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.
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.)
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?
Top (from left): Al Franken, Charlie Rose, Louis C.K., Roy Moore. Bottom: John Besh, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Piven, and Richard Dreyfuss. (AP images)
The past month or so, we’ve seen incident after incident after incident of sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct (Weinstein, Franken, Moore, etc.). We’ve witnessed (or participated in) the #MeToo trend, bringing awareness to and identifying what is apparently a pervasive problem in our society. Yet, as these scandals have unfolded, many have responded with shock and surprise. “I can’t believe that [so and so] did that…”
Christians believe in the doctrine of sin — that humanity is broken and rebellious against God, rejecting his good purposes. And so, on the one hand, Christians are never totally surprised when humanity acts heinously. We have theological categories for this.
On the other hand, there’s a certain level of shock that should always be present — a shock that matches the degree of sin’s audacity. Even as we understand humanity’s disposition to sin and propensity to commit great acts of evil, this reality doesn’t make sin any less appalling. Furthermore, due to God’s (common) restraining grace on humanity, we expect people to treat others with a certain base-level of dignity, even in their sinfulness.
But, at this point in the cultural story, if you’re still surprised when the latest sexual assault scandal emerges, you shouldn’t be.
As always, James K.A. Smith is equally perceptive of cultural habits as he is insightful in his analysis of them.
In today’s The NFL’s Thanksgiving games are a spectacular display of America’s ‘God and country’ obsession, published over at the The Washington Post, Smith plays on a common thesis in his writings:
Whereas many see our culture’s habits, traditions, and institutions as mundane, non-religious affairs, James sees much more at stake. They are competing rituals, or “religious” liturgies competing for our worship and shaping our loves.
Christian worship is formative — forming us into a people who love Christ and his kingdom. Our competing cultural “liturgies” (e.g., here: a traditional NFL Thanksgiving; or in other places in Smith’s writing: e.g., the mall as a house of worship for consumerism — quite relevant for tomorrow’s Black Friday) have a deformative power, pulling on our affections and, in the process, misplacing them (idolatry).