As Christians, we’re supposed to be in the world but not of the world. But what happens when we get stuck inside our own world? Look no further than Christian music, Christian movies, Christian jewelry, Christian clothing, Christian furniture, and now Christian game shows. The American Bible Challenge is coming to the Game Show Network and it’s every bit what it sounds like. If you like all things Christian subculture, you’ll love it. If not, then it’s exactly what you expect.
Three teams of three compete against one another by answering Bible trivia for a chance to win $20,000 for their charity of choice. No one walks away empty handed, as all charities get at least some money. The structure is pretty standard game show structure with easy questions that get more difficult as the game goes on, concluding in a final lightning round for all the marbles. Sounds fine so far, right?
The problem is in the style and execution. The show plays on every church cliché imaginable. Finalists pray in the waiting room in hopes to win before hitting the final round of questions, which is called the “Revelation Round.” Contestants stand behind lit up Bible podiums. The audience laughs at every stupid thing that is said (That’s hilarious, a facebook status update about Abraham and his son! His Dad is kerazay!). There is a choir (yes, a choir) who take us into and out of most commercial breaks. And you know how churches are trying to come around to social media and pastor’s love to reference pop culture? Well, here we have questions that try and integrate facebook statuses, youtube videos, and popular Christian subculture stories like “Lord of the Rings.” Worse still is that there is a segment called “faithbook.” The problem being that “faithbook” sounds like saying “facebook” but with a lisp. Go ahead – say “faithbook” out loud right now. How does that sound? Every time Jeff Foxworthy says “faithbook” it is unintentionally hilarious.
Speaking of Foxworthy, I can’t tell if he’s comfortable or not hosting this show. He is probably the best person to host, and his work seems to appeal to a largely Midwestern family audience. And I do have to give the man credit for doing an exclusively Christian show, which may speak to his convictions about his own faith. He is genuinely funny and easily likeable, but he never seems too sure about the fact that he is on this show. And while I recognize that most game shows are cheesy and broad, when it gets mixed with Bible trivia and church culture it ends up being a potent, aromatic blend of cheese.
Here’s what it sadly comes down to – this show is the parody every writer thinks of when imagining a cheesy, Christian show. The groan inducing category names, the gospel choir transitions, even the contestants themselves. It all feels embarrassing to watch the show unfold. It is unintentionally hilarious, cringe inducing television. It’s like watching “Fireproof” or most other obviously Christian movies. Though the intention may be good hearted, this is a show that appeals only to its obvious audience and I assume will alienate everyone else.
And yet – With my cynical attitude and frequent cringe shifting in my chair at the general embarrassment of the show, I do still have to praise one thing about it: The American Bible Challenge gives the money away. At the end of the day, people are funding charities to keep doing good work. They are funding groups that appear to live out the mission of the gospel – to feed the poor, care for the needy, and clothe the naked. For all my frustrations, I can’t argue with those outcomes. I just wish the show wasn’t so laughably cliché. It would be far more at home on TBN than it does on GSN. That’s not because of persecution or that the general public can’t handle shows about the Bible. That’s because it’s a laughable parody of all things people assume Christians to be. If the show could have been produced differently, it may have a longer lasting appeal to keep on doing the good in the world it intends to do. Or who knows, maybe this thing will blow up and tour mega churches in Texas? At least the money would go into the right hands as opposed to paying for new carpets and coffee machines.