Video Review: Modern Parables – Living the Kingdom of God (Jul-Oct 2008)

By Matt Dabbs

by Greg Taylor
July – October, 2008

Modern Parables: Living the Kingdom of God
Thomas Purifoy, Jr. and Jonathan Rogers, Ph.D.
Price $24.95 single DVD, $129 boxed set, $216 class pack (what is reviewed, including set of movies, teacher and student books)
Compass Cinema
Modern Parables (www.modernparable.com)
ISBN: 978-0-9798524-0-4

Good Bible class or small group curriculum that combines theological depth, biblical insight and provocative discussion questions, and appropriate cultural illustrations that you can use “right out of the box” is not hard to find. It’s impossible to find.

Then comes Modern Parables. It’s not enough that this resource on Christ’s parables is both a good primer for the teacher and includes a student guide; the curriculum comes with well-produced short movies on each of twelve parables in Volume 1.

Christian feature length movies often come across preachy and amateurish, but the Modern Parables crew has something unique here: rather than long films, they’ve produced high-impact short films that look professional and won’t distract–as many feature-length Christian films do–with wooden acting and bad production values. They tapping into a storytelling medium that Christians tend to do well with versus longer feature movies. And these are versatile for use in public worship, classes, small groups, homes.

After watching several of the films, most notably “Prodigal Sons,” I was impressed with the variety of subgenre even within the short film category in which these DVDs fall. In documentary style, “The Sower” features an old Tennessee farmer talking about sowing wheat as a way to dig into the parable. “Hidden Treasure” is a quirky comedy about a man who sells everything to buy a piece of property while his friends and neighbors think he’s gone nuts.

“Prodigal Sons” includes ingeniously conceived and unexpected narration with a twist that makes this the most faithful rendition of the prodigal son story I’ve seen to date.

A recurring theme in the study guides that build on the movie short is how to live out the parables. This “living in the kingdom of God” is fleshed out in four main questions taken from Dr. Daniel Doriani, one of the six featured pastors in the book and film material: The questions are, “What should I do?” “Who should I be?” “To what causes should I devote my energies?” and “How can I distinguish truth from error?”

In the books and in video reflections by the featured pastors, there is good interplay between original parable and movie version; a chart maps out the correlation between the two, but in the process, groups might get bogged down in too much allegory that they miss the larger points of the parables. For example, Jesus makes the allegory clear in the Sower story, explaining it later for his disciples. But he doesn’t always explain them so clearly. And his disciples, like us, may have been proud just to have figured out the mystery of the story elements. But we, like the disciples, often fail to understand the far-reaching significance of the kingdom parables beyond the details of the parable. Living out the larger truth of the stories is the aim of telling them. Lining up all the points of the stories does not equate to getting the point. So those using such a detailed curriculum and discussion guide ought to be cautioned to dig deeper than allegory and plot points.

I’m increasingly mystified at the church’s lack of interaction between Catholic and Protestant scholarship and popular works such as this. What would Catholics have to say about the parables? For starters, they’d bring in more of the ancient and apostolic interpretation of parables, rather than an emphasis on a reader-response discussion and Americanized telling of the parables. They might also remind us of mystery in the parables that gets lost when we over-analyze or hyper-allegorize them.

Even so, the movies, the curriculum, used by humble teachers and leaders, will open the mystery of the kingdom. They call this cinematic theology, and if we have ears to hear and eyes to see, Compass Media’s DVD and class curriculum is a rare jewel that can both introduce people to Jesus and his teaching on the Kingdom of God and deepen faith in disciples.New Wineskins

Greg TaylorGreg Taylor is senior editor of New Wineskins. He is also associate minister for the Garnett Church of Christ in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His newest book, co-authored with Anne-Geri’ Fann, How to Get Ready for Short-Term Missions, was released by Thomas Nelson in May 2006. His novel is titled High Places (Leafwood, 2004). He co-authored with John Mark Hicks, Down in the River to Pray: Revisioning Baptism as God’s Transforming Work. Greg and his wife, Jill, have three children: Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Before moving to Tulsa in 2005, the Taylors lived in Nashville, Tennessee four years, and they lived in Uganda seven years, where they worked with a church planting team. His blog is http://gregtaylor.cc.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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