Thursday, June 07, 2012

Were the VeggieTales not Christian enough?

Working at Big Idea–the creators of the VeggieTales– was one of my dream jobs when I went back to school to earn my undergraduate degree in marketing. I really appreciated what Big Idea co-founder Phil Vischer was trying to do by creating a Christian media company. Unfortunately it wasn't to be. By the time I graduated, Big Idea was already spiraling downward into bankruptcy. I am not nearly the VeggieTales fan that I once was but my interest still piques up whenever I see something related to Phil Vischer in the news.

So I was hooked when I saw the following headline: VeggieTales creator repents of moralism. I read the short blog post by Dr. Gene Veith and clicked a couple of his links as well. I even went and read the entire interview with Vischer at the World Magazine website. I found it interesting that the blog post that I originally read selected this quote:

"I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, 'Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,' or 'Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!' But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality. . . .

"And that was such a huge shift for me from the American Christian ideal. We’re drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It’s the Oprah god. So I had to peel that apart. I realized I’m not supposed to be pursuing impact, I’m supposed to be pursuing God. And when I pursue God I will have exactly as much impact as He wants me to have."

Now I don't think that Mr. Vischer is saying that there is anything wrong with teaching morality. The point that he is making is that there is a difference between teaching good behavior and Christianity. We can teach all about morality without ever teaching about Christianity but we cannot teach about Christianity without teaching about morality. According to this quote Mr. Vischer thought that the VeggieTales were teaching too little about Christianity.

I agree that–from the perspective of the church–teaching morality without teaching the doctrines of Christianity is wrong. We must preach Christ and not just be a guide to doing right and not doing wrong. Without Christ there is no forgiveness of sins. But was it the VeggieTales responsibility to preach Christ?

On the one hand yes. It is something that we should all be doing. But on the other hand I don't know that Phil Vischer needs to apologize for the content of the VeggieTales. The fact that the VeggieTales focused more on teaching morality to kids than on an explicit gospel message isn't inherently wrong. I don't' think that we shouldn't expect things like the VeggieTales or other Christian media/art to preach an explicit gospel message. We should recognize these things for what they are and–and more importantly–what they are not.

The VeggieTales are not a substitute for the Bible. They are not a substitute for parents taking the time to read the Bible with their children. They are not a substitute for parents taking the time to preach Christ to their children. The same thing can be said for any Christian material or program.

I don't think that Dr. Veith is advocating that the VeggieTales should be equivalent to the Bible. He is critiquing Christian media and art for teaching morality without really preaching Christ. I understand this concern. But my concern isn't that the VeggieTales might be too heavy on moralism and too light on Christ. My concern is that we are placing too much weight on things like the VeggieTales. These things can be great tools in the right context of parents taking the time flesh out what is being taught. But they can also be very dangerous tools when parents use the VeggieTales as substitute teachers.



VeggieTales creator repents of moralism via Tim Challies' A La Carte


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