I have a knee-jerk reaction to most overtly religious T.V., or maybe I should say thumb-jerk: my thumb immediately jerks the channel button to find something more authentic, better written, and better produced.
Not so with A.D. The Bible Continues, the follow-on to husband and wife creative team Mark Burnette and Roma Downey’s huge hit mini-series, The Bible. I was either too busy, or too sleepy, to watch the original series, but I’ll be staying awake on Sunday nights to watch this one.
Part of the reason is that Acts is my favorite historical narrative in the Bible. It’s like Joshua for the New Testament, full of action and adventure. But A.D. has other, more important reasons to commend it. A.D. is good T.V., good story-telling on the most important medium in the world, telling the most important story in the world.
The cinematography is very good. It isn’t quite up to big budget movie standards, but it’s good. Downey and Burnette and their production partners are professionals and it shows. I do not have a professionally trained eye for these things, but the sets, the historical settings, the lighting, the camera work, and the audio are high quality for a weekly T.V. show that is trying to cover so much ground. The special effects, while not quite up to Noah standards, are nonetheless convincing and adequate to the narrative. I’ve been studying New Testament history for a long time and everything about how they are portraying the era feels right.
More importantly, the storyline hews close to the book of Acts in the three episodes I’ve seen. The political situation, the tensions between the factions, the Roman’s frustration with trying to govern Israel, all of these are dead-on accurate. The writers add just enough extra-biblical dialogue and action among key players to keep the story going, yet without straying or changing the biblical plot in any significant way. Parental warning here: Acts is often a bloody story. Pilate, Herod, Caiaphas, and the Zealots who opposed them were brutal men living in a brutal time and the camera does not shy away from that. But this commitment to accuracy makes the retelling that much more authentic. That’s the way it was and modern viewers need to know it.
The acting is also first rate. Vincent Regan brings the ruthless Pilate to life especially well. Richard Coyle’s Caiaphas is utterly convincing as the politician–high priest playing a high-stakes game of cat and mouse with Pilate and James Callis’ Herod Antipas. Adam Levy skillfully animates the passionate and bold Peter, revealing him as a man very much like the one I’ve always imagined when I read Acts.
You might expect a few critiques, and I have three. I would have preferred the actual words of Jesus in Matthew 28:16-18 at the Ascension as they stress his authority. Instead, the script has Jesus leave us with the simple command to preach the gospel–accurate enough, but incomplete. The disciples’ prayer during Pentecost is a constant, even ecstatic repetition of “The Lord’s Prayer” as recorded in the gospels. I understand why the writers would do that, but it’s a shallow rendering of what was no doubt a deeply biblical time of prayer. These men and women were serious Jews who had been trained by Jesus not to engage in “senseless repetition like the pagans,” (Matt. 6:7). They would no doubt have recited from the Psalms in worship and prayed after the pattern established in “The Lord’s Prayer,” not in a manner akin to the repetitious incantations of a tribal shaman. Finally, the effect of the gift of tongues on the crowd is missing in the retelling of Pentecost, but maybe it was just too difficult to portray the diversity of languages that would have been present in Jerusalem at that feast.
I can remember when biblical movies that were on broadcast T.V. were aired almost without commercials as an act of reverence. Now, it seems the only television event that gets that kind of respect is the Masters Golf Tournament. Go figure. Still, television is the most powerful storytelling and therefore culture-shaping medium of our time. More people will get a better introduction to the gospel via A.D., The Bible Continues than will ever be reached by a church or evangelist. It’s worth watching and worth sharing with your friends. A.D. is good T.V.