Every Sunday for the past few weeks, I have set my DVR to record the History Channel's new miniseries The Bible. Chances are, you've been watching too—the first episode had 13.1 million viewers. After a lifetime of having to endure "artistic" retellings of biblical narratives, from "The Ten Commandments" to "Godspell," I sat down to watch the first episode with reasonable trepidation.
But I was pleasantly surprised. True, the series neglected some fairly important stories (the life of Joseph comes to mind), but it also included insightful nuances that had me rechecking my own Bible, like when the angels blinded the crowd in Sodom to allow the escape of Lot and his family. As the series has progressed, the unfortunate divergences from the original text have increased. Still, it earnestly drives home the major points of the grand biblical story: the Fall, God's covenant with Israel, Israel's repeated rebellion and punishment, and the Messianic prophecies fulfilled in Jesus.
My own mixed reception is expressed in the more polarized attitudes of other viewers. Some find the series' errors damning; others are willing to look past radical omissions for the sake of its evangelistic potential. But I've heard one common theme among Christian viewers of the series: all seem to watch it with one finger critically tracing key texts in Scripture. If only they did the same when confronting each other over the series' merits.
Debates and quarrels
Debates are common amongst evangelicals. Our diversity and passion prime us for it. The current face of Christianity was chiseled by the disputes of the past, and the fruits of those internal debates include orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and resilient faith that can stand in the face of external attack. Debates are good.
The gospels are filled with the debates of Jesus, lively exchanges with some who "got it" and some who didn't. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul anticipates that Christian leaders will engage in debate. But he warns against quarrels. What distinguishes the two? He writes:
Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:23–25).
Debates are characterized by kindness and gentle instruction. Quarrels are foolish, resentful arguments.
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