So I watched the first episode of A.D. The Bible Continues, and I have to admit -- it wasn't terrible. At least, not yet. Yes, I expected it to be bad, and no, I'm not rooting for it to be bad. It will be bad. But before I offer my review, A.D. needs a little backstory. Not the material covered in the show. I mean the show itself and its creators.
If you've seen an ad poster for A.D., you might notice that it says, "The Bible Continues," with "The Bible" italicized. That's because it's not a continuation of the stories in the Bible. The series is a sequel to the miniseries The Bible which aired two years ago on the History Channel. That series started on March 3 and finished on March 31, which was Easter Sunday in 2013. The show A.D. debuted on Easter Sunday. That's not a coincidence.
In the History Channel miniseries, the episode entitled "Survival" chronicled a chapter of Israel's history when they were given over to Babylonian captivity. King Nebuchadnezzer erected a golden image 90 feet tall and ordered that whenever the music played everyone was to bow down and worship it. Whoever did not worship the golden image would be thrown into a fiery furnace.
As most dramas go, the show amped up the tension among the story's main characters; Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, also known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The latter three decided to rebel against the king's edict and not bow to his statue, and according to the miniseries, Daniel warned them of how dangerous that was and tried to talk them out of not bowing.
That was where I turned series on. I hadn't watched an episode before that. Azariah faced down Daniel and said, "My name is Azariah, he who is helped by God. I ask God to help me now." I thought to myself, "That can't possibly be Daniel trying to convince Azariah to bow to Nebuchadnezzer's statue." Yup, that's exactly who it was.
Azariah was portrayed in the series not as the Bible depicts him: a man who loved God and was faithful to his commands, as were his other three friends, Daniel, Hananiah, and Mishael. He was portrayed as a man standing in defiance of a tyrannical king and expecting God to show up and support his personal revolt.
Daniel was portrayed as someone who was faithful not necessarily to God but to promises of personal benefit. "Jeremiah prophesied that we would return to Jerusalem," he pleaded with Azariah. "Think about our people. As long as we are in the king's court, we can help them. If we're dead we cannot!"
So according to the series version of Daniel, whose name means "God is my judge," we should be willing to bow down to idols as long as it keeps us in influential positions of power where we can help people, because that's what's really important.
Again, this was my first impression of The Bible series, and it was a theme that continued for the rest of the show. The star was the will of man, not the will of God. Their depiction of Jesus was not the Jesus of the Bible. It was a different Jesus altogether (which I covered in my review of Son of God, which you can find by clicking here).
I am thankful that A.D. did not attempt to bring back the original cast from The Bible. Diogo Morgado had one of the worst portrayals of Jesus I have ever seen. Still with an affinity for European soap opera models, Juan Pablo Di Pace was cast instead. The rest of the cast is much more diverse than most Bible dramas, but still with no attempt to depict actual Galileans or Jews from the first century. But I digress.
The show began with Jesus' crucifixion, the first episode covering the events that transpired on Friday and Saturday before the Sunday morning resurrection. Nothing in this episode is all that problematic. One scene in particular I can say I appreciated. Pilate asked his captain, Claudius, if Jesus was really dead. "I not only saw to it, I was personally responsible," Claudius said. "And what would you say to a person who tried to say otherwise?" Pilate asked. To which Claudius replied, "I would say they were either lying or a madman."
That one took a jab at those who buy into the swoon theory, claiming that Jesus wasn't actually dead when he was buried and the cool air of the tomb revived him. No, Jesus was quite dead when he was taken off the cross and placed in a tomb.
We don't know that kind of exchange took place between Pilate and one of his officers. It's just speculative, but it's also not unbiblical. So far the show's worst crime is casting yet another model in the role of Jesus (Pilate at one point even refers to him as good-looking and charismatic). However, if the creators of The Bible miniseries are to be trusted, and they're not, the unbiblical stuff is coming. I don't mean extra-biblical. I mean unbiblical. As in straight-down heresy.
Husband-and-wife producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett are spiritual New Age believers. They keep getting talked up as if they're genuine Christians, particularly by Focus On the Family. (I have written Focus about this, as well as President Jim Daly's endorsement of the blasphemous Noah film. Someone from Daly's office wrote back and defended their support of Downey and Burnett, and claimed Daly's endorsement of Noah wasn't actually an endorsement.)
Though Downey and Burnett are very spiritual, this should not be confused with being of the Spirit. Downey has appeared with psychic John Edward on his show Crossing Over. God's word strictly forbids necromancy (Deuteronomy 18:11-12). Edward later wrote a book called Practical Praying: Using the Rosary to Enhance your Life where he asserts that Christianity is no more true than any other religion. Roma Downey endorsed the book and recorded for Edward a meditation CD to be included with the book.
Downey has a degree from the University of Santa Monica in Spiritual Psychology. One of the things their program helps students with is awakening you into "the awareness of yourself and others as Divine Beings." Hm. Sounds like gnosticism to me. So does the rest of it.
"Oh, but that was years ago!" you might say. "We can't judge her by the kind of person she was or the interests she had in college."
She graduated with her degree in 2010.
Yeah. Less than three years later, The Bible miniseries debuted on the History Channel, promoted by over 100,000 churches in the country according to Outreach.com. But Burnett and Downey do not know the Jesus Christ of the Bible. They consider the events of scripture to be only historically, not eternally, significant.
As Downey told The Hollywood Reporter, "With A.D. The Bible Continues, we have been able to use the death of Jesus as the starting point because really it's the journey of what happens next. It was a moment that changed the world -- it changed world history. It had a resounding impact."
She went on to say, "It's a story of faith and of courage and I don't think that you have to be of Christian faith to enjoy this story." Knowing Downey and Burnett's spirituality, I read that statement as, "You don't have to be a Christian to enjoy this story because Christianity is only one of the ways, not the way to God."
The book of Acts, from which most of A.D. will be taken, is not a story about human faith and courage. It's actually the story about how the gospel of Jesus Christ made it to the whole world. As I've stated elsewhere, we don't follow Jesus for his moral example. We follow him because we need deliverance from death which only he can provide. Already in A.D.'s first episode, there's been hints of moralism, and that will be amped up as the series goes on.
I don't know how much more obvious I can be, but this much is true: A.D. The Story Continues will not proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. It won't be there. Instead, the series will make claims that are contrary to scripture and its theology will be heretical.
The Bible miniseries was abysmal, and A.D. will be, too. Whatever you think the first episode was (my official non-endorsement is, "Not bad."), it will get much worse. For that reason, I cannot recommend it. I may write another review later in the series, but I'm not making it a priority. There are many other things I'd rather commit myself to.
The only reason all this Bible stuff pops up on television and in movies around Easter and Christmas is to make money. That's it. And they blaspheme God while doing it. A.D. is no different.