What's Wrong With The Bible Project?
The Bible Project is an online series of free animated videos about, what else, the Bible. When I was first introduced to The Bible Project, I was quite impressed with the quality and had no problem recommending these videos to others. But someone later contacted me and suggested I take a deeper look, particularly in the way TBP creator Tim Mackie addressed the doctrine of the atonement. What I found was astonishing, and little by little more problematic teachings became apparent.
After watching dozens of videos, some of Tim Mackie's sermons, and listening to a few podcasts, I did a video of my own entitled What's Wrong With the Bible Project? (which I tried to keep under 20 minutes). The Bible Project fans weren't fans. With nearly 500 comments and counting, I've been called everything from a "chump critic," to a "hack," and a "hater." I've been told I'm "just jealous," "misguided," "still carnal," and "terrible," that I'm gossiping, I'm a pharisee, I'm on a witch hunt tour, I'm being unnecessarily divisive, I'm cowering behind a camera, one person said I talk funny, and another said I was a pastor of a "cowboy Christian church in Texas which has 19th century neo-theology."
A fellow by the name of Ryan said, "What do you have to say to the large number of people who strongly disagree with your video?" I wasn't planning on producing another video, but I figured I could scratch out a blog in response to some of these comments. Before starting with the negative, I want to begin by answering a question from someone actually looking for biblical advice. I'll follow that up with a few of the more positive comments.
One of the things I addressed in my video was Mackie's skewed perspective on the doctrine of hell. That led to this question from a viewer:
"I have a question about this, I don't mean this rudely or a mean way but... Can you be a Christian and not believe in hell?" —R.R.
You are saved by faith in Christ, not by faith in hell. Let me put that out there first. The gospel of Christ is the power of salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16). When you heard the gospel and became a Christian, you had an immature faith. You knew that you had sinned against God, you needed a Savior, and that Christ is that Savior. God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for your sins, and whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have everlasting life. You at least needed to know that, or I would question if what you heard preached to you was really the gospel.
But then upon coming to faith, you did not have a robust understanding of the depth of your sin. You probably could not have defined the words "justification" or "sanctification." You couldn't have given a creedal defense of the Trinity. Even the term "God head" may have been foreign to you. Maybe an evangelist told you Jesus was knocking at the door of your heart, and all you had to do was let Him in (the Bible doesn't say that). If you were asked to describe hell, you likely would have given a Dante's Inferno picture of hell.
You come to God as a child—an infant in the faith. But just as we grow and mature in our body, so we must in our spirit well (1 Corinthians 13:11). You will demonstrate evidence of your faith and that your love for God is genuine by growing in the knowledge of Him. If you love Jesus, you will love His word. If you are growing in His word, eventually you're going to wrestle with what Jesus said about hell. No one in the Bible talked about hell more than Jesus did.
Our understanding of hell must be according to what Jesus said. He called hell an eternal fire (Matthew 18:8)—even an eternal fiery punishment prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41), but all will be sent there who did not follow Christ (v.46). He said the one who sins and does not repent will be thrown into a place "where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:48). He told us who will go to "the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8).
Why did Jesus talk about hell so much? So you would fear God, our righteous judge, and know His Son and be saved from judgment. Jesus said, "I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear Him who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him!" (Luke 12:4-5)
If you say you're a follower of Jesus, you will believe what He has said about hell. If you don't believe in hell, you don't believe Jesus. If you don't believe the word of Christ, how can you call yourself a Christian?
What else does Christ save us from but the judgment of Almighty God? And this is what Tim Mackie and The Bible Project creators do not believe, as I demonstrated in my video—they do not believe Jesus died as a propitiation for our sins, thereby appeasing the wrath of God, to be received by faith. This is the gospel, but Mackie called it a distortion of the gospel. He is a false teacher who must be avoided (2 Timothy 3:5).
Thank you for your question, R.R. I hope my answer is helpful to you. Now on with a few of the more positive comments.
"This video is truly a blessing. I've been watching your videos WWUTT and have them saved on my phone and on my laptop for the ministry. I have also seen The Bible Project videos, and I agree that some of them are good and really informational, but I've never had a chance to carefully discern the messages that are being given. Thanks to God for this video which made me realize the subtle errors that The Bible Project committed. Soli Deo Gloria." —Son
Thank you for that message, Son. Yes, as I said in my own video, the Bible Project videos are very creative, and there is some good info you can glean from them. But do you know what you won't hear much of? The Bible. Seriously! The videos feature a couple of guys telling you what they say the Bible says, often without telling you what the Bible actually says. Even when it seems they quote straight from the text, they're not actually quoting the text (as seen here). You're getting their paraphrase of the text.
