Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Bible is on TV this week

The Bible is on tv tomorrow night. Sunday nights used to be church nights for Christians. TV was a temptation to avoid and to show you did you went to church Sunday night. This was before the days of dvrs so The Wonderful World of Disney could not even be recorded for later viewing. You sacrficed your viewing pleasures for the Sunday night service. And you were proud of it! Now you can stay home Sundays - Sunday night services are a thing of the past anyway! And you can watch the Bible on TV. It's on the history channel even though it's not exactly Biblical history - come on, it's TV! You don't really think you can believe everything you see on TV, do you? There was a certain "dramatic license" taken the producers said. The husband - wife team ( Mark Burnett and Roma Downey) that produced the show are TV veterans. He has produced shows like Survivor and she has starred in Touched By An Angel. Pontius Pilate's wife makes it in several scenes  even though she only says one line in the real Bible. Paul is "relatively" overlooked because there is "no romance" there. Josesph doesn't rate a mention while David recites Psalm 23 as he slings his stones at Goliath. David has been on TV a lot. His life is much more Hollywood friendly than Paul's. But, how can you show much about the Bible when you only have ten hours. Ten hours! That's how long this series is! It takes that long to get through Leviticus which I bet isn't in the Bible, the TV show, either. So the producers had to be really selective about what they showed. If you are interested, you can order a copy of a follow up Bible - no, not a real Bible - but a novelisation that was written to accompany the show. The producers sound sincere and hope the show brings more interest to the Bible. They say they felt called to do it - Christianspeak for they felt God wanted this done. That is supposed to justify their decision to do it. Pastor Rick Warren thinks its great, too. And there are all sorts of resources to use with groups after you watch the show. Geesh, what ever happened to real Bible studies that used real Bibles?

The Bible is a long, complexly woven story. It takes a long time to read. It is hard to understand without some serious attempt at study. It needs some cultural and historical contextualizing. It even helps to have a trained teacher/leader. That's why most people don't attempt it. It can feel overwhelming. It doesn't lend itself to TV which dumbs down stories so you can easily pick out the bad guys and good guys in about 42 minutes. The text of the Bible is richly layered. The writers knew their Bibles and freely used images in one book borrowed from other books in the Bible. They were not writing down stories that could be serialized on TV; they were writing The Story as a witness to God's loving action toward humankind. The older interpreters of the Bible used the term sensus plenior to speak about the deeper sense - a deeper level of interpretation, a fuller sense of what the text meant beyond the simple meaning. It is getting at the mystery of what the Holy Spirit wrought there. It's not like the mysteries made for TV. The Bible is not made for TV. Malcolm Muggeridge, the British social critic, who was often on British TV and even produced his own shows strongly criticized the attempts to adapt the Bible to TV. Precisely, because TV is all about image and shaping, and editing  truth to sell that image. TV by its very nature does not tell the truth. After all, why is anything on TV? Not out of any great desire to get the truth out to people. It's on the tube so people will watch and buy what the advertisers are selling. If no one watches, the show won't be on very long. Hence, the decision to give the wife of Pontius Pilate more air time than the apostle Paul!

So what will people learn about the Bible from watching this show? Will it be true? Will they be entertained? Will they say, that was a good show, and plan to watch the next episode? What will they do when the episodes are over? Now that they know what the Bible says?