Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
Many of us remember VeggieTales. Our kids watched them over and over so they could recite whole dialogues. The songs were catchy and we can probably still remember some to this day.
Phil Vischer, the founder and creator, spent a number of years giving himself to this ministry. However, according to Vischer, it was only after he lost it all that he realized what this had become to him. It had become a babel experience for him, in that though he began with a desire and commitment to teach the Bible it ended up being about him and his ministry. As he notes, his “bankruptcy humbled me [and] killed my idol.”
One of the things that Vischer realized through the experience of losing this ministry is that much of what he taught was moralism. They took a biblical truth, wrapped a story around it and presented it as biblical truth. Though it was done well, and many truths were taught in this way, Vischer’s grief was over the fact that it ended up being moralistic teaching. It presented a biblical truth with the exhortation to do it without an undergirding foundation in the gospel, in what God has done in and through Christ.
On the other side of the loss of VeggieTales and in his deepening relationship with God and his increasing love of the Bible Vischer 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.”
From this conviction another dream of teaching the Bible was birthed. Vischer desired to go beyond teaching the virtues and morals of the Bible as an end in and of themselves but to teach the Bible. This led to the creation of a new DVD resource entitled “What’s in the Bible?” that is “designed to communicate the unfolding storyline of Scripture from a decidedly gospel-centered perspective. . . . In addition to gospel-shaped biblical theology, Vischer laces apologetics and hermeneutics throughout in a way that kids can understand. The result is a resource bound to help kids and adults alike better grasp the Bible’s epic story and prize its ultimate hero – Jesus Christ.”
This resource consists of 13 hours of video that goes through the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation accompanied by 65 songs. When interviewed about this new resource, Vischer was asked what it is that made it unique. His response:
Christian kids resources tend to fall into two camps: children's Bibles and entertainment products like VeggieTales. Both have value, but both also have limitations. Very few children's Bibles cover more than 5 percent to 10 percent of the Bible, and tend to focus on scenes that lend themselves to cute illustrations. Concepts like sin, judgment, propitiation, atonement, and sanctification are really hard to draw. If it doesn't look good on a wallpaper border for a nursery, it probably isn't going to make the cut. As a result, most children's Bibles present a highly truncated gospel.
On the other hand, entertainment products typically follow the VeggieTales model: tell a story that illustrates a value, then wrap it up with a Bible verse to show the biblical basis for that value. We certainly need to teach kids biblical values, but biblical values aren't the gospel. Introducing a child to "kindness" isn't equal to introducing him or her to Jesus.
Vischer was also asked about how this series will be different from VeggieTales, moving from “teaching Bible stories” to “teaching the story of the Bible” and the importance of this shift and how it will be accomplished.
We are very intentionally walking kids through the entire Bible—mentioning every book and explaining how each book fits into the big story of "God and what he's done for us." We're also very consciously not skipping the tricky parts. What's with all the weird rules in Leviticus, and why don't we follow them all today? Why was it "okay" for the Israelites to kill all those Canaanites? And what's up with Song of Solomon?! These are issues few kids have ever heard raised in Sunday school, yet they're some of the key issues that can knock your faith out from under you in high school or college.
We're combining a basic overview of the entire Bible with some key apologetic concepts to give kids (and their parents) a sort of "Christianity 101" preparation for a life as a Jesus follower. To be honest, I believe we often underestimate what kids are capable of learning, and overestimate what grownups in our churches are capable of (or interested in) learning. The two groups, I believe, are much closer together than many pastors would prefer to acknowledge. What's in the Bible? is a 13-hour miniseries—an "Introduction to the Christian Faith" for the entire family.
Vischer has learned an invaluable lesson. Through this season of learning, it appears Vischer has grasped an important truth regarding the gospel and its entailments in life that will impact others through this new resource. This is a good thing.
As we look at our own lives and teaching, what do we observe? What corrections do we need to make in our lives, in our teaching and preaching in our parenting?