Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The 10 Plagues of THE BIBLE Mini-Series

 
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.

15 comments:

  1. A+ review. My shorter version: "Where's Jesus?"

    ReplyDelete
  2. Before I got married I very likely would have agreed with a lot of Christians who are looking at this TV series as "If not against us then for us". I tend to look for the good over the bad in film adaptations because, being a screenwriter (even a still un-produced one as I am) I have learned over the many years to 1) appreciate how difficult it is to make a film from a book the size of a Chronicles of Narnia, let alone Scripture and 2) the importance of "delivering the goods" that is the visual medium of film. And when it came to Scripture-based films I was thankful for an adaptation that would at least get it close to the mark. The TNT-produced miniseries Old Testament adaptations from the 90s were all very well done as were the three NT adaptations in the "Visual Bible" series.

    But such presentations of Scripture lack the kind of action-drama and impactful special effects folks want to see from a "Bible epic", certainly post-Middle-earth, Narnia, Star Wars prequels, 300, etc. films. The one thing that this Bible TV series certainly delivers on is "the goods", visually; and I can see that the "Action Bible" presentation, while misleading through its "highlight reel" approach to events in Scripture, is exciting a lot of people. In one view it is an incredible thing to see God's Word at the top of headlines and ratings reports.

    Evenso, on a personal side, the bigger issue with this series goes much deeper than aesthetics, cinematography, well-written dialogue, inspiring music, and dramatic performances. My wife's background is Pentecostal/German Evangelicalism (she was born and raised in Deutschland before moving here in 2000; I met her a couple years later). By the grace of God, my upbringing is through LCMS going back four generations. With the help of the Spirit I was able to articulate the orthodox catholic Christian faith to her; thankfully she wholly embraced what Jesus has accomplished for her (all of us) in His atonement and has come to love being in a church body where Law & Gospel are rightly distinguished, the means of grace are rightly distributed, and vocations are appreciated in a wide sense.

    However her family and life-long friends have not followed her; I also have family and dear friends deep into various aspects of pop Evangelicalism. So even though we can view the miniseries through the eyes of confessional Lutheranism being daily fed pure doctrine of Word & Sacrament, this TV miniseries will only serve to reinforce the mission-focused, church growth invested, sacramentarian legalistic "theology of glory" that is regularly taught to our families and friends by the "vision casters" that serve as their church leaders and "pastors". (Also inspired/supported by the depiction of the OT and NT patriarchs no doubt.)

    I appreciate that Christians are getting good things out of the miniseries and I certainly don't begrudge them this. But in my personal situation, and given the impact of pop Christianity in the post-modern landscape, the TV miniseries is very much against us and those in the same boat as my wife and I are -- frustratingly so.

    Christus tecum.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Why would someone who is not Christian be looking for Christ in the OT in this movie? Christians have I hope saving knowledge so naturally they would see He has not been presented yet. I got a since of history but not the divine. I was not surprised! Perhaps just through reasoning they might pursue more facts and find the Way, Truth and life. The only true way of learning all the truth is to read the Scripture. It will most certainly be interesting to see how the NT is presented.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The point isn't so much that non-Christians should be looking for Christ in the OT as much as it is that Christians - who are claim to be followers of Jesus - should, at the very least, acnkowledge the fact that he said he is the OT (Luke 24) and in some way, shape or form, give a nod to that as they present the OT, otherwise we haven't done our job completely.

      Delete
  4. This is incredibly long, so I didn't read it all....it kinda went on and on. That being said....The History Channel had nothing to do with what is/isn't in this series. In fact, they asked Mark Burnett to leave Jesus out of it and he said no. Also, Mark and Roma paid for the entire thing out of their own money. Since they had only a certain amount of money (which was still a good chunk of change out of their own pockets), they had to crunch the entire Bible into 10 hours of TV time with their own budgeted money. Hence why, in the beginning, instead of showing creation separately, Noah talked to his children about it in the Ark. That is also why not every single character is listed. Next, they created this series to peak the interest of atheists. Not to cause a theological debate over opinions of Christians. They wanted atheists to get interested, and in turn go to churches, pastors, or their Christian friends to find the truth. They never said it was 100% all of the Bible. Depending on which denomination a person believes, people are going to be upset and miss the real point here. They wanted the Bible to go out and get the attention of atheists. Unfortunately, since Christians like to nit-pick everything (and mind you, I am a very devout Christian who USED to be an atheist, but the biggest reason I didn't want to become a Christian was because of how I saw Christians acting), atheists are reading this and other comments on The Bible Series, and guess what......us Christians are confirming their belief that Christians are judgemental and anything with The Bible in it can't be trusted. The ONLY thing The History Channel has to do with the series is that it is on their channel and they are having record-breaking numbers because of it. They wanted to leave Jesus out of it, but again, Mark refused. I agree they could have picked better "advisors," but again, their point wasn't to get 100% of the Bible in the series, nor was it to satisfy every Christian out there. The primary goal was to reach the unsaved. More than what a lot of us can say we are doing, and they certainly put a lot more money into it than most (if not all) of us do to reach the lost. Myself included. So before you post such things, remember that atheists are looking up every post/blog/article concerning the series and are seeing how us Christians are acting. We have to ask if we care about picking apart every detail of the series, or instead pray about those who see it, and be prepared for questions if they come to us directly. To pick things apart and bicker is a sad waste of time, and those who think we are supposed to be different than the world, are seeing we are acting just like it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies

    1. Interesting little bit about The History Channel not wanting Jesus in there and Mark Burnett saying, "Too bad!" Good for him if it's true. Do you have any evidence of this? I operate on the "trust but verify" principle. I hope he did say it. That would be great.

      Also, please note that I did not tell people to avoid the show. And neither did I give an atheits fodder here. They have plenty of their own elsewhere. I am simply encouraging people to be good Bereans and search the Scriptures and to be discerning in things that claim to be Christian or present Christianity.

      Furthermore, if you didn't read the whole post then I would refrain from commenting on the points of difference I am concerned with here. But if you're interested, I also wrote a post on the positive things this series has going for it.

      http://e-nklings-revschuldheisz.blogspot.com/2013/03/can-anything-good-come-from-bible.html

      Hopefully you'll take the time to read that so you can see that this is not some silly, sad waste of time, but in fact a reminder that words do matter and what we say about the Scriptures we profess to believe in is utterly important.

      Thank you for reading and posting

      Delete
    2. "A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere -- 'Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,' as Herbert says, 'fine nets and stratagems.'" This is from C.S. Lewis' autobiogaphy,Surprised By Joy. Lewis was an atheist for much of his childhood and early adult life so I trust he has a fairly good idea of what makes many atheists tick.

      I do not believe atheists are going to "get interested" in this series. They will stay far away from it because they presume it to be "a conversion tool", and "biased history".

      My atheist friends and family who were former Christians are atheist because they largely view God as unfair and Christian evangels as shills. This series will not do anything to make them rethink these sentiments.

      Also, many atheists view Christendom as disconnected from the progressive culture they subscribe to (e.g. abortion, homosexuality, feminism); they are rational folks and more likely to have their curiosity piqued by way of their personal reading or vocation than a dramatized TV miniseries.

      Outreach to atheists is best done through fervent prayer, long-suffering of their criticisms, and respectful engagement of their concerns through one-on-one conversation when the opportunities are presented. If my atheist friends/family speak with me about Christian faith it is because they know me.

      Delete
    3. JKRadke,

      Thanks for the post. I love that particular quotation from Lewis. I also happen to think it is instructive for how Christians are to approach their atheist friends, families, and neighbors. The bait and switch rarely works, especially when the bait isn't really accurate.

      Delete
  5. Completely agree. We have enjoyed watching it, but saddened at the potential it COULD have had, were the WHOLE gospel were to be presented. Details DO matter. Thank you for writing!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I am a Christian. I have gone to Christian school, high school, and college. Was raised by Christian parents, who were raised by Christian parents. And the older I get the more I realize what a miority I am and you are too. There are young people that do not own a Bible, never read a Bible story, have no clue what this "religion stuff" is about. I do not think this series was meant to test theology, predestination versus, free will, theonomy etc, etc, etc..... This series is what it is. Do you critique the Bible story Veggi-Tales? What about the nursery Bible stories...no. There will be no great debates on any story, it is an amplified nursery story. I think it was only made to capture a lost audience. And I believe it is doing just that. I for one am grateful that it was made. I have thoroughly enjoyed the past two, and can tell my children ad their friends "the rest of the Story" It makes me sad so many Christians are putting this series down. I would rather watch this every night, than the true "trash" that is being aired. If we only complain, there is no telling what will be aired instead. And we will be the only ones to blame. Sincerely, Char Sullivan RN

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For the record, I want Christians to watch this, but to be discerning. Also, I wrote this:

      http://e-nklings-revschuldheisz.blogspot.com/2013/03/can-anything-good-come-from-bible.html

      Delete
  7. I never can have too much trust anytime the media makes a big series like this.

