Hollywood has discovered religion--at least as a potentially lucrative market share. Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" has become one of the ten highest-grossing films in movie history. Combine that with Rick Warren's devotional "The Purpose Driven Life" (21 millions copies sold) and The DaVinci Code (25 million copies sold), and media moguls' ears definitely perk up. When you factor in the $650 million in sales generated by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' "Left Behind" novels based on the biblical prophecies in the book of Revelation, it is not difficult to explain why NBC has produced a six-episode "Revelations" miniseries which premieres Wednesday night, April 13.

NBC's "Revelations" is a fast-paced drama in which an initially skeptical (surprise, surprise) Harvard scientist, Richard Massey (played convincingly by Bill Pullman), teams up with a devout Oxford-trained nun, Sister Josepha Montefiore (Natascha McElhone) to investigate whether the signs and wonders portending the biblical prophecies concerning the "End of Days" have commenced.

As an evangelical Christian who takes the biblical prophecies of Revelation very seriously, and having previewed the first episode, several observations spring to mind.

First, the production values are first rate, and "Revelations" is an engrossing and compelling drama. Try to imagine a TV drama that is a cross between "The Exorcist," "The Omen," and "The X-Files" and you are well on your way to knowing what to expect when you see this miniseries.

Second, "Revelations" takes the reality of supernatural evil and Satanic power very seriously and portrays its sinister malevolence quite effectively. This is not what often passes in our society for quaint or neutral "spirituality," but clear demonic activity with diabolically malign intent.

Third, the religious figures on the God side of the good vs. evil struggle, such as Sister Josepha, are not caricatures, but fully developed and often sympathetic characters. The fact that Sister Josepha is an Oxford scholar plays against media stereotypes of serious Christian characters as uninformed and fanatical.

Fourth, "Revelations" takes the concept of the biblical prophecies in the New Testament's book of Revelation seriously as the book prophesies a cataclysmic struggle between God and Satan, good and evil, in the final years of earth as man has known it.

However, I agree with Jerry Jenkins that taking "seriously" is, in the case of a made-for-TV drama, not the same as taking faithfully an obligation to be bound by the actual Scriptures themselves. Hopefully, titling the miniseries "Revelations" rather than the biblical "Revelation," a distinction any serious student of biblical prophecy would notice immediately, is a signal to viewers that extreme dramatic license is being taken with the biblical narrative.

For example, Sister Josepha explains to the skeptical professor Massey that while the End of Days may well have begun, she believes that the Bible has "left a blank to be filled in by man" and that she intends to find Jesus, if He has indeed arrived, and "protect" Him - certainly a novel concept concerning the Son of the Living God.

Further, Sister Josepha proclaims that she intends to do everything she can "to forestall the confrontation between good and evil" and "pray that mankind will do its part." While this kind of flexibility concerning human beings altering the course of biblical prophecy may be good drama, it is doctrinal error of the worst sort to Christian believers who understand that once the end-time events, revealed by an omniscient and omnipotent God, commence, there is no "blank to be filled in by man" or suspense as to the final outcome--the triumph of God Almighty over the forces of the Evil One.

But, lest anyone misunderstand that "Revelations" depicts the foretold events as in doubt or alterable, the summary of future episodes states that "clearly the end game for earth has begun" and "Sister Jo realizes they are now playing a part in the frightening scenario of the End of Days in a struggle to forestall the cataclysmic events predicted two thousand years ago."

Trust me, if the "Left Behind" novels had taken such liberties with biblical doctrine, they would have been denounced by the faithful, not devoured by tens of millions of faithful readers.

Fifth, the summary of upcoming episodes also explains that Professor Massey and Sister Jo are in pursuit of a "miracle" child who could be either the "Son of God or the spawn of Satan." Anyone who takes the New Testament text of the book of Revelation at all seriously knows that the Son of God's second advent into human history is not as a child, but as the resurrected, ascended Lord of the Universe who returns to vanquish the gathered armies of the antichrist in the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 19:11-21).

Sixth, my family members and colleagues (all conservative evangelicals) who have viewed the "Revelations" first episode have all found it both engrossing and irritating-- engrossing, because it deals seriously with biblical themes of good and evil in at least a semi-biblical way, a vast improvement on most Hollywood attempts to deal with spiritual matters. Irritating in that it so seriously departs from clear biblical teaching as outlined above.

Also, there are the typical little Hollywood cheap shots at conservative Christians. When a young girl is struck by lightning and is hovering between life and death in a Florida hospital, the medical staff meets to discuss whether she can be disconnected from the machines keeping her alive. When one doctor asks if she is literally brain dead, another replies that she is in a "persistent vegetative state" which he describes as an "unfortunate area of debate" and then observes that "right-to-lifers would claim consciousness and brain waves on a night crawler"--conservative Christian-bashing at its Hollywood best. Also, it was a little eerie that such a discussion was taking place in a Florida hospital in the wake of the Terri Schiavo controversy, even though the show was produced before that case took the national spotlight.

Seventh, and lastly, I will set my VCR to record future episodes of "Revelations." It is better than I expected it to be, even with the caveats listed above. Although I would warn any conservative Christian in advance not to expect the faithful adherence of the "Left Behind" series of novels, the first episode at least is entertaining and at times compelling television, even if it's not biblically accurate.

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