Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call featuring T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for tuning in. In today’s program, Tom begins a two-part series with guest, pastor and author J.B. Hixson. Here’s TBC executive director Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. On this program and next week, the subject is the upcoming NBC special broadcast on Easter Sunday titled A.D.: The Bible Continues. It is a followup to the series aired on the History Channel and its theatrical spinoff Son of God, and my guest to discuss this production and the problems with translating the Bible visually is J.B. Hixson. J.B. is the author, Bible teacher - he’s a Bible teacher and radio host. His ministry is Not By Works, and can be found at www.notbyworks.org, and you can go on his website to order his latest book The Great Last Days Deception.
J.B., thanks for joining me on Search the Scriptures 24/7.
J.B.: Hey, Tom, thank you so much! My pleasure.
Tom: Hey, J.B., before we get rolling here, tell us a little bit about your book The Great Last Days Deception.
J.B.: You bet. Yeah, and actually it’s not the latest book, but it is one that consistently is one of our bestsellers, because it’s so interesting to people to think about life in this present age through the lens of Satan’s deception, and The Great Last Days Deception just essentially talks about how the whole world is under the sway of the wicked one, and Satan’s goal is to blind man’s heart to the gospel. And it goes back to Genesis and traces his deceptive plan all the way through to the end of the age and the eschatological events, and gives some remedies there: how we can avoid deception, recognize deception, and kind of overcome it.
Tom: Yeah, so, if folks want to order your book, give us your website again.
J.B.: Sure: notbyworks.org. Our ministry has been around for about 15 years, and our theme verse is Titus:3:5: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.”
Tom: Mm-hmm. Now, J.B., although I’m a bit suspect about anyone who uses initials as a first name - no doubt you feel the same way…
J.B.: That’s right!
Tom: Should we go there?
J.B.: Yeah, that’s right!
Tom: Okay, but this subject, folks, it’s really important, especially the way… You know, I’ve said this before on programs, that having worked in Hollywood for nearly 15 years, I can see some things going on. Hollywood is - it’s all about money, it’s all about business. Movies cost a lot of money, and they have found, sadly, I think, a cash cow in the evangelical community - well, in the body of Christ, and many are getting on board with that, which is what we’re going to talk about today.
So, J.B., as you know, NBC has been flooding its commercial time with ads for A.D.: The Bible Continues. They’re hopeful that they’re going to have a 12-part series - I’m talking about the producers and NBC as well - but it’s going to depend on how successful it is for their initial program. Since we recorded our discussion on this subject back in mid-March, we only had access to the trailers, which isn’t all that critical in evaluating the production biblically. Now, the reason I say that has to do with the validity of translating the Bible into a visual medium. Now, if the Bible cannot be translated visually without corrupting it, then it doesn’t matter what the biblical production is. Some are obviously worse than others, but they are all erroneous.
Now, let’s start with the fundamental question: is it possible to translate the Bible visually without destroying its integrity? What do you think, J.B.?
J.B.: Well, certainly “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God,” Romans:10:17, and we believe that the written Word of God is God’s self-unveiling to mankind over a period of 1500 years through 40 different human authors in three different languages on three different continents, and the written Word of God is crucial. Jesus said, “Not one jot or tittle will by any means disappear from the law until all is fulfilled.” The Word of God, Scripture, 2 Timothy:3:16 says “is profitable for all things,” and…you know, all Scripture is profitable, but that word “scripture” is graphe, the Greek word graphe, where we get our English word graffiti. It refers to the written words of Scripture. So I definitely believe that Scripture’s clear that it’s the written Word of God that changes lives, and so you are kind of venturing out into uneasy ground there when you begin to try to take the written Word of God and portray it visually.
But, however, to me the bigger issue here - and you really don’t even have to make the philosophical argument - the bigger issue is who are the people that are putting this together? What is their worldview? What is their underlying framework? What are their allegiances and motives and so forth?
