Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Jesus apart from Scripture isn't Jesus

Last Friday night, I tuned into NBC’s premiere of its new drama, “The Book of Daniel.” This show had nothing to do with the Old Testament book between the Major and Minor Prophets, but instead chronicles the life of an Episcopalian priest with a seriously dysfunctional family and who only gets by with a little help from his friend, Jesus. Now, I don’t usually watch much network TV, but I felt that it might be an educational experience to become acquainted with pop-culture’s preference of what Jesus should be.

In case you don’t know the show’s plot, I’ll summarize:A New England Episcopalian priest named Daniel must maintain his responsibilities to minister to his congregation while also trying to protect his family from falling apart. He has two sons and a daughter who’s arrested from selling Marijuana to finance her internet fascination with creating Japanese manga comics. One son is an adopted teen of oriental ethnicity (more on that later) who becomes sexually active with the mayor’s daughter. The other son is openly gay, but the family hasn’t yet broken the news to his grandfather (the elder bishop of the diocese who is having an affair with a female bishop who oversees Daniel’s sermons). Daniel himself is developing an addiction to prescription painkillers, and his wife turns to alcohol as a diversion from the tension in the home. Daniel’s brother-in-law is suspected of embezzling the church’s building fund money, so Daniel makes a deal with a Roman Catholic priest with Mafia connections to recover the fund. But it soon becomes apparent that his wife’s sister may have murdered and framed her husband because of a lesbian affair with his secretary. When everything seems to be falling apart, Jesus appears to Daniel in private in order to give him some advice and offer the obligatory quirky comic relief, ala “Wilson” from “Home Improvement.”

Positives from a Christian’s Perspective (in all fairness):
There is just enough of morality and spirituality presented in this drama to deceive us into sympathizing with its agenda. The show succeeds in portraying all characters as flawed, sinful, and rebellious. Some people believe ministers are perfect people, but this show makes it clear that the oversight of souls is not an easy job, nor is leading a family. It also attempts to promote the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus (but it fails horribly as will be seen in the next section). The “Jesus” character utters a couple of profound lines in dialogue with Daniel:
Jesus (when asked by Daniel why he talks to him):“I talk to everybody. Few hear me. Some hear what they want. Most don’t listen.”

Daniel (feeling guilty about cursing his brother-in-law):
“I really cared about Charlie. I would never damn anybody. I couldn’t. I’m sorry.
Jesus: “Don’t worry; you don’t have that much power.”

Problems from a Christian’s Perspective (and, yes, they are legion):
Some have considered this show an irreverent satirical attack on the Christian faith. While the show cannot be considered amoral, it does presents a perverted view of Christianity. Unlike the blasphemous mockeries of devout religious people found on a show like “Family Guy,” this show takes itself seriously. But the perversion of the truth are evident in the show’s opening scene, where Daniel gives this sermon the morning after picking up his drug dealing daughter from the police and popping some painkillers in private:
“Temptation. Is it really a bad thing? I don’t think so. What I mean is that if there were no temptation, how could there be redemption? If we never did anything bad, how could we repent and be stronger for our weakness? Doesn’t good need evil in order to be good? If temptation corners us, maybe we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for giving in to it. Maybe we shouldn’t ask forgiveness from a church, or from God, or from Jesus, or from anyone until we can first learn to forgive ourselves.
Let us rise for the profession of faith. ‘We believe in one God’…”

In this short paragraph, the show reveals its value code. Where does Daniel get the authority for this sermon? Certainly, not the Bible (though in defending it to the bishop he tries to cite 1 Cor. 10:13 out of context). No, the center of this sermon is that the final authority we must answer to is ourselves; we redeem ourselves, and we get stronger by forgiving ourselves. It doesn’t matter so much that we sin against God or repent to Him, but that we learn to live with ourselves. But notice the irony that this self-centered value-code still pays lip service to historic Christianity. It claims to profess faith and to believe in one God, but in doing so it proves hypocritical.

While the drug-dealing and painkiller abuse are not promoted by the show, there are hardly any ethics concerning sexual immorality. The most obvious example is the openly gay son whom the parents actually encourage him that he’ll find “that special guy” someday. Love is defined as the family’s willingness to accept his homosexual lifestyle and to encourage him in his search for a partner. The other son (remember the adopted boy of oriental ethnicity?) leads a pretty lewd lifestyle with the mayor’s daughter. After he gets busted in her room, the girl’s parents decide the teens shouldn’t spend any time together. Makes sense right? Not to the boy or his mother, and it is revealed that the people the audience should despise is not the boy or girl but the girl’s parents because “they don’t want oriental grandkids running around the house.” Once again, the show spins the real issue (a sexually dangerous lifestyle among two teens) by making it into an issue of racism.

But the coup de gra must be the show’s portrayal of Jesus, the real reason I watched this show in the first place. This Jesus doesn’t so much reflect the Messianic Son of God as much as he embodies a talk-show host on Comedy Central. He tells Daniel not to worry too much about his children but just to let them grow up because “they’re good kids.” Jesus doesn’t approve of Daniel’s painkiller abuse, but offers him life lifesavers instead. He also makes the statement that “Life is hard for everyone. That’s why there is such a nice reward at the end of it.” It sounds comforting, but is it? The real Lord Jesus made clear that there is only a “nice reward” at the end of life for those who labor in faith for His name. This concept of obedience under Christ’s lordship is absent from the show. Instead, Jesus is a kooky but wise sage who offers words of wisdom but who certainly doesn’t demand worship.

And that watered-down version of Jesus makes sense when you consider the show’s creator, Jack Kenny. He considers himself a “Christian” but lives an openly gay lifestyle and prefers to think of Jesus as laid-back and benevolent. Through his show, he has created a god according to his own preference, wholly divorced from Scripture. To quote the late Bible scholar, F. F. Bruce: “To sit loose on Scripture is thus to sit loose to the Christ whom it bears witness, and to sit loose to Him is to relax our Christian faith and life.” And this is exactly what this drama demonstrates.

I believe that this line from the show itself provided a sufficient summary of itself when the “Jesus” character said:
“I talk to everybody. Few hear me. Some hear what they want. Most don’t listen.”
This is sadly true of this show’s creator. He needs our prayers, as does everyone who watches this show and believes that Jesus can be our friend without being our lord. It is only acceptable to believe in Jesus as our friend as long as He is first our lord and savior (John 15:14-17).