Even as the Bible has remained the center of Christian faith for hundreds of years, engaging God’s Word has evolved. For years, the majority of early-Church believers were illiterate. What’s more, they had little access to texts in their first language.
With the advent of the Protestant Reformation, the number of translations available began to climb, along with a focus on individual Bible readership. But even as the proliferation of types of print Bibles has rapidly increased in recent decades, so have other forms of Scriptural engagement, especially as digital technology has entered the picture. Enter, Bible Project, a Portland-based animation studio that has taught millions about Old and New Testament stories, literature, and key themes through its video shorts that break down the ancient texts in accessible, entertaining, and educational ways.
Last year, writer Paul J. Pastor profiled the team’s work for Christianity Today in “How the Bible Project Is Using Video to Get People into Scripture Again.” The Evangelical Press Association (EPA) awarded Pastor’s article first place in its “Cause of the Year” award, a category that changes on an annual basis. In the most recent award season, the cause was Bible literacy.
“The opening paragraphs are worth the price of subscription,” wrote the EPA judges, commenting on Pastor’s description of a Bible Project video short of Job. “Vividly narrating video is a fraught undertaking, but this captured me.”
The judges continued, “A narrative matryoshka masterpiece. A story about two guys telling stories from the great story of God and humanity, hoping people integrate that story into their stories.”
“Biblical literacy is close to my heart,” said Pastor. “We frequently position it in ways that aren’t compelling or that carefully deal with the history or formation of the Bible. Often, we’re not answering the questions people are really asking.”
But Pastor found that the Bible Project’s series excelled at “distilling deep concepts into readily accessible themes.”
“It’s really excellent content. It honors the questions and the personhood of the person engaging it,” he said. “It never dumbs the Bible down.”
Among many demographics, the ministry has especially resonated with a group that some Christians have been tempted to write off.
“The Bible Project’s metrics undo many common assumptions about biblical literacy or interest today,” said Pastor. “The fact that their average donor for a crowd-funded project is a young male in his late teens to early 20s, is amazing to me. It so effectively spoke against this false narrative that guys don’t care about the Bible and that coastal or progressive areas don’t care about the Bible.”
Pastor has spent most of his life in his home state of Oregon, but his career did have a Chicagoland interlude. After graduating from Western Seminary, he joined Christianity Today in 2011 after he was nominated for an editorial residency with former CT publication, Leadership Journal.
“We, in just a matter of a couple of months, packed our little red station wagon,” said Pastor.
“We had a one-and-a-half-year-old and second one on the way. We loaded up a cooler with dry ice and beef and drove here sight unseen.”
Since high school, Pastor had written songs, poetry, fiction, and creative writing, but CT was his first step into publishing.
“While I’d been writing for a long time, I had no formal journalism experience. I was a blank slate” said Pastor. “I showed up to CT with passion and openness. Numerous mentors there gave of their time to help me grow.
The residency turned into a fulltime job, then various editorial positions over the next several years before his family returned to Oregon, where he engaged deeply with the tight knit and influential community of Christian writers rooted in the Portland area, including Luis Palau, Donald Miller, John Mark Comer, and many others.
“Portland is a small town in the Christian and publishing communities,” said Pastor. “Everyone knows each other, and there’s a wonderful spirit of collaboration.”
Though deeply connected in the city, the Pastor family makes their home on a creekside property east of Portland, where he works from a custom home office and Emily, Paul’s wife, is an artist.
“The community is basically a village in the woods,” he said. “It’s very pristine.” They homeschool their three children and are active in local nature study, education, and the arts.
Because of this lifestyle, Pastor hasn’t had to shuffle much of his life around due to COVID-19. Instead, he’s continuing with his creative projects, including his present full-time role as an editor for WaterBrook and Multnomah, two of Penguin Random House’s Christian book imprints. He is also an author, with his 2016 book, The Face of the Deep re-releasing from David C. Cook on August 1, 2020, a multi-volume devotional series (The Listening Day) available from Zeal Books, and a forthcoming (2021) collection of poetry, titled Bower Lodge, with a contract soon to be announced .
In addition to the EPA’s recognition, Pastor said many who reached out with feedback were excited that CT had covered the Bible Project.
“It was a great glimpse into the minds and hearts of Tim Mackie and Jon Collins, and the extended impact that their work is having,” wrote one reader.
“The piece has been a prompt for many people to think more deeply about how and why they read the Bible instead of simply consuming it.” he said.
Pastor has long been passionate about encouraging and promoting Biblical literacy through his own work and this drive encouraged him to move forward with the piece after a CT editor reached out.
“It was a good article for CT because it traced the cutting-edge growth of a historic Christian discipline—Bible engagement,” said Pastor. “The freshness and depth of the ‘story behind the story’ lent itself to the careful work that CT does in long-form profiles like this.”
CT continues to serve as a home for Christians from a variety of backgrounds to engage and learn from each other, says Pastor.
“I appreciate that CT remains a space for balanced, well-reasoned discussion. Dialogue, based on strong reporting and careful work, is in decline these days. CT is still a space where that slower, more careful, and very important work gets done for Christian readers, and many beyond the Christian community too,” said Pastor. “It’s always an honor to publish my work in CT.”
Morgan Lee is Global Media Manager at CT.