"I think Mackie has been influenced by N.T. Wright. I like most of their videos. But there have been times when I have refrained from sharing some of their videos because I felt the picture of the gospel was incomplete or misleading." —Eternity
You're right, Mackie has been heavily influenced by N.T. Wright (or as John MacArthur called him, N.T. Wrong). When you go to Mackie's personal page, he has Wright listed as one of his major theological influences. Wright has gone as far as saying one doesn't need to believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ in order to be a Christian. The Apostle Paul said if that were the case, "Your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17).
"There are many serious theological errors in The Bible Project and Mackie's teaching. But because of contemporary evangelicalism's superficiality, folks don't even understand what's going on. Thanks for addressing this. Very important. If you notice the commenters who are upset are unable to provide Bible support for their argument. They just want to complain about tone, etc." —Jay
Watch out for the tone police! Yes, they're after me in person as well as online. It doesn't matter that I was patient and evidenced in my critique of Mackie's teaching. I still got accused of being uncivil. As you will see in the following comments...
"Have you ever tried to reach out to Tim to clarify instead of blasting your brother in Christ? It would've been easier to seek understanding than assume or mischaracterize him." —Alem (TX)
Did you try to reach out to me to understand a brother in Christ rather than "blasting" me on social media? There is no obligation upon me to call every false teacher before calling out his false teaching. Did Jesus speak privately with the Pharisees before He openly rebuked them as blind fools, white-washed tombs, and sons of hell producing more sons of hell (Matthew 23)? I wasn't even that harsh! The Bible says false teachers "must be silenced" (Titus 1:11).
"Have to disagree here. Although they do not talk about God's wrath and propitiation, saying that you shouldn't watch/share their videos is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. We are called to discernment, not separation from other believers who hold to different views." —Fabrizio (Louisville, KY)
We're called to discernment—why? To be a service to the church in distinguishing between spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10). We read in 1 John 4:1, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." Titus 1:9 says that a pastor "must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it."
You recognize, Fabrizio, that Mackie does not teach the truth about God's wrath and the propitiation of Christ's sacrifice. I demonstrated in my video that what Mackie says about those doctrines contradicts what Scripture says. He, as a teacher, has a responsibility to teach right doctrine, does he not? Therefore, doesn't it follow that Mackie may not be an orthodox believer? Am I not fulfilling my pastoral duty by saying he's an untrustworthy teacher? Am I dividing him, or would he divide himself from the body because of his false teaching?
"Dr. Tim Mackey knows more on the subject of atonement than most. He—as well as Dr. Michael Heiser—studied under an orthodox Jew in order to earn his doctorate in Old Testament." —Joe (Indiana)
An orthodox Jew may only be an expert in a modern understanding of Jewish orthodoxy. He can teach me next to nothing about Christ and His atoning sacrifice, since an orthodox Jew does not believe Jesus is the Son of God. (P.S.—Michael Heiser loves to dabble in myth and speculation. He's not a trustworthy teacher either.)
"Totally disagree for what you're saying. If you would spend time to spread the Gospel rather than mocking others, souls would have been saved. SAVE TIME." —Akash
To mock is to ridicule or laugh in a scornful or contemptuous manner. How did I do that? The gospel is presented in my video. If someone watched and listened to what I had to say, they could come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. By the way, I also make time to share the gospel with my family, my church, and my community. A pastor must do all of these things (2 Timothy 4:5).
"This video is like, 'they didn't completely cover the book of Romans in a 10 minute video, so it's heresy.' The Bible Project videos serve as introductions and summaries of pieces of the Bible. To get a more in-depth study, you will need other additional resources. And plenty exist. But TBP is doing their part. A necessary part. Don't criticize them for that. We all need simple teaching in the beginning. Not everyone graduates to the level of understanding of an R.C. Sproul or a Ravi Zacharias." —Katie (Wichita, KS)
Hey, a comment from the great state of Kansas! No, I did not say, nor did I imply, that because they didn't cover Romans the way I thought they should, they're heretics. I didn't even use the word "heretic." This comment leads me to believe you didn't watch the whole video to hear my full argument. Come on, fellow Kansan! You can do better than this.