J.B.: So, I mean, theoretically as a pastor, if I’m up preaching the Word of God and teaching at a conference and I put a visual aid on a slide to kind of make a point, I mean, I’m doing the same thing, but hopefully I’m doing it holding high the standard of the authority of God’s Word as the only standard for our beliefs, attitudes, and practices. That’s wholly different from someone recasting the entire Word of God into some Hollywood script for the purpose of making money.
Tom: Right. But, as you say, we have a fundamental issue here, which kind of leads me into my next question, because if I’m going to translate the Bible visually, and the problem is - and you’re going to hear this, folks, throughout our discussion - the problem is that I’ve got to make decisions about what’s going to be presented and how it’s going to [be] presented. So now I’m imposing my ideas - call them creative or whatever you want to call it - but I’m imposing something on the Bible that’s not there, and the Bible is not - it doesn’t give us, aside from metaphors and types of things and so on - but it’s not a book that was written… well, which it is written; we had the oral word and then we have the written Word of God. But these are things that God - as you mentioned, J.B., “every jot and tittle.”
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” So that’s a concern that we have God’s direct communication to mankind. Yes, He used individuals. He used the prophets. He used the writers of the Scripture to put these down, but they’re not their thoughts, it’s not their ideas, this is God’s Word. Or we’ve got a mixture between what men think and what God says. Now…go ahead.
J.B.: Absolutely, and to me, what I’m most passionate about (and I know you are, too, Tom) is the gospel. It’s the gospel that’s the “power of God to salvation to everyone who believes it,” and the gospel is words. And so what has happened when you start to kind of see this merging of Hollywood and Christianity, unwittingly or not (and I happen to think in most cases it’s intentional because of the agenda behind Hollywood), but whether it’s intentional or not, the fact is it undermines the authority of the gospel, and so you have a situation today where the gospel lacks clarity; it lacks precision. Any old gospel will do. People just say, “Oh, as long as you have faith in something, it doesn’t matter. You can be saved.” And there’s no precision there, because we’ve recast the Word of God from when the quill hit the sheepskin under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit into this nebulous, hazy, creative, artistic communication.
Tom: Yeah, and my concern here, and I know it’s your concern, is that - you know, I have a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, so I know a little bit about the visual side of things - but my point here is that it’s incredibly subjective. You look at a painting - well, how do you feel about that? What do you think? You’re not going to get through a painting - I don’t care what it is - you’re not going to get a very direct communication. It’s impressionistic, for the most part. Now, when you apply that to the Word of God, you’re going to run into real trouble. But the problem is that when you’re trying to translate the Bible visually, you’re going to add to it, or if you’re making it into a - for example - a theatrical motion picture, then what are you leaving out? What are you subtracting from it?
Now, there’s a big difference between, J.B., you as a pastor using powerpoint. You’re not trying to encourage…or you’re not distracting with the images, you’re trying to be more direct and more specific. You don’t just throw it up there just to make people feel good about production value, right?
Tom: You’re trying to communicate very directly. Well, again, here’s the question: What does the Bible say about adding to it or subtracting from it? Now…
J.B.: Proverbs:30:5, which I quote at the outset of every one of our radio programs: “Every word of God is pure. He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you and you be found a liar.”
J.B.: And you know, the same thing that’s happening with this - you know, with Hollywood and with movies is happening to language in general.
J.B.: I mean, it’s lost its meaning. People are adding to it and changing the meaning. I’m reminded of 1 Peter:1:22 where Peter says, “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit….” He goes on to talk about having been born again not of corruptible seed, you know - every word of God abides forever - but then he closes out in verse 25 by saying, “Now this is the word by which the gospel was preached to you.” You can’t preach anything but words. You don’t preach ideas or concepts or emotions, you preach words, and, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God.”
Tom: Well, verses…you know, when I speak about this, I have to start out, and I know you probably do the same thing: I ask the audience, “What is your view of the Word of God?” Because if we don’t make that clear in terms of its authority, in terms of its miraculous revelation from God Himself, folks have got problems. They’re going to have problems with this.
