Is the Bible meant to be a source of entertainment? Can the Bible be ‘translated’ into a form for entertaining people? Should the Bible be ‘mixed’ with entertainment in order to reach more people with its power to influence? Questions like these have come up again for debate with the screening of the five-part, ten-hour long TV series, ‘The Bible’, by History Channel, produced by the husband and wife team of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. This shows different stories from the Bible in a dramatic form enhanced by computer graphics for special effects. As expected, reviewers are widely divided about its success, even though the first episode recorded 13.1 million viewers. Some are of the view that this has helped turn the attention of many people to the Bible who would not have bothered to look at it otherwise. Others are of the view that many stories of the Bible have been so distorted in the process of trying to make them appealing to many people that as a result in many cases the true message of God has been left out or replaced. Some take a view that, whether distorted or not, something of God’s story has been brought out for the public.
Everyone will agree that entertainment by itself is not wrong. It is a part of life, and it helps us to relax, get rid of the build-up of stress, and find times of fun and enjoyment alone or with others. But entertainment is a huge business with diverse forms involving billions of dollars and thousands of artistes. A profit motive is what usually drives the production, and it is very rarely that moral and ethical standards are valued or preserved in the process. ‘What the audience wants’ seems to decide the contents most of the times. Many times even comedy shows end up becoming vulgar, and generally immoral relationships, violent actions and weird behaviours are treated by the media as normal or humorous. The result is that the viewers’ value systems are slowly getting corroded without them realising what is happening.
Christians are not very much behind in adopting the trends. Preachers recognise that a clear, expository type of delivery may not appeal to most of their audience, and so they add on humour, dramatic stories, audience participation, background music, and all the tricks of homiletics to keep the audience interest alive. In order to capture the attention of young people, many churches invest in technology for music, projection, lighting, and smoke generators, and choreographed singing and dance sequences are becoming popular.
Very few, if any, would object to making efforts to avoid boring sermons or monotonous church services. Use of parables was a favourite technique with Jesus. He used even exaggerated language at times to drive a point home. Singing and dancing have always been ways people have used to express their feelings. If a children’s Bible is created with simplification of the stories and colourful illustrations, or even if it is brought out in the form of cartoon strips one would understand the motive and the end result. When parents tell their children stories from the Bible they usually use their own words which the children can understand and not the King James Version! Skits may be used to dramatize stories in Sunday schools. Technology has become a very helpful tool in the hands of Christians to be utilised innovatively in many areas to make things more effective.
But if we observe the use of any of these techniques that are not wrong in themselves, what we find is that they have a tendency to take over and become the goals in themselves. In other words, we tend to forget why they are being used in the first place. We forget that the first and foremost goal is to proclaim God, honour His name and to bring His grace to the people. As a result, our focus gets shifted to the performance and the performers.
When the preacher preaches or the singers sing with the sole aim of glorifying God, they bring an anointing to the people who hear. When the focus shifts to the preaching and the singing, the performers get the glory, and the people go away after having been entertained but receiving hardly anything that can transform their lives into godliness. When people are enjoying the musical arrangement and the choreographed dancing of the ladies in the front during a time of worship, how much of the spirit of worship do they get hold of? When songs of praise have been transformed into action songs, what are the people thinking about when they take part? When we see the dramatized version of Bible stories which change the focus from spiritual lessons to fast paced action, what do we take away with us?
The apostle Paul was very keen that his hearers should not be drawn to his oratorical skills and miss hearing God speaking to them (1Cor.2:1-5). He was conscious of this possibility and therefore conducted himself with fear and trembling lest he should leave them impressed with himself but without having given them anything substantial from God.
We live in the world and we use the things of the world. But if we allow the world to enter us and direct our lives, where would we end up except as a part of the world? “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God” (Rom.12:2 MSG). We need constant vigil at the line of control.