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Review: Niringiye’s “The Church: God’s Pilgrim People”

The Church: God’s Pilgrim People Review

Author: David Zac Niringiye

Published: 2015

Publisher: IVP Academic

The Church CoverLiving in a globalized world in this new millennium, one of the great benefits is being able to hear the voices of many from far places that might have been unheard before. In picking up Bishop David Zac Niringiye’s recent work The Church: God’s Pilgrim People, the reader is given a text that holds one of these important voices. Previously serving as the Assistant Bishop of the Anglican Diocese in Kampala, Uganda until 2012, Niringiye is currently a Fellow in the Faculty of the Social Science at Uganda Christian University working in the fields of religion, culture, and public life. Holding a PhD from Edinburgh (1997,) his dissertation was a ecclesiological-historical study on the Anglican Church of Uganda. Bishop Niringiye provides both a practioneer’s experience of being in the midst of the churches and a scholar’s engagement with a larger breadth of conversations.

In his recent work, The Church: God’s Pilgrim People, Niringiye provides a text to engage ecclesiology from both the New Testament and the Old Testament vantage points. His approach seeks to integrate Israel’s story and the Church from the New Testament and explore applications for ministry and theology in this present era. This is the primary goal of his text. As part of this approach, Niringiye also intends to keep the global church in perspective instead of isolating to the Western expressions of ecclesial life. As the subtitle indicates, Niringiye hopes to show how the biblical Church is a pilgrim people, operating across the two testaments while bringing the Kingdom of God to be in this world. Niringiye presents is a biblical ecclesiology for the reader.

To accomplish this, Niringiye’s approach is to accomplish this over eight chapters after beginning with an introduction. The text also has an acknowledgements section and bibliography; footnotes are found in each chapter. As he sets into the introduction, one gets the sense of the book immediately. Niringiye’s style is not formal, but uses a causal linguistic approach to set out his text. In terms of structure, the first chapter frames his aims for the text while also setting Hebrews 11-12 as the New Testament basis for his ecclesiological project. Chapter two traces the pattern of God’s work in the Old Testament in order to draw comparisons to the Church as revealed in the New Testament. Chapter three continues this pattern, with the post-exilic period, completing the Old Testament correlations. Across chapters four and five, Niringiye turns to the New Testament texts and specifically how Jesus instantiates the Church. The sixth chapter moves into the Acts of the Apostles as described by Luke and discusses the initial moments of the Church, focusing on its missionary activity. Chapter seven walks the reader through some of the high points of the rest of the book of Acts, before chapter eight closes the text. In this final chapter, Niringiye moves into less of a recitation of the biblical ecclesial movement, as he sees it, and more into projecting his ecclesiological vision. The eighth chapter serves as the concluding chapter for the text.

In evaluating the text, the first point worth making is that Niringiye does a good job with his task and has crafted a worthwhile text for his readers. This is a unique contribution, a biblical ecclesiology, but a contribution that is exactly that and is not to be seen as a systematic theology. One of the most important contributions this text makes to the growing ecclesiological conversation is how mindful it is of the global Church. Too often ecclesiologies will tend to favor the first world, Western expression and seem almost devoid of any interest in second or third world expressions of ecclesial community. Niringiye does not suffer from this horizon and his work accomplishes an expansion of inclusion not often seen in texts on the Church. He also makes use of life illustrations helpfully while also tying his entire effort to the text of Scripture. This is one of the most biblical ecclesiologies this reviewer has encountered. To these ends the text accomplishes its goals and presents a provocative picture of the Church that is rooted in both testaments. Because of these qualities, it is easy to commend the text, though with some noted caveats.

One of the first of these is noting that the text does suffer from a lack of depth which prohibits its use beyond a survey level introduction to some ecclesiological matters. Niringiye keeps his discussion of the Church at a basic level, so much so that it limits the scope of the text’s use in seminary or research courses. This criticism is evidenced in the eighty-two total footnotes and forty-nine sources cited in the bibliography. For this work to qualify as an academic one, which the publisher touts the text as, it would need more heft and erudition on these levels. Perhaps some of this is to blame on the relative thinness of the volume, a quick two hundred pages. Regardless, this contributes to the text’s lack of scholarly height. Secondly, Niringiye’s position that the Church finds its roots in the Old Testament expression is Israel is an ecclesiological position that many will take issue with and one that is not well defended by the author. It is difficult to see how the Church extends to Israel, even the reconstructed post-exilic Israel, as the author assumes. Perhaps investigating this topic and establishing a more credible foundation would have aided the work. Finally, the author seems to have created, for the majority of the text, simply a recitation of the biblical events he is considering, with some minor commentary, more than a self-sustaining biblical ecclesiology. There are a number of points at which non-episcopalian model ecclesiologists and parishioners will disagree with his conclusions; fleshing out this territory would certainly have benefited the text and the reader alike. Even with the biblical theology category in which the text falls, some engagement with ecclesiological concepts and discussions that are more in depth and worth exploring would certainly have aided the text. None of these issues are fatal to the text.

In all, this is a good text and the community of Christ is benefited by the work. Niringiye’s voice is one that should be included in the larger ecclesial discourse of the global church. Though some stylistic issues will inevitably challenge readers, particularly his penchant for lists, when one looks beyond these minor trivialities there is a quality text to read. Niringiye’s work is best suited for a lay, undergraduate, or as a secondary course in the seminary level.

Over the next week or so, I’ll be interacting with some points from the text and hopefully expanding on some key issues that Niringiye brings up the in text. Stay tuned.

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Review: Christmas – A Festival of Incarnation by Heinz

Title: Christmas: Festival of Incarnation

Author: Donald Heinz
Details: Fortress Press, MN 2010
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars…a worthwhile read.

Summary: A good text that reaches beyond the contemporary confinement

concerning Christmas and provides an erudite read of the historical and theological basis for Christmas. Central to the purpose which Heinz has for the text is indentifying Christmas in its appropriate expression as a celebration of the incarnation of Jesus. Though the text seem limited by redundancy and a continual rant against consumerism, the author does provide a readable text that is informative for the engaged reader. This is a good text for the included theological reader who desires a text which is deep in history, rich in story, and thorough in method.

 

Detail: At the center of this book’s aim is to delve into the annual winter festival known as Christmas to uncover the Christian practice as a celebration of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Per the author’s description, “This book is a religious and historical accounting of Christmas as an ever-evolving festival of Incarnation…This book tells the amazing story of how an original religious festival celebrating the one-time Incarnation of God that is the heart of Christianity relentlessly expanded the divine investment in material culture and laid down vast deposits in the Western tradition.” (ix) To accomplish this task, Heinz lays out three sections across which he moves from text to historical expression and to culture.

Heinz keeps central that Christmas, as it stands today, provides a unique interaction with the sacred and secular that should not be ignored. However, this interaction exists at a tension where excessive consumerism has turned this distinctively Christian celebration (at least in its post-Easter adaptation) into a feast of personal indulgence instead of the reflection on the divine gift. One of the aims for Heinz is how the Church might recapture Christmas and bring it back to its profound reflection on the nature and glory of the incarnation of Christ.

The first section, “Plotting Incarnation” has two chapters which cover the biblical content and characters involved with the original Christmas story. In the first chapter, “The Original Texts of Christmas,” Heinz carries out a brief study of the Gospel accounts in Matthew and Luke. For the inclined reader the author’s background in mainline theology will become apparent, though it does not takeaway from any interaction with the two Gospel accounts. This background continues in the second chapter, “The Human Play of Christmas,” where the players evident in most western Nativity scenes are considered. A pleasing aspect of the text is that Heinz continually infuses poetry, literary quotations, and songs into the discussion. This allows the text to move beyond a simple historical evaluation and provides a deeper insight. As Heinz employs this method across the text it elevates the discussion for the reader which provides a text that is not common to, often vapid, reflections of this season.

