The human race excels at storytelling. It is how we transmit our values, it is how we make sense of who we are. Westerners sometimes like to pretend we are too sophisticated for stories. We say, “just give us the facts!” But our constant diet of movies, and TV entertainment demonstrates this is far from the truth. It is concerns me how we passively allow ourselves to be shaped by the stories unbelievers tell us.
Meanwhile the greatest library of stories the world has ever seen sits on a shelf in our houses gathering dust. If we pick it up at all it tends to be to focus on the so-called “doctrinal bits,” which in many churches in practice means only the Pauline epistles. We become experts in the rarefied finer points of doctrine but in the meantime we don’t know how to live. And if someone does turn to one of the Bible’s stories we are too bored, over-familiar, and complacent to appreciate their wonder, and to allow them to shape us as God intended them to.
The Bible is not just a story book for children. It is made up of a massive sections of narrative and only a few much shorter sections of what we envisage as instruction. Yet the Bible itself tells us “ALL SCRIPTURE” is profitable to teach us (2 Tim 3:16). These things happened as examples for us. They happened to guide us. They happened to shape our worldview. They are designed to show us how mankind has wrestled with a desire for sex, power, and violence for thousands of years. They show us the original foundations of civilized society: a God who intervened and first told warring tribes they should limit their revenge to “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” and later spoke of an even better way, “turn the other cheek,” which even just this week got the response, “but that’s ridiculous!” from one of my own children.
The Bible tells us of a God that intervenes to save us, despite our continual rebelling against him. Every character in the Bible except God himself (and of course Jesus who is God in the flesh) is fatally flawed. Unlike any other religious textbook that I am aware of, the Bible’s heroes are revealed in gory detail, warts and all.
Modern TV and film audiences are used to a diet of sex, violence, and complicated relationships involving betrayal, and sometimes redemption. Because of this, it is remarkable that we do not see much more interest in taking these Bible stories to the screen.
The Christian Church has a long history of retelling the Bible stories in dramatic form, and at times writing novels based on what we know from the Bible. In the process we have always allowed embellishments, and tweaks to improve the dramatic impact, and the emotional connection an audience feels. This kind of artistic license works in two ways: the cynical unbeliever who thinks they are not interested in the Bible finds themselves sucked into the story. The bored believer finds the old familiar stories live again.
I will never forget telling a friend who had grown up in Communist Eastern Europe the story of King David. I explained how David was the unsuspected hero, the savior of the nation, the favorite of God and man alike. Then I got to the bit about him selfishly taking someone else’s wife for himself, getting her husband killed, and then being caught by the prophet. I was not expecting what followed. As I explained how David repented and was forgiven tears flooded down her face. She had never heard any of the stories of the Bible growing up. We need to recapture that sense of hearing these stories for the first time.
One of the publicists working on PR for the UK for The Bible TV series (only now being shown over here) spoke recently of how in their office they had been in tears working with the material. That kind of emotional response that, whilst shunned in some circles of the modern church, is precisely what we should be looking for. We often find that first time visitors to our own church find themselves crying during our services, without really knowing why that is the case. God often uses emotion to reach our hearts. It is in our hearts that we are transformed.
Every good preacher adds embellishments to the Bible stories they are retelling. They say things like “perhaps Abraham thought, why does God have to test me again?” or “Lot seemed to find the lure of the city irresistible, despite Gods promise to give them the whole land.” Some of these kind of comments are based clearly on the text, others are reasonable inferences, and still others are wild speculation. Provided we understand that such things are not part of the text themselves, they all serve to help us enter into the stories and be transformed by them.
A skillful retelling of a Bible story will stir in the viewer a desire to read more of what the Bible actually says. And as you do so, some of the interpretations of the story teller will drop away. Others will be seen as the helpful inferences that they are, and some will be seen as simply wrong.
Some Christians have been complaining about such things, calling them inaccuracies. What they don’t appreciate is such things are an essential part of story telling. They are a key reason why a program like The Bible series grabs our attention, and will not let us go until the entire ten hours of Bible story-telling are complete. Instead of complaining about this series, we should be thanking God for it!
I do not understand why anyone would be negative to this series, least of all Christians.
The Bible is a massively neglected and misunderstood book. I am praying that this series will stir our nation again to re-examine it in a fresh light. 1.2 MILLION British people apparently watched the first episode live, despite it clashing with “I’m a Celebrity get me out of here!” and being late at night on a Saturday night. Many more will have watched it as I did on catch-up.
Today as you got to work, if you are in the UK, look out for opportunities to intact with your colleagues about this series. Don’t go straight to how “wrong” it was! Ask them what they thought about it. Expect them to ask questions like, “do you really believe that God made the World?” and “Why on Earth was Abraham asked to sacrifice his son?” and “Why does God seem so violent?”
Perhaps you need to re-read some of the stories that The Bible coverered in its first installment so you are better prepared to discuss these matters over your coffee break or lunchtime later.
Interest in the Bible was unprecedented in the United States while this was aired. In fact this is the fastest-selling TV series of all time!
Lets seize the opportunityt this series gives us to invite people to church, and perhaps even to give people copies of “The book the series was based on” to read for themselves.
There are a lot of helpful resources available on The Bible UK website.
Here is another clip for anyone who hasn’t yet watched it: