Trivia, triviality and The American Bible Challenge

Stephen P. Hale

When I started as Youth Director of Cornerstone United Methodist Church, I followed an idealistic hunch. I decided to use Sunday School somewhat literally: I taught about the New Testament in a far more academic way than I had ever seen in a church. I spent about a month summarizing the main themes of the Old Testament and how this led to the Maccabees and the Romans. We spent another few weeks talking about the first century or so of church history, in order to understand the situation in which the Gospels were written. Then we spent three weeks literally reading through Mark as a whole, instead of stopping to discuss small sections at a time.

This contrasts sharply with a new series on the Game Show Network, The American Bible Challenge. The program pits three teams of friends against each other in a quiz-show format. If it’s not enough to put the Bible front and center in a TV show, the program throws in plenty of heartwarming stories for good measure. In the first episode, one team was composed of women who run a struggling food bank. Another team featured a Purple Heart recipient who returned to faith in Afghanistan. There’s a gospel choir. Host Jeff Foxworthy even showed a cute YouTube clip of a 6-year-old girl preaching about Jonah!

It’s hard to criticize a game show based on the Bible. However, this show contrasts sharply against the type of Biblical study my youth are doing. The type of questions asked on the show are typically simple facts from the Biblical text. This is understandable. The writers certainly want to create questions that are as clear and indisputable as possible, and sticking closely to the Biblical text is probably the best way to do this.

The result is a game which treats the Bible as a series of trivia questions.

However, the result is a game which treats the Bible as a series of trivia questions. In asking simple and straightforward questions about details, The American Bible Challenge never gets around to looking at what the Bible actually says. One question from the first episode asked, “What three objects does the Scripture tell us were at the last supper?” But this game is incapable of asking, “Why did Jesus have a last supper?” It can never ask, “What did the last supper mean to the early church?” It can certainly never approach more theological questions like, “What does it mean to say that this is Christ’s body and blood?”

The American Bible Challenge is the sort of show that we can safely watch with our youngest children. It does reinforce the idea that the Bible is important and central to our lives. On the other hand, I hope it can help us become more aware of the difference between Bible trivia and Bible study. One of these two things can change our lives.

What Do You Think?

  • Have you watched The American Bible Challenge?
  • Does this sort of trivia approach diminish Scripture or serve as an invitation to further explore it?


Topics: TV, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Theology & The Church, The Bible