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Performing the Sacred

Theology and Theatre in Dialogue

series: Engaging Culture

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"A provocative catalyst for university-level theatre courses seeking to explore the often complex relationship between theology and theatre."--Michael Hill-Kirkland, Religious Studies Review

Performing the Sacred is the first book-length exploration of the intersection of theatre and theology, illuminating the importance of preserving live performance in a virtual world. This compelling dialogue unfolds between a theologian and a theatre artist who revisit theatre's rich history and paint a picture of its promising future while building bridges between theatre and Christianity.

Theologically, theatre reflects Christianity's central doctrines--incarnation, community, and presence--enhancing the human experience and shedding new light on theology. The authors show how theatre engages viewers on multiple levels, including political, social, religious, personal, intellectual, emotional, and kinesthetic. In theatre, the presence of live human beings speaks of the incarnate nature of God's redemption in Christ and the imago Dei. The communal nature of theatre models the Trinity, while the immediacy and transcendence of theatre performance draw out the presence of God in nature and grace.

Performing the Sacred encourages Christians to celebrate, embrace, and experiment with dramatic stories found in Scripture. This title will be key for teaching theatre in the academy and influencing drama practitioners, worship leaders, and culture makers.

About the series: The Engaging Culture series is designed to help Christians respond with theological discernment to our contemporary culture. Each volume explores particular cultural expressions, seeking to discover God's presence in the world and to involve readers in sympathetic dialogue and active discipleship.


"Performance theory, history, criticism, theology, and worship are all brought together in a refreshing new look at the old art of live theatre in Performing the Sacred. It is not only an entertaining read by itself but also a unique and much-needed text for university theatre arts courses."--Gillette Elvgren, theatre and cinema arts, Regent University

"Johnson and Savidge have given Christians a unique gift with Performing the Sacred. Their clear love of theatre and deep faith in Jesus intersect to reveal the wonders hidden in a live performance. They remind us that when theology and theatre meet, the result is insight into what it means to be human and a beautiful doxology to our God."--David McFadzean, Hollywood producer/writer; cocreator of the television series Home Improvement

"Reading Performing the Sacred is akin to the thrill of the theatre's house lights dimming, the stage lights intensifying, and a great play beginning. The panoramic sweep of more than twenty centuries of theatre and theology--beginning with the ancient Greeks, detailing the mystery plays of the medieval period, and examining present-day drama--is a tour de force. Through it all, the authors articulate and affirm the indispensable role the audience plays in the production of good drama. Christian playgoers, after reading this book, will come to understand and appreciate even more deeply the theological dynamics of incarnation, Trinity, and presence at the heart of theatre. Performing the Sacred deserves a standing ovation!"--Peter Gilmour, professor emeritus, Institute of Pastoral Studies, Loyola University Chicago

"We have been waiting years and years for theatre artists and Christian theologians to get back into serious dialogue, and there is hardly anyone better prepared to lead us than Todd Johnson and Dale Savidge. This book is a hugely significant conversation starter. Decades from now we will be saying that the conversation began with this book."--Jeff Barker, professor of theatre and speech, Northwestern College

"Performing the Sacred is a landmark book--the first full-length study that explores contemporary live theatre from the perspective and experience of both the theologian and the theatre artist. Todd Johnson and Dale Savidge demonstrate a deep understanding of both theology and theatre practice, and their work explores all the important questions related to Christianity and theatre. Performing the Sacred examines the ways Christian faith can inform the study of theatre and the ways theatre can deepen our understanding of faith. This book will be useful for Christians working in theatre, pastors and church leaders who care about the connections between Christianity and culture, and scholars in theology and the arts who are looking to build on solid theological and aesthetic foundations. Focusing on the themes of incarnation, community, and presence as they apply both to theatre and Christianity, Johnson and Savidge interweave theory and practice, examining both historical and contemporary plays and productions. Performing the Sacred explores profound theological issues, but it never loses sight of the direct and immediate encounter between theatre artists and their audiences--and how lives change as a result of that real presence. I highly recommend Performing the Sacred to all serious students of Christianity and theatre, and I look forward to participating in the scholarly discussions it will inspire and deepen."--Peter L. Senkbeil, professor of theatre, Concordia University, Irvine, California

The Authors

  1. Todd E. Johnson

    Todd E. Johnson

    Todd E. Johnson (PhD, University of Notre Dame) is the William K. and Delores S. Brehm Associate Professor of Worship, Theology, and the Arts at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church and the editor of The...

    Continue reading about Todd E. Johnson

  2. Dale Savidge

    Dale Savidge

    Dale Savidge (PhD, University of South Carolina) is the executive director and founding member of Christians in Theatre Arts (CITA). He is professor of theatre and chair of the theatre arts department at North Greenville University and has traveled the world...

    Continue reading about Dale Savidge


"The two authors are informed by very different backgrounds and approaches . . . but [they] dialogue easily, examining their many sources with scholars' eyes. Alternating chapters, the authors bounce ideas and themes off each other. . . . The essays are heavily researched, revealing both a love for drama in all its forms and a deep appreciation for its history and community-making power."--ImageUpdate

"The authors make a compelling case that theatre's power to touch and transform viewers has become increasingly important in our depersonalized, 'virtual' world."--Steve Rabey, YouthWorker Journal

"[A] scholarly and thoughtful study. . . . I recommend this book as a valuable read for ministers, drama scholars, Christian artists, and believers who wish to experience and understand the arts more fully and more biblically, and trace God's presence in them."--Esther R. Crookshank, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology

"Johnson and Savidge have produced a thoughtful exploration of the theatre through the lens of theology and theology through the lens of theatre. Johnson . . . examines the philosophical underpinnings of Christianity and their relationship to drama as literature and theatre in performance. Savidge . . . showcases theatre history and church history in tandem. The two perspectives are paradoxically dissonant, yet pleasantly harmonious. . . . Savidge's survey of Christian and theatre history is both accessible and insightful. Johnson's thought-provoking exploration of the nexus of theology and theatrical realization sensitively engages the transcendent, why and how theatre engages the spiritual, and transcends the material world to engage Truth. . . . Performing the Sacred will serve as a provocative catalyst for university-level theatre courses seeking to explore the often complex relationship between theology and theatre."--Michael Hill-Kirkland, Religious Studies Review

"A compelling conversation between a theologian and a theater professional, Performing the Sacred provides a helpful overview of the history of theatre and summarizes much of the writing about theatre and the church, but it is groundbreaking when it begins to explore the relationship between the embodiment of story in theatrical rehearsal and performance and the embodiment of our theology in worship and practice."--Linnea Leonard Kickasola, Comment

"Certain to be a go-to book for Christians who work in the theatre arts, Christians who like to attend theatre, or church members who want to have a greater understanding of how theatre can be a powerful prophet speaking to the needs of a community. It is an engaging and smartly written book that digs into the relationship between theatre and Christianity. . . . Throughout, the authors skillfully raise the level of discourse in hope that readers will engage others in dialogue about the topic. . . . The book concludes with a dynamic conversation between Johnson and Savidge, by which point the reader is able to weigh in on the topic. Performing the Sacred is not a book that one goes to for answers, but like all good conversations, good questions lead to better questions. The book goes a long way in encouraging dialogue between faith and theatre, but also demonstrates how much further we, as a faith-based community, have to go."--Chad Eric Bergman, Covenant Companion