History Channel’s The Bible miniseries recently took Hollywood by storm, surprising everyone with it’s overwhelming commercial success. In a related article, media consultant Phil Cook suggested that believers in Yeshua need to get behind Christian and Christian-themed films without being critical with regard to Scriptural accuracy. Of course, we ought to be excited and supportive whenever the Good News is being broadcast to and consumed by millions of people. But what if the message being broadcast and consumed is not the Good News according to Scripture? The following is an analysis of Mr. Cook’s argument, and how it demonstrates the influence of expediency—”doing all the good we can without due attention to the way in which that good is done.”
Mr. Cook’s main point is that there can be room in a Bible-based film for creative license, and Christians should not nitpick a film’s script, story and depiction of characters, thereby robbing it of its greater purpose.
The portrayal of King David might not have been what you expected. The dialogue on the road to Damascus might not have been rendered exactly as it’s given in the biblical text. Did Jesus carry the whole cross or just a beam? Does everything about this have to be perfect?
But beyond details that are unclear or absent from Scripture, what about the more substantial subject matter that is explicitly portrayed in Scripture? Does it “have to be perfect?” For example, why did the film-makers portray Yeshua’s death as something necessary to satisfy the Roman and Pharisaic political struggle, rather than for mankind’s universal need for atonement from sin? For what reason did they inject this speculation into the story, especially at the expense of the truth?
In defense of what could be considered serious tampering with the Word of God, Mr. Cook nevertheless lists several “good” things that have come out of The Bible:
Now… we’re seeing a sea change in the way Christians are portrayed [in the entertainment industry].
Christians who were once afraid to discuss their faith at the office are now finding that talking about the Bible is actually cool!
[M]illions of people are now watching Bible stories, buying the DVD and reading the book. How can this be a bad thing?
But can we really consider shortcutting and bypassing Scripture as truly legitimate means to these allegedly “good” ends? Indeed, even “millions of people… watching Bible stories” can absolutely be “a bad thing” if what is being taught and portrayed is but a shadow of the truth of the Scriptures. It is expedient to convey a version of the Good News that will not offend, or will be more readily acceptable to an unbelieving audience. It is disingenuous to portray the Good News as something other than it truly is, hoping that, eventually, people might learn the truth—perhaps, after they hear such “good news,” and are “saved.”
Paul has a stern warning in Galatians 1:6-9 for those who proclaim another “good news.”
I [am in] wonder that you are so quickly transferred from Him who called you in the grace of Messiah to another Good News (which is not [really] another), except [that] there are certain [ones] who are troubling you, and wanting to pervert the Good News of the Messiah. But even if we or a Messenger out of Heaven proclaim “good news” to you different from what we proclaimed to you, let him be bound with curses on himself! As we have said before, and now say again, if anyone proclaims “good news” to you different from what you received, let him be bound with curses on himself!
When it comes to film making and storytelling, making minor concessions for the sake of time and the most effective use of the media is one thing. But to suggest that filmmakers only have to preach “Jesus,” but are free to compromise the explicit teaching of Scripture when it suits their cinematic needs, is an example of expediency. Preaching Jesus is indeed “good,” but it must never be at the expense of His very own Word.
Mr. Cook says, “If we’re going to impact the world, we need to stand together. We can nitpick each other’s projects until Jesus comes, but when He arrives, He won’t be happy with the result.” Really? Will He be “happy with the result” if we are standing together, supporting each other as we proclaim our own versions of “another Good News”? The truth is, we have the Book, so we are without excuse when we change or ignore what it says for our own purposes. Perhaps, while we’re waiting for Jesus to come, He would prefer we just listen to the Director, and stick to the Script.