The Theologian and the Skeptic

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Portland, Oregon based The Bible Project has posted more than 140 Bible videos and podcasts on platforms including YouTube that have been viewed more than 100 million times in the five years since its inception.

Storyteller and “architect of ideas” John Collins, who with a slim build, modest attire and long hair looks like a modern day disciple, is the engine behind the Bible Project. He spent several years producing industrial videos for the likes of multinational corporations with complicated logistics and distribution systems, such as Sysco. Recognizing his God-given ability to make complex topics approachable, Collins teamed up with his buddy from Multnomah College. Together with his friend, Tim Mackie now a theologian with a PhD., the duo hit upon a ministry for the millennium: explainer videos for the Bible.

The Bible Project is to the church school flannel graph, what the iPad is to textbooks. Instead of a flat, pretty picture, arranged by the teacher, the multi-dimensional storytelling explores life’s ugly questions and chaotic experiences using dynamic animations. And, it can be accessed from all over the globe.

Bible Project’s team includes 33 mostly young, mostly white, mostly introspective (if not religious) technicians—animators to artists, social media managers to non-profit executives. Crowdfunded by viewers, and seeking to be free from interpreter’s bias or institutional agendas, the Project freely releases each new season on YouTube.

Executive Director Steve Atkinson, a former marketing and non-profit executive himself, was sold the first time he heard the idea, because, hey, who doesn’t have questions? One podcast exchange between Collins and Mackie sticks in Atkinson’s mind because of its relatable skepticism toward the Bible’s story of the Garden of Eden and its tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

“If we weren’t supposed to eat from the tree,” asked Collins, “why did He put it right in the middle of the garden? Why didn’t he put it over in the corner of the garden and put some thorny bushes around it, put it under lock and key? Why did he put it there?”

It was the soft answer, the humble answer, from brainy Mackie that Atkinson says makes this kind of biblical experience meaningful. Atkinson admits that as a lifelong Christian, he didn’t always feel comfortable asking questions.

   “Tim, just so softly says, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a great question.” Mackie then related how in the middle of what had to be one of the best dinners—ever—at home with his wife and two boys, one kid decided to spew rice from his cheeks all over the table. “That’s how it is,” Mackie summed it up. “The tree is right at the center of every one of our lives, we’re just one decision away from blowing things up.”

The real question is, knowing how close we have come or have even crossed over, where is the hope? Just as the prospect of failure is ever imminent, so is the hope and the solution of Jesus woven into every part of scripture said Atkinson.

“I truly believe the gospel is Genesis through Revelation,” said Atkinson, who says the company’s mission is to show the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus.

“[E]very story whispers His name, that you can see this thread throughout.”


This article is part of our 2019 September / October Issue
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