MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, March 22nd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: A good, but not great Bible series coming to cable.
The History Channel is debuting the series this Sunday, just four weeks before Easter, and our Megan Basham has a review.
MEGAN BASHAM, TELEVISION CRITIC: In 2013, The History Channel scored cable’s most-watched entertainment show with Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s miniseries, The Bible. The series proved so popular the filmmakers cobbled together a successful 20-14 film, Son of God, just from select scenes and unaired footage. So it’s no surprise, as Easter approaches, that the network is returning to the subject of Scripture.
History’s new eight-part documentary series, premieres Sunday. Through dramatic reenactments and interviews with scholars, each episode examines Christ’s earthly ministry through the eyes of a Biblical figure who knew him: Joseph, John the Baptist, Mary, Caiaphas, Judas, Pilate, Mary Magdalene, and Peter.
It’s certainly one of the more worthwhile, engaging new shows you could be watching this Lenten season. But it does still contain a few moments likely to make Christian brows wrinkle.
Let’s start with what’s good. The unique approach of focusing on the perspective of one person at a time allows for intriguing historical context rarely covered for laypeople. For example, after a lifetime of church and Sunday school attendance, I was still surprised to learn about Herod the Great’s racial background and how his insecurity over it may have impacted his response to the Magi.
CLIP: Herod’s very insecure about his Jewishness. His father is an Edomite and therefore a second class Jew. His mother is actually an Arab so his greatest fear is that another candidate will come to be King of the Jews. Someone from the legitimate sacred house of David.
But at other times, the show takes speculation too far. It gives priority to Scripture-skeptics who present their views as fact with little counter response from serious conservative scholars.
Dr. Robert Cargill, a self-described agnostic, progressive Bible scholar from the University of Iowa, is especially prominent. In both episodes screened for critics—Joseph and John the Baptist—he continually describes the gospel writers making independent literary choices to lend credibility to their accounts. He doesn’t believe they acted as divinely-inspired, faithful reporters.
CLIP: There are two major problems with the census as described in the Gospel of Luke…most scholars think Luke used this as a device…
Later, Cargill drops other questionable statements he never explains, such as claiming that John the Baptist preached a message of social justice. Other experts make claims that a quick Google search proves false. Such as this off-hand comment.
CLIP: In the earliest gospel, the Gospel of Mark, when John the Baptist sees Jesus, he doesn’t recognize him at all.
Of course, Mark’s account asserts no such thing. And Matthew’s Gospel suggests the direct opposite—that upon first seeing his cousin, John did know who he was and what he’d come to Earth to do.
But such unsubstantiated claims are most egregious when they read into Jesus’s mind thoughts anyone with a holistic understanding of the Bible know simply could not be accurate. As in well-known liberal Catholic, Father James Martin’s description of his baptism:
CLIP: But certainly Jesus understands his identity which is revealed to Him very clearly for the first time. Jesus seems to realize what God’s plan is and seems to surrender to the future that God has in store for Him.
At the very least, this flies in the face of Luke’s account of 12-year-old Jesus being quite aware he was in his Father’s house.
While the series claims to offer views from across the ideological spectrum, evangelicals who adhere to a literal reading of Scripture won’t find their views much represented. That doesn’t mean the show presents rampant heresy. I was only able to view two episodes, and I’d say both featured mostly wheat with a bit of troubling chaff sprinkled in.
And to be frank, I doubt there was any malicious intent even in that, as least as far as The History Channel is concerned. Based on my experience with network producers, they likely have no idea that some of the ideas presented in their series might pose a problem for Christians.
I’ve said countless times the shortcomings that crop up when secular studios take on the Bible have an easy solution: Consult teachers and theologians who fall on the infallible side of the ideological spectrum. Tim Keller, John MacArthur, and John Piper come to mind.
Downey and Burnett did that with The Bible series. They consulted, among others, Luis Palau, Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly, and Young Life’s Denny Rydberg. So History Channel, if you’re listening, including diverse Biblical scholarship will make your Easter-season productions more accurate and more entertaining. It’ll probably also bring back those sweet, sweet ratings.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.