What do an engineer from Alabama, a newspaper columnist in Dallas, and a host on CBS's The Early Show in New York all have in common? An interest in the gospel--according to Andy, Barney, Opie and Aunt Bee, that is. People from around the country are taking note of a new Bible-study series based on the popular 1960s television program, The Andy Griffith Show."I've been a fan for a long time," says Joey Fann, 34, of Huntsville, Ala. A software engineer, Fann watched reruns of the show in college to relieve stress. "I noticed that some episodes brought out a certain moral point," he says.Fann eventually created a study for his church in Huntsville based on several of the episodes. "The first class had about 20 people," he remembers. That was two years ago. In the months that followed, Thomas Nelson publishers took notice and agreed to distribute the series nationwide.Since its release in May 2000, churches and ministries have purchased over 6,000 copies of the video-and-study-guide series. "We have some churches that are buying hundreds of the study guides at a time," says Harry Clayton, senior vice president of Nelson Word Multimedia Group.Congregations will show an episode before breaking members into small groups for discussion, says Jim Baird, director of Nelson Word. "It's not a study of the show," he says. "It's a Bible study. The show simply illustrates biblical values." Each study offers a handful of Scriptures and a series of questions intended to help participants connect the show with biblical ideas.Some critics, however, consider the study an attempt to satisfy an "entertain me" mentality of the American church. The central themes exalt basic moral principles without keeping Christ and the basic doctrines of Christianity (such as sin and sanctification) as the constant focus, according to an online commentary at the Web site of Internet retailer Amazon.com.Others wonder if the program is out of sync with contemporary culture. "You don't find that a lot of the episodes are pretty dated with the lessons they try to teach?" Bryant Gumbel asked Byron Vance, a Methodist minister in Alabama, on The Early Show last month. "Some things just transcend time," Vance responded.Producers did choose to edit one segment from an episode that showed Andy lighting a cigarette. Otherwise, the shows remain in their original shape. "Mayberry was a good town with good people," says Jim Clark, founder of The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club. "It's easy to find parallels with Christian teaching and the story of Mayberry."Despite the lessons that Christians gather from the show, Clark says the program never existed to provide spiritual insight."Most of the writers of The Andy Griffith Show were actually Jewish," he says. "They were strictly writing to entertain people. But the fact that people draw other meaning is fine too."Nelson Word Direct will publish a second series of Bible studies based on The Andy Griffith Show this fall. Clayton is also considering similar studies on other shows, including The Brady Bunch.

Both the Decatur Daily News and The Cincinnati Enquirer ran stories on Andy Griffith Bible studies.Contact the Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club for more Mayberry chat and trivia.To read more about bible studies and sermons based on the show, visit barneyfife.com .Other Christianity Today stories on television include:The Best Television of 1999 | Ah, the twists and turns of my warm, glowing friend. (Jan. 20, 2000) Series Examines Christian Origins | PBS documentary focuses on historical roots of the Christian faith. (April 6, 1998) Producers Rediscover Religious Themes | Network TV discovers faith is fit for primetime. (Sept. 17, 1997) Is Nothing Sacred in ABC Drama? | Spiritual show generates protest from religious circles. (Sept. 1, 1997) CBS Sends Mixed Signals, Critics Say | Public Morals employs filthy language to get laughs. (Oct. 7, 1996)

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