New TV Mini-Series
Coming this March, the History Channel will be airing a new mini-series focusing on the grand storyline of the Bible. It will be airing throughout the month of March beginning tomorrow, March 3rd, and continuing on successive Sundays throughout the month culminating on Easter. Countless churches and Christians across the nation are forming small groups to study through this mini-series. To say the least, it is highly anticipated across the face of Christianity. THE BIBLE mini-series was produced by a big name in the entertainment world, Mark Burnett. Burnett and his wife Roma Downey (former Touched by an Angel star) have called this mini-series “the most important project we have ever undertaken”. This is a strong statement coming from a guy who has produced such TV shows as The Voice, Survivor, The Apprentice, etc. To have such a big name in the TV production world undertake a task to put the biblical witness on full display is commendable and remarkable. This project resembles Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, but it is much grander in scope. This mini-series will encompass the entire Bible–from Genesis to Revelation–highlighting the major themes in the storyline of Scripture. The excitement over this mini-series is remarkable and widespread not only from churches and Christians across the nation, but also from the producers themselves. Consider the promotion and description of THE BIBLE from their about page:
THE BIBLE is an epic 10-hour mini-series that will bring the Bible into homes worldwide. Television’s highly-acclaimed producer, Mark Burnett, and his wife, Roma Downey are bringing the most widely read book of all time to life on the screen, with breathtaking beauty and the use of dramatic live action and cutting-edge CGI technology. “We feel this is the most important project we have ever undertaken,” said Mark and Roma. “Regardless of one’s belief system, no book has impacted humankind more than the Bible. Its influence on politics, culture, literature, art, music, philanthropy and education is unequalled.”
Noble Ambition and Nothing More
The producers of this 10-hour series have hopes that it will impact millions and their grandest hope in telling the grand narrative of Scripture is that the world would know God’s love for us all. While it is a noble ambition to desire the Bible to be presented in a compelling way to those who would have otherwise never opened the book, I fear that the positive aspects of this series will end with good intentions. In other words, I believe the intentions in making this production are genuinely good. For example, I can do nothing but commend Roma Downey when she says,
Our prayer has always been that the dramatization of these stories will drive viewers to go to the Bible itself and drink in the actual text, because it is a book that changes lives.
However, I also fear that little good will follow. On the surface it sounds great. The meta-narrative of Scripture will be on TV screens throughout the world on five Sundays in March. But when the lights are low and the title THE BIBLE flashes on the History Channel, I fear that what we see will be a distorted presentation of the Bible. For example, note this distortion and surface level understanding of God’s love on the part of Burnett and Downey:
[W]e wanted to show how the Old Testament connects seamlessly to the New Testament. How they are one sweeping story with one grand, overriding message: God loves each one of us as if we were the only person in all the world to love (Huffington Post).
Downey derives this from St. Augustine who once said: “God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love”. But who is she referring to? Believers? All people? And if God loves each of us the exact same with such intensity then why does he only effectually save some? Do you see how this thought in and of itself could easily lead to universalism (the teaching that every single human will be “saved”)? And this is a minor example, for probing matters of theological discrepancy in a production such as this would just be nit-picking. THE BIBLE may provide just enough biblical information and knowledge to confuse. Other, more serious, distortions flood my mind. Will Jesus be presented as an inspirational historical figure worthy of imitation or God in the flesh worthy of worship? Will the Catholic view of Mary being sinless be presented? Will there be a flavor of universalism added to the theme of God’s love? Or to avoid all of these pressures, will it be extremely vague? Sure, the stories will be accurate (I assume). The characters will be correct. Much Scripture will be quoted (maybe). But what may be added or left out is what frightens me. Now, I must admit that I am a major skeptic when it comes to productions of biblical material. Often the theology behind the good intentions of these films and series’ is so poor that I would rather them not even be produced. Why the concern? Why the apprehension? Why the skepticism? Why the harshness?
Reason for Concern
The answer can be found on the Board of Advisors page. The following are biblical and theological advisors for THE BIBLE mini-series:
- Joel Osteen–Lakewood Church
- Rick Warren–Saddleback
- Rev. Samuel Rodriguez–National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
- Donald William Wuerl–Archdiocese of Washington D.C.
