Back to series

Listen or Download the Podcast

EPISODE 26: The Power of Drama


God’s people have always sought creative ways to convey the gospel. Callom Harkrader’s experiences with dramatic presentations of the Gospel of Mark have been used by God in delightful ways. He shares about this unique ministry and how drama and theater can “sneak past watchful dragons.”


Learn more about The Mark Drama.


Welcome to Questions That Matter, a podcast of the C.S. Lewis Institute. I am your host, Randy Newman, and my conversation partner today is Callom Harkrader. Callom, welcome to Questions That Matter.

Thanks very much.

How Does Drama and Theater Fit into Outreach and Evangelism?

Callom is a minister at Above Bar Church in Southampton, England. He's the head of young adult ministry. Callom and I got to know each other when he was a university apologist and evangelist here in the Washington, DC, area, and we've been close friends and try to visit each other far more often than we do. Callom has also been involved in a theater production called The Mark Drama. He's a Mark Drama director, and I wanted our listeners to hear…. The question that matters is: How does drama and theater fit into outreach and evangelism? So, Callom, tell us what this Mark Drama is a little bit and how you've seen God use it.

Yeah. Thanks so much for having me on, first of all, Randy, and I really appreciate the ways in which you've been kind of a mentor to me over the years. First thing I should say is I'm not the Mark Drama director, but I am a Mark Drama director. So I direct Mark Dramas. And if you're thinking, “Well, I'll give a pass on this podcast because theater is not really relevant to me. I’m not a thespian-type person,” please do keep listening. I think it's an amazing tool in evangelism and in ministry.

But The Mark Drama is a play of the gospel of Mark that's done around the world and it's quite unique. It's every incident in Mark's gospel, but it's put on by just amateurs, just people from your local church or university Christian group, and a trained director comes in and helps you put it on in a very short period of time. Only one person memorizes lines, and that's who's playing Jesus. Pretty important. And it's done in the round, so the audience is kind of in a circle, and the actors act in the middle, through aisles, and behind the audience, even at times. And so, in 90 minutes, you get an immersive experience of people from your local area putting on Mark's gospel. And I have to say, I have a little bit of a theater background myself. When I first heard of it, I thought, “There’s no way that's going to work,” but incredibly, it does. And it's not the cheesy drama that you see at churches with bath towels and sandals that makes my skin crawl. Yes, it's a powerful thing. It's Mark’s gospel.

So we just offended all of our listeners who like those. And by the way, I really hope you mean bath robes, not bath towels, but never mind, let's not go there. And I wouldn't be surprised if that last comment gets-

No, I meant the shepherds, where they put the bath towel over the head.

Thus, I am a shepherd.

Oh, very good. Yes. Well, I don't think I knew that only one person memorizes lines. So do you get that person the script a long time beforehand?

Yeah. So the whole team has six weeks of preparation ahead of time, and that includes whoever is going to play Jesus.


But I mean, there isn't exactly a script per se. It's the gospel. So we give them a copy of an NIV text of Mark's gospel with maybe some directors notes or maybe asking him to just change slightly how he says certain things. For example, we get the Jesus actor to say, “But give to God what is God's” three times to drill it home. But that's a small thing. The rest of the team are learning the order of events of Mark's gospel. It's from a book by Andrew Page called The Mark Experiment. He actually came up with the Mark drama. He always is quick to say he didn't come up with Mark's gospel. He just came up with The Mark Drama while he was a missionary in Austria. And The Mark Experiment basically just helps you see a kind of pattern to Mark's gospel that makes it very easy, whether it's a pattern Mark intended or not, to memorize, to learn easily the order of events in Mark's gospel.

So when you arrive at your first rehearsal with only about 48 hours till your first performance, which is a little scary, you know Mark's gospel really well, and then it comes together. Now a lot of people are afraid, “Hey, I'm going to panic and I'm going to forget my lines.” Well, the only person that matters is the guy playing Jesus. Everyone else, the director tells you, “Okay, in this scene, you're the woman who has the bleeding and is healed.” So you just need to remember, I have bleeding. It's been ten years, twelve years. I spent all my money on doctors. As long as you get the idea; you don't have an exact Shakespearean script you must memorize word for word, which gives people a little bit of freedom, which I think is great.

