The Bible and primetime reality television would seem to go as well together as chocolate milk and pickles. Oh, sure, there's a handful of Christians who have competed on, say, American Idol or The Amazing Race. But the Bible itself rarely makes an appearance—unless it happens to be as a largish projectile hurled at the head of someone in the Big Brother house. The only Exodus in Jersey Shore is what happens when the bars close down in the wee hours of the morning, the only Revelation we hear during The Real Housewives of New Jersey is who slept with whom and at whose caviar brunch.
This makes GSN's The American Bible Challenge perhaps the ultimate in counter programming or, more fairly, countercultural programming. A game show predicated on one's knowledge of the Bible? Well, thou might as easily smite me with thine feather.
The American Bible Challenge features Scripture-quoting teams competing for cold, hard cash. But it's not for themselves. It's for whatever charity might float their ark. The teams (sometimes named after their charities but often going by such monikers as "Drama Mamas" or "Gospel Geezers") have a chance to win $20,000 each episode and potentially move on to a $100,000 contest at season's end—a nice bit of pocket change for any charity.
But it ain't easy. Most of the competitors apparently paid pretty close attention in Sunday school, which means they often breeze through the opening rounds. (Who would've gotten a Facebook-style "friend" request from the Burning Bush?) But even the best of 'em bog down a bit when the difficult questions hit later on. (We all know that Jacob had 12 sons, but what was the name of his daughter?)
Christians fret over the appalling lack of biblical knowledge these days. It's to the point where only half of American adults can name the four Gospels. So most would say that a show like this is a worthwhile venture. But whether it's needed or not may be beside the point. The real question when it comes to game shows is whether it's fun. No matter how admirable or praiseworthy a show is, if it doesn't draw an audience, it won't be around for long.
Which brings us to Season 2, in which a smidgen of manual dexterity is mixed in with the not-so-trivial trivia. The Jeopardy/Family Feud vibe of the show is now sometimes interrupted with physical fun and games—much like you might find on Minute to Win It … or at a Wednesday evening youth group. And anyone who says it's not a hoot to watch a trio of habit-clad nuns best a cadre of Christian tattoo artists by flipping forks into a glass, well, methinks thou art kidding thineself.
Season 2 also sees the shoring up of the show's gospel choir. Grammy-winning gospel artist Kirk Franklin now directs it, and this is a man who knows a thing or two about gospel music—and keeping the audience involved. The show is still hosted competently by comedian Jeff Foxworthy (the genial veteran of another popular game show, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?). He steadily salts the scriptural savvy with bits of humor, and while some of his jokes lean closer to the eye-roll than the knee-slap side of the spectrum, the proceedings generally feel more genially goofy than outright embarrassing.
Of course The American Bible Challenge has higher obstacles than humor to hurdle—barriers our own culture has erected. You see, the Bible frightens some people, and even some Christians. But Foxworthy and Co. really are trying to revise that biblical reputation of being akin to spiritual Brussels sprouts—good for us, but not that fun to chew on. And they're doing it not by preaching a better, more powerful sermon, but by just having a little game show fun.
"Season 2, Episode 1"
Teams "Anointed Ink" (men who man a Christian tattoo parlor) "Preachin' Divas" (ladies from an Oakland, Calif., church) and "Sisters of Mary" (volleyball-playing nuns) compete for the night's cash prize. They answer questions in categories ranging from "How I Met Your Mother Mary" to "Hooray for Holywood."
The very bottom of the language barrel is "dang" in this episode. And even the subject of risqué tattoos gets turned in a positive direction when the guys in Anointed Ink discuss how they convert such tattoos into Christian-themed art. "There's a lot of nude pictures that are not so good," says Scott. "We change those quickly."
Beyond learning or being reminded of the answers to a whole array of biblical facts, we hear Iraq war vet Ron Milton tell the camera that he held on to his faith despite witnessing a great many hardships overseas. His teammate says Ron's a mature Christian who "kicks a little butt for the Lord when he needs to." Members of the "Minnie's Food Pantry" team talk about feeding the homeless in Jesus' name. "Gospel Geezers" (and Foxworthy, too) trumpet the ministry of Samaritan's Purse.
The episode is as squeaky clean as you'd hope, considering its subject matter. "Butt" and "darn" are the beginning and end of the exclamations and interjections. A mild "redneck" joke about churches doubling as skating rinks the edgiest of its gags. Foxworthy signs off with a sincere "God bless."