Call me a skeptic, but when The History Channel started it’s advertising campaign weeks ago for their latest debut mini-series THE BIBLE (which premiered on 3.3.13 – ooh spooky!), I knew right away what was going to happen. Either they would hire some two-bit historians, the usual parade of higher-critical, liberal scholar hall-of-famers, or they would fill their theological glass full of the best and brightest in American pop-Christianity. In the end the result is really the same however. The former destroys any objective claim Christians can (and should) make for the historicity of the events in the Bible by writing them off as myths, fairy tales or legends. The latter destroys any hope for an objective preaching of the Gospel by gutting the very essence of the Biblical salvation story (a true one we must add) from every key person event in the Old and New Testament. Now of course, many who support this mini-series project will say, “How could you be such a nay-sayer? It gets the Bible out in the public eye. Isn’t it good that people hear the story of the Bible, even if it is on TV?” That would all be well and good if in fact the Biblical teachings were the primary focus of the mini-series and if the central message of the Bible actually was the central message of THE BIBLE, namely repentance and forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus. So far, I’ve heard nothing of sin or forgiveness in any of the pre-broadcast media. The same is true for the actual debut itself.
To be fair, I’ll hold out judgment for the New Testament segments of THE BIBLE until they are released. But for now, there is plenty to discuss even in the mini-series premier this last Sunday evening, including the previews of the New Testament episodes, which hold little hope. As one of my good friends observed yesterday, it would be easier (and shorter by far) to list the things THE BIBLE got right. The question is, how much will survive Mark Burnett’s History Channel island? In any regard, after watching Sunday’s episode I’ve come up with a list of top ten plagues found in this first installment:
10. Follow the Source: If you haven’t seen THE BIBLE TV show yet, you don’t even need to in order to discern what theological direction it will be headed in. A brief glance at the board of advisors and theologians reveals where the prevailing theological winds will take this ship. Of note are three names in particular, Joel Osteen (the smooth talking voice of Christless Christianity), T.D. Jakes (the well-known anti-trinitarian), and Rick Warren (everyone’s favorite player at the Bible context game of Twister). As Chris Rosebrough said on Pirate Christian Radio yesterday, “It’s all about the theology.” And the theology of this thing stinks from the start. A bad tree produces bad apples. If the water you’re drinking is poisoned, all you have to do is look up stream to find out who or what plopped into the water.
9. The “Spirit” of the Book: In the opening credits, the producers acknowledge the fact that they will take creative license with this series followed by a not-so-reassuring statement that says “We’ve attempted to stay true to the spirit of the book.” What exactly is the “spirit” of this book? For that we have clear words, Jesus’ words: “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24). The “everything” that Jesus refers to there is his life, death and resurrection in order to save the world from sin, death and the devil. Test the spirit of this show to see if it’s declaring the same message and the same Jesus.
8. The Devil is in the Details: As I watched the program Sunday night, and again last night on DVR, I was struck by the sheer quantity of missing historical and narrative details in the story telling (from the seemingly small and unimportant to the rather large and glaring ones). We’re first introduced to Abraham not as Abram. We’re never told about his name change or why YHWH made such a big deal about that. His call and the first promise are smashed into an answer blowing in the wind making Abraham look more like a side-walk freak on Hollywood Blvd. than a trustworthy prophet. No mention was made of the covenant YHWH made with Abraham, which by the way, happened when he was sleeping and was entirely the Lord’s work. Pharaoh didn’t die in the Red Sea as Exodus records and Moses must have been a better character single and lonely. Where was YHWH’s pillar of cloud and fire at the Red Sea? Not to mention YHWH’s presence with in the Tabernacle. One simply doesn’t walk into the Holy of holies – such as Joshua was depicted doing – without some heads rolling. And what’s with those ninja-Jason-Bourne-like angels in Sodom?
I know there’s such a thing as creative and artistic license, that’s fine. But the entire reason a theological advisory board was brought on was to ensure that Biblical details were accurate. And they’re not. I’m not saying I’m surprised. I’m saying this reveals that the theologians involved either knew the details and did not tell them (or production changed them, in which case why bother with advisors) or they didn’t think them important enough to include in the stories. Either way – ignorance or seclusion – reflects poorly on the Christian faith. Historic Christianity is founded upon these kinds of seemingly small details; they matter, each and every one of them. We expect Hollywood to get it wrong. We should demand that Christians working in Hollywood get it right. It makes Christians look historically foolish.
7. Theism: I heard lots of “God-talk” in the opening segment but nothing whatsoever of Christ. Nothing was even so much as hinted at about a Messiah or a Savior or a future hope such as YHWH delivered to his people starting already with Adam and Eve. Theism is popular these days. But it’s not Christianity. There will be plenty of good theists in hell. Thankfully the only way we know God is because of Jesus: “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” And it is Christ who makes him known to us in his death and resurrection.