Heinz’s second section, “Theater of Incarnation,” considers the historical foundations of the modern Christmas holiday. He reaches back to original solstice celebration beginning in 46 BC and providing a thorough description of the process of adoption and contextualization by the early Christians. Following this, Heinz works through the development of the holiday in the medieval and Protestant stages, providing many quotable moments. Asking the question “Can Liturgy Save Christmas?” moves the focus to whether the modern expression of Christmas can be redeemed. Ultimately this is the central question for the entire text. Heinz believes that by refocusing on the ritual will help illumine the forgotten celebration of the incarnation which Christmas represents. He moves on to discuss the act of pilgrimage as it draws believers to participate in the lived religion celebrated in Christmas. Following this is a discussion of the manger scenes and how they moved from the actual New Testament scene to the nativities which adorn many western homes. Then Heinz spends two chapters in his proposal of how the Church might re-propose Christmas as a formative festival celebrating the incarnation over and against the consumerist corruption which pervades its current expressions. At this point, Heinz begins describing the capitalist consumerism which he sees as becoming its own secular religion that takes way from the Christian point of the celebration.

The final section, “Incarnational Extravagance,” discusses the movement of the Incarnational holiday from the Church and into the world. Heinz speaks to how different secular functions of the Christmas celebration have pushed out the sacred context and allowed a corrupting consumerism to take over. He has many good points here, though citing examples of excess is often never difficult. One of the better points in this section is how Heinz takes each unique aspect of the western celebration of Christmas from trees to lights to gifts, and beyond, and tells how they came about and were then corrupted. Following this is a, seemingly mandatory, discussion of Saint Nicholas. Heinz handles this as well as other sections. There is a deep understanding of where this tradition came from in history and how it has morphed into an entirely different image. Then Heinz speaks to how we might see Christmas through visual experiences and then how we might sing of Christmas in the musical expressions. His chapter on the musical orientation of Christmas is particularly insightful. Following all of this, he then closes his text with a valediction and final thoughts. This ends up being a final discourse against the capitalism of the age and leaves the reader a bit mystified as to what the next steps are for reclaiming Christmas,

In evaluation of the text, Heinz has produced a unique work that rises above the sugary, shallow treatments that provide intellectual Milquetoast during a season which should be profoundly reflective. While the work is not beyond the grasp of the layman it also welcomes the attuned scholar. This is a difficult text to develop as it must speak into both worlds; being readable while also providing depth. However, Heinz does well to produce a text amiable to this level of discussion. Some might find the text too lofty, favoring something with a more sweet tooth satisfying glaze of cultural accommodate. There are plenty of treatments of the season that will suffice. For readers who desire to be stretched and motivated to consider the Incarnational reason for the season, Heinz has provided a text that does permit this intellectual exercise.

There are a few weak spots in the text. While I am not convinced that capitalism is entirely corrupt, I do share a concern for the secular religion of reckless consumerism which pervades the holiday. Christmas for the vast majority of people in the western world is indistinguishable as a festival of Incarnation. However, I do worry that Heinz takes his critique too far and becomes redundant. For readers who align with his theological school, the tones of liberationist theology will be soothing, for evangelicals the continual refrain against capitalism seems injurious to the point of the book. Heinz does well to show how Christmas has been both banished and welcomed by different generations of Christians. He does seem, though, to take this critique too far and, specifically in the final summation, seems a bit overbearing. This is the most troubling weak spot for the text.

Some more conservative evangelicals will be uncomfortable with Heinz’s theological method which will rub against the standard commitments they are comfortable with and cause some strain. However, if a reader can look beyond this they will find a text rich in historical and theological reflection. There are some theological points which I didn’t agree with but I still found the larger point of the text edifying and educating.

