Living Biblically Or Living Levitically?

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A new sitcom that aired on CBS last night is loosely based on the book The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, by A. J. Jacobs. Viewers are introduced to the main character Chip Curry as he enters the confessional of a priest named Gene. Through a series of flashbacks to recent events, Chip relays to Gene that because of his best friend, Ray, dying, a recent fear of possibly losing his job as a movie review writer for a local newspaper, and his wife’s news that she is pregnant with their first child, he wants to be a great man, though he already considers himself a good man. He has therefore made a commitment to live his life “100% by the Bible.”

During the flashbacks, we learn that Chip is a compulsive person, with several past obsessions. We get a brief glimpse into his married life, which appears to be a relatively happy one, but we quickly learn that his wife, Leslie, is decidedly nonreligious. We also see some snapshots of his coworkers. Gary (whom it appears everyone in the office dislikes) brags about his marital infidelities but tries to downplay the seriousness of it by appealing to a locker-room mentality and conniving Chip into secrecy by using a “bro code.” Vince, who likes to steer Chip into conversations that belittle Gary, at least seems to be concerned with Chip’s recent problems. The boss, Miss Meadows, is downsizing the staff and appears to be only concerned about the bottom line. She is a lesbian who admits to having a dispute with her girlfriend (and will no doubt cross paths with Chip in future episodes). And finally, Cheryl is the obituary writer whose main purpose seems to be eavesdropping and startling people by sneaking up on them.

We also learn how Chip decided on his quest to become a better father. While buying several self-improvement books in a bookstore, Chip inadvertently puts a Bible in his shopping basket. As the clerk is ringing it up, he tells her that the book was a mistake and starts to put it back on the shelf, but then feels that it ended up in his basket as a sign. He goes home and apparently stays up all night reading the Bible, but probably only got as far as Exodus, based on the fact that he later didn't recognize the Leviticus passage Gene quotes. He decides that he will live his life by it, describing it as a “soul cleanse” (not unlike the digestive cleanses he is fond of). His wife is skeptical and tells him that his decision will impact her and that she worries that his religiousness will cause them to stop having fun in their life. She also caustically asks if God designed a particular STD infection, and if so why?

Chip . . . has decided to live his life 100% by the Bible . . . “to the letter.”

Flash-forwarding into the confessional, we hear Chip tell Gene that he has decided to live his life 100% by the Bible—not just generally as the priest asks, but “to the letter.” This causes Gene to burst out laughing and to question whether Chip is high (since Chip had earlier confessed to marijuana use). Chip asks why the priest wouldn’t want someone to live according to the Bible, and the priest replies that he does, but generally not to the letter, which he states is impossible. Then, rather than telling him why he thinks it is impossible, Gene points out that Chip is already in violation of the Bible because he is wearing mixed fabrics, referring to, but not stating, Leviticus 19:191 and Deuteronomy 22:11 where the Israelites were forbidden to wear clothing of different fabrics. Without asking where those prohibitions are in Scripture, Chip thanks the priest for the “hot tip” advice and leaves.

When Chip and Leslie meet at a bar after work, Chip rushes over to talk with Gene who is sitting at the bar with a Rabbi, Gil Ableman, before he even looks for his wife. Chip asks what he should do when he sees his married coworker Gary with another woman. The priest says that according to the Bible he should be stoned, but that Gary can’t do that now because he’d end up in jail. The rabbi quotes the Talmud and basically says to ignore it or else Chip would end up killing everyone. Leslie comes over, meets them, and terms the pair of religious leaders Chip’s “God Squad.” Among the string of religious cliché’s, the rabbi points out that a priest, a lapsed Catholic, an atheist, and a rabbi in a bar sounds like a good joke.

Minutes later, Gary comes in with a woman who is not his wife. Chip see this and tries to avoid any eye contact, which causes his wife to notice Gary taking another woman to dinner. She is clearly upset at what she perceives could be a betrayal of trust to Gary’s wife. Chip and his wife go to talk with Gary, who lies and states that the woman is his assistant and tries to get Chip to lie as well. Chip hesitates, then when confronted about “what he should do” by his wife, picks up a rock from a planter and throws it at Gary’s head. Then Chip grabs Leslie, and they flee the scene.

The next day at the office, Chip is dreading seeing Gary, but when Gary comes in with visible bruises, he actually startles Chip by thanking him. Apparently Leslie’s confrontation on behalf of her friend (Gary’s wife) and Chip’s reaction caused Gary to examine his life and realize that he had been a terrible person. He went home and confessed his adultery to his wife and promised to go to marriage counseling. Chip’s boss then comes out and offers him the opportunity to recount his Bible journey in the newspaper, getting more writing weekly along with a raise.

The Point?

While the episode appears to make the religious leaders knowledgeable, approachable, and caring (something that should be positively noted), it also, at least for this pilot, makes them seem like they are holding back information. Chip appears to never question whether what he is being told is accurate, as the Bereans did by searching the Scriptures when Paul taught on a subject (Acts 17:11), or to even look up the passage and its context, which would be a good way to live biblically. The priest and rabbi don’t seem to give much guidance, just pat answers and platitudes. Most strikingly, at least for the priest and for Chip, is that Jesus is never mentioned. There is no hint of the gospel, no hint of grace, no hint of mercy, no hint of love. Everything is cast in the light of Levitical law. But as Paul stated, the Law only reminds us that we are sinners and can only bring death (Romans 7:5, 7:8–10). While the Law is a tutor or schoolmaster to brings us to Christ (Galatians 3:24–25), if you stop short of proclaiming Christ, what good is the tutor? But the Cross of Christ is glaringly missing in the show, as is the Resurrection, without which, as Paul mentioned, we are most miserable and still in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17–19). What the show ends up portraying is that Christianity is nothing more than an outward, legalistic morality. Chip states that he wants to live the Bible “to the letter”; however Paul says that the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6).

What the show ends up portraying is that Christianity is nothing more than an outward, legalistic morality.

Admittedly, in one sequence, Chip states he hasn’t “gotten that far,” probably meaning that he has not read through much of Scripture and perhaps none of the New Testament. But it seems unrealistic that the priest would not give Chip some direction and advice. For that matter, Chip, who admits to being a “lapsed Catholic,” should have at least some basic knowledge of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, burial and Resurrection. It is also saddening that the same tired clichés are used against God and the Bible. Why did God create this particular disease, is he a cosmic killjoy, does he simply want us to follow a list of dos and don’ts? There are solid theological answers to these questions, and we’ve discussed these topics before on our website.

Hopefully this series will also address these questions rather than just leaving them open. It’s difficult to gauge this series based on one episode. It could very easily turn into a mockery of Christianity, and although the creator Patrick Walsh doesn’t seem to want that,2 it would be premature to say whether it will. It is disconcerting that Christ is ignored and that the main character starts off his spiritual journey already believing he is a good man. There are also scenes that are irreverent, contain some cursing, and/or are sexually suggestive. For example, at one point, Ray’s mother makes a joke about her son being in hell because he stopped going to church. Chip lights a candle for his dead friend, announcing he is sure he is enjoying heaven at a Prince concert with John Candy, and Chip’s wife admits to liking rap music with sexually explicit lyrics. So discretion is advised, and young children should not view this program.

The strong message from the show is that the Bible is a book that helps us live better lives and be better people—law is the focus rather than grace. Scripture states time and time again that fallen man is not good but evil and needs a Savior for his sin. Recognizing that we are sinners who cannot save ourselves, believing that Christ has already paid the penalty for our sins and offers the free gift of salvation, and trusting in the sacrifice of Christ, as the verses below point out—this is truly living biblically.

For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. (Matthew 15:19)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13)

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

Footnotes

  1. All verses are from the New King James Version.
  2. Brett McCracken, “New CBS Sitcom ‘Living Biblically’ Brings Faith to Primetime,” Gospel Coalition, February 26, 2018, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/new-cbs-sitcom-living-biblically-brings-faith-primetime/.

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