"Not sure you can claim it's an outright lie. That's kinda assuming his heart motives which you cannot know for sure." —Breanne (New Brunswick)
A lie is a lie even if there's no intention to deceive. Most lies are not deliberate deceptions. The liar may believe his motives are right. But if what he says is not true, it's a lie. When Mackie said penal substitutionary atonement was not in the Bible and that it was a distortion of the gospel, that was a lie, no matter what his intentions were.
"He didn't say hell isn't a real place. In fact, I've heard him say explicitly that it is a real place. He said 'hell isn't just,' as in, there's more to it." —Breanne (again, a few minutes later)
I see you're leaving comments before you've watched the whole video and considered the full argument. Be quick to hear, slow to speak (James 1:19). If there is another place where Mackie said something different about hell, what he said was still wrong in the audio I played. This isn't just a difference of opinion about hell. He impugned the righteous judgment of God.
"Those videos aren't meant to be deep theological expositions. They are meant to be general guidelines to help and encourage people understand whole books of the Bible and go study the Word for themselves. If you haven't gone to him in private to figure out what he actually believes, then this video is ill willed and is creating unnecessary divisions." —Randy
Randy, you didn't come to me privately to figure out what I actually believe. Therefore, can I dismiss your comment as ill-willed and causing unnecessary division? Yes, The Bible Project videos are meant to be deep, theological expositions. One of the things I appreciate about The Bible Project is how they want to demonstrate that the whole Bible is one story. But one of the things I don't like is how they hardly ever use the Bible at all.
"This video is bad really bad. So many Pharisees in this world." —Tevin
The Pharisees added to the word of God. Are you sure you understand what a pharisee is?
"I don't find pastor Gabe's arguments compelling nor exploring anything of significance and only sounds like a minor legalistic point. I think Gabe should check his motives here and stop playing the role of 'the oppressed.'" —Bucket Bros.
As I referenced in the video, God put forward His own Son "as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith" (Romans 3:25). We read in 1 John 4:10, "In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." You don't find exploring propitiation significant? If it's in the Bible, it's significant. And where on earth did I say I was oppressed? I am not millennial, and I am not claiming a victim status.
"I’m sorry, but this is garbage. Bible Project is literally changing lives and making people want to read the Bible. These are meant to be short and summarized, so of course it won’t cover all material all the time. The same dudes have very informational and more lengthy podcasts." —Sarah (Los Angeles)
I doubt Sarah actually watched my whole video, since I went straight to Mackie's podcasts to pull an example of the nonsense he was saying about the atonement. This is one of the major problems with The Bible Project—it gets worse when you go beyond their videos. There are dozens of links to study guides, podcasts, and other sermons. Everything I had the chance to listen to in those sermons or podcasts ranks from legalistic to heretical.
I listened to three Tim Mackie sermons in a row, each an hour long, and I never heard the gospel in any one of them. I heard some fascinating historical stuff about biblical times, and Mackie gave some interesting context and language lessons. But a presentation of the gospel wasn't there, nor did he confront sin or call to repentance. What he preaches are basically life-improvement messages—Jesus just wants you to live better. That's Law with no gospel. The Law brings death, the gospel brings life (Romans 8:2).
"I think, Sir, you lack understanding about the Bible Project and their videos. You're actually saying same things like with Tim Mackie. But why do you need to slander your fellow servant, when actually you are preaching the same things? Bible Project's short videos are short, which means it was summarized. I suggest you speak to Tim Mackie personally about your concern to clarify things." —Adrian
No, I'm not saying the same thing as Tim Mackie. Nor have I slandered him—I said nothing untrue in my video. By the way, you might notice this continual theme of publicly telling me I should personally express my concerns privately.
"If the motivation behind this video is to correct wrong teaching, would it be that difficult to shoot an e-mail to the Bible Project team or to Tim Mackie? We don't need to destroy each other but lovingly correct one another because we are brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus." —Tinne
Did you shoot an e-mail to me? I'm not out to destroy anyone, but I do want to destroy every lofty opinion that contradicts Scripture. The Bible says, "For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
"Would you please publish your discussion with Tim Mackie that you had to clarify your understanding of his view of the atonement and propitiation and Hell. Oh wait, you didn’t have that discussion? If not you didn’t act in a loving manor to correctly and contextually represent your brother in Christ’s teaching." —Kawitamamayi
Would you please publish the discussion you had with me to clarify your understanding of my video? Oh wait, we didn't have that discussion? Then by your own standard of judgment, you're not acting in a loving manner.
I fear the judgment of no man. I stand in reverent fear of God alone. The Apostle Paul said, "For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10). May the Lord examine my heart and by His grace find me faithful. I hope this was edifying for you all.