You know, quite a few years ago, this was quite a long time ago now, I saw Max McLean, who's with Fellowship of the Performing Arts, recite the entire gospel of Mark from memory, with no ad lib, no change. It was literally word for word. But his dramatic voice and facial expressions…. I mean, it was gripping, and it really had a powerful effect on me. It was a time when I think I was kind of going through sort of a dry spell or whatever. And God's Word is a two-edged sword, and it cuts through. It was really powerful.

It is. And that's really the power in the gospel. It's not a big…. You don't use props. There’s no special lighting and makeup. There's no special effects. The power is in the words. The power is in the story. It's in the gospel itself. And the actors just wear like plain colored T-shirts, and there's no kind of frills. It's just straight up, “This is the gospel,” and Mark's gospel, I mean, it's the shortest, it's action packed, so it lends itself really well to something where—a lot of my non-Christian friends are kind of like, “Ooh, read the Bible? I'm not so sure about that,” but, “Hey, come along to this,” maybe even I'm in it, and it’s only 90 minutes, and they'll have seen the whole gospel, which I think that's just a huge win.

Well, there's a term that apologists and ministers like to throw around, that the gospel is self authenticating, and sometimes we do need to answer people's questions like, “Well, how did we get the Bible?” and, “Could it have been corrupted?” and all those. And those are important questions. But there's something about, “Here, read it,” or hear it or watch it and let it do its powerful, self-authenticating, convicting, and regenerating work. And so that's what I love about what you do. So give us, if you can…. So what have been some of the effects that you've seen? How have people responded?

One of my favorites. I wasn't there. I wasn't the director for this one. But it was up in Scotland at a university, and the university kind of student newspaper’s theater reviewer went along, and he had met some Christians at the university ahead of time, and through their friendships and seeing their lives, had become interested in Christianity. But he went along as the theater reviewer to this Mark Drama, and he was absolutely blown away. You can find his review he wrote online, and he said, “The only problem with this drama, the only problem I have with it, is that so few people were here. Everybody needs to come see this.”

And he'd been thinking about Jesus for a little while himself because of his friends, and it just got to him. And so he started reading Mark's gospel with one of his friends after that and very soon after became a Christian and even wrote to the Mark Drama ministry just to say, “Hey, that was really powerful for me.” So that’s one of my favorites. But there's also one: Andrew who came up with the Mark Drama, when he was directing one. An international student came along and was watching, I think sat maybe in the front row, which is very brave, but very good. And the stilling of the storm, Jesus stills the storm, is very powerful. I don't want to give stuff away, but it becomes very loud in the room. And then Jesus says, “Quiet. Be still,” and it doesn't just say like, “Oh, it slowed down, and the waves slowly started receding,” it says, “No, it went still.”


And so it goes silent, and this guy said afterwards, “From that point onward, I said to myself, I need to find out if this really happened.” And I love that because we do the drama, we don't then have like a talk or something afterwards. It's to come, look at the gospel for yourself, and then have conversations about it. Yeah, there will be questions. I mean, people are going to be asking, “Why does Jesus curse a fig tree?” But that's a good thing. See the gospel and then dig in deeper.

What are we to do as Christians in a culture that keeps changing so constantly and becoming more and more hostile to our faith and our values? Well, the first step would be to get a better handle on how we got to this point in the first place. And someone who knows about that and articulates it so very, very well is Dr. Carl Trueman, and he's going to be with us for a special event and talking about ideas on gender, sexuality, history, cancel culture. These things are really not new, but they've been percolating for quite a long time. And so we really hope you can make it to that event. It's an online event. There’s no charge for it, but you must register. So please go to, and that's with a hyphen in between self and identity, self-identity. It's on Thursday, October 28, at 8:00 p.m. in the evening, Eastern time. We sure hope you can join us for that. Just for your background information, Carl Trueman is now a professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College. He's written several books, and this presentation, this conversation with him, flows out of his very recent, excellent, and challenging book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.

