"The Bible': Pastors agree TV series useful, telling, but no substitute for the real thing

By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal

The History Channel’s “The Bible” miniseries has become somewhat of a social phenomenon.
Spanning 10 episodes, one per week, the show dramatized popular Biblical stories like Noah and the flood, Samson, David and the lion’s den, and of course, Jesus.
With its climactic finale on Easter Sunday, “The Bible” attracted nearly as many viewers as AMC’s popular zombie-drama “The Walking Dead.”
For viewers and pastors, “The Bible’s” success is somewhat of a mixed bag. While no one complains about the show’s triumph on a secular channel, the search for God should not end with the credits.

• • •

Booneville native Chrisa Holley said she watched the entire series with her grandfather.
“It was useful to have a picture to go with the stories,” she said. “It made me go back and reread stories I loved as a kid, like David in the lion’s den.”
Holley doubted the millions of viewers who tuned in were all church-going Christians. For her, the high ratings reveal a common curiosity for Christ in our culture.
“As Christians, it makes me think we should open our eyes a bit, and to show love,” she said. “I was surprised how the actor who played the devil kind of resembled Obama, though.”
For pastors, though, the inconsistencies with the original script were nagging.
“The book was better than the movie,” said the Rev. Keith Cochran, senior pastor at West Jackson Street Baptist Church. “When the Bible goes into detail about something, it does so for a reason.”
He pointed to the episode where Abraham is leading his son Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him. At the pinnacle moment, God stops Abraham, and points him to a lamb caught in a thicket, which serves for a sacrifice instead of Isaac.
“But in the scripture, it is a ram caught in the thicket. The ram is an important Passover symbol, and I don’t understand. Why, if it doesn’t make that much difference, why not get it right?” Cochran said.
The Rev. Will Rogers, pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Tupelo, said he watched it with his family and Boy Scout troop. Though he said it painted a fairly accurate picture, it did not give a complete composite.
“As a pastor, I could fill in some holes and answer questions the kids had, but a normal viewer probably wouldn’t get as much context or connective thread.”
The Rev. Carson Overstreet, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church, said she was struck by the lack of variance in gender presence, ethnicity, and theology female presence in the series and the ethnic inaccuracies of the central characters.
“I would have loved to see the story of, say, Ruth and Naomi,” she said. “And it’s kind of jarring when the supporting cast is Middle Eastern, but the main characters look Caucasian. It wasn’t very theologically diverse. I saw the strong Catholic influence from the directors, but I would have liked a more balanced perspective.”
All three agreed the series was useful in starting conversations about Christ. But their hope is that viewers, like Holley, would take their search further, into the scripture.
“I really hope the show isn’t where people stop,” Cochran said. “I hope they keep searching because that’s where the relationship comes from.”
Overstreet and Rogers said the story was a good method of outreach for the modern generation. But what characterizes the modern generation, and the world they live in?
For a modern viewer
“We tend to look for sensationalism, an action-oriented, visceral look at life. We gravitate to it,” Rogers said.
Overstreet agreed, saying the story of Noah and the flood often seems a lot more pleasant than it actually was.
“But some of the liberties they took definitely took me out of it and made me remember I was watching a tv show,” she said. “Like the kung fu angels in the Sodom and Gomorrah episode.”
The scene she referred to features angels fighting in slow motion, in a style that recalls the Wachowski brothers’ 1999 film “The Matrix.”
For Rogers, the agrarian culture was a strange foil to modern society.
“Cities then were not thought to be somewhere where a person could worship God fully,” he said. “The same way as today’s society is such a consumerist, commercialized thing.”
Cochran said it was the show’s success that caused him to ponder the roots of our culture.
“There are many phrases and place names in our vocabulary that people have no idea come from the Bible,” he said. “The world is trying its hardest to erase America’s Biblical foundation, but the success of this series says to me that our country still holds Judeo-Christian values in its heart, whether it follows them or not.”
The issue of Jesus
Cochran said the show’s true daring came with the presentation of Jesus. Unlike movies like Cecil B. Demille’s 1956 film “The Ten Commandments,” putting Jesus in the mix draws a line in the sand.
“Jesus is a very polarizing figure. Everyone can agree with the 10 commandments,” he said. “But with Jesus, people have to reconcile themselves with the fact that he is not a way, but the only way.”
The verse John 14:16, in which Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” excludes, Cochran said, everything else.
Cochran said that even the religion of Islam acknowledges Jesus as a good prophet, but for him, that does not make sense.
“If he was a prophet, that means he told the truth, and he said he was the son of God,” Cochran said. “What it boils down to, is Jesus can be Lord, liar, or lunatic. He could have known he wasn’t the real thing and lied about it, thought he was the real thing but wasn’t, or actually be what he said he was.”

Click video to hear audio