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Faces Around The Cross DVD Set Review by Lynne Westbrook

Dr. Dick Stenbakken
2493 Frances Drive,
Loveland, Colorado 80537

I have often listened to Sunday School lessons or church Easter services and given pause to think about each person that had a part in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  Dr. Richard Stenbakken has taken each of these "Faces Around The Cross" and gone into an in-depth character study. Faces Around The Cross comes in a two-disc DVD set.  In this DVD set, Dr. Richard Stenbakken has seven Biblical character portrayals.   Each of the character portrayals is approximately 30 minutes with over four hours of total viewing time. In the first disc, the characters portrayed are John (From Son of Thunder to Beloved Disciple), Judas (All They Had to Do Was Listen to Me), Peter (The Man of Big Mistakes), and Caiaphas (A High Priest with Low Understanding).  The second disk has the following segments: Marcellus Sylvanus (The Augur), Pilate (It's All About Power), Centurion (The Toughest, Meanest Man in Town), and a final interview with Dr. Stenbakken. Each characters' portrayals take place on stage in front of a church audience as Dr. Stenbakken comes onto the stage in period costume and character matching speech and interaction. His first-person narrative presentations draw from his own experience and education as an Army chaplain, family therapist, and graduate-level educator (who holds four Master's degrees). The cost of this DVD set is $25.00.

We were able to use this detailed DVD set as part of our own homeschool Bible study.  While the first-person narratives were entertaining at times, they are not meant to be purely entertainment.  By showing the viewer what the character may have looked like and by keeping in character with the person's authentic life, we were able to get a "feel" of what the person was like and how their lives were changed by Christ's life, crucifixion, and return from the grave. 

My daughters are visual learners, so this style of education was excellent for them.  We watched some of the videos on our DVD player (on television) and some on our computer.  Either way, being able to pause during the presentation was valuable to allow Biblical referencing. We used the enclosed study guide and background materials as a pre-study to focus on specific aspects of the production and allow my daughters to know the character before their presentation. After the viewing, we used the study guide to enable reflection and discussion (as well as cross-referencing Bible verses relevant to the questions). One night, my parents were visiting when we watched one of the DVD segments and joined in.  In this way, cross-generational education took place, and we discussed the study guide with the added benefit of input from different generations and perspectives.

One of the most significant pros of this DVD set was that the character portrayals allowed our family to understand, more in-depth, how each of these individuals were part of the Biblical tapestry.  It is easy to read about Judas and feel only anger at his betrayal.  However, the study guide taught us that his behavior, in his mind, was aimed at setting the stage for Jesus to take back the throne of David.   Judas actually saw himself as a true Son of the Torah and faithful zealot.  The guide and questions provided additional historical information and thought provocation that aided us in looking much more deeply into the character.  I appreciated Dr. Stenbakken's knowledge of theology, history, and military and how these all intersect.  The only con is that the stage background is, at times, distracting from the time period of the character. However, Dr. Stenbakken's portrayal of each person serves to draw the viewer back in to the details of the character themselves in a way that kept our attention.

I would recommend this product as both a simple learning tool and as a more formal tool in your homeschooling curriculum.  These Biblical character portrayals allow students to feel some of the emotions (sadness, fear, joy, and doubts) in a way that brings the personal struggles and lives of those living centuries ago to life. In addition, the study guide and thought-provoking questions made us feel as if we had a closer connection to each of these characters and a much deeper understanding of how their struggles and decisions are like those we experience in modern life.

-Product review by Lynne Westbrook, LPC, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June 2021