- Bishop T.D. Jakes–The Potter’s House
- Dr. Cynthia Hale–Ray of Hope
- Richard Muow–Fuller Theological Seminary
- Dr. Miroslav Volf–Yale University
- Anthony Basil Taylor–Diocese of Little Rock
Honestly, I was shocked at this list when I first read it. But then upon further thought, I am more shocked at myself for being shocked in the first place. Now, let it be known that I do not know anything about the majority of these individuals. While I have strong convictions against many of the core beliefs of the Catholic Church, I know nothing about these particular leaders within the Catholic Church which have been chosen as advisors. It may in fact be that I agree with them on numerous theological and biblical points (probably not). But I just do not know. Nevertheless, Catholic theological influence gives me pause. Side Note: If you are wondering why there is so much Catholic influence in the making of this mini-series, I will note that producer Roma Downey is Catholic. I also believe the Bible is clear that women should not serve as pastors or elders (1 Tim. 2:11-12). Therefore, in principle I have issue with core theological aspects with at least three of these contributors (Wuerl, Hale, and Taylor). However, I have never heard them preach or speak nor have I read anything of theirs. Therefore, it would be unfair to judge them on the little that I know of them. I will also point out that while I do disagree with Rick Warren on a few matters, overall I have no issue with him being involved in the making of this TV series. It is in fact his presence that doesn’t have me completely writing it off (plus the fact that I have yet to see it). So I want to begin my concern with some slight approval. It may just be Rick Warren’s (and other evangelicals involved) evangelical influence that saves some integrity in the presentation of the biblical texts in this series. I can only pray that his influence (and that of Richard Muow) is much stronger than the rest–and that may be the case. My hope is that Warren’s endorsement of this mini-series is true:
The key to [THE BIBLE’s] effectiveness is that it lets the Bible speak for itself, without commentary, excuse or qualification, which makes it unique. This is living history at its best!
I also want to make clear that these serious concerns that follow are just that–concerns. I have not seen this mini-series. Therefore, for all I know it may be both biblically sound and theologically rich. So, for argument’s sake, it is possible that this small group study and TV series will be very beneficial. I will also note that there are those who have seen the series and have nothing but praise for it. See a very positive review of the mini-series from The Christian Post here. And here are other endorsements by many Christian leaders both Protestant and Catholic. In my humble opinion, though, I fear that the twist placed on THE BIBLE will be one that is unbiblical.
Two Startling Names
The reason for this concern lies in two names on that list. Despite the benefit of the doubt I give to the Board and the producers, I cannot keep silent and be content with two startling names on this list–Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes. Evangelicals have been at arms with both Osteen and Jakes and their teachings in the blogosphere so I will not spend time here going to war with these two prosperity gospel proponents personally. Fine articles by men with far greater prestige than I can be found here:
The reason for this disapproval and refutation of Osteen, Jakes, and their prosperity gospel (from Reformed guys in particular) is not the result of some type of misplaced and judgmental, Reformed elitism which is attempting to root out any teaching outside of Calvinism. That is simply foolish. There are many non-Calvinists who also take issue with Osteen and Jakes. The reason evangelicals such as myself take issue with the prosperity gospel promoted by Osteen and Jakes is the fact that they are leading thousands astray by their teachings. Love for Scripture, truth, the glory of God, and people leads evangelical leaders and Christians to unabashedly and gladly refute the evil that is the prosperity gospel. The more I allow the thought of Joel Osteen contributing to the content of this mini-series (and I assume small group content as well) to saturate in my mind, the more hesitant I become to support it. The last thing I want is for Osteen and Jakes to lead even more people astray through a certain twist they may have had a part in placing on THE BIBLE.
