The first time I saw Veggie Tales I was a high school sophomore in a room full of guys from around the country and we couldn’t stop laughing at Larry the Cucumber’s hairbrush song.
Veggie Tales was funny stuff.
Every half-hour episode was packed with witty cultural references, silly vegetables and a nice moral lesson, always ending with the affirmation, “God made you special, and He loves you very much.”
Almost twenty years later, I still watch Veggie Tales with my kids as they’re introduced to Veggie-tized versions of classic characters from Indiana Jones to George Müller and classic literature from Hamlet to Huckleberry Finn.
But I’ve known for some time that there’s something conspicuously missing from Veggie Tales. Despite being created by Christians with the goal of promoting Christian virtues and values, there’s something missing. Something you need in order to be truly Christian.
Oh yes, I know what’s missing.
Christianity vs Morality
The creator of Veggie Tales, Phil Vischer, came to this same realization after the bankruptcy and sale of Veggie Tales’ parent company Big Idea Productions. 1 In a 2011 interview with worldmag.com he was asked, “How are you applying your experience with Big Idea to your new venture, Jellyfish Labs?”
After the bankruptcy I had…a…sabbatical of…spending time with God and listening to Him. 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.
That realization led me to a quest to say, all right, I need a new vehicle for teaching where I can go in much, much deeper but still in a fun, lighthearted, witty way…my new series, What’s in the Bible…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.” 2
Veggie Tales: A Reflection of a Bigger Problem
Vischer’s realization about Veggie Tales is part of a much bigger problem, one that Dr. Christian Smith, professor of sociology at Notre Dame, has coined “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”. In Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers 3 Smith utilized extensive research with American teens to summarize their prevailing religious views:
- “A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.” 4
This sounds very similar to the religion of Veggie Tales and so many other products and messages that bear the label “Christian”. It is a warm, fuzzy belief in a distant God whose primary goal is our happiness and fulfillment.
It is Christianity without Christ, which means it is not Christianity at all, but a false religion built on a false gospel. And most American teenagers, including most professing Christians, have unwittingly accepted it as their worldview.
Choosing More Than Veggie Tales & False Religion
So, what can be done?
We can begin by taking a page from Vischer’s book. In his new series, What’s in the Bible, Vischer works his way through Scripture systematically, focusing on the centrality and supremacy of Christ at every turn.
Rather than being content with the Christ-less generalities of “being kind” and “God loves you”, Vischer develops the deep theological themes of sin, death, salvation, new life and righteousness in Christ. Yes, “God loves us”, but we know this because of what God did in Christ. Yes, we should be “kind” to one another, but that is because kindness demonstrates the love of God that is transforming us into the image of Christ.
In our homes we need to follow this same pattern. Our children need to be taught how Christ is the center of everything we do and say as Christians. As parents we can only teach this if we are truly believing and practicing it.Our children are a reflection of us. - Israel Steinmetz Click To Tweet
Our children are a reflection of us. The reason so many of them have accepted a religion built on happiness, good morals and personal fulfillment is that so many of us have modeled this religion for them.
We model this false religion when:
- Our primary goal for our children is financial stability and happiness, rather than becoming fully devoted followers of Christ who love God and others.
- We invest the majority of our resources into our children being entertained and accomplished, rather than devoting resources to helping them discover the joy of service and the gifts they’ve been given to benefit the Body of Christ.
- We are personally consumed with money, success, happiness, and being “good” people, rather than devoting ourselves wholeheartedly to loving God and others through partnering with God in His mission of worldwide redemption in Christ.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that it’s time for us as parents to move from Veggie Tales to What’s in the Bible. 5 It’s time to give up Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in favor of true, Christ-Centered Christianity. Our children are depending upon us.
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- You can read Phil Vischer’s story of Big Idea’s demise here http://philvischer.com/phil-news/what-happened-to-big-idea-part-1/. ↩
- Emphasis mine. You can read the interview here http://www.worldmag.com/2011/09/it_s_not_about_the_dream/page1. ↩
- Christian Smith & Melina Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). ↩
- For a short, accessible summary of the book, written by Christian Smith, see http://www.ptsem.edu/uploadedFiles/School_of_Christian_Vocation_and_Mission/Institute_for_Youth_Ministry/Princeton_Lectures/Smith-Moralistic.pdf. ↩
- For the sake of clarity, my kids do still watch Veggie Tales. With some supplemental coaching from my wife and me, our kids are able to make the connection between the vague moralism of Veggie Tales and the ethical example and teachings of Christ. ↩