From his sermon advocating that temptation can be good -- his use of the Lord's name in vain -- his addiction to pain killers -- his embracing of his son's homosexuality -- his drug-dealing daughter -- his brother-in-law who stole $3.5 million dollars of the church's funds -- his sister-in-law who had a ménage a trios to spice up her marriage -- to his complicit attitude and support for premarital sex -- Daniel, the Episcopal priest of NBC's new television show, The Book of Daniel, depicts clergy, the Church, and Christianity in an incredibly disappointing fashion.
Wrapped in the garb of professed good intentions -- picturing people of faith having the same problems as everyone else and that religion can help with these issues -- the program is really a slight on genuine faith in Christ. It highlights and emphasizes "a form of godliness," but denies the power of the Gospel to transform a life. "From such," the apostle Paul warned, "turn away." (2 Tim. 3:5) In this case, the apostle would have said, "Turn the channel."
The worst sin of this new broadcast is that it fails to acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Instead, Christ is portrayed as a "buddy" or "pal" who is available to everyone, but offers no solution to life's problems based on absolute principles of right and wrong and only gives advice if one wants it. Christ is presented as many want to see Him and not as He really is -- the Lord of life.
Jesus is not simply "a great teacher of morality," as Joseph Klausner contended. Neither is He, as Ernest Renan said, just an "inexhaustible principle of moral regeneration." Instead, Jesus is God! It is this fact that gives His teachings their authority, makes obedience to His commandments imperative, and faith in Him mandatory for salvation.
According to Religion News Service, Jack Kenny, the program's writer, says: "I'm not making fun of Jesus. I never want to poke fun at religion nor Jesus." The characters in this program "believe in God, they believe in Christ as their savior," he says. But the God portrayed in The Book of Daniel winks at the grossest of sins and one can only wonder what the Jesus of this TV series saves people from. To refer to Christ as the savior of the program's characters is to make Him a laughingstock.
Another egregious fault in this program is its failure to demonstrate any fear of God. To "fear God" means to display a reverential respect and awe for Him. Repeatedly, the Bible teaches the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Yet, in The Book of Daniel's pilot episode, Jesus actually caricaturizes Himself in suggested self-help book titles such as "Jesus' Guide to a Comfortable Life" and "My Tuesdays with Jesus." What is more, it's hard to take seriously a Jesus who constantly dispenses wisecracks.
Certainly there is no fear of God's judgment for sin depicted in NBC's controversial new series. It may come as a surprise to many, but Christ actually spoke more often about hell than he did heaven. He lovingly and tenderly called upon people to repent of their wicked ways and graphically warned of the horrors of perdition if they didn't. The Book of Daniel, however, depicts Daniel performing his priestly functions over the grave of his thieving and adulterous brother-in-law, saying: "Life is hard. It's hard for everyone. That's why there's such a nice reward at the end of it." One can only assume Daniel must be a Universalist -- someone who believes all people are ultimately saved, a doctrinal position clearly refuted by Holy Scripture.
Not long ago, Religion News Service interviewed two experts who watch religious trends on television and have written on them. In that interview, Jana K. Reiss, author of the book, What Would Buffy Do? A Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide, said: "Millions of Americans ... park themselves in a church ... every weekend, but there's a clear shift toward non-institutional religion .... Whether television writers are reflecting this change or contributing to it is an interesting question. I think it's both." Teresa Blythe, who also contributed to the interview and wrote two books -- Meeting God in Virtual Reality: Using Spiritual Practices with Media and Watching What We Watch: Prime Time Television Through the Eyes of Faith -- concurred, noting: "On television, spirituality is portrayed as helpful while organized religion is either neutral or ineffectual. Churches have contributed to that image."
Indeed they have! And perhaps that's the very reason Jack Kenny represents the clergy, the Church, and Christianity in such a disparaging light -- it's the only light the Church at large has given him. It's the light of a wimpy and powerless Jesus, not the King of Kings and Lord of Lords -- a Gospel that fails to hold people accountable for their transgressions and transforms them from sinners to Saints; a God who doesn't need to be feared and would never display His wrath. Unfortunately, the religion put forward by most of the institutionalized Church today is as counterfeit and impotent to change lives as that portrayed in The Book of Daniel.
Episcopalians ought to be incensed with this new television show. Moreover, every Christian denomination, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, etc., should be incensed with themselves, incensed at their failure to present to the nation the Gospel that is so desperately needed -- the real one that literally and spiritually raises the dead.
This article originally appeared on January 12, 2006.
Rev. Mark H. Creech (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.