For example, 1 Thessalonians:2:13: “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because when you receive the word of God, which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” You know…
J.B.: That’s a great verse. I love that passage, and you know, I quote it often, because it uses the word “receive” there. You’re quoting from the King James; I often will use the New King James (it’s actually the same translation in both cases in this verse). But when he says, “When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you received it not as the word of men,” well, that’s two different words in the Greek, and the first one, “when you received the word of God,” that’s just talking about when you got saved. It’s the same word that’s used in John:1:12: “To as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become the children of God to those who believe in His name.”
So what he’s saying there is, “When you trusted in Christ by receiving him as the only one who can save you, you didn’t just take possession of it by faith, but you went even further and you embraced it.” That second word “receive” there means to embrace and welcome it, and that’s what the Word of God does. It’s sharper than any two-edged sword; it pierces our heart, it changes our lives, and as much as these movies do have an emotional effect on people - which, by the way, I see as a negative thing…
Tom: It is. Mm-hmm.
J.B.: …because it…you know, we can’t rely on our emotions. Emotions are real; God gave us emotions. We’re emotive people, but you always have to interpret emotions through the lens of Scripture, not the other way around. And so what happens is people use these movies to invoke a psychological or emotional response, and the only proper way to move people is through the Word of God.
J.B.: That’s why when you read the Word of God, it’s the only book on the planet that when you read it, it’s doing something to you.
Tom: Absolutely. Absolutely, and my concern is, again, being a movie guy, you know - as a screenwriter, J.B., that was my job: to work on your emotions or anybody who comes in. I wanted to manipulate your emotions: make you laugh, make you cry, scare you, whatever it might be. You know, that’s why we pay bucks to go see movies. They’re kind of an experience. But when you apply it to the Word of God, my concern is that individuals can’t recognize the difference, as you alluded to; they can’t recognize the difference between a catharsis, a psychological emotion, as opposed to being truly moved in the Spirit. It’s a huge, huge problem.
Now, I want to say one more thing about, you know, the Word of God. We could go for days with this, but it really depends - people I’m speaking to, I’m speaking to my own heart, as well - it depends on what our view of the Word of God is. Is it inerrant? As you pointed out earlier, this didn’t come from men; God used men. We know 2 Peter:1:19-21 talks about a sure word of prophecy, and “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” So it’s inerrant in the original autographs.
Now, the other question is, “Is it your authority?” Well, yeah! I mean, most evangelicals say, “Of course! I’m a Bible-believing Christian. It’s my authority. That’s incredibly important.” But here’s one that drops off the end I’m concerned about, J.B., and that is, “Is it sufficient?”
Well, now people are saying, “No, we need this - we need these movies. We need to get people motivated. We need to get them excited about the Word of God, you know, and then we’re able to put in things that will really help them understand better,” and so on and so forth. That’s a dangerous, dangerous territory.
J.B.: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I mean 2 Peter:1:3 gives us the answer to that question: If the Bible is the only standard for our beliefs, attitudes, and practices, as you and I believe it is, and as all Christians should believe it is, then we need look no further than 2 Peter:1:3 where God’s Word tells us He’s given us in His Word everything we need for life and godliness. So it certainly is sufficient.
But you know, you talk about many Christians [who] will say the Bible is their authority. The reality is based on some pretty reliable studies in recent years, even those who self-identify themselves as born again Christians - now, we understand some people might say they are when they never truly trusted Christ, but let’s just say for the sake of argument this is a pretty good group of people for this study. Among those who say, “Yes, I am a born again Christian,” only one out of ten says that at the end of the day, what matters most when making decisions is, “What does the Bible say?” In other words, nine out of ten would say other factors would weight heavier in their minds when making decisions than, “What does the Bible say?” So people may flippantly say that the Bible is their authority, but in practice, many Christians, you know, have marginalized the Bible, and it’s more about situations, circumstance, what feels right, peer pressure, and other issues like that.
