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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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Reviewing the Exodus Consultation at Lanier Theological Library

This past weekend, January 17-18, Lanier Theological Library hosted a conference titled “A Consultation on the Historicity and Authenticity of the Exodus and Wilderness Traditions in a Post Modern Age.”

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This conference featured scholars from the United States, Europe, and Asia who gave presentations on various aspects of the archeology and historicity of the Exodus narrative. As you can see from the list of presentations below, the topics presented did much to explore this area of research. Organized by James Hoffmeier, these presentations were also part of a weekend lecture that he presented at the library. Though I was only able to attend the Friday set of talks, there is some discussion worth having over the content covered.

Before all of that here is the list of presenters:

Friday, January 17

Richard S. Hess (Denver Seminary) – Onomastics of the Exodus Generation in the Book of Exodus

Steven Ortiz (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) – Pitfalls, Prospects, and Paradigm Shifts: The Archeology of the Exodus and Conquest

James K Hoffmeier (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) – Some Eygptian Details of the Exodus and Wilderness Traditions

Alan Millard (University of Liverpool) – Moses, Israel’s Tongue-Tied Singer

Charles Krahmalkov (University of Michigan) – The Real Moses: the Evidence

Joshua Berman (Bar Ilan University) – The Song of the Sea and the Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramses II

Gary Rendsburg (Rutgers University) – The Literary Unity of the Exodus Narrative

Richard Averbeck (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) – The Exodus and Slave Release Laws

Thomas W Davis (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) – Exodus on the Ground: the Elusive Signature of Nomads in Sinai

Jordan Cervera i Valls (Faculty of Theology of Catalonia, Barcelona) – The Copper Snake Episode (Num 21:4-9) in Exegetical, Topographical & Archeological Contexts

K Lawson Younger, Jr (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) – Recent Developments in Understanding the Origins of the Arameans: Possible Contributions and Implications to Understand Israelite Origins

Saturday, January 18

Jens Bruun Kofoed (Lutheran School of Theology, Copenhagen) – “Tell Your Children and Grandchildren!” The Exodus as Cultural Memory

J Andrew Dearman (Fuller Theological Seminary) – The Exodus and Wilderness Wandering Traditions in Amos and Micah

Jerry Hwang (Singapore Bible College) – “I am Yahweh your God from the land of Egypt” Hosea’s Use of the Exodus Traditions

W Mark Lanier (Lanier Theological Library) – A Lawyer Examines the Evidence for the Exodus

So, this was a rather busy conference and, as the pictures above indicate, done in a terrific venue. Though I am not an archeologist or an Old Testament researcher, a few thoughts did come to me as I listened to the presentations:

  • The quality of the research and depth of insight provided in these presentations surely reflects the kind of engagement which advances biblical scholarship.
  • It was difficult to qualify this conference as an archeological exploration, since there is no direct evidence for the exodus. However, as several presentations pointed out, there is quality data around the event that can lead to positive conclusions about the exodus event.
  • Perhaps by design, this consultation was an appreciative inquiry into key issues around the exodus narrative that still provided plenty of diversity in the viewpoints.
  • Being able to talk with leading scholars in a discipline is always worth the time. There is a lot of work continuing to be done about this, and many other topics, in biblical archeology.
  • Even though many leading voices in biblical archeology question the historicity of many Old Testament stories, it is refreshing to know (and hear) there are viewpoints countering these views from credible scholars.
  • It would have been good to have heard from some critical voices. What are the primary concerns and challenges in dating, placing, and evidencing the exodus narrative? Having someone(s) who could bring this perspective would have been helpful.
  • Lanier Theological Library continues to be a growing theological resource for Houston, Texas, and the larger international theological community. Not just because of the availability of Stone Chapel, but the library itself is a tremendous place to study in any number of specialized topics.

Overall, the consultation was done well and I will definitely look forward to future events at the library. Though it is a bit of a drive to get there, having world-class scholars presenting on vital topics in biblical studies is worth the time.

23
Jan 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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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.

09
Dec 2013
POSTED BY Garet
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Review: The Elders by R. Alastair Campbell

Though ecclesiology has been, widely, neglected in historical theological discussions, there is a growing field of research looking back to the earliest Christian communities for insights. Historical ecclesiology remains a growing field that is poised to, hopefully, receive important attention in the coming generation of scholars. If this occurs one work which will surely be included as effective for moving this field forward is R. Alastair Campbell’s The Elders: Seniority within Earliest Christianity.

