About four months ago my wife and I stopped watching TV at home. When we did watch it, however, one of our favorite ways to spend a half-hour was to have a cut-throat competition around an episode of Jeopardy.
Now, don’t mistake our love for Jeopardy as some sort of claim to have been good at it. The only week that either of us would feel semi-confident about winning was “Teen Week.” Sadly, the only week we felt truly confident was “Kid Week.”
I suppose my love for Jeopardy came from my dad. I remember many evenings, as my mom prepared the table for dinner, sitting at my father’s feet watching the mustached Alex Trebek on our floor-model wood grain TV.
My dad, in contrast to me, is actually good at Jeopardy. Like a good Christmas fruit cake, my dad’s brain seems to have a little bit of everything in it – which is the perfect cerebral cocktail for a Jeopardy fan. (Please notice, I DID NOT call my dad a “fruit cake.”) Unfortunately, for him, my dad is as slow as molasses and would never be able to buzz in first. (Notice, I DID call my dad “slow as molasses.”) Anyways, Jeopardy has held a special place in the Scarlett family for over two decades.
I suppose this is why I was so disappointed to hear about a recent episode of my favorite TV quiz show. On June 6, 2011, a seemingly small, but very significant word substitution was offered up in an $800 Double Jeopardy slot. The category was “Jesus Christ.” The question answer was “In John 2: [Jesus] attended a wedding & performed this trick [which] guaranteed to make him the life of any party…” The answer question, of course, was “What is turning water into wine?”
Did you notice the subtle word choice? Did you catch the implication, there, about Jesus and what He did at Cana? Turning water into wine was merely a “trick” – not a miracle or a sign. The water-to-wine spectacle was, as their word choice implies, some kind of sleight of hand on Jesus’ part. He was merely the party magician. Jesus was a trickster, if you will.
(For all of the Lord of the Rings fans out there, I can’t help but envision Gandalf’s ominous response to Bilbo, “DO NOT TAKE ME FOR SOME CONJURER OF CHEAP TRICKS!” Sorry. My fellows nerds can be dismissed now.)
In light of Jeopardy’s choice word, I thought I would share a choice word of my own. Allow me teach you a fancy new term that you can use to impress your non-Jeopardy watching friends. There is a specific name, in theology, to describe what the writers of Jeopardy did with the miracle of John 2. It is the word demythology.
Demythology is an approach to interpreting the Bible (better yet “reinterpreting the Bible”) by explaining away its miracles (aka “mythological components”). Demythology was drafted into the army of liberal Bible study in the 1800’s. The proud father of it was a German theologian named Rudolph Bultmann.
Bultmann, and other theologians of his era and region, were byproducts of the Enlightenment. This period of fresh interest in science created a tidal wave of belief in the absolute authority of reason. Many believed that what the Enlightenment ultimately showed us was: “That which can be weighed, measured, or rationalized is good and right. That which cannot be weighed, measured, or rationalized is bad and wrong or, at least, very suspicious.”
Hence, putting your faith in science is good. Putting your faith in math is good. Putting your faith in the Bible, with all its pesky miracles…well, not so good. Hence, the epic “Faith vs. Reason” show-down began.
So, as a result of this new way of interpreting the world around us, Bultmann came along and began draining the gospels of their miracles. The miraculous stories of Jesus, according to Bultmann, were just a primitive way of describing the stand-out qualities of Christianity’s founder. Granted, Bultmann would concede, that Jesus was a uniquely gifted teacher and leader. However, we know now (thanks to science and reason) that water cannot turn into wine, bread and fish cannot multiply thousands of times over, and corpses do not come back to life.
Bultmann’s conclusion? The writers of Scripture must have exaggerated the accounts of Jesus’ ministry to make Him appear larger than life. Therefore, according to Bultmann, to really know what Jesus said and did, we must reinterpret the miracles as symbolic descriptions not actual events.
Now, does that sound like anything familiar? Maybe something from episode #6066 of Jeopardy? Sure it does. The writer’s choice of the word “trick” for Jesus’ miracle, was a tip-of-the hat to Bultmann and a rather blatant endorsement of a demythological reading of John 2.
Now, why do I bring all of this up? Well, first of all, I am not advocating a mass boycott of Jeopardy. On the contrary, I think that more people should watch it. It is one of the last vestiges of quality half-hour television program available (ok, maybe that and Ice Road Truckers.) Furthermore, I’m not calling on anyone to write nasty letters to the producers or to Alex Trebek himself. (Call me naive, but I seriously doubt this was some kind of targeted anti-evangelical conspiracy.)
So, why, again, am I even writing about this? More than anything I hope this little analysis (and history lesson) will remind you of a few things.
1. In theology, even subtle word choices can make a HUGE difference.
Words have consequences. Choose them precisely, especially when doctrine is at stake. Also, listen to the word choices of others carefully. For instance, there is a big difference between saying that, on the cross, Jesus “became sin ” and saying that Jesus “became a sinner.” (FYI: He did NOT become a sinner.) Theological nuance often serves as a cover for heresy. Words should clarify our doctrine, not muddle it.
2. Be careful not to absorb TV mindlessly. Have a good biblical filter in place.
1 Thessalonians reminds us of this, “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.” This is a call for ever-present Christian discernment. Don’t just watch TV; think while you watch. You can simultaneously love the Lord with all your mind and be a loyal fan of Jeopardy (or even the History Channel which is chocked full of demythological adjectives like “supposed,” “reported,” or “so called” miracles.)
3. Christianity is not about faith or reason. It is about a reasonable faith.
Bible-believing Christians don’t have to be intimidated by the efforts of others to discredit what the plain reading of Scripture says. When others disagree we should not resort to name-calling or silly boycotting. We should, however, be able to enter the arena of ideas with robust academic sensibilities and an unwavering faith in Scripture. If we lack these qualities, we will soon find ourselves in double jeopardy.