Well, you know, this reminds me, I think, of why and how God has blessed one of my favorite ministries, Christianity Explored. It’s, “Come to this gathering. We eat a really nice meal together. We watch a short video about a portion of the Gospel of Mark, and then we sit around and discuss it.” And you just touched on something also I've been thinking lately. You said about, you know, there are places in the Scripture that are just puzzling. They’re odd. So the one you said, of Jesus cursing a fig tree. And I'm pretty sure that there are places all throughout the Scripture that are deliberately odd. They’re deliberately perplexing. And sometimes our desire is to try to explain it, so quickly that it’s like, “Oh, this isn't a problem. Here's what that means.” Well, sometimes it's, “Isn’t that weird?” It’s like God inspired it to be in the text, so that people would go, “Wait a minute. I don't get that.” And they had to wrestle with it, because God wants to engage us in the very, very deepest levels. And that's deep intellectually, but also emotionally. And that's what drama and theater does.

I'm sorry, I'm going on and on, and thinking I've got to schedule one of these things. We've got to have one of these at my church or a campus nearby.

I'm biased, but I highly recommend it. And I highly recommend it for evangelistic reasons, but also for discipleship reasons.

Okay, say more about that.

Well, one of the most powerful things, over the last, I don't know… in my life, in my walk with Jesus, was playing Jesus in the Mark drama. I mean, you can't method act God, obviously. What’s it like to be the second Person in the Trinity, to be the Eternal Son of the Father? Gosh, I've played Jesus a few times now, actually, and yet…. So I was like, “Oh, I'm used to this. I've done it many times. Yeah, easy.” We were getting in rehearsals to doing Gethsemane. And I've done this many times before. I'm a pro in some ways at this. But the director got to, like…. He basically wanted me to do Gethsemane for the rest of the team to see it. I just burst into tears. I literally dropped to my knees and burst into tears, which is kind of close, but you know you're in the wrong spot. No. But I just suddenly…. I didn't want to do it. It's so awful. It's so terrible. And that's from a human, like, trying to put yourself in Jesus’s shoes perspective, and Jesus didn't have any, “Can we take a five-minute break here?” He just went, and it just…. I mean, we can study the Scripture in many ways, but there's something very powerful of trying to put yourself in the shoes, and I've experienced that many times. I got to direct a show once at Blackburn Cathedral with three bishops, including the Bishop of Blackburn, in the team.

Oh, my goodness!

Which was very fun, telling the bishop, “Well, that was okay, but could you do that again?”

Try again.

Yeah. But there was this very powerful moment where one of them actually, one of these bishops was playing Judas, and as I was explaining to him that he needed to walk up to Jesus and kiss him on the cheek, he just… I could see suddenly his lips start quivering, and I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “It's okay, it's okay,” and he just burst, and we took a five-minute break. We prayed. It became a very powerful almost worship service. There's something very powerful. We can get so used to Scripture, but then when you're trying to act it, it's like, “Oh, wow! Oh, this person would have felt terrible! Their daughter is dead!” It just gets you into Scripture in a deeper way, so I'm super passionate about, not only should you put it on, but try and be in it if you can.

The Unique Effect of Theater Drama

Oh my! So I'm listening to you and I'm thinking this is this very thin razor line, because on one side, we don't want to say, well, the scriptures are inadequate and that we need to enhance them, because we're not saying that, but we are saying that there is something about theater, drama, that has its own unique effect. And I guess I feel okay about that, because scripture tells us to sing. And there's all sorts of commandments about making music, but the scriptures themselves don't give us the music. So we write melodies, and we produce harmonies and melodies and instruments. And so, in the same way, if we're to explore the scripture with all of its depth, acting out theater, maybe it's a form of a whole person experiential meditation. Am I veering into heresy here?