The text is replete with quotable lines, useful illustrations, and helpful historical reflections. If pastors and teachers were to take some of the illustrations and lines from the text their sermons and lessons would benefit. Overall, I believe this is a fine text that is written well, researched well, and presented in a fine format. The middle section of various pictures and art is a wonderful addition. Also, the annotated notes section (there are no endnotes or footnotes) is well researched and the author’s own annotations are rather insightful. This is a good text and would be a excellent selection for a more inclined theological reader who desires a deeper discussion on the beauty of the Incarnation in the midst of the holiday season.

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Dec 2013
POSTED BY Garet
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Review Round Up for Aslan’s “Zealot”

Well this week has had an interesting turn of events that began with the proliferation of clips from that ill-fated FoxNews interview of author and professor, Dr Reza Aslan about his new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

Any book that is marketed as a popular treatment of technical scholarship, and that subsequently makes it to the top of Amazon’s sales list, needs to be taken seriously.

So here’s a briefly annotated list of some review links in certain categories:

Technical/Scholarly Reviews

In his Huffington Post review, Greg Carey gives a thorough review of Zealot that makes notes of its achievements while avoiding polarizing language. This does not mean Carey lacks criticism, but rather that his tone is measured.

Anthony LeDonne’s review, however, is markedly different in tone and force. LeDonne is helpful in his completeness of noting how much Zealot lacks an actual historical basis for its purpose.

Peter Enns hasn’t added a review, so much as a couple of notes that are appropriate to continuing the conversation about Zealot.

Jim West provided a quick retort of seven of the core positions (I’ll save you some time: the answer is Bultmann) of the text and then later noted the challenge of this kind of marketing strategy. We’ll all be looking forward to his more in depth review which is surely forthcoming.

That’s about it for scholarly interaction in the theological blogosphere. If I’ve missed some, let me know, because I definitely want to include them.

Popular News/Media Reviews

There were a couple of reviews of Zealot from some pretty high profile publications. At first there were two quick review notes from the Publisher’s Weekly and the New Yorker. They are joined by longer reviews in The Los Angeles Review of Books. Each of these reviews (written by some with, it seems, limited backgrounds on the topic) talks about how well Aslan has written the book, points out the alarming points, and settles on recommending the text for both of these reasons. There isn’t really any scholarly interaction.

In a more engaged review at Salon.com, Laura Miller challenges the approach Aslan takes. Adam Kirsch, at The New Republicprovides a more detailed interaction with the text that also questions some of its method and conclusions.

Of course then we have the Amazon.com reviews…which are about as useful as a Southwest Airlines pilot in the international terminal.

Certainly there are more forthcoming interactions. I’ll be sure to update the post with them. Just one quick observation (or two):

I don’t know what the process is/was for a text like Zealot when it comes to submission. It is curious that the publisher submitted the text to some popular review sources and not, it appears, scholarly ones. If this perception is wrong, I apologize. However, if this is the case…why would they do this? Why not pick up the phone and call a couple historical Jesus scholars and ask them to look at it while the popular press is doing the same?

All of this seems to be leading to a point that I reflected on this morning that this has a parallel to Matthew 16:26 (cf. Mark 8:36.)

In the larger community Dr Aslan will enjoy a couple of weeks of press and publicity and likely a fat royalty check for some time. That might work for him and his publisher, but in scholarly circles (the circles that provide sustainable engagement and develop appropriate reputations) he’s pretty much done. If the book is, as we’re seeing, really this poorly researched he’s toast. We can’t imagine what will happen if significant scholars get a hold of this text (Wright, Ehrman, Hurtado, etc) and do a just treatment. Who is going to take Aslan seriously in six months, a year, ten years due to this book and subsequent follow ups that are equally as bad? How does he rehabilitate his reputation following this book? It will be difficult to say the least.

