Grading CNN’s After Jesus…

I must begin with a brief disclosure.

  • I am a member of the media and I am an Evangelical Christian. Both effect how I view a program like After Jesus. While being in television sports production makes me a lightweight to many who deal with hard news…the principles of journalism are the same. Being a member of the media causes me to be both sympathetic and suspicious when I evaluate a project like After Jesus: The First Christians. I am sympathetic because I know how impossible it is to cover such a sweeping topic to the satisfaction of all. I am suspicious because I believe that even the best journalists can allow a bit of bias to creep in…sometimes without even realizing that it is happening. So I was curious about how CNN would handle this topic.

I believe I am the third member of the Crosswalk bloggers to weigh in on the show. I confess that I am a little intimidated to follow Dr.Albert Mohler and Dr.Ray Pritchard. I am not nearly as smart as Dr.Mohler. And I am embarrassed to reveal that I am not nearly as smart as my friend Ray Pritchard. That is tough to admit. Nonetheless, I was asked to comment on the show so here goes.

My first impression was from the perspective of working in television production. I was blown away with the production values of the show. The technique used to give a three-dimensional look to classic art was amazing. I know a little bit about the amount of time and money needed to produce those images. I will watch the show again simply to enjoy the beauty of the images. Actor Liam Neeson provided first class narration for the project. From a production viewpoint I would give CNN a solid A.

From a journalism point of view I would have to grade CNN down a bit. I am not sure why programs like this can never seem to find a spokesperson who has an Evangelical bent. That perspective could have taken this production to a level rarely achieved by a network source. But CNN chose to ignore the perspective of millions of viewers by their selections of experts. I am not criticizing the other choices but it would have been a much better show if the producers had included the balance of evangelical scholars. To any network honcho reading this blog…I can give you names of brilliant and articulate evangelicals to contact for future productions. They do exist. Really. Because that balancing element was not included I would give the show a grade of B for journalistic integrity. That is a good grade but it could have been better.

The final grade will be on the handling of the topic of the early church. I admit I view this through my bias of being an Evangelical. I thought CNN did a pretty good job of providing background and historical information. Dr.Mohler provides an excellent overview of some of points that might be misleading or needed the balance that other scholars could have provided. I will not plow the same ground that his blog covers. Overall I was pleased with the CNN production. I would give the show a grade of B because some points were made that clearly (to these eyes and ears) deserved counterpoints to be fair.

The history of the early church is fascinating to me. According to some historians there were many, maybe even dozens, of men claiming to be the messiah during this time. How did Jesus and his rather undistinguished group of followers begin a religion that would number over two billion 2,000 years later. Why did Christianity not quietly fade away like all of those other “messiah movements”? Was it simply, as one expert noted, because Christianity was the “right religion at the right time”? Or is the reason much more powerful than simple timing?

I agree with Dr.Mohler’s assertion that Christians have nothing to fear from an honest presentation of the facts. I applaud CNN for this effort and challenge them to dig up an evangelical or two for the next production. I would give a final grade of B+ for After Jesus. I often joke that the most powerful apologetic for Christianity is that it continues to flourish despite Representatives like me…and perhaps you. It is indeed a miracle that the humble followers of the rabbi from Galilee changed the world. My buddy Ray Pritchard nicely summarizes the questions that the message of Jesus addresses.

Why did the message have enduring power? The answer is, Christianity speaks to two problems everyone faces:

1) What happens when I die?
2) How can my sins be forgiven?

No one escapes those questions. Here is the Christian answer:

The death of Jesus solves the sin problem.
The resurrection of Jesus solves the death problem.

After Jesus is a good primer for early church history and it is important for Christians to understand this period of history. I would recommend Rodney Stark’s book The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal, Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force as a good resource for further study. Understanding the early church helps us to understand our heritage and perhaps where we have lost our focus. The program After Jesus airs again this weekend. It is worth your time. Just make sure the show is a starting point and not the finish line in your quest for the story of the early church.