I am a Bible Bowler. No, I do not participate in a Christian bowling league but rather I compete in a national Bible memory competition with other teens every month at my church as well as with teens from around the country at our annual national tournament. Our local round-robin competitions include devotions to start off the day and times for prayer before every round. The competitions can run pretty long but I always have fun and enjoy fellowshipping with other Believers. The individual rounds, which are set up in a College Bowl format, can get tense at times but it is up to us to police ourselves and make sure we are acting in step with Jesus. I have seen my life and the lives of others changed by God's Word through this program and I feel like this is a great way to empower youth AND adults through the power of Christian love. It's not perfect program but it sounds pretty good, right? Well, some would disagree. For example: I was accosted by a youth leader who accused me and hundreds of other Bible Bowlers of being divisive and implied that there is something unethical about "competing for cash prizes", as he characterized the Christian college scholarships which are given out at our summer tournaments and national competition in addition to added gift certificates. He impugned my character as well as the character of hundreds of other kids in programs such as AWANA, Bible Bowl, Bible Quiz, and Bible Bee. This is my defense of these great programs promoting biblical literacy.
1. Bible Bowl and other such programs engender divisiveness.
My view is that Bible Bowl doesn't bring out or put into a person any feelings that are not already present consciously or subconsciously. Bible Bowl doesn't make people divisive in any scripturally, sinful sense BUT a person can use Bible bowl as an object of division. We can control our feelings and are responsible to make sure that it is us who are in control over our feelings and not our feelings controlling us. If a person chooses to be divisive it is not a Bible Bowl issue but a heart issue. We don't shut down a program because it can be abused rather we exhort each other to keep everything in proper context and that is what happens all the time at Bible Bowl. Nearly every month at our local round robin whoever gives the devotion will stress the point that the verses that are embedded in our minds need to make it to our hearts and hands. We cannot force someone to not feel a certain way but we can encourage and correct them. This is all that can be asked of those parents sponsors coaches and players who are part of the Bible Bowl family.
2. You can't undergo discipleship simply from rote memory.
Perhaps, but as my coach always says the Scripture has to be in your head before it can be in your heart. Bible Bowl is under no obligation, spiritual or otherwise, to teach theology or Bible studies to go along with the memorization. With that in mind, prayer and student led devotions are always apart of the program schedule. Because Bible Bowl does not have a Bible study type format does not make it unprofitable, to say the least, RATHER when a person goes into a Bible study they are equipped with biblical knowledge they have received from their Bible Bowl studies.
3. "Ca$h Prize$"
There is nothing wrong with incentive monetary or otherwise for a job well done as long as that is not the end goal. Show me a verse in the Bible that implies otherwise. Any added prize or even a trophy becomes sinful when it characterizes the program or takes away from the overall goal of the program or eclipses the spiritual aspect of the program.
4. There are /better/more productive/ more uniting/ insert benefit here/ ways to learn the Bible.
Maybe. There are probably worse ways too. What's your point? Bible Bowl has proven itself productive and biblically sound even if it's not perfect. As for the unity issue, kids need to know that they are not the only ones out there with a desire to know God's Word and being around the like-minded in a such a setting fosters much unity and church awareness.
5. Why give the prizes if it's all about learning God's Word?
Fair question. Some of the awards such as scholarships and mission trips go back into the Kingdom. But things like gift certificates are given not because God's Word is not sufficient but because people like gift certificates. Seriously there's no complex reason and it does not take away from the overall goal so I don't see a problem.
There are so many more better questions and better answers but these are some of the ones I've come up against. I hope that we would support and encourage programs that promote biblical literacy rather than demonize them and in all things we should voice our objections in love. Anyone wanting to know more about Bible Bowl should go to www.biblebowl.net.