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Well, it turns out a lot of you all are watching The Chosen and loving it, so that’s pretty cool. But, as I said yesterday, there are a few gainsayers out there, and I did promise to venture into the Twittersphere, however briefly, to respond to some kinds of tweets that I’ve seen. As I said, I feel like watching and loving The Chosen should fall into the realm of The Non-Essential Issue, or Audiaphora, for Christians, though, I suppose if you disagree with me on that point, that’s ok too.

In that vein, I have just two tweets I want to say something about, and then I will move on to other kinds of subjects tomorrow (probably). Here is the first one:

I mean, yes. The Bible is absolutely sufficient to describe Jesus. I don’t think any of us who are Chosen fans would say that it’s not. And Jenkins has been clear, over and over, that he’s not rewriting the Bible. To make a show about something like the Bible doesn’t mean that the maker of the show is saying that the Bible isn’t sufficient.

Rather, I think the question is, what do you do when you read the Bible? We are emerging from decades of bad preaching habits, the chief of which is what Chris Rosebrough calls “Narcigesis,” that is, reading yourself into the text when you’re not meant to be there. The classic example of this is, “Who is the Goliath in your life and what are the five smooth stones you’re going to kill him with?” Um, ackshully, you aren’t David and you don’t have five smooth stones. The story is really about….

…now see, that’s where I think preaching in the American churches hasn’t really recovered. Because you should be quick to say that the story is about Jesus, and so it is. But in what way is it about Jesus? And how will you get to understand how you actually do factor in as a reader who is, herself (or himself, not going to be a jerk about this) being read by the text?

Take this second tweet that is also a very good point:

I am a super big fan of people not adding to the text. The Bible itself literally says we must not do that, nor take anything away. And “When We Understand the Text” is right also that the parts of The Chosen that I love are not in the Bible. Like, Thomas the Apostle, was not a Wedding Planner. We have no idea who he married. And, I can guarantee you that Peter’s wife was not named Eden because I don’t think people named their baby girls that in the first century. That’s a very popular name for girls now, but not then. And, Simon the Zealot’s brother was not the guy who was healed by the pool. And and and.

But I think we have to notice that Jenkins has said over and over and over again that he’s not doing a straight-up literal version of the actual Bible. He is using the Bible to do a show that miraculously doesn’t do what every show about Jesus for the last fifty years has done–fallen into the not-hated-enough-error of being propaganda for reading the Bible. That’s what’s happened to American Christians. We believe with our minds that the Bible is sufficient, but we don’t know it with our hearts. We confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, but we don’t think his message will be clear unless we communicate it in only one kind of way. Ultimately, that mistrust has become the turgid pool of really bad art merch.

As I said yesterday, every generation of Christians before this one had the confidence not to put themselves into the text, but rather into the picture frame. And this, though it is not preaching, is derivative of good preaching:

Is Begg, here, changing or adding to the scriptures? Not at all. Rather, he is working out the implications of the text for the hearers, so that they don’t go onto the page, but rather into the frame.

The deeper questions for Christians in this new shiny year, should be, if you believe in the sufficiency of Holy Scripture with your head, how will it ever go down deep to break open your heart? Of course what you know with your head should be the thing that drives your will and your heart to obedience and love. But it doesn’t. The head and the heart were sundered in the Garden on that dark and desolating day. Ever since then, getting back to the Garden has involved trying to sew these two torn strips of the self together again.

That’s one thing that the scripture is sufficient for. They show you Jesus, and Jesus puts you back together. But you can’t stand afar off with your arms folded. And most people can’t sit silently in a plain white room and by the sheer force of their will elevate their thoughts onto the glories of the page. They need help. They need to learn to see themselves and to see Jesus. They need to wonder about the text and what the people were like and what they were thinking and feeling. Within the boundaries of orthodoxy, they need room to search out the answers to all their pressing questions.

They, or maybe even you have to climb into the text and let it rewrite your heart, mind, soul, and spirit. Don’t be too proud to take the help you need. And then, as part of your re-formation, throw away the last century of fear-driven propaganda. Go so far into the text that it is the thing that comes relentlessly out of your mouth. For, out of the heart doth the mouth speak, and I think that’s why so many of us are loving watching this program.

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

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