Tom: Yeah. You know, the analogy I use: it’s like a three-legged stool. One leg is inerrancy, as we mentioned. The other leg would be authority, and even though one out of ten might say, “Yeah, that’s what I believe,” I think a greater issue here is, “Well, what about sufficiency?” If you don’t believe that the Bible is sufficient, then it’s not really your authority. You’re going to go elsewhere. That’s the whole issue. We don’t want to get into this now…
J.B.: Yeah, they’re kind of connected. Exactly. There’s a correlation.
Tom: Yeah, and J.B., if it’s not your authority and it’s not sufficient in your mind, then inerrancy is nonsense! I mean, why even go there? But it’s a real problem, and although we could talk about other areas where this is taking place - certainly we’re talking about today, the Bible according to Hollywood, how Hollywood is supposedly helping us out - that’s a problem.
Now…okay, we’ve established, hopefully, in the minds of those who are listening to us - I mean, maybe many are already there, but for those that are not, hopefully we’ve established that the Word of God is God’s Word! It is miraculous, okay? It’s God’s direct communication to mankind.
Now, let’s move on to how Hollywood is supposedly helping us out and, sadly, many Christian leaders are onboard with this.
Now, as I mentioned, for 15 years I worked in Hollywood. I was at 20th Century Fox for five years, but I was in publicity and advertising, then I moved on to becoming a screenwriter. So I’m pretty - you know, I have a pretty good idea - I have the experience of knowing what Hollywood does, and I want to go over a few of these things. And, J.B., you jump in, and however you want to question this or address this, you do it. But I want to talk about what goes into making a movie or TV production with regard to, as we mentioned earlier, adding to or subtracting from the Word of God, or decisions that are made throughout filming.
Now, let’s take the story: every movie, theatrical movie, has to start with a script with a screenplay and so on, because that’s where you’re going to put the elements in there such as dialogue, character development, the drama that takes place, and so on. But it’s based on the story that a screenwriter or number of screenwriters contribute. What’s the problem with that?
J.B.: Yeah, I mean, the problem is they have competing agendas. They have a conflict of interests, because the ones writing the story, creating the dialogue, developing the characters, staging the drama, their goal is not to be - is not the fidelity of the Word of God, their goal is, you know, audience reaction, selling the moving, getting advertisers and making money, and that’s just right out of the starting gate you’ve got a conflict of interests.
Tom: Yeah, and if somebody is out there thinking, “Well, wait a minute, they’re just helping to promote what’s in the Bible,” folks, when I as a screenwriter wrote dialogue, okay - I mean, that’s an important part, not just the acting and so on, but what the line that the actor is going to say or actress is going to say. Now, are we to put words in the mouth of Jesus? Because, you see, there’s no story continuity in the Bible. Yes, you know, for Christians, we have some content there, but in terms of a dramatic feature film, it doesn’t work. You need - you need to have lines exchanged and so on. I mean, I remember when they had…on TV they had the movie Judas. Well, Judas is meeting up with the character Jesus, and Judas says, “Well, I just have one problem: you kind of got outside yourself when you turned over the moneychangers’ [table],” and so on. And the character Jesus says something to the effect of, “Well, you know, I blew it there. It’s just a problem on my part.” You know?
But you see, people say, “Well, it’s just kind of a story.” Wait a minute - those who don’t know the Bible, those who don’t know Jesus, they go away thinking - you know, just like in my generation, J.B., we had cliffnotes, okay? - they go away with an idea about the character of Jesus that is not only false, it’s antithetical.
J.B.: Well, it undermines - to me, the more important issue is it undermines the authority of Scripture.
