Sunday night, my wife and I decided we wanted to watch the debut of History Channel’s much-publicized new miniseries The Bible with our family.
If you haven’t heard, The Bible is the brainchild of Survivor producer Mark Burnett and his wife, actress Roma Downey (best known for her role on CBS’ Touched by an Angel). Over the course of five two-hour episodes, this Hollywood power couple’s project seeks to tell the sweeping story of Scripture, beginning in Genesis and moving all the way through the New Testament narratives about Jesus’ life. Obviously, it’s a lot to cover in just 10 hours, but The Bible seems up to that task. (I should note here that Focus on the Family is supporting and promoting the show.)
Our family immediately ran into a couple of unexpected obstacles. First, when we turned on the TV and clicked over to the History Channel, we realized—oops—our cheapo Direct TV package doesn’t include that channel. So we quickly schlepped into the minivan to head over to Grandpa and Grandma’s house to watch the show with them.
When we got there, we ran into roadblock No. 2. My mother-in-law told us that the show (the first few minutes of which we missed) had included a parental-discretion warning regarding The Bible’s at times violent content. Sure enough, a little black box in the corner of the screen told us that the program sported a TV-14 rating, for violence. What to do?
We decided that we would watch The Bible as a family anyway, but that we would distract our kids and/or cover their eyes during particularly violent moments. It turned out that there were quite of few of those, such as the destruction of Sodom, as well as several intense battle scenes involving swordplay and death. We’ll probably have a conversation about whether we want to employ that approach again, as there was enough intense material to fully warrant that TV-14 rating.
Apart from our kids’ occasional frustration at us covering their eyes, however, watching The Bible together was an interesting and rewarding experience. Grandma soon got her Bible out, and we spent most of the time during commercials quickly scanning biblical stories to see how the show matched up.
As is often true in movies and television shows dramatizing historic events, The Bible takes some creative license at certain points. For example, when heavy-hearted Abraham takes his young son Isaac to (presumably) sacrifice him on Mt. Moriah, we watch Sarah slowly figuring out what’s going on and frantically running to meet them at the bottom of the mountain upon their return. You won’t find that part of the story in the Genesis 22 account, but its inclusion here seems a plausible dramatic extrapolation, and one that doesn’t detract from the story’s core truths.
Writing about The Bible in his blog last week, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly said of such dramatic interpretations:
Because it’s impossible to tell the entire story of the Bible in just 10 hours, you might notice that some creative license has been taken from time to time. For example, we know the Magi didn’t visit Jesus until he was approximately two-years-old, but in the miniseries you’ll see them honoring the infant Jesus upon his birth. In short, though, you should know the series never deviates from prevailing themes.
Daly also expressed his hope that The Bible could serve as a cultural conversation starter for many unchurched or unbelieving viewers:
We’re living in a dark day when millions of people, including our neighbors and even many of our family and friends, refuse to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Many of these same people refuse to go to church. They refuse to open a Bible. But many of these people watch television. That The Bible may serve as a spark to rekindle or kindle their faith should be a source of great excitement for all of us. I hope people don’t lose sight of the big picture, that this series is designed to turn people to Jesus and to encourage them to dig deeper into their Bibles.
Daly’s not the only one making that argument. Writing for The Washington Post, Rev. Gabriel Salguero, pastor of The Lamb’s Church in New York City and president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalotion, said:
This mini-series proclaims to be a film adaptation of some of the most well-known Bible stories. It never claims to be a visual-literalist rendering of Scripture. This labor of love seeks to get the nation [and] the world talking about the Holy Bible again. … One reason I am watching and supporting The Bible is because I know that television is often the nation’s number one form of consumption. I know there may be detractors who say, but I don’t agree with the rendition in this scene or that. Some would say, ‘I would’ve done it differently.’ That’s fine. But let’s not miss the proverbial forest for the trees. A major Hollywood couple invested their time, energy and gifts to get people talking about the Bible again. With all of the options that television has to offer, some quite toxic, why not an adaptation of the holy Bible? Again, it’s not claiming to be anything other than that. People all over the country right now may be reading their Bibles for the first time.
Given the fact that The Bible attracted the most eyeballs of any cable program this year in its debut—14.8 million viewers—Burnett and Downey’s “labor of love” may indeed be opening significant doors for spiritual conversation over the next few weeks.
It certainly accomplished that purpose in our family. And I suspect the coming weeks’ installments could continue to serve as an imagination-stirring catalyst for millions of other viewers as well, one that invites us to interact in a fresh way with the Bible’s familiar—and sometimes not so familiar—stories of God’s redeeming work in the world.
So did you watch? What did you think?