4 reasons to cheer the Bible TV series on

  I know I can definitely get out of the wrong side of bed and take a contrarian view on things from time to time.
I know that if we love God then we want his name and reputation to be well represented in the public square.
I know that when Christians create music or art it can sometimes be cringe worthy.

So when the US blockbuster series “The Bible” hit the UK last week on Channel 5 I understood why some of my brothers and sisters in the church decided to publicly criticise it on social media. I can understand that I could have easily taken a similar approach.

But I want to encourage a different approach to the rest of the series. Here are four reasons why:

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1. The Lord of the Rings factor

Let’s say it right at the beginning: the book is better than the film. Of course the scriptures are the inspired word of God and no piece of art inspired by it could have a similar status. But when the Lord of the Rings film series appeared, some purists argued that the films had dumbed down the books. By turning the book into a film some things were lost. But what happened was that the books returned to the best-seller list. Through the films and the book sales, the stories were opened up to new audiences. I think the same could be happening with the Bible series. This is not a perfect reconstruction of the entire Bible. How could it be? It is a ‘greatest hits’ approach to the big stories of scripture. As a result of the inevitable constraints of time and budget, decisions had to be made about what to include and what to cut out. Not everyone will agree with every decision. But would we not be better celebrating – and praying for – the new audience that is being reached with the Bible story, rather than criticising the particular decisions that have been made?

2. The illiteracy factor

I sat and watched The Bible with a group of 11-14 year old children this week. Most of them have very little contact with the church apart from our little after-school group. Most of them knew virtually nothing of the biblical story. I asked for a score out of 10 from the group after they had watched the Creation, Flood and Abraham story and they gave it a 9. They grasped something of the biblical story that they hadn’t before. A few months ago I met with Roma Downey one of the producers of the show and she told me that their intention was to bring the Bible alive to a new generation. Whatever we think of the way the series has been made, should we not pray that this aim will be achieved?

3. The entertainment factor

The Bible TV show is not Homeland, The Killing, The News Room or The Good Wife – all shows that I love to watch for entertainment and pleasure. The Bible TV series is not trying to simply entertain an audience; it is trying to educate and inform. The Bible is attempting to bring the scriptures to a new audience. If you know your Bible really well, and you are familiar with the entire narrative, this TV show is not aimed at you. Some of the criticism of the Bible series has been that Christians haven’t enjoyed it – they haven’t got anything out of it. Brothers and sisters it is not for us. Which other television programme has done a better job at making the such a large swath of the Bible story accessible to a mainstream audience? Before we critique the show for not entertaining us enough, perhaps we should ask whether or not we personally have communicated the scriptures any better to such a large audience?

4. The Timing Factor

I have been in many church service where the preaching has been average if not downright boring, and no doubt some of those times I have been the preacher in question. But let’s imagine that an average preacher is doing their best to explain the big story of the Bible to an attentive audience of people who are not normally in church. Would it be helpful for me to stand up and shout “This is very average; I wish I was listening to a stand up comedian instead” and then very publicly walk out of the church? Now of course I believe in freedom of speech, and everyone is entitled to their point of view and to choose what they do with their time. But if I am someone that cares about helping people to encounter God in their lives, I might choose to either hold my tongue or, if I really couldn’t bear it anymore, to subtly and quietly sneak out of the service. Alternatively, I could choose to stay in the service and cheer when this average preacher says something good; when they get something right – that would have a really positive effect on the audience and may even help me to have some useful conversations with people after the service. So when the Bible is on TV again, why not encourage people to engage with it – cheer when it goes well rather than heckle?

Just as with an average preacher or even a poor preacher, there is a time and a place to offer constructive critique. But, it probably isn’t best done in the middle of the sermon not just for the preacher’s sake but for the sake of the audience being distracted from God speaking to them.

A way forward?

Twitter and social media  is a great place to have a conversation while the programme is on. It’s great to raise questions and make comments. If we only give “cheer leader” type commentary then I guess that will come across as a sales pitch. So lets raise our questions, make our comments, suggest how there is another side of the story being portrayed, reflect on why we wish another story from scripture had been included but in a way that is positive about the overall aims of the show maybe and that directs people to encounter God in scripture for themselves?

What do you think friends?

8 thoughts on “4 reasons to cheer the Bible TV series on”

  1. I agree entirely Krish. As I was watching and at the same time looking at the Twitter feed I was concerned that the people mainly slating it were Christians, rather than celebrating the opportunities it may bring. In a nation where people are so starved of the Word, it was a little like gourmets complaining while the masses starved.

