The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Would Jesus Use VeggieTales?

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As expected, I received an email defending VeggieTales as a way to introduce very young children to the Bible. As I pointed out in yesterday’s article, bringing Bible stories down to the level of children so they can understand them is a good thing, but the stories must be faithful to what the Bible actually says. It’s the retelling of Bible stories by VeggieTellers that drives me out of my gourd. Conservative Christians demand accurate Bible translations, but they don’t seem too concerned when the Bible is fictionalized in order to convey a message not actually found in a biblical story. Eugene Peterson, author of the contemporary language translation of the Bible The Message, makes note of the fact that “the Bible is hard. I don’t think we should compromise the accuracy of the Bible for ease of reading.”[1]

The VeggieTellers are way too liberal in the use of their literary license. Acknowledging that “kids learn more and listen better when lessons are presented in fun, entertaining ways”[2] is one thing, but to rewrite the Bible and denude it of its true message seems to be adding to and taking away from God’s Word (Rev. 22:18–19). For example, instead of King Nebuchadnezzar trying to get Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego to worship a giant golden statue, the story is retold as Nebby K. Nezzar as a despotic manufacturer of chocolate bunnies who forces Shack, Rack, and Benny to worship a giant chocolate bunny. This is supposed to be more appealing to modern children than the original story, and no doubt it is. But this and other stories are not true to the Bible, not only in content but in purpose. Are we to believe that Daniel 1 and 2 cannot be taught in an exciting but accurate way to children?

VeggieTellers present the Bible as a compilation of morality tales and obscure its redemptive message by presenting morality as the Bible’s end-message. Many Christians are under the false assumption that if we just get our children to follow a certain moral worldview all will be right with the world. If this is true, then what is unique about the Christian message? A moral worldview can be found in diverse literary and religious traditions, many of which have a great deal in common with biblical morality. C. S. Lewis called this common morality “the Tao” or the Natural Law.[3] The moral lessons of VeggieTales could just as easily have been chosen from these diverse cultures and religious traditions with the same cuteness, silliness, and profundity. No one would know the difference. I have a problem, however, with VeggieTales being sold as “Bible stories.”

The Bible tells a comprehensive story. Its many elements cannot be separated from the whole or its many parts. Biblical stories always include the fall, judgment, and redemption. Why pick a Bible story to make some moral point when the retelling of the story misses everything the Bible is trying to communicate? If the Bible were a compilation of moral stories that could stand on their own, then there would be no need for the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is why VeggieTales stories generally focus on the Old Testament. By leaving Jesus out of the picture, they are nothing more than morality tales common to numerous cultures. Mike Nawrocki is honest enough to admit, “We’re not going to tell a story with Jesus in it directly.”[4] The VegieTellers have other problems once they delve into real biblical theology. “We really wanted to avoid portraying Jesus as a vegetable. We felt that would be stepping over the line.”[5] The entire Bible is about Jesus (Luke 24:27, 44), and yet the VeggieTales leave Him out!

Then there is the issue of trivializing the Bible’s message. Studies have shown that most of Christianity’s converts are teenagers.[6] They also show that a high percentage of these same teenagers walk away from their childhood faith as they approach adulthood. They are hit with arguments against Christianity that they never had to consider as teenagers since few churches actually teach on worldview issues and apologetic methodology. Christianity is perceived to be a religion for children. High school youth groups are run more like secular encounter groups rather than a place where the rigorous study of God’s Word takes place with its real-world application.[7] Although not written specifically about VeggieTales, the following comments are appropriate: “It is tragic that churches have trivialized God by creating a user-friendly deity who lacks mystery and transcendence.”[8] There is a growing reaction among the young to decades of watered-down theology as they move to Reformed Theology.[9]

Am I overreacting? You be the judge. How does the following story of David and Bathsheba, hardly recognizable as King George and the Ducky, measure up to the Bible? After Jimmy and Jerry Gourd unsuccessfully attempt to host the show (complete with cardboard Bob and Larry costumes, and an independent film entitled “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down With All the Bananas”), Bob the Tomato proceeds to narrate the story of King George and the Ducky. The kingdom of King George (played by the always goofy and lisping Larry the Cucumber in a robe) is off at war (albeit a pie war), but all he wants to do is take baths with his rubber ducky. One day, while taking a bath, King George overhears a very familiar squeak. When he looks out over his balcony, he sees Thomas (Jr. Asparagus) taking a bath with his ducky, his favorite (and only) toy. King George becomes insanely selfish, and even though he has a whole closetfull of perfectly good rubber duckies, he wants that one. So he sends Thomas to the front lines of the war (“He’ll be creamed!” he he), so that he can sleep with—er—steal his faithful subject’s wife—er—ducky. Well, to make a short story, um, even shorter, the prophet Nathan (Pa Grape) tells King George a story (with the aid of a beautiful flannel graph) about the rich man and the poor man with the sheep . . . you know. Anyway, King George decides to make things right. Thomas comes home from the pie wars (without his mind) and King George gives him a hot bath and his own rubber ducky. Thomas gets his mind back and his ducky back, and King George promises never to be selfish again. (Too bad things didn’t work out so well for Uriah the Hittite and David in the Bible.) Is this the way you want your children to learn the Bible?

Endnotes:

[1] Quoted in a review with Doug LeBlanc, “‘I Didn’t Want to be Cute,’” Christianity Today (October 7, 2002), 107.
[2] Annette Bourland, editor of Clubhouse Jr. magazine, quoted in Susan Goodwin Graham, “Learn to Discern with help from a few frogs,” Focus on the Family (October 2002), 3.
[3] C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man or Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools (New York: The Macmillan Co., [1947] 1965).
[4] Quoted in Phil Kloer, “The Veggies Kids Love,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution (May 18, 2002), B2.
[5] Quoted in Kloer, “The Veggies Kids Love,” B2.
[6] Larry Poston, “The Adult Gospel,” Christianity Today (August 20, 1990).
[7] Cathy Mickels and Audrey McKeever, Spiritual Junk Food: The Dumbing Down of Christian Youth (Mukilteo, WA: Winepress Publishing, 1999).
[8] Brent Muirhead, “Growth Movement is Flawed,” Letters, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (September 26, 2002), 10A.
[9] See Collin Hansen, “Young, Restless, Reformed,” Christianity Today (September 1, 2006)

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