Arising out of his doctoral thesis, at King’s College in London, this text seeks to evaluate the current state of ecclesiological thought on the role of elders within the earliest churches. Campbell approaches this task by considering the how contemporary scholarship reached its majority opinion on the role of elders, then looks back at the actual Sitz em Leben of elders in the New Testament environment, and then walks forward to the second century to see how the office developed. How the early churches understood elders in their structured ministry offices, or not, will be in focus for the entire text.

Campbell sets out to accomplish this work by way of eight chapters of research. One of the first priorities in the text is describing and making an initial evaluation of Rudolph Sohm’s landmark proposal at the end of the 19th century about eldership and church order. This approach has been adopted by many subsequent ecclesiologists, perhaps most notably by Hans von Campenhausen in his work Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual in the Church of the First Three Centuries (1997.) Campbell spends the first chapter covering this information and also providing some essential references for this study.

The  second chapter steps into the ancient Israelite and early Judaistic context for eldership. Following this, in the third chapter, Campbell handles the Greco-Roman context for elders. In both of these chapters the methodology lends itself to a deeper investigation of the language and concepts employed by these ancient societies. As a result, the reader is given a multi-disciplinary investigation of elders in the formative environments for early Christianity.

Chapters four through six (and an appendix to the sixth chapter) move into the literature of the New Testament for the references to elders. Chapter four spends its time looking at the critically affirmed Pauline documents for their references to elders and the fifth chapter considers the Luke-Acts usage of such references. For chapter six, and its appendix, the Pastoral Epistles, not Pauline in their attribution, is evaluated along with the rest of the New Testament.

Chapter seven moves into a post-apostolic view of eldership by helpfully considering texts from Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and a few others pertinent texts. Finally, in chapter eight, Campbell provides a summarization chapter with sections on present day applications. The author’s ending content, works cited, indexes of modern authors, texts, and topical, round out the ending material.

At the heart of Campbell’s proposal is his proposal that the role of elders should be understanding differently the majority of early Christian historians generally believe. While the majority, not consensus, view is that elders indicates an office, or at least a formal role, within the earliest churches, Campbell suggest this is incorrect. The term is a difficult one to pin down and, likely, has multiple meanings in these different contexts. As Campbell summarizes:

The main contention of this thesis is that in the ancient world the elders are those who bear a title of honor, not of office, a title that is imprecise, collective and representative, and rooted in the ancient family or household. To put it another way, we do not know who is referred to by the term ‘the elders’ unless we know the context and even then we do not know whom the term includes or excludes. (246)

Campbell’s text is an example of excellent and meticulous research that, thankfully, incorporates helpful footnotes replete with many works from antiquity and more contemporary scholarship from the 19th and 20th centuries. His handling of the sociological setting from which Christian and Jewish-Christian churches arose is particularly notable. It is not an easy thing to confront a growing body of scholarship and offer a course corrective. Campbell does his task well and presents a text worth reading for those interested in the role of elders historically and in the present churches. With the growth the neo-Reformed movements that enjoy elders over other, more traditional, offices, this is an important read to help offer corrective instruction. His engagement with a wide range of literature is admirable as is the discussions of the underlying factors of contemporary scholarship.

All that said there are a number of points at which I disagree with Campbell. Briefly, there is an admitted pluriformity of church model in the New Testament and for the first four centuries of the growth of the Church. Campbell acknowledges this movement but finds problem with the extent of that pluriformity. Being slightly neo-Sohmian myself, I would suggest the influence of the Jewish synagogues and Temple clerical systems are more influential than Campbell necessarily grants. This is a point worth discussing and hopefully additional resources will promulgate such discussions. Also, the development of the offices of the earliest Christian communities is developmental and elders, or presbyters, do in fact appear to have official capacities in local communities by the end of the first century.

Campbell has provided a valuable text for those interested parties in academia and the church world. While the writing is not overly technical, some of the discussions require knowledge of biblical and ancient languages to be fully appreciated. Though some minor typographical errors exist, the prose of the text is engaging though not overly flowing. This is a fine historical text.

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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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