

    I am of the mind that the shared Seder meals (not just the last one) was a way that Jesus brought individuals into communion with himself.

    I am of the mind that using illustration such as pointing out how a woman approached giving at the temple was a way that Jesus graciously interacted with his people.

    (I also do not find any of those actions to be invitations to passivity.)

    The church’s service is not taken from a Biblical model of the one way to worship G-d (we were never given such a model); but rather an amalgamation of ways. For me, to limit all of the church in worship for reasons that even pastor Piper admits are not Biblical — such as “this isn’t the way my grandfather did things” or, “it doesn’t work well for my pastor and therefore shouldn’t be used by any church,” is a shame.

    Sean Gaffneys last blog post..Potions Master

  10. Alan Noble — I found your comments to be very insightful. May I post your comments to my blog as a conversation starter of my own?

    I do agree with pastor Piper that not all churches should use illustrations within their sermons; but I do not agree with his notion that to use anything within a service (not just the sermon, as he starts with lyrics being projected on a screen) that “moves” or “helps” the congregation understand is a danger to the power of sermon (apparently the one true purpose for the entire church service).

    Paul and Jesus used illustration to clarify their points; it did not negate their power and authority. Many of our brethren have entire church services that do not even contain sermons; their communion with G-d is in no way diminished by that omission.

    Pastor Piper argues that if anything other than preaching is shown to either hold, move or help a congregation, that therefore preaching can do none of those things. Either/or.

    Assuming that everything must be an either/or doesn’t not fit with a G-d that refused either/or in his very Gospel; in a savior that is not either G-d or Man, but rather a both/and.

    The use of parable or illustration does not work for Pastor Piper — all the more power to him (I mean that sincerely)! Does that mean all other congregations must choose to teach that either there is no power in parable, or that there is no power in preaching? Absolutely not. It is a false dichotomy from the get go.

    Sean Gaffneys last blog post..Potions Master

  11. Sean,

    Sure, feel free to use them. I’m just flattered that my cursory thoughts, written as I was running out the door to church this morning, were insightful to you.

  12. Sean,

    Just to add some clarification to the discussion.The Dane has already pointed out that there are a number of occassions in Scripture where Jesus uses parables with the clear intent to hide the truth from unbelievers, yet you keep using it as a justification for drama and film in corporate worship. Any response? I continue to wreslte through this subject, so I am not sure where I fall on it, yet…but I do find a lot of people using the parables as a justification for things that I am not sure Jesus intended them to be used for.

  13. David,

    The Dane states that obfuscation is the “chief purpose” of Jesus’ parables. While I agree that Jesus did at times speak in parables to keep the dark in the dark (Matthew 13 and Isaiah 6), it wasn’t to make them even more befuddled; and more to my point, it is neither the only nor the chief use of parables by Jesus.

    Even if that were the only use of parables, it wouldn’t be an argument to ban use of parables in church – where the congregation is ostensibly not the lost that Jesus was keeping in the dark. While the parable of the sower would be a head-scratcher to the unbelieving, Jesus did expect those with ears to hear to grow from it.

    The bigger point is that keeping his teaching in the dark was only one (and by my count, not the most used) reason for his choosing to tell parables.

    In fact, in the same chapter where he explained that he used parables so that those without sight wouldn’t see, he rattles off a string of parables to the disciples, followed by the question “Do you understand all these things?” (Matthew 13:51) He fully expected them to understand without him having to break it out for them.

    Is it really being argued that the lawyer in Luke 10, who immediately after hearing the story of the good Samaritan was able to state what Jesus meant by “neighbor,” somehow didn’t understand the parable?

    Or when Jesus taught about prayer (Luke 11), and wrapped up the parables by saying, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”- because he was hoping they wouldn’t understand what he was getting at?

    There is a belief out there that if something is one thing, it can only be that one thing. The reason we are having this discussion is because a pastor believes that since he gives a certain style of sermon very well, therefore there must be only one “right” kind of sermon for all pastors.

    Jesus did not follow that stricture – in fact, he changed styles to meet people where they were at. Sometimes he would talk to thousands, sometimes he spoke in small groups. Sometimes he spoke in riddles, sometimes plainly; sometimes he answered questions, sometimes he ignored them. (I would suggest that not all congregations are at the same place, thus one style of service for a mature congregation in one location might not be the best style for a younger congregation elsewhere. And that goes both ways – which is why I am NOT an advocate of every church using drama in its services.)

    The fact of the matter is, Jesus used parables for all kinds of reasons throughout his ministry. Sometimes it was so those that got it would get it and those that weren’t ready wouldn’t; sometimes it was to illustrate; sometimes to reinforce; sometimes to start conversation; sometimes to break down walls (the crowd would never have tolerated the notion of Samaritan as neighbor without the story), etc.