J.B.: The Bible is the only standard for our beliefs, attitudes, and practices. There are other extrabiblical documents and literature like the Gnostic Gospels, you know - Dan Brown taught us all about those - but in the same way that movies like Dan Brown’s movie undermines Scripture by bringing to equal playing ground other erroneous documents, the movies do the same thing by implying that, “Well, it doesn’t really matter if He actually said this, or He could have said it.” You know, that’s the reason I had a problem with that big campaign years and years ago of “What Would Jesus Do?” I mean, in and of itself, that’s fine if by that you mean, “What does the Bible say Jesus would do,” that’s great! WWJD? But the problem is most people were wearing these bracelets and T-shirts and they were kind of subjectively and mystically saying to themselves, “Well, I don’t know, if Jesus was hungry enough, He might steal. If He was mad enough, He might do this. If He really wanted something, He might do this.” So the better question and the only question for the life of a believer is, “What does the Bible say?”
Tom: Exactly. Now, in terms of a biblical movie - again, we have serious problems with this whole concept, which we’ve been presenting our views here - decisions that go into making a movie. As I said, you know, I was part of major productions in Hollywood and the decisions that go on. As you alluded to earlier, J.B., it’s not about truth, it’s about selling the goods, because movies cost a lot of money to make. So who’s making the decisions about this? It doesn’t make any difference whether they’re born again Christians or pagans, there are still decisions that are made on - what? The basis of location, budget, the director has his own ideas, the art director has his own ideas, the cameraman, actors, and so on. That’s why when people say, “Well, this is based on a true story,” that’s a euphemism for, “No, you’re getting the Hollywood spin on this, folks.”
J.B.: That’s right! Yeah, I mean, you know, 2 Timothy:2:15 says, “Study to show yourself approved.” That means study the Word of God, and these movies, what they do is they short-circuit the process by painting a picture which is not accurate to being with, but it lets people say, “Oh, I don’t need to read the book, I’ve seen the movie.”
J.B.: And, you know, the famous atheist Nietzsche once said, “I fear we’ve not gotten rid of God because we still believe in grammar.” And what he was saying was, “As long as these Christians still promote the Word of God and the subjects and nouns and verbs and the actual written revelation of God, we’re going to have a hard time getting rid of God.” But the minute we have marginalized the Bible, then it’s game over.
Tom: Now, correct me here: after Nietzsche died, didn’t his place - weren’t they printing Bibles?
J.B.: Yes! Oh, yeah, that’s true of a lot of the famous skeptics and atheists, yeah.
Tom: So…well, anyway, we’ve got about two minutes left in this part of our program, but J.B., next week, the Lord willing, we’re going to talk about some of the shepherds, the pastors who…you know, Jesus said to Peter, “Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep. Peter, do you love me? Feed my lambs. Peter, do you love me?” And there’s a responsibility on the part of the shepherds, and I think many of them, especially the highly visible ones who are, I believe, compromising what we’ve been talking about, they’ve gone onboard with this promotion of the Bible according to Hollywood, so I want to deal with that. We’re going to talk about Rick Warren, Russell Crowe, some of the movies that are out there. So, folks - well, we’ve got about a minute, Gary? Okay, so, J.B., do you have something to add before we…
J.B.: Yeah, I think one of the issues that’s important for believers to understand that I think helps frame this whole discussion, and maybe we can get into this next week, is the whole idea of biblical separation, and sadly, that’s a neglected doctrine; that’s a misunderstood doctrine, and hopefully we can look at some Scripture, you know, to kind of help answer some of these questions about some of these “evangelicals” who, in my view, have compromised on this issue of kind of uniting with Hollywood.
Tom: Mm-hmm. J.B., thanks for being with me this week, and the Lord willing, as I said, we’ll get on with this next week, so thank you, brother.
J.B.: Hey, you bet. My pleasure.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 featuring T.A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. For information about J.B. Hixson’s ministry, go to his web site: notbyworks.org. We offer a wide variety of resources to help you in your study of God’s Word. For a complete list of materials and a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at PO Box 7019 Bend, Oregon 97708. Call us at 800-937-6638, or visit our website at thebereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for tuning in and we hope you can join us again next week. Until then, we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.