* A guest post by John Paul Manfredi
NBC’s new series “A.D.” has been met with both praise and criticism from Christians and non-Christians alike. As the follow-up to the History Channel’s tremendously popular “Bible” series, “A.D.” has pretty big shoes to fill (it is the Bible, after all). The fact that the show was bought by NBC and moved to primetime only amplifies the pressure and expectations the show’s producers, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, have had to deal with since its release. I’ll admit to having been a bit critical of the show, but I don’t think the show has received quite enough credit. As a Catholic, there are plenty of reasons to tune in. Here are my top five.
1. It’s Good
The production value is solid. The acting is on par with any other drama series on cable. It’s well-written. Does the show have cheesy moments? Yes, but every Bible pic does. It’s not an easy story to tell. When it comes to “A.D.” however, the corniness is infrequent. As a high school theology teacher I’ve shown episodes to my students in class and they’ve loved it. Now, I know what you’re thinking: high school students love anything their teachers do that isn’t teaching. While that may be true, it doesn’t mean they don’t actually like it. I watch them as they watch it: they root for Peter and the apostles and they boo when Pilate comes on screen. These are teenagers. Teenagers don’t like ANYTHING. But, they like “A.D.” because it’s engaging and powerful. Teenagers get that, and we could learn from them.
2. It Portrays the Christian Faith in a Positive Manner
Too often Christians are portrayed as either mentally deranged religious fanatics or weak minded sheep-like conformists (personally, I don’t mind being a sheep, considering who my shepherd is… just sayin’). In “A.D.” they get it right. Before Pentecost the Apostles are scared and in hiding, after the Spirit descends upon them they are on fire (quite literally). Their passion is not just fanaticism or extremism, it stems from an encounter with a Person. That encounter transforms them for the better. “A.D” does a good job of portraying the authenticity of the faith of the early Christians.
3. It’s Surprisingly Scriptural
Now, before you freak out, listen: Do they take some liberties here and there, of course. Any Biblical retelling that doesn’t indulge, at least a little, is going to be very short and very boring. Are there secondary narratives that are nowhere in the Bible? Yes, but that is not what I’m referring to when I say that the show is “scriptural”. I mean that the heart of the story, especially the narrative following the Apostles, is grounded in the spirit of the early Church. The Apostles and disciples live in a truly Christian community, as illustrated in Acts of the Apostles. The burning fire and passion for the Lord that consumes the Apostles throughout Acts is very clear in “A.D.” And many of the scenes are taken directly from the Biblical text (check out episode 5; the scene with Gamaliel is ON. POINT). At the end of the day, the show draws from Scripture to create an authentic depiction of the early Christians, while also incorporating extra-Biblical sources and stories…you might say tradition…to create a whole portrait of the early Church suitable for a modern audience.
4. It Supports Apostolic Authority
Peter is the main character, the hero (after Jesus, of course). The show chronicles his journey from scared follower of a controversial rabbi to bold leader of the disciples of the Messiah. Peter is, without a doubt, in charge. The other Apostles go to him for guidance and strength and reinforce the claim that he is the rock on which the Church is built. Plus, his zeal and fearlessness in the face of the high priest and the Sanhedrin make him look like a total badass.
5. If We Don’t Watch, Hollywood Will Stop Making Stuff Like It
For better or worse, Hollywood has been obsessed with Bible flicks recently. Some have been disasters (cough…”Noah”…cough). Some have been eh… decent. “A.D.” has done its best to stay true to the heart of the faith. Unfortunately, the show hasn’t been met with a great deal of praise from the secular audience. If Christians don’t step up and support projects like this, no one will and major media will then have no reason to keep making “Christian stuff.” Media, especially TV and film, are powerful and far reaching means of evangelization…or at least they can be. Projects like “A.D.” ARE the New Evangelization. As Catholics, let’s get on board.