Rebel, the show—just like the character—comes with plenty of baggage.
The Bible and primetime reality television would seem to go as well together as chocolate milk and pickles. But GSN apparently likes the combination, and viewers are eating it up in the sweet and salty form of The American Bible Challenge.
This is a contest featuring 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 winking monikers like “Drama Mamas” or “Gospel Geezers”) have a chance to win $20,000 each episode and potentially move on to a $100,000 challenge at season’s end—a nice bit of pocket change for any do-gooder to do more good with.
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. Only half of American adults can name all four Gospels, after all. So most would say that a show that teaches some of the Good Book’s truth is a worthwhile venture. And some would even say you can have a whole lot of fun while you’re at it.
Host Jeff Foxworthy goofs around hard to make sure of that, seemingly a little bit more each new season. When it debuted in 2012, American Bible Challenge felt like it had a few rough edges and the occasional lull. But by Season 3, it feels like it’s come into its own. Episodes have a loose, self-assured vibe, a confidence that comes with going ’round the biblical block a few times. Foxworthy and music leader Kirk Franklin have an easy camaraderie. The setups are enjoyable, and the questions are creative enough to drag even the semi-churched into the action. (The Jeopardy!/Family Feud vibe of the show is sometimes interrupted with physical fun and games—much like you might find on Minute to Win It … or at a Wednesday evening youth group.)
All that chemistry and controlled craziness may help explain the game’s growing appeal.
“People are like, “Well, I don’t really go to church, but I kinda like that Bible Challenge show you do,'” Foxworthy told Plugged In. “Because I think everybody knows a little about this stuff. It’s like [my previous game show] Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader—you may not know the 5th-grade questions, but you know the 1st- and 2nd-grade questions.”
But it’s deeper than that for Jeff, and he takes the time to show us more than just the fun and frivolity. What inspires Foxworthy are the stories behind the teams—the good they’re doing in their communities, the people they’re helping. “I think the thing that really attracts outsiders is just seeing these stories about, Why would somebody do that?” he said. “These people are doing these things, feeding people out their back doors, whether they’re on our show or not. So to go tell those stories, I think to somebody on the outside, it’s like a perfume. It’s like, Why would somebody do that? It becomes really interesting.”
Of course The American Bible Challenge still has a few doubters. You see, the Bible frightens some people, and even some Christians. But Foxworthy and Co. really are trying to revise that reputation of the Bible being akin to Brussels sprouts—good for us, but not that exciting to chew on. And they’re doing it not by preaching a better, more powerful sermon, but by playing a game.
“Season 3, Episode 2”
The “Crown Jewels,” a trio of tiara-wearing beauty contestants playing for a cancer foundation, squares off against fellow North Carolinians “Barefoot Ambassadors” (who work to give shoes to kids around the world) and Indianians “Kori’s Crusaders” (named for the teen who started the Irok Foundation to help families with very sick kids). They square off in games such as the trivia-centric “Faithbook” and Pictionary-focused “Doodleronomy.”
No violence to be found here! The closest we get to it is a joke from one of the Barefoot Ambassadors about how a teammate can “beat me down in the car” if she’s wrong with an answer. And it’s nice to see that the Crown Jewels all wore modest dresses for the occasion. Questions teach us tidbits about the Prodigal Son, Elisha, Elijah, Solomon, Ezekiel’s visions, Lot and his pillar-of-salt wife, Joshua and the fall of Jericho, and the much less well-known Bible characters Abigail and Anna.
“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.”
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
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