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June 15, 2011

NewtonGary Wilkinson is an independent Christian television producer and one who has been hard at work creating quite a list of excellent little church history documentaries. I recently received several of these DVDs and have very much enjoyed them, and perhaps especially the ones that deal with characters who are not quite so well known. I believe he currently has 5 DVDs for sale through Vision Video. I have watched and enjoyed the following:

  • John Newton - This documentary explores Newton’s life from his turbulent youth to his involvement in the 18th century African slave trade, his dramatic conversion aboard a sinking ship and on through his remarkable ministry as an evangelistic preacher, hymn writer and abolitionist.
  • Robert Jermain Thomas - A young Welsh missionary name Robert Jermain Thomas left the shores of Britain to minister God’s Word in China and Korea. His martyrdom would be the seed that would grow and contribute to the Korean revivals in 1903 and 1907. Be encouraged by his testimony and the growth of Christianity in Korea.
  • The Welsh Revivals - The revivals of 1859 and 1904 in Wales stand as powerful examples, marked by a commitment to prayer, bold preaching for repentance within the church, and a community-wide spiritual awakening. During this time, churches were packed, crime rates and other social ills decreased dramatically, and nominalism and dead orthodoxy were replaced by passionate love for Jesus. This documentary traces the origins of the revival, introduces us to its leaders, and follows its lasting impact upon the world.
  • Patrick - Learn about Patrick’s extraordinary life in this docu-drama, featuring enlightening interviews with noted scholars and captivating reenactments of Patrick’s life.

The other one is:

  • Outpouring of the Holy Spirit - A small group of believers earnestly prayed for Revival in England at the beginning of the twentieth century. Little did they know how God would answer that prayer - an answer that would impact the church worldwide. This revival would lead to the birth of Pentecostalism in Britain and awaken people to a new relationship with God.

I always find it difficult to spend $11 or $12 or $15 on a DVD that is just 30 minutes or an hour long. I think DVDs like this are just waiting for a download distribution model that can negate the physical costs and the shipping costs. In the meantime, though, these films are perfect for buying, watching and then either passing around or donating to your church library. Each one contains a powerful testimony of what the Lord has done through a life or at a particular time in history. I’m grateful for Wilkinson’s labor of love and am glad to recommend these documentaries.

May 27, 2011

Dispatches from the FrontThere are few things that thrill me more than learning what God is doing in other parts of the world. The Lord works in amazing ways and calls to himself people from every nation and tribe and tongue. Yet even in a world that is rapidly shrinking through the new media available to us, we hear far more than we see. Dispatches from the Front is a series of DVDs created by Frontline Missions that gives us a glimpse of what God is doing across the world.

There are currently 4 episodes available, each one about an hour long. I decided I would watch one of these DVDs each day until I had seen all 4. They were so good that I ended up watching all 4 back-to-back. Each one takes the viewer to a different part of the world—Southest Asia, Eastern Europe, West Africa and India. Each one shows Frontline’s director Tim Keesee traveling within a certain region, seeking to understand the intricacies of its culture and meeting with local Christians. As he does this he hears of miraculous conversions, of terrible persecution, of seemingly insurmountable challenges. It is compelling stuff, amazing stuff; it is nearly impossible to watch without emotion, without tears of joy and sorrow.

Keesee writes about all of these things in his journal; the format of the DVDs is to combine video footage with his journal entries. And it’s a powerful combination.

Here is the trailer for Episode 3 (which was probably my favorite):

May 20, 2011

Human Planet
I’ve got a thing for documentaries, and especially for nature documentaries. I loved Planet Earth and Blue Planet and Life and Nature’s Most Amazing Events—some of the recent major productions (all of which come from the BBC, as it happens). Human Planet is the same but different. It features the same stunning, high-definition footage of the planet and its inhabitants. But this time it focuses far more on people than on plants or animals. It focuses on the human element of life.

It does this by looking at the various habitats in which humans have learned to live and thrive: from deserts to the Arctic, from the grasslands to the cities (and everywhere in between). The camera work is top-notch, the stories are fascinating, the music is powerful, the overall experience is inspiring. Allow me to share a few of the lessons I learned from this series.

