What if I told you there was a resource out there that could help your church or your small group engage the Bible faithfully, critically, deeply – and have fun doing it? Animate: Bible from Sparkhouse (a Fortress affiliate) is just such a study. I recently completed this curriculum at my church and wanted to offer you a few thoughts, since several colleagues asked for my feedback.
Who are the experts? The leaders for Animate: Bible include a who’s who of evangelical and/or progressive church leaders, pastors, and and thinkers: Nadia-Bolz Weber, Will Willimon, Rachel Held Evans, Phyllis Tickle, and others.
Who can lead it? The scope and sequence gives you a good idea of what to expect in leading or participating in Animate: Bible. The material is arranged so that someone with little to no knowledge of the subject can facilitate sessions effectively.
Who should participate? I have a feeling that Animate: Bible was especially designed with younger Christians and seekers in mind, but I believe it would be a worthwhile study for Christians of any age and experience. I had a mix of long-term and newer students of the Bible in my class, and everyone seemed to find the contents interesting and helpful.
What? Animate: Bible is composed of a series of 7 short, engaging videos with a journal for each participant and a leader guide for the facilitator. The videos (remember the title) are not just “talking heads,” but effectively communicate the points being made by the speaker though drawings and animation that are both informative and whimsical. The journals include a variety of questions that are very adaptable for the size of your group and the time frame allotted, as well as interesting illustrations and space for notes.
Why? What I appreciated most about Animate: Bible is the chance to discuss questions and topics not covered in the usual Sunday School curriculum or Bible study: How did the canon form? How should we read different kinds of scripture? How do the Old and New Testaments fit together? Much of this material – the 10,000 foot view questions of Scripture – was new to my participants (as it would have been for me had I not been to seminary).
What worked especially well? The topics are arranged in such a way that they build upon each other quite effectively. The materials themselves – the journal, video clips, etc. – have a quality look and feel to them that give you a sense this was put together with care. More to the point, Animate: Bible helps your group approach difficult questions about Scripture (such as: maybe we should read Jonah as allegory more so than history?) in a way that is sensitive to where people come from, but inviting to a new manner of reading. Finally, the leaders were especially engaging; they possessed a variety of backgrounds and approaches to their topics, but on the whole the video components were quite well done. My favorites were probably Willimon (I know, I am a company man!) and Bolz-Weber. I even enjoyed the sessions with Rachel Held Evans and Phyllis Tickle, neither of whom I am especially fond of. (For more on the latter, see here.)
What could have been better? I’m a preacher, so I am critical by nature about other preachers. I had some minor quibbles with some of the points made in the curriculum. The session on canon ends by asking what might be added to the canon, a question which, though sensible in the context of the conversation, I find risible. The session on grace discusses looking at Scripture with twin lenses: the “love” of Jesus and the “grace” of Paul. I found that distinction difficult to maintain, however. Minor points, to be sure.
Concluding Thoughts & Recommendations
Animate: Bible would be especially effective in certain contexts. For instance, a college or young adult group, a city or suburban church, or a college town. I believe it would be less effective in a setting where the the majority of participants would be serious inerrantists or otherwise not interested in questioning their understandings of the Bible. I would also suggest taking the “For Further Study” recommendations seriously, as they are quite good. I read Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book and Jaroslav Pelikan’s Whose Bible is it? in the course of leading and preaching this study. I would also suggest Hays and Davis’ The Art of Reading Scripture, a precis of which you can find here.
Oh yeah, preaching. I preached this as a series as I led the study. That is, I took the topics of the study and preached through them as a small group I led worked through the sessions. This allowed me to “double down” on learning and teaching the topics, and also allowed me reach more people with material that I believe could transform their reading of Scripture and their walk with God. If you are the adventurous kind of preacher – and not too tied to the lectionary – I would suggest giving this a shot. (Side note: the sample clips work great for sermon videos.)
So, if you think your church or small group could benefit from this material, run out and get yourself a copy. I highly recommend this excellent resource and I am looking forward to checking out other offerings in the Animate series.
Since I am a company man, here’s the sample from Bishop Willimon’s session “Interpretation: Scripture Reads Us.”