Review of Life Explored

Written by Barry Cooper & Nate Morgan-Locke, and presented by Barry, Nate, and Rico Tice, Life Explored is a seven session DVD-based series that seeks to “show how our deepest desires for happiness can only be satisfied in one person, Jesus Christ”. It is suitable to run in a small group, one-to-one, or even in a bigger setting, like a whole church gathering. When LE first came out I had the opportunity to talk with Nate about his hopes for the course, as well as the process and rationale behind it. You can read that interview here. Each session features two films, two Bible readings, and one Bible-study: the first film is a ten-minute story piece (albeit with no dialogue or narrative), intended to gently and thoughtfully raise the session’s theme. This is a noticeable development from the format of LE’s older brother Christianity Explored, which I’ll pick up on later. The quality of these films is second to none; each story is beautifully and elaborately shot, ranging from the dramatic account of a prospector risking his life in the Californian gold rush, to an emotional snapshot of a geisha and her family in Edo-period Japan. Most are fairly intense, although the middle episode provides some light relief as we dive into suburbia and glimpse a tragi-comic account of materialism’s never-ending lure. The other film in each session is a teaching film, with the three presenters taking it in turns to engagingly open up the Bible for about twelve minutes, speaking into the issues raised by the session’s theme – and more on that later too. Drawing You In My impression is that quite a lot of UK churches have already begun using LE since its release in September 2016. Some of these would already have been using Christianity Explored – in other words, they’re at home with CE Ministries and The Good Book Company – but my sense is that LE is also drawing in a wider circle of churches. Key to understanding LE is knowing that it sees itself not as an alternative to CE, but as an additional resource that can be used before someone has done CE. I think it’s fair to say that LE feels like an easier invite than CE – in other words, I can see how someone might give LE a go before they’re willing to commit to CE. That’s probably a result of a combination of factors: on one level the name itself comes across as less exclusive; an invitation to explore the meaning of life feels like less of a commitment than seven weeks studying ‘Christianity’. This is then backed up by the publicity, which asks the non-threatening and invitational question, ‘What’s the best gift God could give you?’ But there’s also the fact that one of the major elements of LE are the ‘story’ films. Though they don’t hold back in terms of intensity of emotion, they certainly change the mood of the session; you almost feel like you’re getting a visit to the cinema together each time! Good for Everyone And yet LE is certainly not superficial, basic or merely introductory. That’s because the questions and issues raised are engaging, universal, and soul-searching: What, if you lost it, would make you feel that life wasn’t worth living? What keeps you going in difficult situations? What comes to mind when you hear the word “God”? Actually, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly our conversations became ‘deep’ and personal. We weren’t just sharing knowledge or learning new facts; we were persuasively being encouraged to reflect together on how we were choosing to live our lives. And that’s where we come to what LE is trying to do, if I can put it like that. Three things to mention here: Firstly, the angle LE takes is to ask the question of where we’re looking for lasting happiness. Boom. We all want to be happy, right? I’m engaged straight away. The films and Bible interaction then work together to provoke us to consider whether the things we’re living for are bringing us what we want, or whether actually – and quite strikingly – they might be imprisoning us. The ‘story’ films especially expose this by getting under our skin and positing that we’re each like the different characters in our own ways. And the claim LE gradually then makes is that it is only the triune God of the Bible who can bring us this happiness that we crave. Without realising it, we’re essentially introduced to the Bible’s category of idolatry: the claim that we’re captivated and captured by counterfeit gods, good things that have become ‘god things’. This is adeptly done, and is a perceptive way to connect with those who might freely acknowledge that they effectively ‘worship’ something or someone, but who perhaps may struggle to grasp the idea of breaking God’s commands. Secondly, this approach inevitably raises the question of who we think God is – and whether the God we do or don’t believe in is actually the God of the Bible. I think LE does this very powerfully. And this is why, in our limited experience, LE proved to be brilliant for Christians and non-Christians alike – and importantly – Christians and non-Christians together. It meant there was an atmosphere of Christians and unbelievers together talking about discovering who God is, and about how we can all lose sight of this. Whereas other courses can end up feeling quite ‘them and us’ (and to some extent that is obviously important), LE felt like we were all journeying together. Thirdly, LE does all this by taking guests through a whistle-stop overview of the Bible’s plot line, beginning in Genesis 1 and ending six weeks later in Revelation 21. The idea is that because most people are pretty biblically illiterate, it’s vital to paint a broad brush-stroke sense of God’s purposes for the world – and how we fit into that. This was helpful, although I think it sometimes felt like the teaching film was quite ‘full’, because the presenters were trying to combine idolatry/character of God/Bible overview. Leading LE well LE is definitely worth running as a course, but it is worth being aware that people will inevitably engage differently with the opening films. I remember Nate saying that when they were trialling the LE material it was often the Christians who struggled with the ‘story’ films more than non-Christians. Perhaps that’s because some Christians will tend to … Continue reading Review of Life Explored