Human PlanetWe Are Amazing

When God created human beings, he created something extraordinary. This series treats us as if we are simply the species that has managed to evolve the furthest but, of course, we know better. God created us to have dominion over the earth, and we have done that in amazing fashion. From the frozen Arctic to the hottest deserts we have gone into the world to subdue it and to have dominion over it. The tragedy of it is that so few know what God has called us to. So many serve foreign gods or serve no God at all.

It is amazing to watch this series and to see human ingenuity, which is really an imitation of God’s ingenuity (since we have been made in his image). Some of this ingenuity is thousands of years old; some is cutting edge. But since God put us on this earth, we have learned to adapt and to thrive in breathtaking ways. This series highlights some of the most impressive and most unexpected ways we have done that.

July 07, 2010

I’ve got a bit of a thing for nature documentaries and maybe it’s because I’m not exactly the traveling type. I don’t ever anticipate being able to visit South America or Africa, to walk through the jungles and savannahs and to see so many of the wonders of God’s creation (at least on this side of eternity). Nature films, though, provide a glimpse of some of those things I guess I won’t ever see except through the lens of a camera.

You are familiar, I’m sure, with Planet Earth, the 2007 BBC documentary that was and perhaps still is the greatest nature series ever filmed. That same team is responsible for Planet Earth’s successor, titled simply Life. The series, filmed over four years, looks at “the lengths living beings go to to stay alive.” This makes the series less epic in scope than its predecessor, but no less ambitious and certainly no less enthralling.

Life does a great job of mixing well-known animals with those that are more obscure. In one show you’ll watch cheetahs and elephants and in another you’ll encounter a bizarre pebble toad that lives in just one small corner of the earth. You’ll come almost literally face-to-face with these creatures and so many others. The producers were able to capture shots that are as close-up, as intimate as any you’ve seen. Like Planet Earth before it, the camera work is absolutely stunning. In short “making-of” featurettes after each of the episodes you’ll see the lengths they went to in order to capture these shots, sometimes working for days to film just a few seconds of footage. The series also features a musical score that takes itself lightly enough that it can add an element of fun or drama where appropriate.

We watched most of this series as a family and enjoyed doing so. Now, depending on how much you’ve talked to your children about life and depending on whether or not you live on or near a farm, you may find yourself having to answer a few questions (like “Daddy, what does fertilize mean?”) since the animals are often filmed in the very throes of passion. And when the animals are not creating life, they are often destroying it, meaning that you will see a few gruesome deaths along the way. However, such is life (and, therefore, such is Life).

Watching the series as a family also gave us opportunities to discuss the inevitable references to evolution. Narrator David Attenborough throws around millions of years like a millionaire throws around nickels. In one particularly comical moment we see flamingos on the screen while Attenborough describes the birds’ reptilian ancestors. Even a child can look at a newt and then look at a flamingo and do the math. The series is not constant in references to evolution but you will encounter it several times along the way.

Overall, Life is yet another fantastic series and one that will take you face-to-face with some of God’s most remarkable creatures. The Bible tells us that it is the fool who says in his heart that there is no God. And this means that it is only the fool who could watch Life and not catch glimpses of the Creator. Watch it and praise God for his artistry.

Do note that there are two versions of the series available to you—the original by the BBC and the Discovery Channel adaptation. Be sure you find the original since David Attenborough is in every respect a superior narrator to Oprah Winfrey. Attenborough’s eccentric inflections are part of the fun. Also, if you have access to the appropriate hardware, it’s worth upgrading to the Blu Ray version so you can watch it all in high definition.

Here, in case you’re not yet convinced, is the trailer:

August 28, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

With another Friday (it’s amazing how quickly they come and go) we have another edition of Free Stuff Fridays. This week’s sponsor is Frontline Missions International. For nearly 20 years Frontline has worked among people in areas of war, persecution, and poverty, primarily in restricted-access countries, seeking to strengthen the Church, give voice to persecuted Christians, and proclaim the Good News. Recently, FMI has developed a new DVD series on 21st-century missions entitled Dispatches from the Front.

Islands on the Edge

Dispatches is suitable for individual, small group, and congregational use. It exposes believers in a more authentic way to the Gospel’s power in some of the most difficult and least expected places of our world, renewing our vision of Christ and the unstoppable advance of His saving work.

Episode 1: Islands on the Edge takes you to parts of southeast Asia where the Gospel is transforming lives in the face of persecution, desperate poverty, and Asia’s secret slave trade. The journal format of each episode underscores the daily unfolding of God’s activity on the “frontlines,” bringing the viewer up close to sights and sounds from distant corners of the Kingdom.