I don't think so. I mean, Jesus says, “You shall love Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength in Mark’s gospel. And I definitely don't think there's anything inadequate with scripture. Maybe there are some things inadequate with us. And there is something where I'm all for exegesis and different ways of digging into scripture and Bible study and prayer, but there is something powerful, and it's true as well for when you're hearing a story, as well as when you're telling a story or trying to understand the story and act it out. It gets you in different ways.

It suddenly is a new angle. You hadn't thought of it before. And I think one of the most common ways, especially if you've been a Christian for a while, is to read the stories and almost your eyes glaze over. And it's like, “No, no, no, Wait, wait, wait, wait! How did the people in this story feel?” Try and put yourself in their shoes for a second.


And it suddenly is like, “Whoa!” One of the things that's very… I've seen people who watch the drama, who had kind of drifted off from faith, and watching it, they were like, I’d completely forgotten how incredibly loving Jesus is.


But then I was watching it, and I was like, “Oh, yeah. Jesus would have smiled. Of course he would have smiled.” Or Jesus… I mean, I don't know if he hugged people. I don't know what it was like exactly at that time period, but we have Jesus hug people. It seems a natural thing that people would want to go for a hug after, you know, He raise you from the dead or something. And that like, “Oh, yeah. He’s really merciful and loving, and He’s pretty great, isn't he?” And we can sometimes miss that or just skip over it if we don't immerse ourselves in different ways sometimes I think.

Well, just think about the fact that John chose to include the observation Jesus wept and set it aside as its own statement, not connecting it directly to what happened before. I mean, it is connected, of course, but he wanted to make sure that the power of that came across, and it's worth pausing at that point and meditating, “Okay, what did that feel like? What was going on? What does it feel like when we can't express it with words?” But we couldn't have felt it as deeply if there weren't tears involved. Tears enable us to feel things more deeply and express things more fully. And I think that's the idea about theater and drama and all that. Now, it can also get us messed up. Theater and drama can take our affections and go after idolatry and horrible things. But…. So, I love it. I love it. Any other ways you've seen people respond that it's been encouraging to you?

Yeah, well, we've even had people who aren't Christians in the acting team, which is always really interesting. We usually kind of want the person playing Jesus to be a Christian.

Good to hear. Glad to hear that. I affirm that.

I’m glad. I’m glad. Randy Newman approves this message.

But that's been a really interesting thing to watch as well, them processing throughout this intense rehearsal period and putting on the performances. I've had people… Well, one of my favorites, at University of Nottingham, one of the guys in the acting team was part of the rugby team, university rugby team. And his rugby friends came to one of the performances. And I don't mean to stereotype, but these guys just did not look like your normal theater goers. But their mate was in the team, and so they had come to have a laugh. They were clearly ready to kind of make fun of him afterwards, and, oh, you know, you're doing all this. But it was really fascinating. They were like staring the entire time. They never once kind of lost attention or, you know, looking all around. They were totally gripped. And I just loved that. And afterwards, they were talking to him about it, and I just loved the fact that this guy, you know, he plays rugby, but he said, “I'm going to do The Mark Drama because I think that's the only way my rugby friends will come to a Christian event is if I'm in it.” It's a drama, and I'm in it. Like, at the worst, you know, say, “Come and have a laugh at me.”

Right, right.

And they did. And they saw the gospel. And seeds were sown, to use another Mark parable. And we pray for good soil. So, yeah, I mean, for non-Christians and for Christians, it can be very powerful.

I guess the one other I'll just say real quickly is just that it's very noticeable when Jesus is arrested. Just moments earlier, most of the team are around the outside of the circle yelling, “Welcome, Jesus,” as He enters Jerusalem. And they're cheering and clapping, and it's kind of surround sound and everybody's kind of smiling, like, “Wow.” You can see the audience being like, “This is kind of funny.” Everybody's been around the circle really loud and cheering Jesus, who’s in the middle. But then, like 10 minutes later, they're all around the outside again, but they're yelling, “Crucify Him,” and nail him to a cross and all this stuff. And you can literally see audience members… because it's all around them, it’s like surround sound, and it feels like you're part of the crowd. And every time, you'll see people in the audience literally slinking somewhat down their chair, because it's just like, “I'm not a part of this. I'm not comfortable with this.” And I did have one non-Christian say, “I just wanted to almost get up and stop them when they were pushing Jesus around. I was like, ‘You can't do this. He's a good man!’” And I was like, “Yeah. It’s interesting, isn't it? Why do you think Jesus allowed it to happen?” I love that. People feel the tension and the injustice of it as well.

