An Argument Against Living Biblically
A couple of weeks ago, CBS aired the first episode of Living Biblically, a sitcom about a man who decides that he is going to live completely by the Bible. Chip Curry (played by Jay R. Ferguson) has a crisis when his good friend dies. Shortly after, he finds out his wife is pregnant. Feeling the weight of both grief and impending fatherhood, he decides that he should live his life 100% by the Bible for the duration of his wife’s pregnancy.
Of course, the show has all of the absurdities that you might expect from such an idea in our day and culture. The first episode has Chip trying to follow some Old Testament laws like stoning adulterers (throwing a rock at a cheating coworker) and wearing the same color thread. I rolled my eyes most of the way through the pilot, but then it got me thinking. Do we – particularly in the context of ministry to young people – sometimes promote similar misunderstandings of the Bible?
A Flawed Reading of the Bible
When trying to describe to his wife why he wants to make this huge change in lifestyle, Chip compares it to a juice cleanse. He does a juice cleanse once a year to lose weight and feel great physically. This, living Biblically, is a soul cleanse. He hopes that by following the Bible he will come away feeling better, being better, and hopefully be prepared for fatherhood in a new way. Father Gene, the priest Chip goes to for advice, calls the Bible “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” a tired trope that reduces scripture to a to-do list for Christians. It seems that the writers of the show must believe that the Bible is just a list of rules to make us behave better.
It stands to reason that if the culture has Christianity wrong, maybe some of our own students (not to mention youth leaders) do too. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like we spend so much time talking to students about what the Bible tells them to do, that we miss the forest for the trees. Don’t have sex. Don’t do drugs. Don’t drink. Don’t curse. Have a quiet time. Go to church. Check. Check. Check. Sounds a lot like what Chip’s trying to do. If we can just check all the items on the list, we should be okay. Portraying the Bible this way, creating an environment that says the Christian life is primarily about obeying the rules, is a huge mistake.
A Missing Element
When Chip tries to explain his plan to live 100% by the Bible, Father Gene laughs at him. “It’s not possible,” he says. But Father Gene leaves out something incredibly important. He is correct that it is impossible to live 100% by the laws of the Bible. But by his explanation to Chip, that’s because there are too many rules, and the rules are absurd and irrelevant. But the truth is that we can’t possibly keep to the law because of our hearts.
None is righteous, no, not one (Romans 3:10).
While it is silly to compare a juice cleanse to the human condition, our hearts really do need cleansing. The Bible describes even our attempts to live righteously as “filthy rags” (Is. 64:6). Father Gene leaves out that the point of the commands of Scripture is to show us that we are truly unable to keep those commands, and that while we do need a “soul cleanse” of sorts, we are incapable of accomplishing it within ourselves.
The only way to cleanse our souls is in the person of Jesus Christ. While it is laughable that we could keep every command, Jesus did. While we cannot atone for the debt we owe God, Jesus did. Living Biblically puts the cart before the horse. It’s a tragedy wrapped in a sitcom. It inoculates people from the Gospel by laughing off our inability to be perfect before God. It looks at the greatest problem facing humanity, and shrugs it off. It’s like if Pilgrim from Pilgrim’s Progress just bought some new tennis shoes, instead of going to Calvary to have the burden lifted from his very back.
Will Chip come to see his need for a Savior as he looks more deeply into the Bible? Will he realize that the weight of the law is too great to bear? Given the trajectory of the show, the culture to which it is seeking an audience, and the ending of the book the show is based on, I doubt it. Even in the second and third episodes, which deal with heart issues like worshipping false idols, or what it means to love your neighbor, no real serious look is given to our wandering hearts, and the predicament that puts us in before God.
But what will our teenagers hear when they come to our student ministries? We need to show our students that the Bible is far, far more than a to-do list, or Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. It’s about our absolute inability to follow instructions, and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the eternal solution to that problem.