Our Culture Is No Longer Tuned To The Printed Page Or The Spoken Word.
The church of today exists in a world saturated by mass communications in a revolution made possible by advanced technology. There is a certain irony in this battle, since the evangelical Christian movement was brought out of the Dark Ages and experienced one of its greatest advancements as a result of the invention of movable type. The medium of print ushered in an era that allowed man to carry his books anywhere—to isolate himself and thereby learn by himself.
But many Christians today, when witnessing the extraordinary and astonishing advances in modern technology, are beginning to wonder what all this splendid new knowledge is for. One has only to read contemporary periodicals to discover that the impact of modern communications media on the home is under constant debate, for when the technology of communications media changes, there is a concomitant change in the culture’s way of perceiving reality. The church, concerned with edifying its members, must confront these essential problems in contemporary culture. The Christian educator must not overlook the cultural implications that grow out of the current communication revolution: the perceptive apparatus of modern man cannot be ignored by proceeding to communicate in the ways of another generation and culture. The methods and channels used by the church must be contemporary and able to reach today’s people.
The discerning Christian communicator must first develop a sound philosophy and understanding of the effects of contemporary communications media. The church is not in the business of entertaining, but of teaching and training in biblical truths and principles. The very power of these media on the human psyche must be understood before one brings them into the educational program of the church, which is concerned with life-changing values. These modern media have become potent forces for influencing man; their pervasive power cannot be ignored by any institution that is concerned with how the minds and wills of people are being affected.
The use of modern communications media in the church, then, would seem to be a key to reaching the human spirit and intellect with the truth of God’s Word. The exciting reality is that the Christian has the most dramatic, impelling message in the world. Yet many churches continue to disseminate this dynamic script through a drab, lifeless format, relying solely on the lecture method of teaching and the traditional sermon in the worship service.
Those in secular mass media view man as a consumer, for modern man has, perhaps unconsciously, surrendered his senses to the power of these manipulators. And if the church refuses to acknowledge or even recognize this influence, a major channel into the human psyche is not being tapped.
Thus, a rationale and understanding of the power of these media would seem a necessary base from which to build or incorporate their use in the educational program of a church. A look at the religious media available unveils a panorama of material, and discernment is imperative for the educator who is concerned with content and its effect.
The proper place to begin is with identification of need: tools or materials should never be selected without an assessment of purpose and need. What is the audience—age, knowledge, education, experience? Needs of a particular communication task can be categorized in learning objectives: to convey facts, teach skills, move to action, create atmosphere, stimulate discussion, inspire loyalty, develop values, create interest.
The use of these media brings to the church a form of communication that involves the design and use of messages to determine learning outcomes. Mere technicians, then, or even media equipment and materials, are not the key to learning. When the decision is made to utilize modern communications media, a complete understanding of the instruments is required. And while the educator may serve as motivator, he may be able to enlist church members with particular talents in technology to serve in this ministry. Any evaluation of resources should therefore include the human resources. Special talents can be tapped and utilized. Training workshops can provide training for those who are interested. Expertise comes from experience.
When the need has been established and the resources evaluated, a definite plan should be outlined. Planning should be precise and focused—the intended message must be understood at the outset or it will never be communicated.
Today’s technology offers a wide choice of media formats, and a format may be used independently, or in a collage. One of the most exciting communication formats is drama, and while the connotation of drama has usually been that of a stage, lights, curtains, costumes, and make-up, dramatic forms can be used in every area of the church program. These include mime, choral speaking, monologue, playmaking, role playing, tableaux, puppets, pageants, dramatizations, improvisation, and, of course, plays. Prepared scripts may be used or material can be original. What excitement is generated when a creative endeavor is brought to life!
Other communications media forms available to the church are slides, films, filmstrips, recordings, overhead transparencies, and videotapes. Each medium can form an entire program or be used with other formats.
Adequate time must always be allowed for preparation and rehearsal. All electronic equipment should be tested ahead of time; equipment should be set up and prefocused well ahead of the program production. Such attention to detail marks a communications media production as professional and effective. Mechanical or technical mistakes distract the audience and hamper the communication flow.
Communications media productions should always be placed in a proper setting. An overpowering medium such as a three-screen slide show accompanied by a powerful soundtrack can shock the senses if it is presented in an intimate setting. Attention should be given to orientation, preparation, and follow-up. The communication objective should be matched with the appropriate medium.
The Christian has always been concerned with his message, but in order to reach the world with his message, he must also be concerned with the tools of communication. His job today is to reach twentieth-century man with the gospel. The Epistles reveal how the New Testament writers used contemporary communication tools to reach their generation with the gospel message. When preaching in Antioch, the apostle Paul made reference, too, to the fact that King David had served his own generation.
