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Theologians express mixed views on PBS’ ‘Walking the Bible’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–PBS’ “Walking the Bible” miniseries tracing the paths of Moses, Isaac, Jacob and the Israelites through the modern-day Middle East was met with mixed assessments by a couple of Southern Baptist theologians.

The three-hour series, based on The New York Times best-seller by Bruce Feiler, was filmed in five countries across four war zones and is crafted from 200 hours of high-definition digital video footage of historic sites such as Mt. Ararat and the Salt Sea.

Walking the Bible first aired Jan. 4, and the following two parts will air Jan. 11 and 18 at 8 p.m. local time on PBS stations nationwide.

Gary P. Arbino, associate professor of archeology and Old Testament interpretation chair at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., said Walking the Bible “assumes the general historicity of the Genesis narratives and largely avoids the sensationalism that often marks this television genre.”

“Episode One presents beautiful HiFi vistas of the lands and cultures of Turkey and Israel. These illustrate the deeper, more personal point of the program,” Arbino told Baptist Press. “Throughout the hour, Bruce Feiler shifts from a desire for science-based belief to more faith-based. He gains a connection to the lands of the Bible that compels him to examine his own relationship with God. Although one might quibble with details, a program that addresses Bible context and a relationship to God is welcome.”

But Thomas White, director of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Center for Leadership Development in Fort Worth, Texas, and an adjunct professor of Baptist history, noted in comments provided to Baptist Press:

“‘Walking the Bible’ approaches the Old Testament stories by visiting the land from which they originated and drawing connections to modern man. The show’s focus on the Bible solely from man’s perspective — containing stories man developed — contradicts the Bible as God’s revelation. The host, Bruce Feiler, comes across as a doubter who asks other ‘experts’ if they believe the stories of the Old Testament really happened. The ‘experts’ conclude that some parts of them may be true, but say one cannot know how much of each story is really true.

“The Bible, correctly understood, is God’s revelation explaining the purpose of life and the way of salvation,” White continued. “‘Walking the Bible’ fails to make necessary connections between the Old and New Testaments and omits the Bible’s claims to be the Word of God to man and not man’s created stories about God.

“I fear that ‘Walking the Bible’ in future shows will attempt to draw ecumenical conclusions by not recognizing the basic difference between the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faiths,” White said. “These religions may have a common land in their heritage, but their positions on the person of Jesus Christ [are] vastly different. True Christianity believes Jesus is the only way for salvation; Judaism and Islam do not.”

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