Monday, March 4, 2013

The Bible Comes to Prime Time

On Sunday, 3-3-13, the Bible will be featured on the History Channel as a "prime time" 10-part mini-series simply titled, "The Bible". Though not the first time the History Channel has aired programming related to the Bible, the producers promise this one will be different. For, unlike past programs, they have said The Bible is not intended to approach the Bible as an "investigation" or "mystery" as the network has done in past documentaries; but, rather to be a more straightforward interpretation. Hopefully, by straightforward they mean accurate.

I have high hopes that it will be an accurate representation, and after watching the previews, I am actually looking forward to watching this series. However, the viewer should keep in mind it is a docudrama, which means that "artistic" liberties will surely be taken in the telling of the story. In fairness, that is not unusual in historical documentaries and should not be a reason for Christians to become overly alarmed. Unfortunately, how far they go with these liberties cannot be determined until after we have had a chance to view the broadcast.

So, should we be wary? Perhaps, but there are some, seemingly, positive assurances being given that it is not only done well, but is also fairly accurate - at least by Hollywood standards. Producer, Mark Burnett - a very successful television producer of such shows as Survivor, The Voice, Celebrity Apprentice, and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader, to name a few - is saying all the right things on the front end.

He points out their primary reference is the New International Version of the Bible, which he goes on to say is the version preferred by Evangelical leaders. In addition, they established a Board of Advisors made up of Biblical Scholars who provided their insight and helped to assure accuracy. A point Burnett also includes is that they took on this project to provide updated versions of classic older films which dealt with Bible stories, such as the Ten Commandments, but can no longer match the special effects generated in film today. (Huffington Post)

In interviews, he and his wife and co-producer, Roma Downey (who starred in Touched By An Angel and plays Mary in the series) have been consistent in mentioning these details, driving home the point that they want to get it right, while insisting it must also have dramatic appeal and the special effects available today through CGI and other film advances. Both say they grew up with the Scriptures and the Bible is an important to them and they want to pass that along. Recognizing current data indicates fewer people are reading the Bible, they maintain it is their goal to make it more appealing and meaningful to a new generation of readers.

[To help with this goal a website was developed to help Pastors and Churches utilize The Bible series in their ministry. [The Bible Outreach] If you click on the embedded link: "Watch a video from Mark and Roma" you can see a brief clip of them talking about their motivation and hopes for the film.]

Burnett and Downey also claim that they have become deeply religious and this has, in part, led to their interest in this series on the Bible. They have also expressed that they attend Church regularly. Parade Magazine has a weekly feature titled "Sunday With..." which asks celebrities to share information about their personal lives, including what they do on Sundays. In the February 24, 2013 issue, Burnett and Downey stated that going to Church is part of their family's Sunday activities.

Everything sounds good thus far. The producers claim to be committed to the Scriptures, deeply religious and active Church attenders, and to be motivated by a desire to renew interest in the Bible. They further claim, the script is adapted from a translation of the Bible that is widely accepted in the Church and they have enlisted the assistance of a panel of Biblical scholars to serve as Advisors to ensure accuracy.

Catholic, Presbyterian, New Age, or Word Faith?

Even with all these assurances, there are a few things I believe we need to keep in mind as we view The Bible. Let's begin with the producers being deeply religious and committed to the Scriptures. Burnett grew up in England, the son of a Roman Catholic father and Presbyterian mother. Downey is from Ireland and was raised, and claims to still be, a devout Roman Catholic. Regarding Church attendance, she attends Mass at Our Lady of Malibu.

However, while discussing her Catholic faith in a video interview with the Washington Post, she makes some interesting comments about her view of God, stating, "I see God in everyone and in everything [I have heard there are] two points of view - there is no God, or there is only God; and for me there is only God." [Watch the Interview] Such a view is much more in line with New Age theology than with a biblical view of God.

Perhaps she gained this new view of God from her association with her Touched By an Angel costar, Della Reese, who pastors a New Age Church. [Read Crosswinds' Just the Facts on Reese] When Burnett and Downey were married, Reese was the Minister whom they chose to officiate the wedding.

I think, without question, Reese has had an influence over Downey's view of God, and possibly that of Burnett, as well. However, even if she hasn't, Downey definitely has been exposed to the New Age having earned a degree in spiritual psychology from the University of Santa Monica (USM). (Charisma)

Lest one think this is a fully accredited four-year university with degrees in several schools; it is not. USM only offers an advance degree in "Spiritual Psycology". If there is any question as to whether this is tied into New Age thought one only has to look to the founder of USM, Roger Delano Hinkins, who goes by the name, John-Roger. Hinkins, or John-Roger, is a prominent New Age author and teacher.

Compounding this problem, Downey and Burnett also have become close friends with televangelist Joel Osteen who is a popular Word-Faith television preacher. [Read our article on Osteen] Perhaps, Osteen's influence on Burnett, has led to some of his more recent claims regarding the Holy Spirit and Jesus literally hugging him. Such views line up more with a Word-Faith theology such as Osteen's than that of his Catholic father and Presbyterian mother. (Outreach Magazine)

Burnett's and Downey's friendship with Osteen is such that they have attended his Church and have been guests in his home. Burnett even signed on to do a reality television show with Osteen in 2012. (Wall Street Journal)

This friendship also led to Osteen being one of the Advisors on The Bible series. Which presents another problem; the closest representative this Board has to an evangelical and a Bible scholar is Southern Baptist, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California. [Click to see a full listing of Advisors]

Bottom line, I think it safe to say that even if Burnett and Downey are Christians, they have been influenced by the New Age Movement and, on some level, exposed to Word-Faith teaching. For this reason Christians should watch this series with discernment, but holding out hope that - whatever they really believe - they truly do seek to tell the Bible story without imposing any theological interpretations or bias. If they do, this could be a wonderful tool for helping to raise a new interest in the Bible.

However, no matter which way it goes, rather than complaining about it, let's use it as an opportunity to start a conversation about the Bible and about Christ. If people watch it, they'll be open to talk about it. Let's be ready to seize the moment to connect in culture and share with those around us, our hope in Christ.

Watch The Bible Trailer

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