The Bible on Prime Time

"Hide the school-age children," warns Dorothy Rabinowitz, media critic for the Wall Street Journal. "Call out the American Civil Liberties Union. . . The Bible is coming to television." Yes, the Bible came to television this Christmas, in the form of a mini-series hosted by Charlton Heston. In a lavish production, Heston read excerpts of the Bible, from Genesis to the Gospels, set to classical music and illustrated with paintings by the masters. The four-part series was called "Charlton Heston Presents the Bible." It took viewers from the Nile River to the top of Mt. Sinai, from the banks of the Jordan to the walls of Jerusalem. The series opens dramatically with a scene like an abstract painting, accompanied by drumbeats and a plaintive Near Eastern tune. Suddenly you realize it's not a painting, it's a camera shot of sky and desert split diagonally by a road. A jeep speeds along the road, trailing dust. Moments later Charlton Heston begins reciting the stately cadences of the Bible. "I'm not a theologian and I'm not a priest," Heston says. "I'm an actor. I'm interested in good stories." What he offers is a multimedia treatment of the Bible as literature: as stories meant to be told around the dinner table, stories meant to be repeated to children at bedtime. And yet, something more than stories, too. Embedded in the biblical narrative, says Heston, is an ethic—an ethic of personal responsibility—which, he says, "provides the foundation for western civilization." This positive approach to the Bible is certainly a refreshing change in our day, when Hollywood is notorious for mocking and belittling Christianity. Though the theological slant of the program is not completely evangelical (you and I won't agree with everything in it), still we should rejoice that television has offered a program that treats the Bible with genuine reverence. In fact, the program is so respectful toward Christianity that even its own producers were a bit jumpy about it. A press packet was mailed out jam-packed with assurances that the series really, truly is not about religion. The packet included nervous explanations from the producer saying, "This project is not about religion, it's about literature, art, and history." From the director came almost an apology, saying he wasn't raised to be religious but he does regard the Bible as a great book. Even Heston felt compelled to write a disclaimer saying he's not seeking to evangelize or convert anyone. With everyone so worried about the thought police peering over their shoulders, it's a wonder the program turned out to be so good. But it did, and you and I ought to let the folks at Arts and Entertainment know we support this kind of programming. You know, now that the public schools have banished any whisper of religion from the classroom, a lot of people are growing up without even a passing acquaintance with the Bible. Listening to Charlton Heston's rich reading, some people just might hear the Bible stories for the first time. And that's a lot more than we can typically expect from American television.


Chuck Colson


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