Just a quick hit. Please update me on some additional reviews as they are forthcoming.

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Resource Review: Francis Chan’s Basic Series

Resource Title: Basic Series

Author: Francis Church

Year Published: 2011-12

Price: $49.99 for the entire set of 7 DVDs

In One Sentence: A video curriculum that seeks to explain the basic beliefs and practices of a Christian community while utilizing an integrated narrative to add a theme to each video.

Evaluation: 4 out of 5 stars, a very good series

Review

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One of the great areas of curriculum growth over the past decade has been high quality video curriculum that delivers a compelling message that people just want to talk about. Francis Chan’s recent series, Basic, is another installment in the growing product line available to churches and groups.

In this 7 part series, the host, Francis Chan, utilizes a familiar pattern of video storying with dramatically plain presentations to deliver a compelling message about a central belief or practice of the Church nestled alongside a video narrative. 

Perhaps this sounds familiar, and that would be because it is. The once highly popular Nooma series that was conceived of and hosted by Rob Bell began this trend. If one we were to compare a Nooma video to a Basic video, the similarities would be striking. Now this isn’t a mark against Basic, in my opinion because the format and presentation work. Perhaps a lot of this has to do with the production company, Flannel, who brought together the video and story.

Essentially each session looks like this: slow, dramatic opening with a teasing video shot of someone doing something that doesn’t fit, hipster style music drifts in, a title slide tells you the name of the session, and then the speaker’s voice suddenly is laid over with some kind of compelling opening line. Soon the host shows up on the scene and his talking is the principal voice for the next 10-15 minutes. Video of the speaker is overlaid the narrative story that is going on. This works well, though it is predictable, and it engages the ADHD video multitasking context that so many young adults are used to having in their lives.

The videos are extremely high quality and the content from Chan is tremendous. 

The sessions appear to fit together in terms of the backstory that is going on behind Chan’s monologue. They start with three sessions identifying individuals and have them engaged in an activity or situation that speaks to a challenge of understanding the main figures of belief: God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. For instance, in the first video on the Fear of God, we see a young woman on a bed and the room dramatically fills with water. It is supposed to symbolize how the fear of God is an all consuming force. It is an effective technique.

Once ou get beyond the third video the three main characters find themselves on a journey and a joined by a Messiah figure. In the remaining videos the characters take on a journey and we are shown how they encounter different experiences that shape them and, ultimately, send them off on their own. The message of the videos is very good.

The sessions are:

  1. Fear of God
  2. Following Jesus
  3. Holy Spirit
  4. Fellowship
  5. Teaching
  6. Prayer
  7. Communion

 

Now, there is a bit of disjointedness in the storyline. For the most unaware viewer (like myself) it does seem that the story lines in the first two were created separately and then mashed together when the producers realized how good the series actually was as they expanded their sessions. That does take away a bit from the overall but not terribly. These are very good videos.

As for content: Francis Chan delivers excellent content that stays within the appropriate boundaries of biblical orthodoxy as he engages a discussion about foundational things of Christianity.

One area where the series does fall off is in the “discussion guide” that accompanies the DVDs or can be downloaded for online videos. Like so many other guides of this nature it under-delivers for prompting discussion. Group leaders who have been through this before, with the Nooma series, will know what to use and what to add to facilitate discussion. Perhaps it is part of the larger strategy of the videos, but the overly simplified discussion guides are limited in the conversations they provoke.

However, this is a great video resource. I would recommend it for all ages, though it is highly suitable for young adult and student work. It will provoke discussion. As a small group leader myself, I can open up with the “What do you think?” immediately after the video and even the most reticent groups are engaging in discussion.

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Resource Review: The Gospel Project

In my final “Ode to the SBC” post for this week I wanted to take a look at a curriculum piece published by their convention press, Lifeway. The Gospel Project is a new curriculum option for churches, regardless of denominational affiliation, which can be used for their groups ministries. Here is my review:

The Gospel Project

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Resource Name: The Gospel Project

URL: http://www.gospelproject.com

In a Sentence: A comprehensive curriculum that engages the meta-story of the Bible, the plan and process of salvation, through weekly Bible studies at all age levels.