    ReplyDelete
  8. lease do not nitpick every detail the History channel's BIBLE mini-series. Yes there are some inaccuracies, but for the most part is is very close. Quit trying to find fault. Not all of the Bible can be told in a 10 hour mini-series. Be thankful that they produced the show. They did not have to do it... I feel that all the negative comments about the show is the work of the Devil. He wants you to criticize the show.. that is his plan.. Just think this show might spark an interest in God to a lost person. I am sure some of those who are criticizing are still lost. They did not short change God. The Beginning of the show said these are stories from the Bible, not the complete Bible. Do you realize the magnitude in size the Bible is? 66 books. The cost was 22 million to produce for the 10 hours they have now...Entire Bible, all 66 books we are talking many months on the air and many more millions of $$. The sets are elaborate. The Bible is huge. Quit being so negative. This is what the Devil wants... Again be thankful that they at least made an attempt to tell some of the Bible. If you are already a Christian, then you know the stories. If you want to win souls to Christ, you have to do it slowly and not over whelm them. 5-10 hour segments is enough to give the lost a taste of the Glory of God. I hope this leads them to a church...My Pastor who has been preaching for over 30 years is enjoying the show.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Randy,

      First of all, thanks for reading. Secondly, I have not written entirely negative things about THE BIBLE mini-series. Before being critical of me being critical of something else (which is wildly ironic) you should also read what I enjoyed about the program:

      http://e-nklings-revschuldheisz.blogspot.com/2013/03/can-anything-good-come-from-bible.html

      Thirdly, it's not as if I went looking for fault and went about a spiritual libel campaign. The few things I documented were rather large, glaringly obvious mistakes. I fully recognize the challenge before the makers of this film and don't envy them in the least. Their attempt to fit so much into such a little time - and doing much of it quite well I might add - must have been a monumental task. That being said, it's important to do the best you can with the time you've got and the big points I mentioned because they were opportunities missed that could've made it all the better in the end.

      Fourthly, the devil's plan is not to have me, or any other Christians, be discerning (which is what I'm advocating, not simply a blind and maddened criticism) about what I read in the Bible, and especially what people say or create in the name of the Bible (even if it is claimed to "be based on", or "in the spirit of..." and so forth). It is good to be discerning and always search the Scriptures. Remember the Bereans and St. Paul in Acts 17? Remember how the Jesus told us to search the Scriptures for they tell of him (John 5:39 ff)?

      In fact, the Scriptures remind us repeatedly that it is the devil's work to spread false teaching (Ephesians 6) and misquote the Bible (Luke 4) and to send false teachers into the world to scratch our itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3). And I heard blatant examples of false teaching in the series (of which I documented several). Not at every turn, mind you. You're right, there was plenty of good stuff on the show to keep me interested and I'll keep watching the remainder of the series. But that doesn't take away from the fact that since we Christians know the stories, then we have every motivation - for the sake of those who don't know them - to get them right. Mixing truth with lies - matter how well intended or well-funded or well-designed - will not help anyone. Being able to distinguish what is true from what is false, however, will. In other words, we must not only say what is wrong, but what is right. Again, for that, check out the subsequent post.

      Delete
  9. THE BIBLE IS THE SOURCE FOR TRUTH!

    If you are searching for the truth about God and His plan for mankind, where should you look? What is the only trustworthy source to find God's truth? Would it be creed books, Bible commentaries and a variety of other written works of men?

    THE HOLY BIBLE IS THE ONLY SOURCE OF ABSOLUTE TRUTH!

    Jeremiah 30:1-2 This word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, 2 "Thus says the Lord, saying, the God of Israel, 'Write all the words which I have spoken to you in a book.

    The Lord did not tell Jeremiah to check with Billy Graham, Joesph Smith Jr., Gandhi or Saint Augustine and write down their words.


    Exodus 24:3-4 Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, "All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!" 4 Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord.......


    Moses did not write down everything that John Wesley, Brigham Young, and Buddha had said.


    Matthew 4:4 But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God!"


    Jesus said live by every word that comes from God. He did say say live by every word that comes from Pope Benedict XVI, Martin Luther, and Jerry Falwell.


    Luke 10:25-26 And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying. "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life ?" 26 And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?"


    Jesus did not answer the lawyer by asking him "how does what is written by Robert Schuller, Mother Teresa and Benny Hin read to you?"


    Acts 17:2-3 And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ."


    The apostle Paul did not reason from the writings of Max Lucado, Pope John Paul II and John Calvin.


    John 20:30-31 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.


    The writings of John McAthur, Jack Van Impe, Bill Hybels and Charles Swindoll were not written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ.


    2 Peter 3:15-16 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do the rest of the Scriptures...


    Peter said Paul's letters were by wisdom from God. Paul's letters were Scriptures.


    Where does Peter say creed books, catechisms, Bible commentaries, books about the Bible, and other writings of men are Scriptures?


    THE BIBLE IS THE ONLY TRUSTWORTHY SOURCE FOR GOD'S TRUTH!


    (All Scripture quotes from: NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE)


    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY CHRISTIAN BLOG. http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete