How BibleProject uses art to communicate the Bible: A conversation with Michael McDonald

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How BibleProject uses art to communicate the Bible: A conversation with Michael McDonald

August 29, 2022 -

Michael McDonald, director of strategic relations at BibleProject, Dr. Mark Turman, and Mark Legg discuss how BibleProject approaches interpreting the Bible, communicating to the modern generation, how to face deconstruction, and why art communicates the Bible’s message so well.

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Show notes:

Michael McDonald begins by sharing what BibleProject is and its heart to show how the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus (3:27). McDonald discusses how BibleProject videos and their podcast approaches interpreting the Bible, and why they spend so much time in Genesis (10:00). They discuss how deconstruction can be healthy, and why BibleProject appeals to many unbelievers as well as Christians (13:26). They consider why the BibleProject’s videos exploring spiritual beings is so popular, and why we shouldn’t avoid hard questions (20:32). They turn to reflect on how BibleProject uses art so effectively to communicate deep truths (28:48). McDonald explains their new app, and why it’s unique as it provides wholistic learning (38:15). They discuss how the Bible is not a kid’s book, but how to teach children about the Bible (41:43). They close by reflecting on the history of BibleProject (45:08).

Resources and further reading:

About the hosts

Jim Denison, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and the CEO of Denison Ministries, which is transforming 6.8 million lives through meaningful digital content.

Dr. Mark Turman is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.

Mark Legg is the Associate Editor for Denison Forum. He graduated from Dallas Baptist University in 2021 with a degree in Philosophy and Biblical Studies.

About the guest

Michael McDonald is Director of Strategic Relationships for BibleProject, a crowdfunded nonprofit animation studio dedicated to communicating a single, powerful message to the world: the Bible is one unified story that leads to Jesus.

McDonald is a former pastor. Prior to joining BibleProject, he served for over a decade in more than 15 countries working to improve people’s daily lives. He focused on educational, micro/macro financing projects, conflict resolution, and economic development, he was able to impact over 100,000 people in over 60 communities. McDonald lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Melissa.

BibleProject is a nonprofit animation studio that produces short-form, fully animated videos to make the biblical story accessible to everyone, everywhere. We create videos, podcast, and study guides that explore the Bible’s unified story by focusing on its overarching themes and each book’s literary design. We are committed to understanding the Bible in its historical context and communicating its wisdom for the modern world. Ultimately, we want to change how people read and use the Bible.


Transcript by

Mark Turman  00:10

Welcome back to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, Executive Director of Denison forum here for another conversation. Joining us today is Mark leg, our associate editor at Denison forum and Michael McDonald, Mark, you help this conversation to come into being so why don’t you tell us how we got Michael McDonald in the Bible project to be a part of our conversation.


Mark Legg  00:34

Absolutely, thanks, Mark. Thanks for let me be a part of this. Yeah, I have been an avid follower of the Bible project for several years now. I ran across their videos and have enjoyed those. But I’m actually a super fan of the podcast, I’ve pretty much I haven’t missed a single one, since maybe even since the beginning, but definitely for the past year or so. So I really, really enjoyed that, and have been able to follow them. And it’s been very impactful to my faith personally, as someone who likes to think deeply about things and be challenged, the Bible project has certainly done that in my faith. And so it was an easy decision for me to highlight the Bible project in my writing. And so in doing a little bit more research about about the project, and kind of being able to summarize what had been so impactful to me for our readers, hopefully, they found that uplifting. And so that’s kind of how this conversation came about. Because we wanted to discuss the way the Bible project approaches the Bible, of course, but also the way that the Bible project is able to communicate to our modern generation to not only to a wide range of different people from different cultures, but also to younger audience. So to me, it was a no brainer. And we’re really thankful to have Michael McDonald on with us who is the director of strategic relationships for the Bible project. And then, in a second, we’ll get into what the Bible project actually is. We have listeners who don’t know Michael can explain a little bit more of that. Michael is a former pastor. And he brings many years of experience to bear as he connects with leaders, influencers, journalists and supporters for the Bible project, ensuring that they take advantage of all the content it has to offer. Prior to coming to the Bible project, Michael served for over a decade in more than 15 countries working to improve people’s daily lives. He focused on educational and micro and macro financial projects, conflict resolution, economic development, and over that course of 10 years or so he was able to impact over 100,000 people in 60 different communities. He’s led a lot of Christian leaders on more than 200 trips to the Middle East, South Africa, Southeast Asia, and Africa, and Iraq, Uganda, Somali, India, Myanmar, many places all over the world globally. He’s served on a number of boards with a focus on ending child sex trafficking. And he lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife, Melissa right now. So, man, Michael, after all that, thank you so much for joining us today.


Michael McDonald  03:27

Man, lots of pleasure. Thanks, Mark. And Mark, really, really appreciate this time and this opportunity to chat with you guys.


Mark Legg  03:33

Yeah, so tell us a little bit. But what is the Bible project when you have to give a short little blurb about what it is? What is it you’d say?


Michael McDonald  03:43

Yeah, I mean, at the shortest, I would say we make cartoons about Jesus for the internet. But you know, we, yeah, we’re, you know, we’re primarily like an ed tech company, that, whose aim is to help people experience the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus. We do that through video, podcast, classroom, educational materials, blogs, and all that kind of stuff, all bringing different layers to helping people read the Bible. And we have a paradigm in which we approach you know, that we look as the Bible being both human and divine literature. So it’s a collaboration between humanity and God. And this, you know, beautiful, unbelievable set of books that are kind of put together in the scriptures. We believe that it’s a unified literature. So from the beginning to the from Genesis all the way to revelation that there is unity and unification throughout that and there’s there’s hyperlinks to stories that are super important and all of that. We believe that it’s messianic literature. So we’re trying to help people see that Jesus is from the beginning to Revelation found throughout the entire scriptures and that’s all pointing towards, you know, those themes coming to the fulfillment in Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. We believe that it’s communal literature. So we really encourage this idea of, of reading and, and studying it in a community. And so, and then it’s meditation literature that it’s ancient literature. So basically really trying to help people I don’t know if you’re, if you’re like me. I don’t think I’ve ever met somebody when I’m like, Hey, do you feel like you’ve got like a just 100% a good grasp on the Bible? Like, I’ve never had anybody go? Oh, yeah, no, I’m good. Like, I don’t need any more. I’m solid. Like, you know, for me, it’s like, oh, my gosh, it’s, it’s a complex book I’ve studied, I’ve gone to seminary and taking classes and I still as as a, you know, follower of Jesus have a hard time understanding this text. And so we are just trying to help people with that endeavor and that exploration and and help people, you know, become more and more in love with the person of Jesus and and follow him in in his footsteps. And so, yeah, that’s it. I mean, we’re just a bunch of bunch of people in Portland and all over now it feels like we’re not we’re not just in Portland, there’s a lot of us around the world that are that are aiming towards that


Mark Turman  06:18

mic, interject a little bit about a little bit more about why it’s important to understand the Bible as a unified story. Several other people I know, have made attempts, particularly in writing, I have a friend at a seminary I attended, who basically tried to summarize the whole story of the Bible in about a 40 page pamphlet. Yeah, you know, as a very high level overview, again, talking about this is God’s big, big story. Yeah. And for the last several years, you know, I’ve tried to tell people, hey, you know, one of the ways you can look at the Bible is you can kind of create a framework around six or seven words that, you know, start with creation catastrophe in terms of this of the fall, the covenant relationship that God creates with Israel, Christ as the central figure of the whole thing, the church period that we’re living in now, or the reality of the church, and then the kingdom that’s coming, and I just those, you know, five or six words, just try to okay, it’s a story and it kind of hangs on those six words. Why is it so important? And, and so significant that people see this, even though this story has unfolded and been written, you know, over 1000 year period by multiple authors? Why is it so important that people see this as a cohesive story pointed at Jesus?


Michael McDonald  07:44

Yeah, well, I it’s, you know, I often say, you listen, you can’t understand the new heavens, the new earth, if you don’t understand the garden, like you just don’t get you, it would be like, you know, diving into the Harry Potter series at book seven instead of book was like you have no understanding of, of the whys, the backstory, the, you know, the places of intervention, God, you know, like, all of that stuff, you would just miss if you just tried to get to this, you know, the ending or the summary. And you laid out, I mean, the flow of story, you’re right, there’s a main character, there’s conflict, we see that, you know, there’s a guide that shows up and you’ve got the Holy Spirit, you’ve got God guiding, you know, Israel through this place, and gives them some kind of good things to work on. And if they do it, their success, and if they don’t do it, there’s failure and like, Kingdom start taking over. I mean, it follows the arc of any good movie, too. I mean, it’s amazing how that story arc, you know, plays out. But it would just be so bizarre to jumped in to just the failure or just the success and not understand, you know, why, why this was so important to go through. And so, yeah, I think we’ve done a disservice by saying something like, what’s the Old Testament and the New Testament because then we’ve got new followers of Jesus that go, Well, I don’t need the Old Testament, I’m just gonna jump to the new but the stories that you hear Jesus talking about, I mean, he references the, the, you know, the Torah, and all those the Psalms, so often, you would have no concept of what he’s talking about, from a from a Hebrew culture from an understanding, if you if you couldn’t hyperlink it back to go. When Jesus says this. He’s actually alluding to this story, which actually is about this with him, and you just start seeing how layered it could be. And so yeah, we see a huge importance of that’s why I mean, I don’t know if Tim, starting any podcast or video that he doesn’t just start in Genesis, because it just all begins there. Like, let’s start with the root. Let’s start with the beginning. And then let’s paint it forward to understand why we’re talking about it in this way. But I mean, yeah, I just, it’s so important. And, and it’s exciting and crazy and beautiful.


Mark Legg  09:57

So yeah, It seems like every podcast episode, kind of like what you alluded to half of the time they spend, whether it’s, you know, an exodus, or in the New Testament or anywhere that they’re talking about, they always half the time is spent in Genesis,


Michael McDonald  10:14

yeah, it’s laying the foundation for why we’re talking about what we’re talking about. And, and, you know, often the best. The best dictionary on the bible is the bible, like go back to the original intent of those words go back to the original place, because they’re building on those building blocks. And that’s the way they would have read and understood it. Like we’re so passionate about having people approach the scriptures the way they were intended by the original audience that it was written for, so that you can actually understand what they’re saying and why they’re saying it, if we don’t understand that culture, if we don’t understand why they would have been writing things a certain way, then we approach it with our very western kind of mindset. And that’s why one of our pillars is really like, It’s ancient literature, it’s Wisdom literature. It’s actually he brought like, it’s, it’s got a certain people group, even that it was, you know, written by and written for. And so how do we learn enough about that, that allows us to interpret the scriptures in a healthy way, is super important, and you just can’t do it, if you throw out, you know, two thirds of it. In that space, which we do, it’s just what we do. And a lot of times,


Mark Turman  11:25

yeah, and I know, you know, talking about that, that was a that was exactly my own mom, you know, I was trying to encourage my mom and help her read the Bible, in her latter years, you know, and she had grown up and had been an active Catholic Christian, but was new to reading the Bible in her 60s. And, and she said to me, after working with it for a while, she says, don’t like that old stuff. I just read the New Testament. And then But then you’re like, you know, as you said, it’s pretty hard to understand communion at depth if you don’t understand Passover. And you don’t understand what Passover is all about. And the story of the Exodus. Right? If you don’t understand that story, you can’t fully appreciate the the experience of what the cross and the deliverance of, of Christ providing deliverance through the cross in the background of the Exodus experience. Right. Yeah. And and then the one one of the whole reason they showed, yeah, that they show the 10 commandments every Easter for a reason. Right. Right.


Michael McDonald  12:27

Right. Totally.


Mark Legg  12:29

Yes. And and one question that circles around to that is, I think, a lot of people who are deconstructing their faith, that’s just a word that’s thrown out a lot. But basically, I suppose all it means is, people are going through the Bible and saying, This doesn’t match up with whatever, whether it’s science or their own cultural views or their own feelings about things they’re going through. And I think people will often start in the Old Testament when they do that. And they say, what about this thing, this obscure law in Leviticus that seems to us to be offensive? Or, you know, and I know, I know, Tim and John, the hosts of the podcast, don’t shy away from that, which I really appreciate. But it, I suppose there’s, there’s two ways to go about it. Either you avoid it, and you just run away from it, or you try to hide it. Or you just go deeper? Yeah. And so I suppose one question is, you know, why do you think the Bible project and its videos even appeals not only to so many Christians, but also to non believers as well? Yeah, I


Michael McDonald  13:44

mean, I know for me, I can just speak from my own personal experience. But I don’t think all deconstruction is unhealthy. I think sometimes we need to deconstruct from potentially some of the things we’ve been taught, because we just accepted them blindly. And we’ve sat underneath teaching, and it’s been like, oh, that’s what you know, this means. So there’s, it’s deconstruction is, is dangerous, when there’s no reconstruction, deconstruct, and then just kind of let it all, let it all go. I think from what I can tell from folks that I talk with about the Bible project is because we aren’t afraid to kind of dive in, we’re not just shying away going, this doesn’t make sense. Let’s just not deal with it. We go this doesn’t make sense. So there’s a reason it’s confusing to us. And it doesn’t make sense. We don’t have enough understanding about what’s happening in that moment. Let’s see where this is potentially hyperlinked to other stories to make sense of this one that we’re having a hard time with. We’re, I don’t think the Bible was was written to be confusing, even though we find it confusing. I don’t think that that the authors I mean, the authors were divinely brilliant in the way that they put this book take these books together and wove them together. And so what we’ve found is that the deeper you go, instead of shying away from those questions, keep asking keep diving, keep going in You actually do come up with some unbelievable, let’s say answers, but some unbelievable pinpoints and roadmaps to those questions. And I think young people and older, but young people specifically, are not afraid to ask the questions. Now, they’re not afraid. They’re not, they’re not blindly just, you know, like, when I was growing up, I felt like somebody told me something, and I was go, well, they’re older than me, I gotta accept that this is what I’m supposed to believe. That’s not this generation, this generation is going like, that doesn’t make sense. I’m the either dig deeper, or I’m gonna fight it, or I’m gonna, you know, until I understand. And there’s something I think, really beautiful and healthy about that. And, and I feel like what Tim and John and the artists and the scholars and Bible project are trying to do is help people with those questions, and let the Bible actually speak into some of those things. Not coming from a just a teacher standpoint, that actually pointing back to the Scriptures pointing back to the Bible, that’s our thing. We just want to keep pointing people to the Bible, learn to read it for yourself and gather those those kinds of answers.


Mark Legg  16:08

Yeah, I don’t know, if you have a specific example of something that Michael in your life had kind of like troubled you, and that they had helped you wrestle through but I think of even most recently, they’ve been talking a bit about the purity laws. And Leviticus Yeah. And, and about cleanliness, cleanliness, laws, essentially, before you go into the the tabernacle, you’ve got to do all the like, you can’t touch dead bodies, all these things and why, you know, what’s the point behind all that and they go in depth into, it’s, it really is about becoming about feeling the weight of what death of death, basically, yeah, and realizing that God is full of life. And so to bring death before that, God is not afraid of it. But it reminds us of that death is not supposed to be all those things. So anyway, just helping wrestled through that. But I wonder if there’s an example for you, that comes to mind


Michael McDonald  17:10

certainly has helped you wrestle through it’s a silly one. But it was the one that was the easiest in my early days, as I just didn’t understand when pastors or people would say that you shouldn’t get tattoos. And they would quote this verse in Leviticus about you know about that. And I just remember always going to that verse and reading the verses before and the verses after, and like, it also says, you’re not supposed to cut your hair. So how, how is this? Like, I don’t understand how, like, you’ve clearly got like a crew cut onstage. But you’re telling me that I can’t get a tattoo? Where’s the like? How do we interpret the Scriptures? And what do we do with them now? And what does that mean? So I think it’s some of those things that have helped me go, it’s not just cut and dry, you don’t read the Scriptures, the way that you read a newspaper, you just don’t, you know, you don’t, or the way that you would read. Or maybe you do but even think of a newspaper. It’s got narrative. It’s got the sports section, which is just straight information. It’s got obituaries, it’s got comics, which are meant for Comic Relief, it’s got, it’s got all these and we would read each of those sections very differently, and to learn to read the scriptures differently each, but we just aren’t taught that we’re taught verse for your life, and live it out. And it doesn’t matter what book it’s coming from. And it doesn’t take into account like, Well, this was poetry. And this was meant as hyperbole. And this was meant as so I think those are the things the Bible project has helped me really approach the scriptures in the specific like, book the way that it was supposed to be written, or read in that time.


Mark Turman  18:47

Now, Michael, you’re gonna you’re gonna have to go back and explain to some of the audience what a newspaper is.


Michael McDonald  18:54

That’s fair. That’s very fair. It’s on your Apple phone. Yeah.


Mark Turman  18:58

Yeah. But you know, but to your point, you know, even if you look at a major newspaper on your app, it still has different sections, right? But as, as our CEO and founder Jim Dennison likes to say, the Bible can never mean what it never meant, write it in, you have to understand it in terms of its literary form, you have to understand its historical context. You have to put it into those frames and several others as well, in order to understand what it was written for, and who it was written to, and what may be or what are its eternal and timeless principles that do apply to us in some ways, you know, just like what Mark was saying about the whole idea of the cleansing rituals and and if you put it into its proper framework, and you understand its context and that type of thing, then it becomes alive in in beautiful ways that that you never even knew were there.


Michael McDonald  19:58

I had a seminary professor here who was actually on our board for a long time. Gary Berkshires, the dear mentor said, a text without context is a pretext for a post text.


Mark Legg  20:13

I think I’ve heard that.


Michael McDonald  20:16

It’s just so true. Like, if we if we don’t understand the context, it’s just going to create all this other like, it’s just yeah. So anyways.


Mark Legg  20:25

Yeah. And kind of amid that, I think there are a lot of questions, or a lot of questions and answers that we’re really unsatisfied with. In today’s culture, if you look at the culture and what answers they’re giving to life’s problems, I think a lot of people are are restless, and trying to find more that I think, if we’re able to return scripture to its context, and teach in that way, can answer those things in ways that have we haven’t been doing good at, in the past, you know, few decades or something, or, you know, there’s always different focuses of the church and teaching and blind spots and things like that. But one particular subject I’m thinking about is spiritual beings, shares a, some of the more popular videos that you have on YouTube are actually about spiritual beings. And they range from anything from explaining the word Elohim, which, you know, is obviously a Hebrew word that most people are not going to know on the street. But it’s, it’s explaining angels and demons, and all these weird Old Testament things that we just don’t talk about, or at least in my tradition, we talk about it less my church tradition. And so but you see a lot of people interested in these. Yeah, it does talk about them in the Bible, but only to a certain point, you know, we don’t get a lot of details. Anyway, Mike, my question to you is, you know, why do you think something like this is so? So popular? And why do you think people are asking these questions?


Michael McDonald  22:03

Yeah, well, I mean, I’ve got I could, well, a couple of things. I guess, one, we don’t talk about it a ton in our tradition, but it doesn’t mean it’s not being talked about in a lot of other traditions, or a lot of other places. I think of, you know, I spent a lot of time in India and the church in India, I mean, these are just, these are just everyday conversations, the whole demonic spiritual realities of, of, you know, the life that they I mean, they, it’s just, it’s just Table Talk, it’s common, it’s common. So one, and then two, I do think maybe it’s not being talked about inside the churches much, but man, it is being talked about and seen outside the church a ton. You look at the movies, and the things that are popular, and from all the I mean, spiritual, demonic, all of that that’s prevalent in, in our culture, right? That’s the masses are definitely, you know, intrigued by whether or not they believe it’s true, they’re definitely intrigued by it. Because it is some of the most watched movies and you just think of, you know, things that I watch, even with Stranger Things and whatever, like there’s, there is a deep level of, of curiosity in that. And so, but a lot of people just don’t talk. But I think so I think one of the reasons it was such a popular series is we just kind of hit it head on, from a biblical scriptural standpoint, not from a necessarily cultural worldview. But just from a listen, here’s at least what the Bible was talking about when it was talking about these things. And we can know that by digging deeper into the Bible, we’re not going to a ton of extra text, we’re going to go to the Scriptures. And here’s what, you know, Jesus and his followers in his day would have thought about spiritual beings, this is the framework that they operated in, it would be like me and you operating in just our normal everyday framework, that was the framework they operated in. And so we tried to explain it in ways that were approachable in that sense, just hitting it head on, and not shying away, which is I think, again, because we’re not a church, we do have a little bit more freedom in some of the things that we can attack, patch ourselves to, in that, because we’re not trying to be a church, we’re not trying to be that kind of level of discipleship that happens in that space. We’re just trying to create the resources to allow the church to do that. That’s where the messy conversations really happen to be. I mean, it’s a little easier for us and some of that, sure, we get YouTube comments, and we get emails, but honestly, where it really gets flushed out is is in communities. And that’s where the church, you know, really plays a vital and major role in all of that, and we’re not pretending to be the church. But we are trying to just help equip the church equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. And one of those things is really to understand the Bible. So I do think is the I’ve had so many youth, youth departments reach out to me over the last few years, even the last year about the spiritual being serious specifically, it’s been the most engaging one in their youth culture. I mean, you don’t want to talk about this stuff, they want to learn about it, they want it. They’re not afraid of it. It’s not weird. Or it’s like, no, they get it, they see it, they’re engaged in it. And so what’s wild is some of the best series that I’ve seen churches do in their youth department of action around the spiritual beings, it creates these conversations that they just had never been able to have with their youth. So anyways, yeah, I think it’s just it is a timing thing with that.