Cost: about $4 for student books and $12 for leader guides, ebook options are available that reduce the costs.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars, a solid curriculum option

Review

One of the things that Southern Baptists have always seemed to do well is develop comprehensive Bible study curriculum pieces that can be used in Sunday Schools, small groups, and other group ministry avenues. Though the groups materials have been comprehensive (several plans have you reading through the entire Bible in a non-lectionary 3 year plan) there have been some who desired a more rigorous curriculum that engages the broader story of the biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation.

So, not too long ago a bold new piece was developed called The Gospel Project.

The Gospel Project (TGP) seeks to take participants on a three year journey through the themes of Scripture, keeping the Cross of Jesus Christ in plain view. This kind of Christocentric study is helpful as it reminds us that Christianity is, ultimately, defined by the person and work of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2; 8:6; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21; etc.) Underlying the theological approach of TGP, the hermeneutical approach is to equip teachers/facilitators with a strong shovel and dig deep into the Scripture to talk about how we find Jesus in Scripture.

The approach is successful and TGP provides a fine resource for doing so. Each teacher guide is overflowing with exegesis, questions, historical quotes, theological discussion and other relevant data that equip the group leader beyond what might be necessary. So, in the preface the editors remind the group leaders to cut what they desire. One of my personal philosophies as I develop groups curriculum is to give teachers more than they need. It is always better to have more and cut away the rest than to be under prepared.

As TGP breaks out in different age ranges there are options for preschool, young kids, older kids, youth/students, and adults. This kind of comprehensive Bible study approach is important and not usually executed well. TGP brings this together well, though not perfectly, and provides a good platform for a church who want to journey through the Bible as a family.

The execution of the lessons plans is sound and through 13 week studies students are walked through theological discussions of the grand narrative of Scripture.

Questions are usually thoughtful and the examples/illustrations are helpful. One of the things that is provided at the end of each session in the leaders’ guide is a resource list. This probably could be more well rounded with other pastors, more diversity, and a broader reach into other media. Also, the 13 week curriculum cycle is fairly good though if you’re running an open group I’m not entirely sure how comfortable new participants might be showing up on week six or seven. Finally, it’s a Lifeway publication which does well to move away from some of the patterns often found in their curriculum, but it does keep its toes in some of the pedagogical patterns and that might backstop it from application outside Baptist churches. It shouldn’t but it might.

The curriculum is a solid piece and looks like it can be used across the evangelical spectrum in non-denominational or other denominational churches. My teachers, who have used it, have enjoyed it, though there is some need to soften the harder theological edges at times. All too often we hear clamoring about “substance, depth, and theology” from loud voices that are actually fewer in number than the rest of our churches. This is the kind of curriculum that provides grease for that squeaky wheel. However, if you’re not careful in the delivery the marginal, less mature believers who outnumber the others might get left behind (not eschatologically.)

I recommend The Gospel Project, especially for a deeper step and across the generational composition of your church.

One additional note

Recently TGP has gotten flack for being “Reformed” or “Calvinist” in its theology. Growing up at Calvary Baptist Church in Bel Air, Maryland I was taught that historically, Baptists (and Southern Baptist specifically) have appreciated reasonable diversity on theological perspectives. As I read through, and have used the TGP, I haven’t found a heavy handed Reformed or Calvinist perspective preached.

Now, many people on the board of advisors and some of the authors are admittedly Reformed. So it probably didn’t help the editors’ case that this is a general curriculum if one only looks at the first couple of pages of the first leaders’ guide. However, I don’t find an overwhelming Reformed or Calvinist perspective in the Gospel Project. There is a Reformed perspective, but there are other perspectives that are fully within the evangelical theological perspective.

