Written by Jeff Barker, co-leader of the new Doctor of Ministry Cohort: Performing the Bible: Exploring the Performance Genres of Scripture.
“The Bible is not a book,” said Dr. Tom Boogaart.
I remember how stunned I was when I heard him say that. “How can that be true?” I wondered. The Bible holds the Guinness World Record for the best-selling book of all time. Of course it’s a book. It’s printed, bound, and I can hold it in my hand. It’s supposed to be read like a book. Isn’t it?
Well, yes. But Tom was saying that the Bible is more. First of all, it’s not one book; it’s a collection of books. And each one of those books is a collection of genres that include songs, poems, sermons, stories, and even plays. What are those genres asking of us? They certainly want to be read, but those genres also ask to be sung, chanted, preached, told, and enacted. Huge swaths of the Bible long to be memorized and presented with full-bodied communication to a gathered and participative audience. In other words, the Bible is begging to be performed.
The Bible wants not only to be read, but to be seen, heard, and felt.
I’m a theater artist focused on directing and playwriting. I’ve partnered with Dr. Boogaart, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament for the past twenty years in reclaiming the performance of the ancient Hebrew dramas—the historical narratives of the Old Testament. Tom and I have come to understand that Israel’s histories are presented with dialogue, dramatic structure, and profound images that reveal their themes. We have led our students in performing dozens of these ancient plays including the dramas of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Esau, Joseph, David, Jonah, and more. Our book Performing the Plays of the Bible is designed to help others join us.
Other organizations like the Network of Biblical Storytellers and the Orality Network are exploring what we can learn about biblical texts by retracing our steps to the oral cultures out of which those texts grew. WTS has been at the forefront of this work through its methods of teaching Hebrew via performance. An additional facet of this scholarship has been Dr. Tim Brown’s project of teaching homiletics through scripture memory (or interiorization).
Eugene Peterson’s writing and thinking comes alongside scholars who are asking, “How does the Bible want to communicate to us today?” Part of the answer is found in language itself, and part of the answer is found in the ancient world and the ways those people brought God’s Word to life through sight, sound, and heart.
Beginning this fall, my co-teacher, Karen Bohm Barker, and I will join hands with doctoral students who don’t necessarily have performance training but simply want to study the Bible together. Our goal, of course, is to learn more about God’s Word, but ultimately that’s a pathway to learning more about God. Through the power of the Spirit and the joy of the learning community, we plan to help each other lead another generation of Christ-followers to know that the Bible is so much more than a book.
To learn more about Performing the Bible: Exploring the Performance Genres of Scripture Doctor of Ministry program, click here.