Christians of all sorts grouse and complain that our faith isn’t represented on TV. And when it is, we grouse and complain that it’s not perfect — and then, lots of us don’t tune in.
One exception to that was “The Bible,” from producing partners and spouses Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. When it aired on History Channel in 2013, it pulled in numbers that were nothing less than spectacular, especially for basic cable. That’s one reason that NBC, whose primetime entertainment programs don’t lean toward the family- or faith-friendly these days, went out on a limb to buy the sequel, “A.D.: The Bible Continues.”
After premiering it on Easter Sunday, the network hasn’t seen anything like History’s audience. The ratings are OK, if not something to cheer about, but combined with Burnett’s dogged support of his projects — and since he’s currently supplying NBC with “The Voice” and “Celebrity Apprentice” — that might be enough to get it a second season.
Really, though, we can do better. You don’t even need cable to watch “A.D.” — a digital antennae will do in most areas — and still NBC’s big risk isn’t been rewarded as it had hoped.
Is “A.D.” artistically perfect? No. Does it occasionally lean toward the cheesy? Yes. Is it Biblically accurate in all cases? No. Is it good, solid entertainment? Yeah, it is.
In terms of budget and production value, it’s a step up from “The Bible,” and a next season would probably be better still. It’s also a rare spot in the mainstream media where people who love and respect Christ are depicting the Faith He founded from a place of reverence, not ignorance or derision.
Christians currently have two hours of Scripture-inspired network primetime (the new episode, preceded by a repeat of last week’s) every Sunday night at 8 and 9 pm. ET/PT. Plus, there’s a Web companion show, “Beyond A.D.,” on NBC.com, featuring actors, Christian musicians and faith leaders (yeah, they haven’t had any Catholic priests or lay experts on yet, and I have mentioned that fact to the on-set producer and to Burnett). New episodes of that are made available at 9 a.m. ET on Sundays.
But from the tone and number of negative comments from Catholics and other Christians that I’ve read online — which shred both the series and the faith backgrounds of the producers (gees, at least they HAVE them) — it may take an even larger leap of faith for NBC to stay in the Bible business. And it doesn’t advance the cause of encouraging producers or networks to offer realistic or sympathetic portrayals of Christians in primetime.
I was at last Tuesday’s taping of “Beyond A.D.” and talked briefly with megachurch pastor James MacDonald of the Harvest Bible Fellowship. Obviously we don’t agree on everything — he’s planting new communities around the world, even though Christ’s Church is already worldwide — but I was with him on this.
Asked why Christians can’t just be happy with “A.D.,” he said:
That’s something that Christians need to really hear. With all the fussing and fuming, ‘I wish it was this,’ and ‘I wish it was that’ … hey, look at it this way: millions of people are seeing an accurate portrayal of significant portions of God’s Word.
What does God promise: God promises that when his Word goes out, it will not return without accomplishing the purpose for which he sent it. So, I’m excited to see that happen.
I couldn’t be happier that Mark Burnett and Roma Downey have given so much of their financial capacity to invest in this, and taken a big risk, because they love the Lord, and because they want to see his Word go out. … Because Mark and Roma are in the media, they’re using what God’s given them to get the message out.
Nobody’s going to tell them no, and they have the ability to make it happen in a quality way. I hope that Christians will be good to them and realize they’re trying to do something wonderful.
In terms of how we respond to “A.D.” and other things, while I’m as inclined to get irritated as the next person, MacDonald is right when he says:
Christians, a lot of times, are angry. … We have a Master, and it’s His reputation that we’re concerned about. We want to be as loving and forgiving as Christ was. we should all be thinking about that. I know I am.
Amen to that.
At the same taping, I spoke to another guest, actress Chipo Chung, who plays Mary Magdalene in “A.D.” Click here to read that, at my Pax Culturati pop-culture blog at Patheos.com.
Here’s a sneak peek at the next episode:
Images: Courtesy NBC/LightWorkers Media; James MacDonald’s Facebook page