As a PhD candidate in his final stages of program work, I have read a plethora of theological works and approaches. As I was trained at my undergraduate and seminary levels, I encountered perspectives from the wide range of theological positions. I am not Reformed. I am not a Calvinist. I love my Reformed and Calvinist brothers and sisters in Christ. I value their input. I am thankful for their passion. I love their commitment to Christ.

The Gospel Project isn’t a deeply Reformed or Calvinist work. It is safe for Southern Baptist in particular to use as it looks to elevate and proclaim Christ. Just a quick note. 

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Resource Review: Faith Lessons Curriculum

Resource Review: Faith Lessons with Ray Vanderlaan

Resource Name: Faith Lessons

URL: http://www.faithlessons.net/  or the Christianbook.com site

In a Sentence: Through live presentations filmed in archeological sites, this series takes the viewer into the places where biblical events occurred, tells the story, and draws applications.

Cost: $35/DVD or $320 for the entire set depending on where you shop

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars…an outstanding series

Review

Perhaps I’m biased, but Faith Lessons videos were some of the first video curriculum options I encountered and began using in college and young adult group studies while in college. They were high quality then and continue to provide a tremendous group study experience.

Developed and hosted by Ray Vanderlaan, the Faith Lessons series has grown to 12 lessons sets with two holiday DVD sets that cover Easter and Christmas. As the ministry describes these videos they are:

In-depth video tours of the buried, distant, or otherwise forgotten places where the stories of the Bible actually happened. By weaving together fascinating historical, cultural, religious and geographical contexts, teacher and historian Ray Vander Laan reveals keen insights into the Scriptures significance for believers in this day and age.

What makes these videos unique is that Vanderlaan, as the host, takes a group of learners into an archeological place and films his talks. During these presentations Vanderlaan recounts the biblical story about that specific place, pointing out locations, buildings, and other relevant information that would have informed those who experienced those events in the biblical times. He then talks over how we read the story, begins drawing points, and comes to application for each of the videos. The entire method is very effective and it draws groups into the location with meaningful teaching content.

Click Here for a Video Demonstration

I first used the curriculum while leading a college aged small group where we covered the lesson series The Early Church. Already studying this era for my classes, the videos drew me in and our group participants who might otherwise have gotten bored with traditionally presented material. Being able to walk through the archeological sites and have a great teacher (Vanderlaan, not me) showing how the sites relate to New Testament texts made the biblical picture become more vibrant for these students.

One of the better parts of the video series is that I’ve now used this series with groups from college aged, young adults, middle aged adults, and even through senior adults. Each group is captured by the presentation and the discussions following are almost always full of life. This is a well researched and well done piece. It recently has gotten a make over from the older covers but the content remains the same. Though it might be a bit dated with regard to some of the fashions that appear on screen, this is easily overlooked as the content drives home important points.

Though you might well disagree with some of the thoughts, this is usually on some nettlesome issue that doesn’t effect the final, fuller application.

I really grew to enjoy these video curriculum options and have used them in every church which I have served in since my seminary days. As we can put high level, high quality content in front of our often distracted people we should find much treasure in these kinds of video curriculum options.

Lessons include:

  • Promised Land
  • Prophets & Kings
  • Life & Ministry of the Messiah
  • Death & Resurrection of the Messiah
  • Early Church
  • In the Dust of the Rabbi
  • Walk as Jesus Walked
  • God Heard their Cry
  • Fire on the Mountain
  • With All Your Heart
  • Walking with God in the Desert

So, my recommendation is to check out this series for yourself. You will certainly be benefitted. Also check out the YouTube channel above, it has many of the videos available from Zondervan.

As a final note: I have received no compensation nor preview copies of this curriculum in my review. This is an entirely objective review from a small groups leader in a local church.

Have you heard of this curriculum? How have you used it? What did you think?

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