How CBS’s Living Biblically Presents Biblical Living

I just finished watching the first episode of the new show Living Biblically (you can watch it online here).

Inevitably, whenever shows like this come out, people will ask me what I think. Normally I don’t care enough to watch them. But this time I did.

I’ve typed out my gut reactions below.

Prefacing Caveats

First, some caveats.

  • Like I said, these are just gut reactions (I literally just finished the episode minutes ago). So, this isn’t some in-depth piece where I’ve carefully analyzed or re-watched the episode multiple times. So, don’t over-scrutinize my review here. This is pretty casual.
  • Second, I imagine there’s going to be a lot of hate thrown at this show from Christians (there always is with these things; and a lot of times, to be fair, the critiques are justified). But I’m not trying to add to that chorus here. My guts reactions below do focus on critique. But don’t assume that because that’s all I talk about here, that this is the whole story. I’m sure there’s a lot of benefit and good that can come from a show like this, e.g., opportunity to dialogue about faith.
  • Third, these gut reactions are only based on having watched the initial episode. So, I understand that more story development will take place, which would potentially answer and inform my reactions below. So, my reactions are necessarily limited. (But I probably won’t watch the other episodes, ’cause I just don’t care enough about this.)

Gut Reactions

So, without further ado, here are my gut reactions. They focus specifically on how Living Biblically portrays biblical living (and/or Christianity?). What does it truly mean to live Biblically? And does the show accurately represent that?

We won’t (and shouldn’t) be surprised to find that the show doesn’t. This is to be expected. But I provide these reactions here to supply some perspective, particulary for those who are not Christians, to help them see how this show’s presentation of “Biblical living” seems to defect from a more genuine and informed Christian approach.

So, for what it’s worth…

Simplistic vs. Biblical Hermeneutics

In this first episode of Living Biblically, the priest that mentors Chip, Father Gene, states that it’s impossible to live by the Bible literally, “to the letter.” And, from what I can tell, this seems to be an underlying idea of the show, that living 100% Biblically is impossible. No one lives strictly according to the Bible. It’s “instructions” are too convoluted and contradictory (or even erroneous) to make that possible. To live by the Bible is to follow it “generally,” as Father Gene says, a buffet-style picking and choosing and adapting as makes sense.

But this reveals a faulty understanding of how Christians actually approach the Bible. Living 100% according to the Bible is exactly what honest, bible-believing Christians strive to do. If we fail, it’s not because there’s fault with the Bible, but with us.

In my experience, most of the time when people view the Bible’s teaching as too convoluted and contradictory to be practiced consistently, meaning that Christians just follow it “generally” (picking and choosing), it’s because they lack a proper understanding of Christian hermeneutics, i.e., the way we interpret and seek to apply — or live out — the Bible. This hermeneutic is not an imposition onto the text as a way of “making it work” for us (and thereby implicitly admitting it is otherwise impossible to live), but is a way of interpreting the Bible that matches what the Bible actually says about itself (e.g., it considers the sort of development that occurs across the Bible’s storyline; it interprets scripture in light of other scripture; it considers context and historical situation; etc.).

Spirituality vs. Christ-Following

Living Biblically presents the Bible as something one can make use of for one’s own benefit, rather than as a revealed summons from the Lord of the universe — a God who has the right to demand your obedience and worship. In Living Biblically, spirituality takes its popular contemporary form — that of a personal journey. (So, for example, hence Chip, despite supposedly living 100% Biblically, fails to heed the biblical pattern of living that life with the context of a church community.) Chip’s journey is individualized, viewing religion as something to be utilized for personal benefit. His coworker seems to reinforce this thought, noting the “good-luck charm” sort of benefits that seem to be befalling on Chip since his “conversion,” rather than conceptualizing Christianity as the sacrificial and radical call to take up one’s cross and follow Christ.

Behaviorism vs. Gospel-Centrality

Living Biblically presents a depiction of Bible-based living that focuses on our behavior. In Living Biblically, Biblical living is about following certain rules and instructions. However, if we were to live truly Biblically, then we should note that the very message of the Bible, in which all of its content finds its center, is the gospel, i.e., the “good news” about what Jesus has done to save us. The gospel certainly entails and produces a certain lifestyle, which of course the Bible also details. But the Bible and Christianity are not ultimately about a lifestyle or an ethic. Christianity is not ultimately about what we do, but about what has been done for us, in our place, because of our failure to live the way we should.