Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
Politics and Prose
By Byron Borger
August 18, 2014
DVD For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles Acton Institute (Gorilla Pictures; 2014)
Ordinarily, I use this column to review books that would be of interest to ordinary citizens working for public justice, and I recommend ones that are particularly useful for forming our vision of citizenship and inspiring us to be more active in the public square. This week, I am thrilled to highlight a new DVD curriculum that has been inspired by many books.
For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles is a seven-week film series about Christian cultural engagement. It is an upbeat and colorful overview of a robust Christian worldview, rooted in the theology of the goodness and order of creation and the scope and everyday consequences of grace and redemption. Filmed mostly in Grand Rapids in a contemporary cinematic style, it draws on the intellectual heritage that has shaped the Center for Public Justice-- yes, including Abraham Kuyper, whose visage appears silk-screened on a T-shirt worn by young Evan, the “star” of the show (and writer of the aforementioned letters that conclude each episode.)
The DVD draws on the work of Russian Orthodox theologian, Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983) whose book For the Life of the World offers a beautiful, nearly sacramental view of Christ’s redemptive presence in all areas of life. When Evan wonders, “What is our salvation for?” he is setting the stage for a lively exploration of the Biblical themes of the Kingdom of God, the missional call to be engaged in service to our neighbors, and for a local church that calls us together to worship well, anticipating the final restoration of all things. In a hilarious send-up of a famous scene from the 1960s classic movie The Graduate, Stephen Grabill puts his hands on Evan’s shoulder and says “Just one word--there’s a future in it: oikonomia. Will you think about it?”
And think about it we do. With humor and action--fires, dances, gardening, winemaking, woodworking, hockey--each week unfolds an aspect of the Biblical doctrine of the economies of God, his oikonomia. The seven creatively titled sessions are about our predicament as faithful people in a fallen world (Exile), about the essential way God created men and women for intimacy and family (Economy of Love), about work (Economy of Created Service), about law and politics (Economy of Order), about education (Economy of Wisdom), about the arts (Economy of Wonder), and about worship in the church (The Church).
This Greek notion of oikonomia suggests that God’s world is a garden, a household, a network of economies that needs careful development and wise stewardship. Kuyperians sometimes call these various economies “spheres,” while other twenty-first century evangelical reformers might call them “channels of influence.” Stephen Grabill’s Reformed scholarship on the Roman Catholic tradition of “natural law” suggests insights for unlocking the potential for flourishing that is built into the creation order.
The teaching interviews and bold cinematography are so artfully expressed, though, that the blend of neo-Calvinist and conservative Catholic social theories that form some of the theoretical/theological background of the films are hardly noticeable; they are what Calvin Seerveld would call “suggestion-rich” and allusive. And they are often illustrated, not preached, with curious narratives and fantastic footage in settings as diverse as Makoto Fujimura’s art studio and Dr. Tim Royer’s Neurocore clinic which studies brain-related neurological issues.
The allusive style doesn’t obscure the meaty content; a didactic element is embedded in each session’s narrative as Evan asks various friends to respond to his large questions about how faith might matter in the modern world, his perplexity about “what is our salvation for?” Many of the scholars who appear to help Evan discern an answer are, in fact, friends of CPJ. From Amy Sherman to Anthony Bradley to John Perkins to several background authors thanked in the acknowledgements (such as Steve Garber), this fabulous series has a pedigree and perspective that will thrill any serious CPJ friend. It offers a framework for the sort of nuanced political vision that CPJ supports. The episode on politics, for instance, reminds us of the good of politics, but also the limited calling of the state--affirming justice and the rule of law, but suggesting that human societies can flourish best if there are limits to the reach of the state.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a visually enjoyable Christian educational video curriculum, and I know I’ve never seen one so thoughtfully inspiring about a foundational Christian view of creation, culture, social life, and redemption.
The curriculum includes an excellent participants’ guide For the Life of the World Field Guide. For each session, the guide offers study notes and thoughtful discussion questions, even prayer suggestions, in a uniform, helpful flow. A number of short reflections draw out the meanings of the symbolic items in the film such as the acorns, the telescope, the art studio, the Chinese sky lanterns, the compost pile, and more. It gives hints to the philosophers or theologians whose faces are seen on Evan’s ever-changing t-shirts, and it offers Scriptures to ponder, books to study, and hints of action plans for deepening fidelity as we live, as exiles, for the life of the world. Access to this study guide is offered in the “extras” portion of the DVD, and full-color, eighty-page print copies are also available.
For the Life of the World DVD is priced at $59.99, but is available from Hearts & Minds Bookstore for the special sale price of $35.00. The Field Guide sells for $9.99, but Capital Commentary readers receive a 20% discount by ordering through Hearts & Minds Bookstore.
- Byron Borger runs Hearts & Minds Bookstore.
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”