Which parts of God’s story do you think people who don’t claim to be Christians should know?
That’s the question I am wrestling with as I listen to some of the feedback about The Bible TV series currently airing on Channel 5 on Saturday nights.
Many commentators are willing to put aside their personal preferences about the style and format of this docudrama. The logic being: I personally don’t enjoy watching Country File, but other people do and it encourages people to better care for and appreciate the countryside, so I can cheer it on even if I don’t actually watch it. But other comments from Christians flying around social media have argued that The Bible TV series is putting people off Christianity for life. I do understand some of the challenge. I felt uncomfortable as I watched Abraham shout for God and for Israel as he charged against the Canaanites, or King David shout for Israel as he storms Jerusalem, or the now infamous “Ninja Angels” rescue Lot from Sodom. It is hard to reconcile a God who loves all the nations with one that assists Israel in battle.
But let’s be honest: is the embarrassment with the way The Bible TV series has presented these things – stark, sometimes hurried, often not contextualised with enough of the background story? Or is our problem with the Bible itself (which tells these stories often even more hurriedly, and with not enough background information provided in the text itself)?
Some may argue that, as Christians, the New Testament is our book so all of this Old Testament stuff is not worth sharing with a mainstream audience. Of course, this wasn’t Jesus’s approach to scripture, but the good news for those who think this way is that the series is going to arrive at the New Testament in Saturday’s episode.
But the question in my mind still persists: are we embarrassed about the Old Testament? Do we need to protect people from it? Is it bad news that Noah and the Exodus are coming to cinema screens in the New Year?
I am of the opinion that there is nothing to be ashamed of in the Bible. I would rather help everyone who is interested to explore the whole of the scriptures. Yes, there will be things that we find difficult to understand, difficult to explain. But that has been true all the way through history. Imagine, if you will, an ancient Jewish couple retelling the story of Abraham to their children. God’s call to Abraham would have been a nice bit to pass on, but what about him sleeping with his wife’s maidservant Hagar? Slightly embarrassing to narrate to children. Or what about trying to explain why God would ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? That could give the children a few nightmares. So perhaps we should edit the stories so that they don’t offend? Snip a bit out here, ignore a bit there? Focus on the palatable stories that describe God as a loving father or just keep our attention on the nice side of the Christmas story?
Famously, the preacher C.H. Spurgeon spoke in 1875 at a meeting of the British and Foreign Bible Society:
There seems to me to have been twice as much done in some ages in defending the Bible as in expounding it, but if the whole of our strength shall henceforth go to the exposition and spreading of it, we may leave it pretty much to defend itself. I do not know whether you see that lion—it is very distinctly before my eyes; a number of persons advance to attack him, while a host of us would defend the grand old monarch, the British Lion, with all our strength. Many suggestions are made and much advice is offered. This weapon is recommended, and the other. Pardon me if I offer a quiet suggestion. Open the door and let the lion out; he will take care of himself. Why, they are gone! He no sooner goes forth in his strength than his assailants flee. The way to meet infidelity is to spread the Bible. The answer to every objection against the Bible is the Bible.
Lets help all of God’s story to be told. No one is claiming that the Bible Series is the infallible word of God. But it is attempting to tell faithfully the key parts of its story to a new audience. May it inspire us to do an even better job of communicating the whole counsel of God to this generation.