God always begins with man where he is. But man always tends to limit God through his own fear, lack of faith, and short-sighted vision. God’s mandate to man throughout the ages has always been to reach his own generation with the truth. In this generation, modern communications media provide powerful tools to penetrate the world with the gospel message. The concerned Christian will seek to incorporate this powerful vehicle into the program and ministry of the church. He will begin where he is with what he has to reach his own generation and culture with the unchanging message of Christ as revealed in the Bible and validated through historical Christianity.
Genesis Project: A Many-Sided Teaching Tool
We reviewed the initial stages of the New Media Bible by John Heyman’s Genesis Project in October 1976. Putting the Bible on film might describe a project of incredible magnitude even without the volumes of ancillary support materials woven into the scheme of this many-sided teaching tool. The first installment, representing six years of research and production, included the first 22 chapters of Genesis and the first and second chapters of Luke. To complete the remaining 1189 chapters of the Bible with the same degree of thoroughness and quality will be a considerable achievement—especially considering the projected 26-year timetable.
During the past three years the remaining 34 chapters of Genesis and Luke have been completed. They are packaged into 33 different films, each 15 to 20 minutes in length. The visual part of these full-color films is a historical reenactment of the biblical text it covers. The actual biblical text is voiced over an original language dialogue that is used by the characters that are seen on the screen. Just before narration of the text begins in English, the original language dialogue of the actors, which has “realistically” introduced a given scene, fades out.
The teaching supports that accompany each film (called “Genesis Teaching Systems”) include a narrated filmstrip with a frame-by-frame projectionist’s script, a corresponding issue of Bible Times magazine, and a teacher’s guide. Both the filmstrips and the magazine establish the cultural, geographical, and historical context for the portion of Scripture covered by a particular film. The teacher’s guides break the teaching sessions for each film into portions appropriate for the different age levels from elementary to adult. For example, the lesson plan for the film of Luke 23:50–24:53 titled “Resurrection and Ascension” divides the material into two sessions at the elementary level but divides it into three sessions for the junior high school, high school, and college/adult levels.
The graphics, in both the magazine and filmstrips, are often stills taken of the carefully researched film, but also included may be maps, geographical or cultural features, and so on. The accompanying cassette tape narrations add an interesting, sometimes fascinating, dimension to the biblical account. There are, for example, in the magazine that accompanies the portion of the Lucan film about the resurrection, quotations by early church fathers such as Clement of Rome or Origen on what meaning the resurrection had for them. In the same issue there is an essay on the early church controversy between Justin Martyr and the Gnostic Marcion over the relevance of the Old Testament. The language and the arguments are clear. So, too, is the orthodoxy of the conclusion.
Still in the conceptual stage are topical studies on the teachings of Jesus and the major Christian celebrations of Christmas and Easter. The teaching packages on these topics will be similar to those already mentioned.
The next portions of Scripture to be filmed are the other books of the Pentateuch and Acts. The Epistles that overlap the book of Acts will be incorporated into the Acts films.
What the Genesis Project has brought us so far are teaching aids that bring the content of Scripture to life in memorable and interesting fashion. An “inductive” method of study is used with the film, filmstrips, and magazine—but all are focused back toward the biblical story and its setting. Publishers of the New Media Bible materials have not narrowed their market through attempts at contemporary application or relevance of Scripture. But they remain consistently orthodox in their orientation.
David Singer is art director for CHRISTIANITY TODAY.
“Focus On The Family” Film Series By James Dobson
Hats off to a man who practices what he preaches! “All over this country little children are reaching for fathers who aren’t there,” says James Dobson in the third of his seven-film series, Focus on the Family (produced by Word, Inc., Educational Products Division). In an attempt to disqualify himself from the absentee-father category by staying home with his family, Dobson has taken his books and his family seminars from the circuit to the screen. There, in living color, you can take a front-row seat as the child psychologist from the University of Southern California School of Medicine walks you through the volume of information he has gathered on the strong-willed child, shaping the will without breaking the spirit, Christian fathering, preparing for adolescence, and what wives wish their husbands knew about women.
In his 45-to 60-minute each, highly anecdotal, often humorous, chalkboard-style packages, Dobson encourages parents to distinguish between willful defiance and childish irresponsibility in their children. He zeroes in on the problem of masturbation in adolescence and lays to rest the myths that masturbation leads to psychological disorders and sterility in adulthood. The series takes on a more emotional, cathartic tone as Dobson draws upon his relationships with his own father to talk with dads about priorities, time pressures, and transmitting value systems.
There are not a lot of Ph.D.’s who can put almost seven hours worth of lecture notes on film and get away with it—but Dobson has done it. His style is casual, his delivery clear and concise. The professor of pediatrics has left his psychological jargon in the classroom and professional journals, and he speaks in layman’s terms. The strength of his communication lies not so much in the profundity of his message as in his ability to illustrate principles, which he does with simplicity and wit.
Dobson’s film segments on childhood and adolescence reflect his professional expertise. He comes across as a credible source who has done his homework. He skillfully incorporates secular literature on children and youth into a biblical framework. His three adult sequences, however, lack the same credibility and definitiveness. His discussions on Christian fathering and what wives wished their husbands knew about women rely heavily on anecdotes and “informal surveys.” In those three films he fails to give his audience the same handles for action that were obvious in his earlier lectures.
One is willing to overlook the diluted attempt at explaining adult behavior, the sometimes emotional scenarios of childhood past, the poor editing, and the overworked audience shots in light of the strong statements the series makes about children and youth. Some of its appeal to the local church lies in its educational packaging: the Educational Products Division of Word, Inc., has put together a 16-page film series study guide and a 12-tape cassette series for follow-up discussion and interaction with the films. They’ve also designed a workbook for teens to be used with the two-part series on preparing for adolescence. Youth leaders will find films 4 and 5 particularly helpful to offer teens who are struggling to understand their sexuality.
James Dobson in book and film alike has given the Christian community a valuable tool.
RUTH AND MARK SENTER
Mark and Ruth Senter live in Wheaton, Illinois. Mark is Pastar of Christian Education at Wheaton Bible Church; Ruth is a Jree-lance writer and contributing editor for Campus Life.
Other Attempts To Reach The Mind And Heart
The evangelical Christian subculture is one in which the word is central, both historically and in our contemporary society. Spoken, written, and as God’s Holy Word, words are central in our tradition. Teaching and preaching are primarily verbal. Other means of communication are usually employed only to aid the written and verbal message. Communicating with visual images to promote effective learning is rare.
Effective multimedia materials, where the visual image is allowed to communicate in its unique way and where the words contribute to verbal understanding, are still the exception both in the church and outside of it, but more are to be found outside.
The review of a group of audio-visual materials from several Christian organizations bears this out.
• Gospel Light/International Center for Learning: Filmstrips and cassette tapes; a boxed set. Planning a Session—Youth; Discipline—The Road to Discipleship; Objectives; Joy of Discovery—Youth.
The visuals in this set are primarily ink drawings with color; many frames contain charts or lists of words alone. The illustrations vary in quality, and where photographs are used, most are technically poor and amateurish. The filmstrips fail to capture the imagination and hold the viewer’s attention. The visuals are crutches for the words, rather than visual communicators of effective information. The soundtrack is interesting: the visuals let the mind wander—although the pictures change often enough to keep interest in the soundtrack.
• The second boxed set of filmstrips and cassette tapes from Gospel Light/ICL contained the following titles: This Is the Way We Train and Plan; The Adult Sunday School Class That Works; Recruiting Is Everybody’s Job; Operation: Changed Lives; Make Learning a Joy.
The first three in this set suffer many of the same inadequacies of the first set. Recruiting especially has too few interesting visuals to accompany the length of the narration. The Adult Sunday School is illustrated with often amateurish and stiff photos. Supplementary lighting, when used, is too obvious; it weakens the mood and adds to a sense of artificial setting and situation.
Operation: Changed Lives and Make Learning a Joy are the best in the set. The first moves well and contains interesting illustrations. The second is nearly a model for what the others ought to be: the photographs were made with available light and composed well, establishing a mood that is sustained well in a believable, empathy-arousing filmstrip. A few art graphics are mixed well among the photographs, and it all moves at a lively pace, helping keep the interest at a high leve.
• Double Sixteen. Canon Series, filmstrips and cassette. Two filmstrips and cassettes: Teach Them a Lesson They Won’t Forget; and Jesus Goes to Calvary.
The first filmstrip is an introduction to the Canon series, which is of high professional quality. The photographs, while varying in quality, are of realistic, believable situations. The sound has a live, documentary quality, adding to the realistic feeling of the situations portrayed. The filmstrip moves well: it contains many visuals and leaves the words to carry only their own weight.
Jesus Goes to Calvary is one of a number of filmstrips that tell Bible stories. They are short (about 4 minutes), well-paced, and colorful. Dramatic voices and sound effects add realism to the soundtrack. The illustrations are ink drawings with color washes, and are well done.