I’ve got ten copies of the DVD to give away.

Rules: You may only enter the draw once. Simply fill out your name and email address to enter the draw. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.

(The giveaway is now closed)

August 04, 2009

Desiring God and Crossway have partnered together to create some interesting new products. They have recently released three small group studies which combine lessons on DVD with book-format study guides. I will provide a brief description of each and then share my thoughts on the series:

Why We Believe the BibleWhy We Believe the Bible. “With the deluge of communication around us—books, newspapers, blogs, journals, and magazines all insisting that their view of the world is most compelling—which should we trust? This is no small question. In fact, our answer has eternal implications. The twelve-session Why We Believe the Bible Study Guide and DVD are designed to help study groups and classes explore the claim that the Bible stands above all others as the book of books, pointing infallibly to the King of kings. Through the DVD teaching of Pastor John Piper and the five guided assignments per week, participants will study biblical texts and discuss probing questions to help them see why the Bible alone is worthy of our confidence.”

Tulip DVDAn Introduction to TULIP. In this study “John Piper walks study groups through each point in the DVD and its companion Study Guide, discussing the implications and the issues from a fully biblical perspective. Piper’s 30-minute DVD teachings cover topics that include the meaning of “total” in total depravity, doing missions when God is sovereign, Romans 9 and the two wills of God, and ten effects of believing the five points of Calvinism. This sixteen-session, guided group study equips facilitators, teachers, group leaders, and pastors to help their members understand the all-important differences between Calvinism and Arminianism. It also calls them to hold fast to biblical truth regarding God’s salvific work in his people’s lives.”

Whats the DifferenceWhat’s the Difference? (available very soon from Monergism Books). “John Piper’s six, 30-minute DVD sessions lead groups in discovering what the Bible teaches about true manhood and womanhood and the impact of living out God’s design. ‘Over the years I have come to see from Scripture and from life that manhood and womanhood are the beautiful handiwork of a good and loving God,’ encourages John Piper. ‘He designed our differences, and they are profound.’ Yet when rightly understood according to God’s Word, God’s vision for both men and women ‘is not onerous or oppressive. It does not promote pride or self-exaltation. It conforms to who we are by God’s good design. Therefore it is fulfilling in the deepest sense of that word.’ With this as his context, Piper seeks to commend the beauty as well as the biblical truth of God’s design for men and women in this six-session small-group DVD and its companion Study Guide. Each 30-minute teaching of Piper’s delivers a powerful message to help Sunday school classes, small groups, churches, and families understand and celebrate the freedom of our God-given differences.”

I was pleased to find that these DVDs are not merely sermon excerpts squeezed and pressed into a study format. Instead, they have been (or appear to have been) recorded explicitly for the purpose. Each DVD features John Piper teaching from a stage (with a pulpit and overhead projector), leading the audience into a deeper appreciation of the subject. So these are not sermons as much as they are seminars. Therefore, it is a very natural context in which to participate via DVD either as an individual or as a small group. The Study Guide, which is both useful and well-written (never a given for Study Guides) offers a day-by-day format, which allows each lesson to extend over a week. And they are meaty, going far beyond the quick, the obvious and the unbearably light in the questions they ask and the concepts they cover. Do note that while the Study Guides will enhance the DVD, they are by no means necessary and the DVDs stand well on their own.

Whether you buy them for personal study, family study or small group study (or perhaps even homeschool study for high school students) these DVDs and associated study guides are well worth owning. The DVDs are slick, professional and well-produced and, of course, filled with great content. The books are also very well-made and well-written, majoring on the majors and enhancing the media content. These DVDs and Study Guides are a great addition to any personal or church library and I highly recommend them.

July 14, 2009

The Late Great Planet ChurchI am no authority on eschatology, on the theology of the end times. In fact, I need all the help I can get in understanding it and in separating one view from the next. It is an area where seemingly small distinctions can make profound differences and where tensions often run high. It was with some interest, then, that I turned to The Late Great Planet Church, a new documentary by NiceneCouncil. It is hosted and produced by Jerry Johnson who has been part of the team behind other such excellent documentaries as Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism.

