Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Found ~ Evaluating a Modern Parable

Stewart Redwine of 36Parables sent me a very helpful comment on the post "Should We Always Preach in Parables?" He and several others at 36Parables are working on taking 36 of Jesus' parables and turning them into short films. They have finished three so far on the parable of the lost coin, the talents, and the good Samaritan.

He commented in response to the question I asked: What do we do with pure storytelling media to most effectively use them for the proclamation of the gospel? That was the last of four questions, all of which I'd like to discuss at some point. However, I've decided to jump ahead to the fourth question, given Stewart's willingness to have his film considered and critiqued. Thanks, Stewart, for your humility in this.

So, do this first: head to the 36 Parables website and watch the online version of Found. There are two big questions in my mind related to the movie:
  • Should we use this film to proclaim the gospel?
  • If so, how should we use this film to proclaim the gospel?
I would encourage you to come to your own conclusions on those questions before reading mine.
First, let me say thanks again to Stewart, who invited feedback on his films. He is a brave artist who asks for honest criticism of his work. Though I am no film-maker, I did have some experience making videos in college, none of which should ever be called by the name "film." It was wonderfully hard work, and I have the deepest respect for anyone who attempts to make movies. Kudos to 36Parables for undertaking the honorable task of making good art from the Word of God.

So, now on to some analysis.

Should we use Found to proclaim the gospel?

First, let's be clear. Found does not contain the explicit gospel. It is not a proclamation of the gospel. The original parable did not intend to fully explain the truths of salvation, nor does this work attempt to do so. Both highlight one aspect of salvation: God is in the business of finding those who are lost, rather than those who are already found. Neither attempt to fill in the rest of the details such as the the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross, and his resurrection.

Therefore, Found requires an explanation if it is to be more than just a good story. Christians would need less explanation than non-Christians. But there needs to be some kind of framework for the audience to be led to think about God, Jesus, or salvation. The filmmakers have clearly recognized this, and they are offering free study guides to go along with all their films. As far as I can tell, they intend for these to be used as discussion guides for small groups. That is an excellent idea.

With some sort of explanation, I do think this film could be used to advance the gospel. Would it work as a sermon illustration? Possibly. In my personal opinion, it's too long for that role. Could it be a kick-start for a good small group discussion? That seems more likely. I could also see it used as a "trailer" to get people interested in an upcoming sermon or such regarding that parable. For that to work, one would need to add information to make sure the viewer knew what to do next if he is interested in learning more. I'm not sure if 36Parables would allow editing to their material.

However, I would warn against using Found as the primary source of truth for a message or a discussion. Why? Even though the modern parable mirrors the ideas of the original, I think it blurs the point that Jesus was intending to make.

The parable itself is in Luke 15:8-10. Let's start a few verses earlier. Luke 15:2-3 goes like this...
"And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.' So he told them this parable:"
and then Jesus told the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal Son.

Jesus was trying to show in the first two parables that everyone goes looking for what they've lost. And rejoicing is appropriate when the lost thing is found. In the same way, it is appropriate for him to receive sinners and eat with them because they are lost and he has come to find them. When they repent, the angels rejoice. Heaven throws a major party. The pharisees, who didn't think they had anything for which to repent, didn't bring any joy to God.

Unfortunately, the film blurs this idea. The vagabond searches for the jewels for a particular reason: because of the sentimental value they carry for him. He loved his wife, and that last memento of her life had significant meaning to him. The theft of the accordion, the coins, the dollar bill, all point to the fact that these jewels were more valuable to him than anything else.

This is a wonderful dramatic idea, but the metaphor then becomes this: God searches for the lost because of the value of people and a sentimental love for them. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that people have no value in God's eyes. God loves people and has given them real, significant value on earth and in his kingdom. However, that isn't the primary point of THIS parable in its original form. Nor is it healthy to be thinking that God saves because of how much we are worth. Rather, God saves us out of his pure mercy in spite of our sin and our hatred for him.

So, my conclusion is this: a film like this has definite merit in ministry and evangelism as long as it is presented within a context that either explains it or points people to a place where it can be explained. However, Found itself may blur the original text enough to confuse or mislead people, and so I would not recommend it as a primary source of teaching or discussion. Using it alongside the parable itself or even other texts that highlight God's love could be very valuable. I do look forward to seeing the other films they put out, to learn more about how to use storytelling for God's glory.
More Posts on Storytelling in the Church

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