  2. I think it’s great that Channel 5 are showing it and hope it gets viewing figures which encourage them to show similar programmes in the future. As for social media, let’s remember that it usually tends to be more critical than affirmative – because it is people who have strong feelings who are most likely to comment; and people sitting enjoying the programme are less likely to tweet. If you look at the twitter stream for X-factor or I’m a celebrity or BBC Question Time the bulk of comments are critical so it’s no surprise that the same was true in this case.

    My concern is that some of the positive comments feel phoney; as if there was/is a campaign on to get people being positive. The comments felt very different to those posted about other TV programmes. That feels manipulative, people push back against it and ultimately I suspect it doesn’t work; rather it increases the sense people have of Christians as always having a secret agenda.

    But I agree it would be great to see Christians interacting in a way that shows grace and which encourages others to get into reading the Bible.

  3. I appreciate your comments Krish. My disappointment was not a lack of entertainment, but the portrayal of Hod and His followers. I didn’t like either… There was little human connection and a lot of gratuitous violence (angels mainly seen as mercilessly slaying folk when they are primarily sent to aid us). I believe the series puts back evangelism in this nation as we seek to proclaim the God who is love. It simply backs up the already prevalent unhelpful stereotype that God is an angry deity bent on getting His own way regardless of others.

  4. I am forever going to be…. haunted, by the image of Samuel stabbing that man to death. We all know this stuff is in there, but when it is acted out… wow. I really don’t know what to say Krish, this series has damaged me….

      1. “If you think this story was in the Bible – did the Bible story damage you then?”

        To be completely honest Krish, yes. The television adaptation merely rubbed salt in the wound and brought out the severity in it. Now, the adaptation rolls two incidents together – the issue of Saul conducting the unauthorized sacrifice, and the slaughter of the Amalekites. The latter and former rolled together in one event kinda makes Samuel and God appear to be pedantic and somewhat evil. No explanation is given as to why God expects Saul to exterminate the entire group. But yes, it is… not good.

  5. Andrew, I find the stories of Old Testament violence, especially violence at God’s command, a real problem for anyone seeking a Christian understanding of Scripture. Many people, like yourself, find them deeply disturbing to their faith (which I take it is what you mean by your comment). Would the following be helpful?
    * These stories are problematic because Jesus lived, taught and rose. We understand that God is like Jesus, though whom his grace and truth appeared and in whose face we fully see his glory. Previously there was simply law, which is insufficient as a revelation of what God is like. We know perfectly well that Jesus would not order genocide, command mutilation as punishment and so forth. So where does that leave us? Is there an OT God and a NT God? No, there always was one God, the God and Father of Jesus Christ, and he does not change.
    * Likewise, it doesn’t work to say ‘You can’t question God’ (meaning yes, he really did initiate the violence, but it’s okay and we can’t complain – but that still ignores the character of Jesus). Neither can we say that God changed his way of working when Jesus appeared, because it still says that there’s something in God that means he is/was/would be happy to maim and kill if he thought it suitable.
    * God is like Jesus or he isn’t. Is there therefore an insoluble problem about the correctness of Scripture? Only if we take the view that every word is absolutely, literally correct no matter what Jesus is like and that every Biblical author or character has the same authority and knowledge/experience of God – eg, the compiler of the Levitical punishments had the same understanding of God as John the Apostle and has just as much clout. I can’t believe that. John knew Jesus, in whom he met God. Only God can reveal God, and so he insisted that the Word was God and was in the beginning (well before Samuel!) with God. So God was always like Jesus.
    * But what about all the stuff that’s actually in Scripture? Well, we’re told that Jesus is Lord – and that means completely Lord, Lord of everything, with all authority. We judge, assess everything by him; and we must also assess Scripture by him: he is Lord of Scripture too. This means that anything within those pages that is not in line with Jesus and what he tells us about God can be let go. This doesn’t mean that we necessarily let go, say, the entire narratives of Saul and Samuel in the sense that we decide they’re complete fiction; but we can let go the belief of the writer that God ordered the slaughter of the Amalekites and so forth. Our authority? Jesus wouldn’t have done so, and God is like Jesus. There will be parts of these narratives that are compatible with Jesus and parts that are not; we will have to think carefully. The person of Jesus is thus a tool that enables us to interpret Scripture and form our view of it. Remember, the person who wrote 1 & 2 Samuel did not understand nearly so much about God as even the humblest 21st Century Christian. I know all this will be very disturbing to some people, bless their hearts, but wouldn’t it be better to let go of some stuff and keep Jesus in his entirety than try to justify some very difficult passages? Jesus is Lord of Scripture, therefore we edit. To me personally, this is the only way to go.
    * I suggested this way to a lay who had finally left her bizarrely oppressive literalist church and was perplexed and confused. ‘What a relief!’ she said. With others’ help, she soon found a new church.

    God bless, Andrew. I hope all this is some help to you.

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