Mark Turman  25:24

Yeah. And that’s microbead, totally supported. Part of the reason that I was up in your part of the world recently is because of us helping the university in the area. And Mark helped me with some research around this younger generation that, you know, at a higher degree, significantly higher degree, they’re willing to tell you, I don’t believe that, but I am willing to talk about it. Yeah. So it’s, it’s kind of this interesting dynamic of, no, just because, you know, my mom or my grandpa, I believe that doesn’t necessarily mean I believe it, but I am willing to talk about it. And, and I’m not angry about it. I might even be more curious about it than you are. Yeah. That’s right. And providing resources, which, you know, is one of the challenges similar between your ministry of Bible project in hours with Denison Forum, which is, we’re a digital driven ministry. But how can we be as incarnational as possible? And wait, you know, what you were saying about the Bible project, where we’re not the church, we’re here to resource and supplement the church. You know, we have exactly that same kind of an approach. Yeah, at Denison forum. How do you all do that? Personally? How do you stay connected in a real personal way, with the people that you’re serving with the churches that you’re serving? Yeah, what does that look like in your context?


Michael McDonald  26:45

Yeah, so we probably have two different kinds of groups, we’ve got our kind of just viewers that are maybe like inside or YouTube or inside of our app, and YouVersion, and kind of engaging with our content in that way. Those are the individual folks. And we do have a whole team that is, you know, that we kind of call it, we actually call it our hospitality team. And they’re the ones that are engaging with our patrons and with our viewers, and, you know, if they’re asking questions, we’re pointing them to other resources. So we do try to engage, we have a whole team of folks that are doing that, and, you know, getting on the phones and, and emails and all that all of that, you know, we get 1000s upon 1000s of emails a day, that come in around stuff. And so we definitely have to help with that. And then my team, I have a team, I oversee two teams, one is our global focus team. And the other is our strategic relationships. Even the strategic relationships team is who builds those relationships with the churches and nonprofits and folks like yourself and others. And, and we engage I mean, I probably talked to 15 to 20 churches a week, on average, and that’s calls like this and phone, you know, figuring out how can we help them serve them in their capacity? What are their kind of discipleship philosophies? And how are they using the material? Or how do they want to use the material? And so there is a lot of face to face between my team and those churches, and really listening and hearing you know, we, we listened for years about what were some of the big pain points for churches, especially when it comes to digital ministry and, and having a platform that they can actually put good discipleship content on and engage with their people was a big mess. And they needed that. And so we built something called Learn dot Bible that’s going to launch in a month, that is an online curriculum builder, that is 100%. Free, has all of our content in there, they can write their own curriculum for whatever it is, and, and had anywhere from one to a million people using it. So we’re listening the church, we’re trying to hear what their needs are, and then showing up to serve in that capacity, which is a big value of ours. So


Mark Turman  28:48

yeah, Mark, in your article about the Bible project, you talked about how one of the uniquenesses of the Bible project is the use of art. Can you kind of delve into that a little bit get Michael to respond to that, too?


Mark Legg  29:01

Yeah, for sure. I mean, at the dentist’s form in the past few months, we have, obviously, our kind of catchphrases, news discern differently. So we look at the news, we look at cultural things in a nonpartisan way. And all of our listeners will know about that we engage the culture in that way. But we also are seeing more and more of that. It is so important for Christians to be engaged in art that glorifies the Lord. And part of our heart behind this that we talked about a lot is instead of being cultural warriors, in the so called culture war that’s going on in this very narrow part of our western culture of our United States. We want to be cultural missionaries. And so trying to change the focus from cultural warrior to cultural missionary, and how do we do that? What’s that transition and a lot of it And from our point of view has to do with the way we approach things and humility and love speaking the truth and love, but also there’s a really rich tradition in Christian history of art that glorifies the Lord. Yeah. And that points back to Jesus. And so, I’m thinking in terms of kind of church history and the Bible project, really, is this kind of new? I mean, yes, it’s, it’s not new, because there’s been art for a couple 1000 years that’s been glorifying the Lord in different traditions. But there’s also this newness of bringing it to the digital side. And so, in that, why do you think art is so good at digging into Scripture?


