When a Bible teacher stepped into The Bible Project

Rev Ian Lee // October 27, 2018, 5:19 pm


The Bible Project is a non-profit animation studio that produces short-form, fully animated videos to make the biblical story accessible to everyone, everywhere. Their hugely popular videos have garnered them over 1 million YouTube subscribers. All photos by Rev Ian Lee.

Twelve students from different nations and very different backgrounds with one central thing in common: We all teach the Bible regularly.

That was the central requirement we had to have in order to apply for The Bible Project’s Pilot Classroom. 

But while my identity as a teacher was the thing that got me into the classroom, I felt it was also that which challenged me the most during my time with The Bible Project (TBP).

Co-founder, theologian and creative director of The Bible Project, Dr Tim Mackie.

Smart to ask dumb questions 

After we were shown around the office space and had a sneak peek at a few other upcoming projects they had in the works, we were shown to the classroom where we would be spending the next three days exploring the Gospel of John.

He sees it as his responsibility to ask the silly questions that everyone is thinking and yet nobody wants to ask.

We were greeted by Jon Collins (TBP’s co-founder and president) as we entered the learning space.

To me, it was a surreal experience talking and interacting with the man whose voice I listen to regularly on The Bible Project’s podcast, but the thing that stood out the most as I spoke with him was that he strongly believed complicated things need not be complicated.

That was Jon’s ethos and it seemed to permeate through everything he did.

The world of Christian theology is often one with seemingly huge barriers to entry. (I mean, have you tried reading a biblical commentary from front to back lately?) But here was a man who firmly believed that the Bible and its truth should not be shrouded in Christian jargon but made simple and bare for all to understand and grasp.

Rev Ian (right) and wife, Michele, with The Bible Project co-founder, president and creative director, Jon Collins (middle). Jon spent the last decade founding and leading digital media and marketing companies, and is known for being a master at making complex ideas simple.

“What makes a good question?” Jon asked us during our classroom orientation.

As I gave the question some thought, I have to confess that the questions I thought to ask came with the focus of what would make me look knowledgeable.

Jon’s point thereafter was thus a direct confrontation for me.

The Bible Project headquarters in Portland, Oregon.

The Bible Project Classroom initiative is slated to be launched in the first half of 2019.

He said that he sees it as his responsibility in TBP’s podcast to ask the silly questions that everyone is thinking and yet nobody wants to ask because it would make them look uninformed.

“Dumb questions are better than smart questions,” he repeated, because they invite everyone else into the conversation and learning.

By asking more “enlightened” questions, we end up ostracising the general listener. These questions are not worth asking in comparison to questions that clarify the subject.

The classroom, Bible Project style

A few moments earlier during our informal introductions, Dr Tim Mackie (TBP’s co-founder and theologian) entered the room.

He’s a personal hero of mine and the admiration and respect I now have for him has only grown from the personal interaction.

That’s the heart behind The Bible Project’s classroom initiative – seminary level classes made available online, for anyone to watch and learn.

No fanfare. No great announcement. He came in and greeted us personally, by name, evidently having taken the time to read our profiles beforehand, asking us questions about ourselves and taking a genuine interest in who we were and what we did.

There was never a moment where he seemed unapproachable – he was always keen to engage us in conversation even though there wasn’t a single moment where he wasn’t being bothered by our incessant questions.

This spoke volumes to me because even though he was so looked up to by all 12 of us, he never made it seem like he stood on a pedestal. His smile and keen desire to listen always welcomed us in.

When it came time for him to address us all, Tim shared that he always felt that, in his 14 years of studying, what he had learnt should not only be for people who have the resources to go to a seminary, but should be available to all.

That’s the heart behind The Bible Project’s classroom initiative – seminary level classes made available online, for free, for anyone to watch and to learn.

The Bible Project classroom where Dr Tim Mackie taught and participants got to ask him questions pertaining to the Gospel of John. The sessions were recorded.

Knowledge puffs up, love builds up

The next two days were spent listening to him dive very deep into the Gospel of John and it was clear that this was not just an intellectual exercise but something that impacted Tim personally, even causing him to tear up at one point as he spoke about the cross.

“All good theology will result in doxology.”

I remember being very moved, too, at that moment and an axiom I learnt in seminary echoed in my head: “All good theology will result in doxology”.

That is, the spiritual truth we discover through the reading of the Bible will lead us to deeper gratitude and praise of God.

I began this article by saying that it was my identity as a teacher that was most challenged in my interaction with The Bible Project.

Twelve Bible teachers from around the world, including Rev Ian and Michele (back left) were selected to participate in The Bible Project Pilot Classroom.

“Dr Tim Mackie is a personal hero of mine,” confesses Rev Ian.

What I was moved by was the reminder that being knowledgeable about the Bible isn’t something one should find their identity in.

In Paul’s words, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1) and I believe the heartbeat that reverberated through all that was done at TBP’s classroom was the desire to build others up.

Knowledge, and specifically the kind that points us to Jesus, is to be shared and not hoarded. It is for all and not just for an “enlightened” few.

Look out for the Bible Project’s Classroom on some time between April and June 2019.

About the author

Rev Ian Lee

Rev Ian Lee is a pastor with the Methodist Church in Singapore and is currently serving at Covenant Community Methodist Church. He loves good coffee and deep conversations. Ian is married to Michele, who teaches the Bible at YWAM Singapore. They were both selected to be participants in The Bible Project’s Pilot Classroom in October 2018.