Since premiering on Aug. 23, “The American Bible Challenge” has gone on to become GSN’s top-rated original series ever. Airing its season-one premiere tonight (Thursday, Oct. 18), it’s already been renewed for a second season of nine episodes, to premiere in 2013.
Comedian Jeff Foxworthy (“Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”) is emcee for an hour that sees teams competing in quizzes based on their biblical knowledge. Each team plays for a charity, ranging from churches to hospitals to public-service organizations. Along the way, contestants share their personal stories of faith.
To Foxworthy, himself a devout Christian, it’s the blending of fun with faith and a call to action that makes the difference with the audience.
“Everybody has a longing for something to fill that void in their life,” he says. “So, they try all these alternatives they can find, and eventually you get to the end of the road and go, ‘This isn’t it.’ So, I think what makes it appealing is, you’re not preaching to people. Unlike any other game show, they’re giving it away. They’re helping people in their community.
“That’s what makes faith appealing, not preaching to people, but when you see it being lived out. These people are out there doing this stuff whether we’re doing a game show or not. And for somebody watching, thinking, ‘What would make somebody take their spare time and work at a food pantry to feed people? That’s cool. I can do that.’ That’s why it works.”
Contestants get to show off their knowledge of biblical texts, but Foxworthy says it can’t stop there.
“Head knowledge by itself doesn’t do anything. The only folks Jesus got sideways with were the Pharisees, because they had all the head knowledge, and they had no heart knowledge. That kind of faith isn’t appealing.
“But when you see people saying, ‘Thank you for this money. I’m going to turn around and work on human trafficking with it,’ you’re like, ‘Really? Tell me the story of human trafficking.’ That’s when it gets cool.”
Asked how good his own knowledge of the Bible is, Foxworthy says, “It was pretty good going in. The thing I struggle with is the pronunciation of all the Old Testament names. If anybody could ever see my answer cards, it’s just spelling out phonetically these Old Testament names.
“In my real, real life, I’ve been in the same small [Bible study] group of guys for 16 years. We meet every Thursday morning in the back of a barbecue restaurant. On Tuesday mornings for the last four years, I drive to downtown Atlanta and do a Bible study for homeless guys. Hopefully some of this has sunk in.”
Among those who pride themselves on an intimate knowledge of the Bible, there’s always one or two favorite lines of Scripture. Foxworthy is no exception.
“Everybody’s got their favorite verse,” he says. “I said to my wife not long ago, I probably should be concerned because, my favorite verse, I’ve never heard anybody else say it was their favorite verse — Galatians 1:10: ‘For am I now seeking the approval of men, or of God?’
“That’s how I do my life, whether it’s my career or what else. How do I deal with this? Am I going to do it in a way that makes everybody else happy? When I agreed to do this show, my wife said, ‘Well, you better get ready, you’re probably going to get criticized by somebody for doing a game show about the Bible.’
“I said, ‘You’re probably right, but it probably won’t be from the secular community. It’ll probably be somebody in the Christian community that doesn’t want anybody having fun or thinks it’s irreverent to do a game show about it.
“That’s what sells it to me — if you’ve got a chance to let people see faith, not just hear about faith, but to see it in action, God’s cool with that.”