Prosperity Gospel Heresy
The heretical positions of Osteen (prosperity gospel) and Jakes (prosperity gospel and Modalism) give me pause when it comes to the possibility of the content of this mini-series and accompanying small group considering their influence in the production. When I consider the deadly duo of Osteen and Jakes, my mind races to 2 Peter 2:1. Peter warns that there will be false teachers who will “secretly bring in destructive heresies”. I do not want to make any qualm about this: Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes have secretly snuck a health, wealth, and prosperity gospel into their churches which has replaced the sovereign Lord Jesus who satisfies amidst suffering and pain with a caricature of Jesus that portrays him as a lovie-dovey bestower of immaculate wealth, health, and success as a result of faith in him. This teaching did not originate with them, but they have popularized it in our time. O, may this false teaching rot in the deepest pit and darkest corner of hell! For in this “gospel” there is no place for the hurting widow. In this “gospel” there is no place for the broken mother whose child is dying of cancer. In this “gospel” there is no place for persecuted believers. In this “gospel” there is no place for the impoverished and poor. In this “gospel” there is no place for martyrs. In this “gospel” there is no place for Paul or Peter or James or John or Stephen or Andrew or Matthew. And in this “gospel” there is no place for Jesus–our homeless, poor, and suffering Savior. There may be room for the rich young ruler who went away sad at the prospect of having to give away his riches (Matt. 19:21-22), but there is no place for Zacchaeus, who gladly gave away his riches (Luke 19:6, 8). There is nothing there but a mirage with the title “Jesus” given to it. I despise the teachings of Osteen and Jakes because I am jealous for the glory of God. I despise their teachings because I have a love for God, truth, Scripture, and people. My heart breaks when I think of the thousands who gather in desperation to hear from these men who propagate such heresy. I cannot support them, nay, I will not support them. This all may seem harsh to you, but when the blind are leading the blind, harsh language is appropriate. When false teachers are leading the masses astray, harsh language is necessary. When money-changers are turning the house of prayer into a den of thieves, whips need to be drawn and the ungodly need to be driven out (Matt. 21:12-13; cf. John 2:13-17). And when these men and many more like them are teaching such things that are furthest from the gospel of Christ, I cannot help but hear the cries of thousands plummeting into an eternal hell along with their cars, homes, cash, jewelry, good physique, and health. The treasure they have stored up on earth under the encouragement of Osteen and Jakes will become moth-eaten, rusted, destroyed, and stolen, while they miss out on the one true Treasure whom they claim they are believing in (Matt. 6:19-20).
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt. 6:21).
Osteen’s Influence on THE BIBLE
My heart breaks. My eyes shed tears. My body trembles. Now consider with me how preposterous and frightening these words are from producer Mark Burnett:
We’re [referring to Burnett and his wife] not qualified to teach the Bible. But we learned from Joel [Osteen] and Victoria [Osteen’s wife].
The full video interview this quote was taken from can be found here. Joel Osteen, the heretic and false teacher, offered guidance and advice in the writing of the scripts and storyline of THE BIBLE. The man who doesn’t consider himself to be gifted as a teacher of the Bible is giving advice for the teaching of the Bible. What could be a ground-breaking opportunity to speak gospel truth to a wide audience is tainted by the participation of Joel Osteen (and I put T.D. Jakes in this category as well). This is ludicrous! And what startles me the most is the fact that Burnett seems to be heavily relying on Osteen for biblical knowledge. What a joke! If this is the case, then this is just not something I can support, endorse, or encourage Christians to take part in, particularly young or immature Christians. It is very easy to twist Scripture to fit into your own personal theology–just look to Osteen and Jakes, for they have been doing this for years. This is why I am worried that the accuracy of the over-arching themes of the Bible will be absent. And what scares me even more is the fact that so many are blindly going into a small group study through a series that was advised by Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes. This may just be another way for these men and other advisors in this project to secretly and sneakily infiltrate the church of Christ with false doctrine and heresy.
So where do I stand? I believe I have made myself very clear. Even though I think this project has good intentions and may even have a lot of truth behind it, I am very hesitant to support this mini-series. Initially I was excited about it, but after learning of Osteen and Jakes’ involvement and influence, I am now taking a step back. I stand in a “wait and see” and “be on your toes” position. Know that my thoughts here have merely been concerns, fears, and hesitations and not indictments or condemnations. With the possibility (or probability) of the heavy influence of the likes of Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes, I worry that the spin on the biblical text will be erroneous, to say the least. I will be watching this series carefully and prayerfully. I am wondering what will be included and what will be left out. Osteen has informed us that,
Part of the making of ‘The Bible’ is you have to have some artistic license, because not everything is recorded.
What all this will entail, I can only speculate. I will not however take part in the small groups nor will I endorse or encourage anyone to take this series as absolute truth. If you plan on watching THE BIBLE and/or participating in the small group study, I beseech you to beware. Beware of false teachers, for they come disguised as sheep, ready to devour as wolves and they will lead many astray (Matt. 7:15; 24:11, 24). If you are a young or immature Christian or a non-believer, I would encourage you to watch this series with a mature believer. May the God of peace and power, mercy and majesty keep us and guard us against such false teaching for the glory of Christ.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1)