I have learned from past experience that practically any time channels like The Discovery Channel, the Biography Channel, A & E, and in this case The History Channel, try to take a closer look at the Bible or Jesus, it always comes from the perspective of human reasoning and not a belief in the supernatural, and certainly not a genuine belief in the God of the Bible. And I must admit that, going into last night’s presentation, I expected very little from The Bible, the new History Channel series by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. And that’s what I believe we got.
Don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of cool moments: the image of Adam rising up out of the earth at his creation, the burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea. But, generally speaking, last night’s presentation was no more inspiring than Charlton Heston’s Ten Commandments or Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth and it cannot even be compared to Mel Gibson’s The Passion! In truth, the “drink of water” scene and the Crucifixion scenes in Ben Hur get more to the truth and are much more moving.
Now, I understand that for what Burnett and Downey were trying to do there is not enough time to take into account all the details. But let’s at least tell the story with the nuances we do have from Scripture. For example, and it may seem a small point and perhaps what was shown could be interpreted differently, but it seemed that the people on the ark were not what the Bible indicates: Noah and his wife, and Noah’s three sons and their wives. The scenes we saw looked like the daughters of Noah or something. I realize that this could be explained as the young wives of Noah’s sons and the mothering instincts of Noah’s wife.
Next, Lot’s wife will get plenty of opportunity to make a bad name for herself later in the real story, but to imagine her animosity toward Abram (as he was called until further along in his journey) when the call of God came is pointless and only serves to direct attention to the human story and not the point of the story which was the call of God.
Then, the parting of the ways between Lot and Abram, though initiated by the strife that was breaking out between their respective herdsmen, was an amiable solution and not one initiated by Lot (and certainly not Lot’s wife as seen in the presentation), but was approached first and graciously by Abram:
“So Abram said to Lot, ‘Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.’”
There are more, finer points of order to quibble with, but let me move forward! The three visitors to Abraham (who now has an expanded name reflecting God’s promise and covenant) are done pretty well at the start. I liked that the writers understood that they were dealing with a “theophanic” appearance thus they did not show the face of one of the visitors (that would have been Christ pre-Incarnate) but only showed the other two. This was sustained even through the Abrahamic intercessions for Sodom. (Note: if they use the same actor whose face we can barely detect in the intercession scene later when it comes to depicting Jesus we will have a winner!) However, the depiction of the angels when they got to Sodom—calling for help, being injured, having to fight with swords like it was a Lord of the Rings battle, even the idea that Lot was being tested rather than the Sodomites being investigated—all missed the mark. The straight up Biblical text would have been fine thank you very much! And by the way, the soft handling of Ishmael (in deference to Islam?) and the no handling of homosexuality (the chief sin of Sodom as depicted in Genesis) was another mishandled aspect of the presentation.
As for Moses, does anybody remember Moses’ real response to God at the burning bush? We didn’t see it last night. After four questions-slash-hesitations Moses finally says, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it!” Again, maybe they didn’t have time to give the whole account but don’t give the story a different conclusion! Further, a tremendous opportunity to exalt the covenant Name of God was lost! This is the moment when the Great I Am reveals Himself in a way never before experienced and reveals the Name by which He is to be remembered from generation to generation! Nothing much was made of it.
Another point to be made concerning the treatment of Moses and his call from God is how the writers shifted Moses’ use of the words “my people” to indicate his growing connection with his Hebrew roots rather than the clear command from God: “Let My people go!” God’s people! It is a lesser point that they were Moses’ people.
All in all, last night’s presentation didn’t start any cults or insult God or His people as far as I can tell. But it also didn’t do anything to demonstrate that the Bible can be taken just as it is without taking unnecessary liberties that detract from the Bible’s greater message. Human dramatization (filling the gaps of the story for the sake of moving the story along) may be a necessary part of telling a story about which we do not have all the human details, but where the details are given we should stick to them. In any case, when we fill in the story for ourselves from our reasoning, focusing on the human aspect, we detract from the God of the Bible and His message. Perhaps that’s why we are not given all of the dramatic human details in the first place.
Now, let me move to what is really bothering me. It is time for the true Church to stop hoping that Hollywood treats us nice. It is time to stop swooning every time we think we are going to make it to prime time. What is it that goes through our minds? Did we really think we were going to see a strictly faithful telling of the story of the Bible complete with altar call? I hope someone will pick up the Bible as a result of this presentation, but what were we truly hoping for? That America would watch TV last night and suddenly say to themselves, “You know, these Christians have been right all along! There it is on the History Channel (prime time) so it must be true!”
This next part will seem mean to some but I assure you it is not meant to be. I take the Bible and the Church and my calling as a pastor very seriously. And it goes beyond just caring about my own local church. There are many people today who speak authoritatively into the issues that concern Christ and culture. My policy is that if you are going to speak into the culture about God, then your life and its details are to be considered as well. Not so much one’s mistakes—who doesn’t have those? But your beliefs! In the case of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, she is a staunch Catholic and the two of them were married in 2007 by Della Reece, and ordained minister in new thought Christianity (home to denominations such as Religious Science, Unity Church, and the Church of Divine Science, among others). I think this matters. I think that before we regale a project simply because someone somewhere said it might be good because it’s about the Bible, we should be careful to investigate the messengers. Even if last night had been a grand slam, by endorsing it do I (as a Pentecostal, Evangelical Christian) send potential Christians into the arms of the Catholic church? Into the arms of Della Reece and the new thought movement?
Finally, we in the Evangelical, Bible believing branch of Christianity need to wake up and realize that there are many people who love the Bible and who call themselves Christians that do not hold true to what the Bible actually teaches. We are being infiltrated by many who are not arbiters of the faith once delivered to the Church!
In fairness, last night’s presentation and the installments forthcoming will not likely do any damage to the Church. And I am not questioning whether Mark Burnett and Roma Downey love Jesus and are saved. I am also not declaring that they are, or that they even have the same understanding of what that means that I do. But I am saying that it is time for the true church to stop being giddy every time Hollywood looks our direction. I’m saying that our standard strategy of hoping that maybe somehow someone might possibly consider thinking about pondering the possibility that maybe they should mull over the call to reflect on the validity of the Christian faith just because we get some airtime on prime time during which we make general statements that there is a God and He is powerful, rarely, if ever, works, and that we should prepare ourselves for a more straight forward approach and brace ourselves for the reality that, in the end, when we claim that we know the truth and declare that truth, this present culture will not like us.
So, here are some final clarifying questions. Would you, as a Bible believing, Evangelical Christian, be OK if the pastor of your church left and was replaced by a staunch Catholic? Would you be OK if your current pastor brought in Della Reece as a guest minister (see above for Della Reece’s brand of Christianity)? Are we so soft in our convictions that we have slipped into our own brand of “I’m OK/You’re OK?”