Right. Yes. And you think of the gospel writers including that tiny detail of the Roman centurion looked on, and, “This isn't right. Surely this man was the Son of God.” The wrongness of the crucifixion needs to hit. Otherwise, the wonder of it doesn't hit.

And this is the whole C.S. Lewis, you know, stories and the arts can get past those sleeping dragons of the heart.

That’s right. Yes.

It can hit us in a way where it just doesn't always hit us. When you're watching a show, watching Netflix even or something, a certain scene can suddenly make you feel emotional or give you goosebumps or make you think, “Oh, gosh! I don't like this,” or, “I'm uncomfortable with this,” or, “I love this!” And similarly, I think sometimes showing people the story is a very powerful thing of helping them enter into the gospel.

Are you a fisher of men? Do you want to be a fisher of men? Do you struggle with this call that Jesus places on us to be fishers of men? Discipling others is also a significant part of that whole enterprise, and it's a way to abide in Christ. It's a way for us to know Christ more fully, become more like Him, and participate in His work of building His kingdom. So as we disciple, we become coworkers with Jesus. As He helps us mature, He allows us to help Him mature others and nurture them towards reproduction and expanding of His kingdom. And so we have many free small group resources on our website, many different things to help you in this discipleship process, both to grow as a disciple and to disciple others. So please check out

I have a friend who is a professor of film at a university, and he talks about the different tools of different genres of art, and literature has tools of words and how they sound and how sentences flow, and film has the tool of a visual theme or a shot developing over time. Theater is different than film. I mean, it has similarities, but there are things of being in the room where the actors are speaking and hearing them, and you could reach out and touch them. You can't reach out and touch a screen of a film. So there's a power in that, of the nature of drama and theater. I love it.

Yeah, yeah, no, definitely, definitely. And I find as well, just in general, in evangelism, at least in the UK, I suspect it's probably true in the US as well, that especially amongst younger people, young adults, there's more and more of a hunger. Well, there's a bit less openness necessarily sometimes to immediately being open to being preached to, but they're very open for a discussion. And one of the great things, again about The Mark Drama and these kind of dramatic ways is it's not preaching at you. You’re watching art in a sense, but it is preaching to you at the same time, similarly to sharing a testimony or your story, that kind of thing. It's a little less seems like, “I'm just being told,” and more, “I'm entering into something I can engage with.” And that's really appealing, I find, especially among young adults today. And so, yeah, I think it's a really, really useful tool in sharing the gospel.

Well, you know, I always come back to, in Acts 17, when Paul was in Athens, he quoted their poets. And just think about that. And very often, when I'm reflecting on this, I think, “Well, who are the poets today?” People may not necessarily turn to poetry, but they certainly do turn to lyrics of songs and movie, theater, television dramas. So the poets of our day are the songwriters and the screenwriters.

I was going to say screenwriters. Yes. Yeah.

University Missions

Yeah. And they have powerful effects. So this is an opportunity for us to use that. Tell us just a little bit. We’re kind of running out of time. But you do a lot of university missions, you speak evangelistically on college campuses. Just give us a flavor. How are things today compared to when you started doing this eight, nine, ten years ago?

