Moore Theological College is a paradox. It sits at the head of King St, Newtown – the non-conventional capital of Sydney – and quietly boasts of its own head, the revolutionary Christ who overturned social norms and brought God’s Kingdom to the marginalised. Yet Moore College is not known as alternative. It isn’t swayed by public opinion, and holds firmly to the teachings of Scripture. In the cutting-edge inner-city where alternative is norm, ‘dry’ and ‘out-dated’ seem for some, quite apt descriptors of the school.
It’s a product of our post-Christian society, isn’t it. The question of Jesus appears to have lost its edge. Christians are up against 2000 years of diverse public opinion on the one hand and total apathy on the other. So how does an old, fundamentalist institution arrest people with the truth?
Every Moore College student knows the answer – preach the gospel.
The conviction is not new. But through The Mark Drama, we found a less conventional way to introduce Jesus to the crowds.
A New Teaching? And with Authority?
Our team of fifteen actors had just returned from Moore College Mission – a week spent partnering with local Churches across Sydney and beyond. We’d had a great time telling people the good news of God’s Kingdom, but we were all exhausted. Dragging ourselves to rehearsals that first night, like the disciples returning from their mission (Mark 6:30-31), we just wanted a desolate place where we could rest. No one verbalised it, but you could see it on their faces – ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ ‘I’m stepping into an invisible, imaginary boat?’ ‘You want me to scream a demon-possessed scream?’ The energy was flat, the people sceptical, and only 50 tickets were sold for each night… perhaps the prophet wouldn’t be accepted in this hometown.
Performing The Mark Drama at a theological college was always going to be met with theological concerns and perceptive questions of doctrine. It made sense that Moore was the first seminary in the world to take it on. Matt Smith, student minister at St George’s North, said he had something of an existential crisis in thinking about his casting as Jesus. ‘I thought, Jesus is God – how can I, a sinful human, accurately represent him?’ Leah Gorring, another first year student, was also hesitant. ‘I was concerned about what it would be like to be a Pharisee – persistently critical to Jesus for a whole week!’ Others questioned the paraphrasing and ad-lib nature of the show. ‘Aren’t we adding words to the Bible?’
But despite the questions, by the next rehearsal, the vibe in the room was tangibly changed. Like the energy that erupts after Jesus restores health and ability to the sick, our team had got it. This is a faithful but fun impromptu articulation of Scripture. We read the passage, we allocate the parts, and then we act it out. Peter Bolt, who produced this world debut, simply calls it ‘another translation’. As the head of New Testament and Greek at Moore College, Bolty answered our questions. ‘It’s a return to the first century oral society. Before Mark’s gospel was written it was spoken, relayed from one living person to another. Quiet, personal reading of Scripture’, explained Bolt, ‘is a relatively modern, Western approach. What we’re doing is taking all the events of Mark’s gospel and re-embodying them into our colloquial language.’
By the time Rehearsal Two rested for morning tea, the acting team was invigorated. They could see the potential they had to faithfully communicate Jesus to the crowd.
And we were thankful God was bringing a crowd. Tickets for the opening night had completely sold-out online – 198 people – and Thursday night was quickly filling up also! We weren’t even sure we’d fit them all in the room!!
But we did. We put out extra chairs, sold more tickets at the door, and assured those eager to come that there’d be space. I had last minute emails, Facebook messages, phone calls from strangers, asking, hoping, begging to hear Jesus’ teaching.
And they didn’t leave unimpressed:
- ‘That was so much better than I expected! And funnier too!’
- ‘I teared up really early in the play as I saw Jesus effortlessly cast out demons and heal the sick.’
- ‘I felt again the seriousness of sin as Jesus pointed out all the evil that comes out from the depths of our hearts.’
- ‘I was baptised last December and haven’t read much of the Bible yet. I didn’t realise how all the stories I’d heard in the gospels linked together into a longer narrative.’
Across the two nights, over 440 people witnessed The Mark Drama, and 60 copies of Mark’s gospel were taken. It was an easy invitation to extend, and was readily taken up by many non-Christian friends and family.
A visitor invited his agnostic brother along – ‘He has always sort to shut down and avoid conversation about Jesus, but he agreed to come to this… After the show and a few conversations with friends, he asked me to get him a Bible so he could investigate the claims of Jesus himself! I was overjoyed!’
The drama wasn’t just beneficial evangelistically, the cast also noted the ongoing effect of their involvement. ‘It reminded me of the blindness and ugliness of sin’, Leah said, after surviving her role as Pharisee. ‘Throughout The Mark Drama, you see Jesus doing all these wonderful things and yet instead of rejoicing, the Pharisees become more and more angry. But I was struck by how Jesus is in control. He allows himself to be arrested and crucified. And it was all for the sake of people like me who were yelling, ‘Crucify!’
Despite Moore’s conventional nature, everyone is now hoping The Mark Drama will become an annual event, continuing to run in conjunction with Peter Bolt’s NT1 course that teaches Mark’s gospel.
The Mark Drama is a wonderful translation of Scripture. People can come and sit under the gospel and allow its power to work upon them. As a college we decided to do this because we believe the gospel actually is powerful. In bringing people to knowledge of who Jesus is, we relied not on impressive apologetics, not on fancy words, just the words given by God in Scripture and the promise that his words have Authority.
Written by Christine Bransdon and Jeanette Waddell