Michael McDonald  30:49

Yeah, well, I’ll echo a little bit what you said, I mean, Christian, Christians are, you know, have been at the forefront for forever, often, in in communication technology, however you want to put it. I mean, it was the, you know, we we Christians, it was often Christians that were hiring the artists like Leonardo and Michelangelo, and the most prevalent artists of the day to, to paint photos depicting the kingdom type scenarios, and you think of just the Sistine Chapel and all these other things that still move people to this day, you think of the printing press was really on the forefront of getting Bibles out to, you know, individuals and folks, and, and so there, we were at the forefront of the technology of it today to get the gospel out. I think of even folks that would get, you know, books, authors in the early days, you know, it was princes and kings and people that would hire authors like Chaucer to write stories about, you know, King Arthur, or whatever. And they would often hijack it for the gospel. And if you read a lot of those old books, it’s got the gospel woven through, I mean, it’s always been a missionary experience around communication technology, somewhere, though, in the last 100 years, or whatever, like, We’ve just lost that we’ve just become, feels like we’re like, if you think of people going, like, is Christian music good. It’s like, it’s usually okay. Or Christian movies good. They’re like, add, they’re like a b minus, at best, like, we don’t necessarily compete very well. In in this. And so I feel like, yeah, Bible project, we just have a commitment to go. And I think that we could actually be a part of, you know, this communication, technology, bringing forth Jesus and the gospel in a new way that is, you know, profound. And so I think, and the arts connect with people in you can do so much more with a song and a poetry. And so I think Bible has poetry and has a songs in it is that there’s these heart connections that you have with art, that, that speak more than just a few words. And so And honestly, just very difficult, complex, it’s complex thoughts. So for us, animation allowed us to talk about really complex things in a visual way, that was easier to learn than if it was just me and you talking head talking about a concept. You know, the podcast takes an hour, or sometimes 10 hours, to talk through something that we make in five minutes in a video. So that, like, if you listen to our mind, you listen to our podcasts, you listen to them. And then we make a five minute video and you’re like, how did they get all of that? It’s because there’s a visual, it’s not just words. It’s, it’s all the senses coming together and sound. So yeah, I think arts extremely important in communicating the messages that we’re wanting to communicate, especially in a generation, that is like short. I mean, we’re talking the Tick Tock Instagram, you know, fate, like short little sound bites. It’s just so difficult to do that in, in without in my mind without the visuals and the art and everything else that connects it.


Mark Legg  34:02

Yeah. And I think what I what I appreciate, especially about the Bible project, is that you talk about some different, you know, Michelangelo, people like that there’s also literary, you know, the first kind of autobiography, if you will, was St. Augustine, and the confessions. And they don’t have the first kind of novel being Don Quixote, which has a lot of great Christian themes. And then you have, like, I mean, so you just you think about, like, you just think about, not only is it that they were great artists, because they’re always great artists, and great writers who are Christian believers, followers of Jesus, but there’s also, like you said, at the forefront, and what I think I appreciate about Bible project is, it’s not as though the Bible project is copying something from the secular world to communicate the Bible. Now, you can take inspiration. I mean, everyone, of course, takes inspiration from all kinds of sources. Right, but to me, it seems Like, there’s something unique, even among not even just focusing on the Christian world, in general. And I think that sometimes what we can miss is we’re trying to copy what the world is doing. Yeah, you know, totally, that that doesn’t, but being on the forefront, and I think the Bible project is there. But yeah,


Mark Turman  35:20

that makes me makes me think about something I experienced a couple of years ago, I had an opportunity to be in Wittenberg, Germany, just a few years ago, right before the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. And this little beautiful kind of artistic community called Wittenberg, you know, literally on a one mile stretch of cobblestone road is where the Protestant Reformation is ignited. Yeah. But a big part of that was not only literature in the use, as you mentioned, the Gutenberg Press, and not only printing Bibles, but printing many of the teachings of Luther and, and Knox and others that were Calvin, and spreading those teachings through print. But also through the arts, there was a guy that I learned about there in Wittenberg named Kroc and he was an artist, and he would take many of the teachings that Luther and others were trying to advance and he would put them into wood carvings. And those wood carvings became a pictorial way of expressing some very complex theological teachings. Yeah, but they could use the woodcarving to explain that to the common person who might not even be able to read or to write in their day. Yeah. And, you know, but there’s this, there’s always this kind of tension that’s gone on, right, between the practical side where we’ve kind of really leaned on the practical side, even to the point of saying, well, we don’t need to spend that kind of money to express our faith in architecture. And we need to be more propositional in our teaching and that type of thing, less story and oriented, when it’s really not an either or kind of thing. It’s a bold thing. Right? And, and we need to be better at the both and yeah, because everybody loves a good story. Right? And, and everybody loves things that are beautiful, whether it’s musical, or whether it’s art, or whether it’s the writing of a good story, and likes it, the Bible project does so well bringing those two things together, both visually and verbally. And I think that’s one of the uniquenesses of this ministry.


Michael McDonald  37:33

Wow, that’s super kind. I think we, I think you’re right, it is a both and it just reminds me of how we made the switch from Father, Son, Holy Spirit to Father, Son, Holy Bible, in Alaska, you know, and in we’ve, we often just bifurcate the two and go, it’s either you’re this like, church, that’s just all Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and that’s all that matters. Or then you’ve got other churches that are all just its Father, Son, Holy Bible, and we don’t even talk about the spirit and becomes a very much an either, or, as opposed to No, it’s there. Is this beautiful both end? And how do we, you know, really look anyways? Yeah, that’s probably a whole other conversation. But



yeah, absolutely.


Mark Legg  38:15

What something else we can touch on? I’m sure you’re really hyped to talk about the app? Because yeah, I know, at the podcast, you know, John has always they have a little blurb now about him bringing it up and being like, hey, go download the app. And yeah, I’ve used it only a little bit. And so I mean, it’s amazing. But what’s unique about the app, you know, I mean, I think everyone seems to have an app, like water burger. McDonald’s has an app. Yeah. But what is what is unique about yours?


Michael McDonald  38:45

Yeah, so we for forever didn’t have an app. And that was even strategic, because we just had videos. And that was kind of our like, Why have an app just to be another app on the App Store. And we can just get them go to YouTube or YouVersion and get all of our stuff. And but as we continue to grow, even with our podcasts, and blogs, and other things that are all kind of in this larger library of resources for people, it did make sense to have an app more so instead of just a library of our stuff. How do we actually encourage learning through all of these different materials in a way that is intuitive and exciting and fun, that it’s not just a Bible reader, because if it was just a Bible reader, we just go to YouVersion they’re killing it, they’re doing a good job and you know, they’re doing it. You can pick your Bible translation, whatever, you know, we weren’t, we’re not competing with you version. We love you version, our stuffs all on there. But what we did want to do is create how to how do we approach the Bible in the way that we do when it comes to these movements of Scripture that not it’s not just verse for verse or even chapter we put chapters in? It’s what are the movements inside scripture that we can help people see the whole picture of what’s happening in that moment, and then hyperlink even all the things that can help you understand what’s going on, so it might hyperlink Hey, you just You’ve heard this word, we have a video that describes that Hebrew word and where it comes from, and why watch that that’s going to help your learning. You know, we’ve got this 10 minute section of a podcast that talks about it, if you want to listen, like that’s a way to do it. So it allows us to put all of these different resources, hyperlinked into the scriptures, in a unique learning style, so that you can actually read through these movements. And the whole idea really, is that you become like, not Tim, in the sense that none of us are going to be Tim, I know that I’m never going to be Tim, I’m not. I don’t know Hebrew fluently. I’m not gonna go live in Israel, I’m married, I’ve got you know, there’s just there’s lots of things that I’m not gonna get to do that Tim did. And yet, I can learn to approach the scriptures the way that Tim does, and start asking the kinds of questions that he does that allowed us to get to this place of seeing, seeing the Scriptures. And that’s what the app is really doing. It’s helping you approach it with those paradigms, ancient literature, meditation literature, you know, Wisdom literature. And in asking the right questions that start to have you kind of go all over the, to me, it gets me more excited to read the Bible, it’s not a it’s not a deterrent. A lot of times, it’s like, Oh, I’ve watched the video, I don’t need to read. I feel like our videos, and a lot of the conversations, when I watch them go, oh, my gosh, that’s what it says, I want to go read that I want to go understand that more. It’s it drives you towards the scriptures as opposed to away. So the app is just an immersive experience to kind of help people approach the scriptures in a way that we believe is healthy, and will create a lifelong desire and excitement around learning about the Bible.


Mark Turman  41:43

And it along those lines. You know, I’m a grandfather now. So I’m watching to preschoolers that just absorb everything that you put in front of. So talk a little bit about how y’all are trying to be kids sensitive and part of our ministry, we have a shared ministry that we call Christian parenting, where we try to link parents to great resources that will help them not only have fun with their kids, but obviously teach their kids about the Bible and about Jesus and about spiritual things that, that they want to build that foundation. Yeah. How are you all being kid kids sensitive and parents sensitive, and even focused in that area to use these great tools to support parents who are trying to build the faith of their children? Yeah.


Michael McDonald  42:36

Well, honestly, Mark, we’re probably not doing a great i. We have often said, the Bible is not a kid’s book, like, it just isn’t. I mean, there’s, I mean, that’s why we end up skipping over these broad sections with flannel, you know, graphs and everything else. The problem with that, though, is that you lose so much of what was really happening and going on. And so we haven’t really done a good job, in my opinion of making them kid friendly, because we just don’t think of them as kid friendly. Now, that said, I think our videos are similar to Toy Story. Toy Story is an adult movie. It is, it’s adult, I mean, it’s why it connected so well with me, and you can watch it and connect with it. It’s got huge adult themes in it. And yet, love as a kid, you watch it, and it’s funny and you you can get it, you get parts of it as a kid, you get 50% of the movie, but it’s enough to keep you engaged. And this there’s this beautiful thing that happens where all of a sudden, a father and a son or a mother and a son, or a father and a daughter, get to go to watch the same movie, have a conversation about the same thing, and actually engage it and like it. And I would say our videos are very similar. We’ve got kids that watch our videos, I don’t think they’re getting all of it. They’re getting more than we think they are at that, but they’re not getting all of it. But then we can watch it and get a ton to and then we’re actually having conversations about the Scriptures with our kids, that how that just doesn’t happen that often in the same type of way. And we had a mom in Jacksonville, Florida that had to commute her kids and to others to school, but 15 minutes every day. And she would just put a Bible project video on into like, you know, 910 11 year olds, all different ages. And she’d play it. And they’d go on for six minutes. And then they would talk about it for the last 10 Going to school. And it was just so wild. The conversations that these kids were having with this adult over the same video and the different things they were pulling up in gathering. And so I would say it’s not we’re not brilliant, we didn’t go let’s make something like this. I think it’s just a byproduct of what happens when you do something clearly with excellence and an animation and I think just those things have made it the byproduct has been pretty exciting for sure. Oh, that’s we’re not smart enough to have mapped that out for sure. It is a byproduct


Mark Legg  44:59

of And there’s always new things to explore that.


Michael McDonald  45:03

Yeah. Yeah, that’s great.


Mark Turman  45:08

So Michael, tell us a little bit just so those that are not familiar, how long is the Bible project been around? And? Yeah, where do you see it going in the next even couple of years. But how long what’s what’s the historical background? Yeah. And the foundation and where this came from? Yeah.


Michael McDonald  45:27

So we we’ve been around for eight, just over eight years. It came from two friends John and Tim, who hosts the podcast. They both went to Bible college together at Multnomah here. So they became friends, you know, 20 years ago, Tim kind of continued on his Bible path and kind of just went full Bible nerd and went and got his like, masters and then his doctorate and moved over to Israel and learn Hebrew and came back. And he taught as a professor in Wisconsin at the Hebrew school there. I mean, he just went full on all in John Wooden planet, he was part of a church plant, but then realized, maybe that’s not really his gifting. And one of his major giftings was helping people take complex ideas and figure out had to explain them in a simplified way. And that turned into a couple of different studios that started to make what we call explainer videos. And but it was for like Google, like, when Google was coming out with cloud computing, they hired John to come up to Seattle, and, you know, understand what the cloud was that none of us understood and spent a few days asking all these questions. And then, and then came up with a simplified 32nd 62nd, two minute, you know, commercial, and actually ended up doing the animation for it. And he kind of like, drew out this, like, here’s what the clay was easier to understand the cloud with visuals than just, you know, pictures of computers. And so he, he did this explainer video. And then just so many others, you know, from Apple, and all these different companies started hiring John to do an A team as he grew a studio to 5060 people here in Portland, that was doing it for all these huge tech companies. And then they were at a barbecue together. And John kind of pitched him this idea of go going, Hey, can we take your brain and all the complexities of the Bible because I, he was having the questions that we all were having, like, he was kind of in that almost like post Bible Christianity, where he’s like, I’m into Jesus, I believe in the church. I just don’t read the Bible anymore. It’s just confusing. And actually, I leave with more questions than answers. And it just doesn’t make sense to me. So this idea of serving the church was just really to go Tim, could we make explainer videos using your brain and my skills around asking the right questions, and, and really made me just make a video or two a year, on their side, it was just going to be a side project. And they came in, you know, they made a few videos, they showed some friends, the first kind of five family patrons that kind of just said, Hey, well, we’ll fund this, this looks really cool. And did it. And then some of those videos made it to folks like Francis Chan are having an earth video. And he saw it and was like, Oh, my gosh, I’ve learned more in five minutes than I did a year in seminary, like we need a, we need one of these for every book of the Bible, right. And that kind of began this whole path towards the overview series. And then we just kind of kept making videos and the channel grew, and we just kind of throw it out there, hey, if folks want to be a part of it, and jump in and throw five bucks in the hat, when we have enough money, we’ll make the next video and, and that’s how the it’s all been crowd funded since the very beginning. We’ve just thrown it out to the crowd saying if this is helpful to you, help us make more. And if it’s not, no worries, like it’s just been a very open handed, we just want to be helpful. And and we just the crowd caught up real fast and has allowed us to not just make videos, but then the podcast was really just John and Tim’s conversations, to get the videos made. I mean, that’s all those really were we just started hitting record at one point they were having all these conversations beforehand. Were just like, let I wonder if a few people would want to be like a fly on the wall for this. And little did we know millions of people wanted to be flies on the walls for these conversations. But that was not you know, we weren’t like, Let’s go make a podcast. It was just let’s hit record. And maybe a couple of super fans will enjoy it. So yeah, and then it’s just continuing to grow. So we’ve got classroom, which is our seminary level classes that we make for free and we put online and I think we’ve got six of them right now. We’re going to have many more in the future. And those are like 1618 hour long seminary type classes that Tim and others are teaching and they’re amazing. They’re not for everybody. You know, like that’s a lot of Bible sometimes for people they’re not but we’ve got different you know, if you’re a video person, great if you’re a podcast person, great if you’re like I want to go to like seminary and do that then great. We’ve got something to help people in their engagement with the Bible and a lot of different ways.


Mark Legg  49:50

We talked about that. We have a we have a kind of a funnel and our strategy that we talked about often you know, if you want the articles, that’s great and you have gyms daily article go a little bit deeper you have resources. Yep, a little deeper, and we’re working on deeper and deeper. And that’s, that’s helpful for people because sometimes they just want to jump right in to the seminar like, like, that’s what I want give me that, like I already know quite a bit, but I want more. So I think that’s super helpful for people who have any level of interest. And really, you know,


Michael McDonald  50:24

keep it scale free that not one is better than the other. If you are, my learning might, I’m not a podcast person. So the funnel for me is not to become one. It’s just the funnel for me is to figure out how I can keep learning to read the Bible, I might never be a podcast person, I might never be a classroom personally. So but this scale free, kind of like, figure out where you fit in your learning style, and then just dive deeper and deeper into the Bible. That’s the whole goal. And so I don’t feel like we’re trying to make a whole bunch of 10s. We’re just trying to say we’ve got something for everybody. And we want to help people dive deeper into


Mark Legg  51:00

the scriptures.


Mark Turman  51:03

Yeah, that’s super, super helpful. And, Michael, thank you for your time today been a fascinating conversation and very helpful to me. You can like, again, the app is kind of new, but a great opportunity, just the Bible project, you can download that at any of the providers for apps and very user friendly and helpful like I said, just a way to get into this. You want to find marks article about the Bible project at Denison You can just type in the Bible project, you’ll get marks article giving you kind of an overview about the Bible project. And we hope you’ll check it out. Use the app use YouTube, like I said, Can one of the strategic partnerships is with the YouVersion. That’s where I’ve connected to a significant amount of the Bible project material is just through the YouVersion Bible as well. So some some great kingdom synergy that’s going on there. And we hope that that’s what our conversation today is going to be as well as we expand the conversation. But Michael, thank you for what you’re doing. Thank you for sharing some time with us. Blessings on you and all of the Bible project team. Thanks for being with us.


Michael McDonald  52:14

Thanks so much Mark. Appreciate you both


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