    In Matthew 18, Jesus performs a little bit of theater when asked who is the greatest. He calls a little child up to stand with them – a visual representation to illustrate his answer.

    In that same bit of teaching, he mixes exhortation (“Woe to the world!”) and a parable of clarification (telling of the 99 sheep).

    Later in chapter 18, when Peter ask how many times one should forgive, Jesus gives his answer (70 times 7), but appears to feel that answer isn’t enough, so he tells the story of the ungrateful servant. He wraps up with “This is how my heavenly father will treat you…” This clearly is not a case of trying to mask meaning and muddle the masses.

    In fact, this showcases another use of story – sometimes a question can not be answered literally. If Peter forgave 490 times, it would still not reach the debt that had been forgiven of Peter. And, more to the point, if Peter is legalistically counting off “forgive you”s, he is heading in the wrong direction completely.

    Let me repeat this notion: sometimes story is needed because mere literal words can not contain the fullness of the teaching.

    I would never go so far as to say that a sermon or a service without story is incomplete – no one sermon or service is meant to hold all of the spiritual life.

    But I will say that a theology without story is incomplete.

    That is why when we tell the good news of the gospel, we don’t just use the red-letter words of Jesus. We also tell the story of Jesus – where he came from, what he did, the miracles he chose to perform, how he lived and died, and how he lived again.

    The greatest story ever told contains more than any sermon trying to describe it ever could.

    -Sean

    Sean Gaffneys last blog post..Mooning About

  14. Scott,

    To be honest, I’m not even acknowledging the sham “therefore, we should permit…” argument at all.

    The problem is, I am not coming from the point of view of “All things must be banned!” and then seeking to justify exceptions.

    I would have found silly the arguments that assumed the guitar (or before that, the pipe organ) must never enter the church building. Nor would I have felt necessary to even have a conversation about whether we should design a house of worship where the design itself elevates the spirit. Or use English in our services (there is no record of anyone in the Bible doing that –nor, sorry pre-VII types, Latin).

    I’m more from the school akin to the ideas that Alan posed – not “is this taboo” as much as “how and why are we using this?”

    I might say, “There is a precedent for music within worship. The organ is a new instrument of music. Sally there wants to bring her organ into the church. If we do that, how would we do it? To what end? What are the positives and negatives? Will it bring glory to G-d? Would this deepen our congregation’s experience, or will it just be pandering to the conventions of the times?” And so on.

    The prayerful consideration of those questions is what would determine whether an organ would be right for a specific congregation at a specific time.

    I hope my arguments are being seen not as just for a specific form of drama, but rather for the story arts.

    Pastor Piper has put forth an argument that no story arts should be included in the church on Sundays (he gives the specific example of a preacher telling the illustration of a fishing trip as one of the “you won’t go to hell but you are damaging the kingdom if you do it” actions that he personally opposes).

    Here is what I am saying:

    The story arts have a precedent in how we were taught to communicate the kingdom of G-d. From Jesus’ use of parables back to Jeremiah playing actor.

    There are forms of storytelling that were not common to the culture of Biblical times; there are new instruments of narrative.

    If we use those instruments, how will we do it? To what end? What are the positives and negatives? And so on.

    The vast majority of the time, the sensible conclusion will be to not use that instrument.

    But that answer won’t be based on an assumption that all things must be banned!

    Sean Gaffneys last blog post..Mooning About

  15. Well, dang. I can’t even remember the last time I had a conversation where someone stopped acknowledging me because of my “sham” arguments. This is probably an all-time low for me.

    At the very least, if the question doesn’t seem overly silly, you don’t suspect that anybody here is coming from “All things must be banned!” point of view, do you?

    Scotts last blog post..Vos on the Distinction between the Reformed and the Lutherans

  16. Dear Scott,

    I wrote a full response to your question; and you interpret that as my not acknowledging you. My, you are a tough date to please.

    The words that you tried to put in my mouth (and apparently are offended that I wouldn’t accept as my own), that I need provide justification that “we should permit drama in church” would only come from a place that assumes that drama is not permitted in church AS A STARTING POINT. No one needs to argue, say, that women should be permitted to vote unless they are someplace where women are not permitted to vote.

    In other words, I don’t need to take up the argument that you are insisting I take up unless coming from a place of “it is banned, now justify the exception.”

    I do indeed see that there are those “here” that come from the “if it isn’t already a tradition, it must be banned” point of view, and the only variations allowed must be justified as exceptions to the ban.

    Sean Gaffneys last blog post..Mooning About

  17. @Sean – I guess the thing that makes this hard is, it seems like you think there’s only two kinds of people out there: people who look to tradition and people who look at what might be a good idea based on what actually works. It kinda feels like you’re placing yourself in the latter category and placing your opponents in the former. Maybe I’m misreading you, but it seems like that’s the angle you’re coming from.