Like most similar documentaries, this one relies on interviews with pastors and scholars. In this case the list of contributors includes Kenneth Gentry, Kenneth Talbot, Tom Ascol, Tom Nettles, Gary DeMar and several other notable teachers or scholars. Several of those who contribute to this production are former dispensationalists themselves and they are able to provide an personal, inside perspective on the issues inherent in the system that ultimately drove them away from it. Often this is little more than their growth in Christian maturity; as they searched the Scriptures they found, quite simply, that dispensational theology was nowhere to be found in God’s Word.

I will say up-front that, for this DVD, the information is better than the production. The production quality, though by no means terrible, is also not excellent. The audio is not great and the levels sometimes vary from segment-to-segment. There are also some background graphics which, at least to my untrained eye, appear to be stock videos that are low-quality and thus appear quite pixelated and stutter at times. Even the lighting is uneven so the faces of the people being interviewed are unevenly lit. None of these are major problems, but I feel they do merit a mention. Thankfully the information conveyed is very good and overshadows the somewhat-amateurish production quality.

This is but volume one of what is going to be a two-volume set, so Johnson does not set out to provide a complete rebuttal to dispensational theology. Instead, in this first volume he focuses on the rise of dispensationalism, looking to its roots and its earliest proponents. In the second volume he will compare dispensationalism to Scripture but here he simply allows the earliest teachers to speak for themselves. And if you know the history of this theology, you know that these men do great damage through their words and through their lives. There is Darby with his disregard for the history of the faith and his almost-prideful admission that this theology was unknown until he discovered it. There is his out-of-control ego which led him to separate from many other believers and eventually to conclude that his church was the only true church in all of London. Spurgeon’s reaction to Darby and his Plymouth Brethren is instructive as the perspective of a wise and godly contemporary. And then there is Scofield who, even as a professed Christian, utterly abandoned his wife and two daughters, immediately remarried and then assigned to himself the title of doctor even though he had educated himself. While granting that such men, with their unbiblical behavior, do not discount the theology, Johnson feels that he cannot tell the story of dispensational theology without providing these simple facts from the lives of its founders. And he is right, I think, to do so. Truly the roots of this theology are surprising and shocking, even. He looks also to some of the theology these men taught, showing how even their followers had to downplay or deny some of what was so utterly unbiblical (such as the view that God’s means of salvation in the Old Testament was different from the means of salvation today).

This is a valuable DVD, I think, and one that may well serve to encourage some of the people who have been reared in this system to think deeply about their beliefs. As an introduction, this first volume does its job well. I will wait eagerly for the second volume to see how Johnson and his team of scholars apply Scripture to dispensationalism and provide what I expect will be a thorough rebuttal.

Buy it at Monergism Books
Buy it at Monergism Books

(And if you have not yet done so, be sure to take a look at Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism)

March 01, 2009

The Torchlighters video series is a series of animated DVD’s dedicated to “Highlighting the honor, integrity and life-changing experiences of those well-known and little-known Christian men, women and children who in response to God’s call, dedicated their lives to a life of whole-hearted commitment and passionate service to Jesus.” It is a production of Christian History Institute along with International Films and Voice of the Martyrs.

The series recently expanded to six videos with the addition of The Richard Wurmbrand Story. This follows The Jim Elliot Story, The William Tyndale Story, The John Bunyan Story, The Eric Liddell Story and The Gladys Aylward Story (each of which I have reviewed in the past). If you have seen any of the previous productions, you will know what to expect here. In 30 minutes, it tells the story of Richard Wurmbrand, though it does so through the perspective of his son Mihai. It is targeted at children from ages 8-12. It focuses on Wurmbrand’s stubborn refusal to forsake his Christian convictions in the face of Communism and equally on his ongoing Christian witness to both guards and prisoners behind the walls of prisons. I watched it with an assortment of children within the targeted age range and they seemed to enjoy it thoroughly, cheering when Wurmbrand defied his torturers by standing strong for Christ.

While the animated video is enjoyable, I found the hour-long documentary even better. Prepared, I believe, specifically for this project, it provides a more detailed overview of Wurmbrand’s life. It features interviews with Mihai Wurmbrand and plentiful video testimony from Richard and his wife Sabina. It is, obviously, targeted to the parents of the children who will enjoy the animated feature.

This really is a good series of videos and they are well worth including in a personal library or, perhaps even better, in a church library. You can learn more about it by visiting the Torchlighters Web Site.

Here is the trailer: