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:
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?