Review: An Epic Documentary

Back in March I reviewed Tim Challies’ fascinating book Epic: An Around-the-World Journey Through Christian History. Tim also made a documentary that accompanies the book, which I’m grateful to have received for review.

The book and documentary work well in tandem rather than making each other redundant. While they cover most of the same objects, there’s a unique appeal to each one. In this review I’ll focus on the distinctives of the documentary. To get an overview of the whole project, you can see my book review.

Unique structure

While the book presents these objects chronologically, showing us the development of the Christian faith over time, each documentary episode centres around one or two countries. This angle allows us to see the richness of our history, with time periods overlapping in a single location. It also emphasises that, as Tim says, “the gospel of Jesus Christ as no headquarters.” Unlike the epicentres of Judaism in Jerusalem and Catholicism in Rome, we truly have a global faith.

Stunning visuals

Of course, the biggest difference between the book and documentary is the visual appeal. The book was beautifully illustrated, but there’s something special about seeing the objects and locations on camera. I really enjoyed the cinematography, especially getting to the beautiful scenery of New Zealand, where I was born. It was fun to see Tim walk through places I live or have visited. It’s one thing to read about the Papallacta Dam in Ecuador, and quite another to see the impressive views from that great height. Some of the objects told more of a story on film—I could imagine the pain Thomas Cranmer felt forced into his shackle, and Marie Durand’s drawn-out agony being trapped in a tower for thirty-eight years.

Personal insights

The documentary naturally has more of a personal touch. Tim includes personal anecdotes about his trip in the book, but we see that in motion here—getting in-the-moment updates on the challenges of accessing certain exhibits and navigating language barriers. We also see him interacting with the people (and dogs!) of the cities they visited.

Desire to travel

Seeing all these different counties made me want to visit them myself—although COVID-19 has pushed that even further into the future than it already was. I would particularly love to visit Germany as the birthplace of the Reformation, as well as going back to England and seeing all that I missed when I visited there. Tim also toured places that I really don’t want to see for myself. The second-hand claustrophobia I experienced watching him walk through Hezekiah’s tunnel was more than enough. I have no desire to retrace his steps!

The Epic documentary was both fascinating and informative. I highly recommend both reading the book and watching the series to get the full experience. Presented in ten episodes of 20–25 minutes each, it would be easy to watch in manageable chunks with your family, friends, or Bible study.

You can find out more about Epic and order it here.

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