• Winston House. “Community” set; four filmstrips and a cassette tape soundtrack. What Sort of Community Is This?; In Your Lifetime; Christian Community; Community Renewal.
This set uses available light photographs where possible, and the filmstrips move along at a pace that keeps viewer interest. The sound is realistic and interesting.
There are just enough photos of poor quality to weaken the impact and mood of the series. While there is good variety among the photos, those that are technically bad weaken the overall effect.
• Winston Press. “Death”; four filmstrips, cassette sound. What is Death?; The Dying Person; Loss and Grief; Funerals.
This set is basically a very good example of the filmstrip as a visual medium: there is good sound-image coordination; the mood is well-established early and carried through consistently. The photographs communicate more than the words alone could, thereby adding their content. The only weakness was an occasional uneven quality of photographs.
• World Home Bible League. “Project Philip,” The Touch of His Hand; four filmstrips, cassette sound.
A kind of magazine montage/layout format appears in nearly every frame in this set. Images in the layouts are from magazine editorial and advertising pages, cut out and arranged on colored background paper. (There were no picture source credits given, which raises the question of the legality of their use.)
The perceptive apparatus of modern man cannot be ignored by continuing to communicate in the ways of another generation and culture.
Unfortunately, the montage/layouts are not contemporary in feeling; many look like 1950s Sunday school illustrations. The execution is amateurish, often making the purpose confusing. Many frames are repeated later, making for tediousness of the visual content.
• Burt Martin Association, Inc.Les Prisonniers; film.
Made for the International Religious Liberty Association, this film is a fine example of using the cinematic medium well. Through the eyes of an American teen-age girl visiting a French family, the story of Huguenot persecution in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century France is unfolded. The girl, Margaret, rebels against the Christianity she has experienced and is sent by her mother to live with a Christian family in France.
She discovers her own ancestors are Huguenots and begins a quest to learn more about them. Using excellent voice-over technique, we are introduced to key sites that relate to her quest, with reenacted scenes from history interspersed. The scenery is spectacular, and the story moves along well. The camera work is believable and keeps us involved.
Before effective use can be made of such visual media as the ones described, considerable study, research, and viewing of good examples needs to be done to gain insight into the possibilities and the techniques of good visual communication. Effective multimedia tools are much more than packaged, prerecorded, verbal instruments. Well done, they can reach the mind and heart of an audience.
DOUGLAS R. GILBERT
Douglas R. Gilbert is assistant professor of art at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.
The Potential Of Videocassettes For The Church
Experts claim the “age of video” has arrived. The growing use and distribution of prerecorded videotape programming and the development of the videodisc are moving this audio-visual format into an ever widening acceptance for both entertainment and nonentertainment use.
While lists of titles of prerecorded video programs packaged for the popular home “VCRS” (videocassette recorders) are multiplying rapidly, religious producers to date have few entries. A just-published Video Source Book from the National Video Clearinghouse, Inc., lists over 15,000 entries, with a second edition that will include another 15,000 already in the works. But finding religious titles in this plethora of available material is like searching for the proverbial needle in a pile of hay. One can find among the alphabetical listings Columbia Pictures’ Academy Award-winning A Man for All Seasons, the television version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, something called Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation from Time-Life Multimedia, and a four-minute oddity entitled Hush, Hoggies, Hush that shows one man’s 35-year program to train pigs to pray before they eat. But religious VCR materials for church or home use are scarce.
A Video Programs Index, also published by the National Video Clearing-house, lists names of only two companies that would be familiar as producers of primarily religious materials: Broadman (Nashville) and Paulist (Pacific Palisades, Calif.). As VCR prices drop and giant screen projection is more readily available, religious A-V producers may wish they had more to offer.
The format is exceedingly expensive to produce, I’m told, which is one obvious reason little is yet available. And most secular VCR teaching programs are often poor models at best. Add to that a public accustomed to using television only to entertain, not teach, while sitting mesmerized in front of a screen, and it is easy to understand why religious publishers are reluctant to move into VCR program development. But a few are looking into the potential—like Covenant Press Video in Chicago with a catalog listing nearly 200 entries—and gearing up to meet anticipated demand. VCR programs may be the church’s now and future A-V tool.
CAROL R. THIESSEN
Carol R. Thiessen is CHRISTIANITY TODAY’s copy editor.
Carl F. H. Henry, first editor of Christianity Today, is lecturer at large for World Vision International. An author of many books, he lives in Arlington, Virginia.
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