Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Bible: The Miniseries

Admission: At the writing of this post, I have only viewed the first installment of The History Channel's The Bible.   I have no official review at this moment; however, there are more than a few who do.

I have been struck by those reviews, in fact.

Admission #2: I am a part of the mainline, U.S. Church; specifically, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and most of the reviews I have read have come from colleagues and other Lutherans.

Those commentaries have generally bemoaned the more evangelical/fundamentalist interpretation of this mini-series.  I understand their unease with the interpretation.

Several years ago, B.C. in fact (before children), my wife and I attended the Passion Play in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  This town is roughly an hours drive from my grandfather's house in Bella Vista, AR, and since clergy get in free, it was quite the no brainer to go ahead and see it.

I had actually sat through the play once before before I even went to college and had enjoyed it thoroughly.  On this occasion, things were quite different.  I did not have positive feelings once the experience was done.

The script of the play is actually pre-recorded and the actors and actresses pantomime the words.  Jesus sounded like a southern, Baptist/Pentecostal preacher.  In all of the teachings recorded in Scripture, none of Jesus' teachings about care and concern for the poor and oppressed were used.  Much of the teachings were pulled, out of context--of course--to present "decision making" theology; i.e. the theology that a person must make a personal decision to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior so that one can be saved.  Lutherans don't exactly talk in such a fashion as we believe that only the Holy Spirit can bring about belief.  We can't accept Jesus is Savior on our own.  We can reject Him, but we can't come to believe in Him without the power of the Spirit.  (There are substantial theological reasons for this, but I will not go into them here.)

After watching the Passon Play's interpretation of Jesus and His last days through this particular lens, I was quite upset and vowed not to return until they decided to make changes which were truer to the biblical narrative.

My response was very similar to the way some are responding to The Bible.  I understand.

But I have mellowed somewhat over the years.  I have come to understand a few things including the very real fact that each and every individual approaches the biblical text with a certain lens of interpretation.  Not only each and every individual does this, but so does each and every church body.  All have a particular lens of interpretation when it comes to reading and implementing the story of the Bible.

If, as a Lutheran, I had directed this mini-series, you can bet it would have been different.  And I am quite sure there would be more than a few Christians howling that my interpretation wasn't correct. 

And, of course, they would be correct.  In order to facilitate the story in the appropriate time frame, I would be forced to cut certain aspects and narrow down what was included.  And, of course, I would keep those things which I believed to be central to the narrative and leave out others.  By virtue of doing this, my interpretation of what was going on would be front and center--not necessarily what was in the text.

Which is exactly what is happening in this mini-series now.  Of course, "progressive" Christians are bemoaning the mini-series as too evangelical.  However, would they be open to criticism from evangelicals if they had put together the mini-series themselves?  Would they be willing to acknowledge a criticism that "they just put this series together to promote their brand of social justice, progressive Christianity and they don't emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus at all?"

My guess is they wouldn't like that kind of criticism any more than evangelicals like the progressive critique right now. 

Ah, but what if we could take some time to simply appreciate the different perspectives and interpretations being offered--even though they don't particularly agree with our own?  Is that even possible?

Is it possible to admit that our own systematic theologies all fall short of reality?

Is it possible to admit that by engaging a theological perspective that is not our own, our weaknesses may be revealed and we may be forced to dig deeper into understanding the reality of the story which reveals God to us?

Is it possible for us to admit that while our systems of theological thought are indeed important--for they give us the boundaries of what is acceptable belief and what is not acceptable belief--they are deeply flawed because they are put together by people who are deeply flawed?

Is it possible for us to admit that while are systems of theological thought are indeed important, we cannot say that we know fully and comprehensibly the Absolute Truth--yet, instead we are possessed by that Absolute Truth?

And if we realize that Christianity isn't so much about possessing the Truth but instead being possessed by said Truth, can we learn to watch The Bible for the pure enjoyment of seeing someone attempt to put into film the greatest story ever told?

Perhaps I am asking too much, but then again, perhaps not. 

Am I willing to put my money and my actions where my mouth is?

Yes.  In fact, I think I'm ready to go watch the Passion Play once again.

1 comment:

David said...

Like you, I am trying to keep an open mind about this production, but it is very difficult watching it through my Lutheran lenses. Case in point, Jesus' statement about the temple being destroyed was made during an encounter with the Pharisees. Jesus said to the Pharisees, "Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days." Of course the temple he was referring to was his body.

Yet Mark Burnett has Jesus making quite a different statement to a little child. Burnett's telling misses the point entirely.

There are so many other instances where the mini series falls short. Still, I pray the Holy Spirit will work through this series and some will come to read and study Holy Scripture. what more can we ask?