    My own concerns with the introduction of drama into Christian worship stem not from an appeal to tradition or from pragmatism, but from a concern that we worship God according the manner he has authorized. While both tradition and pragmatism might give us some interesting and possibly helpful direction on how to best worship God, the bottom line for me is: what does God require?

    To answer that question, we should look to Scripture. So when I ask you, for example, “Why do you think that Jesus’ parables make permissible the use of dramas and video in worship?” I’m not asking for some special exception to a general rule. Rather, I just want to know “what does God require?” If he requires three-act plays, then I need to know that. If he requires video clips from youtube, then I want to know, because he’s my God and I want to worship him correctly.

    You can think I’m an idiot for wanting to look at Scripture for the requirements of Christian worship, but at least make sure you know that that’s my only concern in the matter. There’s lots of problems with lots of traditional worship practices and there’s lots of problems with lots of innovative practices as well. I wouldn’t think to blindly appeal to either of those. And to anticipate an objection, I know that Scripture doesn’t have a certain page that lists all the specific requirements of Christian worship in explicit order, but that hardly means we shouldn’t work even harder to understand what information we are given.

    So, were you the sort of person that I am, misled my sham arguments though I may be, would you say that the fact that Jesus uses parables as part of his earthly ministry indicates that we should incorporate “story arts” (as you called them) into our worship practices? And if so, could you explain that reasoning?

    Scotts last blog post..Vos on the Distinction between the Reformed and the Lutherans

  18. Scott says, “You can think I’m an idiot for wanting to look at Scripture for the requirements of Christian worship…”

    Yeah, I think anyone that looks to scripture is an idiot. That’s why you will notice that I strictly avoid any reference to scripture or the people/practices it contains in all of my posts.

    Sheesh. Sorry folks, I got sucked in (or is that suckered in?) This is why my wife warns me against ever responding to blogs. I know better, just every now and then forget. Apologies if I contributed to the crossing of lines.

    Scott, I hope you continue to find deep meaning and mystery in your services.

    Richard, thank you for the initial post and letting folks like me camp out here wrestle for a bit.

    Sean Gaffneys last blog post..Brooklyn Flora

  19. Geez. I don’t know if I’ve ever hit a nerve like that. Sorry, man. I gots a feeling there was some talking past each other here, probably cause of significantly different interests and expectations.

    I guess I could have been more helpful to the discussion, like pointed out that Sean very nearly addressed my specific concerns when he wrote:

    The story arts have a precedent in how we were taught to communicate the kingdom of G-d. From Jesus’ use of parables back to Jeremiah playing actor.

    There are forms of storytelling that were not common to the culture of Biblical times; there are new instruments of narrative.

    If we use those instruments, how will we do it? To what end? What are the positives and negatives? And so on.

    The vast majority of the time, the sensible conclusion will be to not use that instrument.

    But that answer won’t be based on an assumption that all things must be banned!

    Aside from Sean’s curious remark that anybody anywhere wants to ban everything, he points at two things that would have been helpful loci for discussion: 1) Jesus uses parables, and 2)Jeremiah plays an actor.

    I’m not actually sure what Sean’s referring to in Jeremiah, though I have some guesses (if Sean could comment just one more time, just to elaborate a bit, that would be appreciated). Additionally, he restates that Jesus’ parables shine some light on the question.

    If I understand Sean’s argument correctly, I think it goes like this:

    1) Jesus’ used parables in his earthly ministry.
    2) Jesus’ use of parables was one of his means of teaching people about the Kingdom of God.
    3) Jesus’ use of parables was also to show us how to teach people about the Kingdom of God.
    4) Therefore, Jesus’ use of parables teaches us that we should use parables.
    5) Parables are narrative.
    6) “Story arts” are narrative.
    7) Media change from culture-to-culture, from era-to-era.
    8) We should adjust our media as they fall out of mainstream practice.
    9) Therefore, it may be that, in some circumstances, “story arts” should be incorporated into worship services.

    I hope that faithfully replicates Sean’s intent. If that is the case, then I envisioned our discussion going like this:

    @Sean – I’m not convinced of point #3, especially for reasons already pointed out by the Dane. That being the case, point #4 also becomes questionable. Could you address those?

    Further, from the way I see things, even if #5, #6, #7, and #8 are true (though I’m not thoroughly convinced that’s the case), I’m not convinced of #9. Maybe you could elaborate a bit on how #9 necessarily follows from your previous premises.

    Your truly,
    Scott

    Dear Scott,

    The reasons I believe that we should understand Jesus’ use of parables as models for Christian worship are…

    Further, the reason that it may behoove us that we translate Jesus’ parabolic narrative into play-act narrative is…

    Love forever,
    Sean

    Alas. It seems this dream of mine may never come to be.

    Scotts last blog post..The Mighty Burden

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