Yeah. I think there's been a recognition in some ways that… it's interesting to me, there was a big push of like, “Look, young adults now aren't interested in what I sometimes call it hard apologetics,” like: Has science buried God? Why trust the Bible? Evidence of the resurrection. They're now interested in much… Oh, what's the word? Kind of what's the meaning of life? And kind of questions of is God good? And these kind of questions of the heart. And so there's a big shift, and there has been a big shift towards those. But it's interesting, I'm actually finding there's a hunger for both, and it is a bit where you need to get to know the people you're speaking to and what are the different objections and questions that they are asking. I mentioned as well, like in general, people are more open to and really enjoy and want discussion. They want ability to feed back in and to have a conversation, and so trying to find creative ways of facilitating discussions. And the interesting thing is that a lot of people feel like, “Oh, people just aren't as interested anymore, in the gospel and Christianity and big questions, even. There’s a lot more apathy.” And you will experience that. And Jesus even said you will be rejected. There's going to be people who aren't interested.

But I find there's loads of young adults, people I talk to on these university campuses and even who come to church, who aren't Christians, where it's maybe they're more afraid of offending people. There's more of a fear of, you know, depending on what you say, it might get completely shut down, and your tweet will be found years later on Twitter, and you'll be branded a heretic by the culture. But they don't want to offend people, but they're no less hungry for discussion about deep topics and for wrestling with these things. And so what they're looking for is a community that will love them while they explore and will accept them with their scars. And scars is a key word as well. I just find so many opportunities that I get now to share the gospel spring out of a pastoral kind of root in a way. People who… I share something in a talk where I mention that I've had counseling before, and they're like, “You had counseling? Like, a minister had counseling?” and they want to talk about that, and then they open up about their anxiety and their depression, and that becomes where they're looking for a shepherd, in a way. And it's like a kind of very shepherd-ey evangelism, in a way.

They want discussion. They're not any less hungry than they've ever been, I find, but they have lots of scars which they're afraid to show, but longing to show, and to be loved, I find. And they're also hugely passionate about social justice and want to talk about that and want to understand better how to engage with that. And yeah, I'm sorry. That was a bit of a ramble, but those are the biggest things I’ve seen.

I like the ramble. That’s important for us to ramble on those kind of things. I love what you said. They're looking for a community who will love them as they explore and accept them with their scars. And scars is a very important word and the right word. Perhaps that's a good place for us to conclude. I'd love to keep talking more, but this is great. So let me just do a little business here. So if someone wants to put on The Mark Drama somewhere, how do they do this? In the US, do we have to fly you over from the UK? Is that the way? Because that sounds expensive.

Yeah, yeah. I don't come cheap. No. Well, if you go to, click on the countries page, and you'll see who the kind of US coordinator is for The Mark Drama. And yeah. Go from there. You can look at lots of pictures and read different testimonies and different things about it to get to know a bit more about the drama itself. But, that’s the place to start.

Oh, that's great. That's really, really great. Thank you, Callom. I look forward to more interaction. Any last thoughts you want to leave with our listeners about the power of theater or the way the gospel is going forth today?

I think it's worth trying every angle in getting the word into people's hearts. And I do think story and drama is a way of, as Lewis said, getting past the sleeping dragons of the heart, where I can try lots of different angles and then just show it to them. And they’re like, “Oh, you know what? This is so great about Jesus.” And I’m like, “Why didn’t I try that sooner?” So it’s worth a try.

Good. I love it! Well, thanks so much to our listeners for tuning in and digging in with us about this. We hope you'll visit our website,, check out our resources and materials there, and we hope that all of our work and this podcast help you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.

Brought to you by the C.S. Lewis Institute and the Questions That Matter Podcast with Randy Newman.

COPYRIGHT: This publication is published by C.S. Lewis Institute; 8001 Braddock Road, Suite 301; Springfield, VA 22151. Portions of the publication may be reproduced for noncommercial, local church or ministry use without prior permission. Electronic copies of the PDF files may be duplicated and transmitted via e-mail for personal and church use. Articles may not be modified without prior written permission of the Institute. For questions, contact the Institute: 703.914.5602 or email us.

0 All Booked 0.00 All Booked 0.00 All Booked 21581 GLOBAL EVENT: Conformed to His Image Study Course (Chicago) 6:30 PM CT 2024-07-25
Next coming event

GLOBAL EVENT: Conformed to His Image Study Course (Chicago) 6:30 PM CT

Print your tickets