A capstone experience in my young life was the summer I was invited by my church to write and teach the Bible curriculum for our summer Vacation Bible School (VBS) program. We were unhappy with the quality of the provided materials and my task was to create a teaching that walked the kids through the story of Joseph. The outcome included transforming one classroom into a filthy prison (complete with a costume that I aged by leaving in the mud for one week) and another into an elaborate throne room, enlisting my youth pastor and a church grandfather as fellow actors, and writing a script that both captivated the kids and taught them about God and our response to Him. God’s blessing was on the efforts and the result was unlike anything I have ever done.
So I’ve always been excited by the possibilities of combining creativity, performance, and impactful teaching. A tour of the workshops of GoodSeed International was one example, my recent introduction to the online video series The Bible Project is another. And this summer I have come across a third: For the Life of the World: Letters to Exiles.
This video series is created and narrated by Evan Koons, an charmingly awkward young man who sits in a large house in the middle of a forest and ponders big questions like “What is our salvation for?” Seven short episodes explore the implications of these questions. Topics include the place of Christians in the world, the reason of our work, the meaning of love and family, and the place for creativity and order in the world.
The series is outstanding for its cohesive use of creativity and imagination. Every episode features at least one visual illustration that later becomes an analogy for the teaching. A Rube Goldberg machine that attempts to cook Evan’s breakfast backfires and become an example of the banality of utilitarian work. A ruined paper lantern that lands in Evan’s front yard later is later used as a moving visual illustration of how our lives in the world are offered up to God as a prayer. A punk motorcyclist arrives on Evan’s front porch and uses puppets to tell a illustrating the importance of a believers call to hospitality. While on paper these come across as trite and cheesy, they are subtly woven into the fabric of the video’s narration, beautifully shot, and scored by new music from Jars of Clay.
And yet Evan is not a sage on a stage preaching to his viewers. He is himself perplexed by these issues and so he brings his questions to a recurring cast of teachers, including Stephen Grabill from the Acton Institute and artist Makoto Fujimura. Their advice, illustrations, and wisdom clearly cause Evan and his audience to respond to truths through the way that they live. Evan is one of our peer on this journey, inviting us to join him in a greater understanding of the implications of God’s redemptive work for the world.
And these implications are life changing. In the church we often focus on the gospel’s private spirituality, but seldom on how it influence on our day-to-day life. What are the repercussions of the gospel on the mundanity of work, the meaning and purpose of knowledge and creativity, or the day-to-day actions of service and sacrifice in the life of a family and the life of a church? This theology is necessary to integrate the truths of Christianity into the life of the world. Anyone who watches the series will be introduced or reminded of these doctrines, but Evan is not content to let such truths sit dormant on the view’s mental shelf. He brings them home by closing every episode with a “letter to exiles”, a hand written monologue. In these letters encourages us with the reminder that we carry these truths into our lives as the redeemed children of God, not through our own power but through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So I recommend For the Life of the World: Letters to Exiles to you and commend Evan Koons and his team for producing such a work. May we be stirred by it and, out of that stirring, create similar works of beauty and truth. It is available as a DVD/ BlueRay set, a digital download, and an online rental.