By Bob Smietana
Chip Curry was in trouble.
His best friend died.
His wife found out she was pregnant.
And Chip had lost his way and become “an overall disaster of a person”—completely unprepared to bring a child into the world.
Then he picked up a Bible and everything changed. At least that’s the premise of a new CBS television series called Living Biblically, which premieres this week.
Based on A.J. Jacobs’ best-selling book, The Year of Living Biblically, the show depicts Chip’s attempts to live out all the Bible’s commandments, big and small.
That includes giving up false idols, like his cell phone.
“So, we have an episode where he decides he’s not going to have his iPhone anymore because he worships it too much, and, of course, he gets himself into some sticky situations where he needs his phone and doesn’t have it,” series star J.R. Ferguson told Parade magazine. “Hopefully, hilarity ensues.”
Chip also gives up lying, coveting, taking God’s name in vain, and the rest of the behaviors prohibited by the Ten Commandments.
He tries to parse out what to do with lesser-known rules from the Old Testament, such as not wearing clothes made of two kinds of material.
And, according to the show’s producer, he struggles with questions like, “How do you honor your father if your father is a jerk?”
A lapsed Catholic, he gets some help along with way with advice from a “God Squad,” made up of a priest and a rabbi. His wife, an atheist, is not impressed by Chip’s quest, according to Variety.
Still, Variety says there’s “something quite charming about the sitcom.”
“It’s refreshing to see a show tackle the puzzle of American Christian belief,” wrote Variety critic Sonia Saraiya, “and although Living Biblically is quite lightweight, the questions of worship in the first three episodes are recognizable—can I trust this ancient book, or how and when do you pray, or is my phone making me a worse person?”
The show’s executive producer, Patrick Walsh, based the new show on both Jacobs’ book and his own life experience.
Walsh is about to get married and is trying to figure out how his faith can help him grow as a person. And he thinks many Americans are looking for answers to life’s biggest questions.
“It’s a very confusing time in America; there’s a lot of fighting going on,” he told America magazine.
“I think a lot of people feel lost. I could certainly say I do. I wake up every morning, get on Twitter, and put myself in a bad mood with all the news stories of the world. And I, much like everyone, am sort of looking for help. A lot of times that search leads you to religion, or back to religion.”
Jacobs, a secular Jew, has said in the past that he grew up with no religion. His year of living biblically, he said in a TED Talk, was profound and life-changing.
He told Christianity Today that the experience gave him a better appreciation of evangelical Christians.
And, he wrote, living by the Bible’s rules helped him better understand himself.
“I didn’t expect to confront just how absurdly flawed I am,” he said. “I didn’t expect to discover such strangeness in the Bible. And I didn’t expect to, as the psalmist says, take refuge in the Bible and rejoice in it.”
Spending time engaged with the Bible is one of the keys to spiritual growth, according to the Transformational Discipleship study from Lifeway Research.
“God’s Word is truth, so it should come as no surprise that reading and studying the Bible are still the activities that have the most impact on spiritual growth and maturity,” wrote Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, who helped design the study.
How should Christians interpret Old Testament laws?
Still, there’s more to living biblically than just reading the Bible or seeing the Bible as simply a rulebook.
The TV show may spark discussions about Old Testament interpretation: Why do Christians no longer follow Old Testament rules such as dietary regulations but insist others are still binding?
Author Tim Keller calls this the “charge of inconsistency.”
Keller points out that Jesus declared all foods clean and ignored many of the laws about ceremonial cleanness by touching lepers and dead bodies.
“The coming of Christ changed how we worship,” Keller wrote, “but not how we live.” Many Old Testament laws about moral behavior are repeated and reaffirmed in the New Testament.
One way to respond to the charge of inconsistency may be to ask a counter-question—“Are you asking me to deny the very heart of my Christian beliefs?” If you are asked, “Why do you say that?” you could respond, “If I believe Jesus is the resurrected Son of God, I can’t follow all the ‘clean laws’ of diet and practice, and I can’t offer animal sacrifices. All that would be to deny the power of Christ’s death on the cross. And so those who really believe in Christ must follow some Old Testament texts and not others.”
BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer for Facts & Trends.