VeggieTales, the lovable Christian cartoon, has for years been delighting kids and parents with their fun telling of Bible stories and tales emphasizing moral themes. I bet you have shown at least a few episodes to your kids or maybe a well meaning family member gave your child a DVD as a gift. Even as parents we laugh at the clever story lines and spoofs on popular culture (The Wonderful Wizard of Ha’s, Minnesota Cuke and the Search for Noah’s Umbrella, Lord of the Beans, etc.). But did you notice something left out in my opening sentence of this article? I said, “for years been delighting kids and parents with their fun telling of Bible stories and tales emphasizing moral themes.” What is missing? Christ.
Christian kids programs should reference Christ
When we had our first boy and he reached the age where watching TV was appropriate, we naturally gravitated to VeggieTales. We had friends who had their kids watch them, family had quickly got him DVDs, and we thought it was probably one of the more wholesome cartoons we could find. How could they be anything but good for our kid. The makers are self professing Christians, many of the programs are actually Bible stories (albeit made kid friendly, i.e. dumbed down), and they teach good values to the kiddos. However, as we watched them over, and over, and over, and over again (yes, kids love watching their favorites many times), I suppose I started to read into them some. What was the real message inside the moral of the story?
The story we watched the most initially was Josh and the Big Wall, the VeggieTales version of the Fall of Jericho. The subtext to the video is “A Lesson in Obedience”. That should tip you off right there. While it does touch on the key points of the Bible account, in the end it seems to indicate Joshua & the Israelites doing stuff to allow God to do his work at Jericho. Not the other way around. But hey, this is an Old Testament “Law” driven story, right? What if we let this one slide and look at one of their shows on Easter… Christ must make a clear appearance in that, right? No.
Twas the Night Before Easter was something we found on Netflix just this last Spring. I was skeptical from as watching Josh and the Big Wall (and a number of other episodes) which had left me questioning if VeggieTales ever took on the subject of Christ. This was their most recent Easter program, and I figured it must have some Christ. Unfortunately, even though they often made comments about “what Easter was really about” they never actually got to the point. I remember watching it and waiting for them to finally get into Christ dying for us, but it never happened. Instead the moral you get is you are to help others and not be selfish (Law and no Gospel!). I only saw this once or twice, but I do not think Christ was mentioned at all… in a “Christian” program with the word “Easter” in it! Maybe we should be tipped off by the Easter bunny version of “Larry the Cucumber” on the cover. Ugh.
What could be going wrong here
There seems to be one of or a collection of the following things happening with VeggieTales:
- Confusion over the distinction between Law and Gospel
- Purposeful emphasis on Law over Gospel, “since they are just kids” (if presuming kids aren’t at the Age of Accountability or the like)
- Profit over theology (VeggieTales is quite the marketing/money making powerhouse nowadays, walk into any Christian bookstore with a kids section for proof)
- Move away from VeggieTales Christian roots, perhaps related to #3 or “lack of content”
- Some of the earlier programs, most of which I have not seen, seem like they may get better reviews on substance [unclear how much Christ involved though]. For instance, see this parent review.
- Maybe all the “good” Bible stories are taken up? So let’s make some moral ones instead? Crazy talk, but maybe that is the thinking?
- These videos are not really meant to teach theology, they are just kid programs which at best are teaching morality.
If I was a betting man, I’d say my issues are a theological problem related to points #1 and #2. But many people might be happy echoing point #5 about “these are just ‘good’ kid videos”. In any case, the warning to the parent will be the same.
No substitute for Cross-focus teaching
VeggieTales is a “Christian” oriented program, but that does not make it in any way a substitute for good Christ-centric teaching by parents, grandparents, and the Church. As discussed on Issues, Etc.’s series on Christ-Centric parenting, some parents seem to be willing to pass off the responsibilities of Christian teaching to anyone other than themselves (Christian schools, the Church, videos, etc.) rather then handle it themselves. And while that is a topic for an another article, it needs to be mentioned when talking about Christian videos like VeggieTales. This is especially true when the self-identified Christian program often (if not always in VeggieTalescase?) leaves out Christ. Relaying too much on such programs will lead your children to a different Christianity than one which is Christ-centric in nature.
Does the McNary household still have VeggieTales DVDs, toys, and books around our home? Yes, we do. However, our toddler has mostly moved onto Thomas and Diego. Unlike his fading interest in VeggieTales, with the help of prayer and the Holy Spirit, we continue to teach him more and more about Christ’s sacrifice for all of us on the Cross. Then, when we watch VeggieTales with our (now baby) twins, we’ll be sure to use them as tools to teach Bible stories and morals, with no illusions that they somehow teach Christ-crucified.