6. Passing over the Passover: Given the amount of time and detail the historical accounts of the Exodus (not to mention the attention the Psalms and prophets give to it), you would expect the Passover sacrifice to be well-narrated and given a bit of exposure. This, however, was not the case. They showed the lamb, the blood and the doorposts. But there was no meal. No explanation why Israel had to eat the bitter herbs and the lamb and the unleavened bread. No atonement mentioned. No forgiveness of sins even hinted at. “The blood of on the doorposts marked them as God’s people,” the narrator said. Yes, but what does this mean?
5. Promises, Promises: As I mentioned already, THE BIBLE severely botched the Abraham covenant account. In fact it skipped over it all together. Kind of shocking, really, considering how important this covenant was for YHWH’s people. Again, it was a unilateral, one-sided covenant between YHWH and Abraham and his descendants. Instead it was described as God’s covenant that Abraham and his descendants had to keep, as if it were entirely up to them to do the 40 years of purpose-driven, every-day-a-Friday kind of living in the wilderness before they could get to their best promised land ever and be the better “yous” God had planned for them to be. There’s just one problem, “purpose driven” anything isn’t a promise; it’s simply more commands and duties disguised as promises; it’s simply the Law presented as Gospel. No wonder Moses says to Aaron, “Now we get to fulfill Abraham’s covenant with God.” Wow.
And then there was that little statement at the end of the flood chapter where the narrator calmly and quickly said, “Noah and his family could now begin restoring the relationship between God and man.” Noah’s name may have meant rest, but neither he nor his children were capable of restoring the broken relationship of the Fall. That only comes in the New Testament with the true Man of Sabbath Rest, Jesus. And that rest is won by his death and rest in the tomb and his resurrection from the dead to give us an eternal Sabbath.
4. The Long Arm of the Law Cut Short: Mark Burnett was successful in one thing: he made me appreciate Cecil B. DeMille’s version of the 10 Commandments. I had heretofore not enjoyed that movie. But that movie at least listed the 10 commandments and why they were given. The Law was dulled and its teeth yanked out in THE BIBLE. And if the long arm of the law is cut short, we’re reduced to people having made “bad choices and bad decisions” and behavioral problems instead of an outright rebellion against YHWH almighty that leads to death at every turn.
3. A Famine of the Gospel: When the Law is dulled, so is the Gospel. When a sinless Bible is presented it’s no wonder that it is also a Christ-less story in the end. If sin is merely a behavioral problem, a bad habit in need of improvement, then there’s really no need for a Savior from sin, death and hell. The Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions repeatedly remind us that it is only the sick who need a physician and that we cannot come to know the cross without knowing how great an evil sin truly is. THE BIBLE mini-series has presented little to no Gospel so far. And what is there has been lost in a computer graphic theology of glory.
2. Computer Graphics are Cool, but They’re Not the Gospel: If the producers and advisors would have put as much into the presentation of the substance of this movie as they did the style (cinematography, etc.) this would have been a far more accurate presentation of the real Bible they are trying so hard to portray. The Church – as the Scriptures – stands or falls on the article of justification, that God was reconciling the world unto himself in Christ, not counting their sins against them. So far this central message has been noticeably absent. Perhaps it is assumed, but the Gospel assumed is the Gospel denied. Pretty pictures don’t get us one step closer to Jesus, and in this case, they appear to be leading us in the opposite direction.
1. THE BIBLE is not The Bible: Let the reader understand. Of course THE BIBLE is claiming to tell the Biblical story from Genesis to Revelation. Christians who know and read their Bible and who attend Bible study and Divine Service regularly will see the movie for what it is: another attempt by Christians (even if well motivated, although motives are hard to guess) to present the Bible in a way that is friendly to the outsider and popular to the insider that falls far short of the mark of Biblical accuracy and fidelity. I worry far more about the people who will take their theology and Biblical knowledge from this movie. That would be entirely dangerous. The theology in this mini-series is anything but faithful to the historic Christian faith. And the Bible presented by THE BIBLE is anything but a good story, even if it’s visually stimulating. In this case, the book – as is always the case – is better than the movie. One good thing that could come of this whole event is that people might actually ask their pastors about the bible and its teaching, or, Lord willing, pick it up and read it themselves from the source instead of the knock-off brand. Instead of drawing from the sinking sands of THE BIBLE as our source of doctrine and comfort, let’s return to the bedrock of the Scriptures, to Christ’s sure and certain Word in all of it’s life-giving, effective, faith-producing, sin-forgiving, faithful-confession-working power. This is the sure foundation for Lutheran Confessions and for all who are called by Christ.