Just Wondering: How Christian is Veggie Tales?

I imagine that I’m not the only one who grew up in a conservative evangelical home watching Big Idea‘s “Veggie Tales” series. Even though I’m in college now and away from home, I’m around kids enough to know that it still has a lot of entertainment value for the 2-to-9 year-old demographic. It’s changed a lot too; while I grew up with Dave and the Giant Pickle, LarryBoy, and God is Bigger Than the Boogieman, my five-year-old brother watches pop culture parodies with cute adjusted names like Minnesota Cuke, Sheerluck Holmes, and of course the abominable Lord of the Rings parody called Lord of the Bean.

The show uses large, talking vegetables to teach watered-down versions of Bible stories using lots kid humor, music, and pop culture references. It’s really a manifestation of the “Christ against culture” reasoning, namely, that Christian kids need their own entertaining Christian cartoons.

When I was a kid, I thought it was great, but I had a friend who wasn’t allowed to watch it because his parents said it trivialized Christianity. Since I’ve gotten older, I’ve slowly moved closer to my friend’s position (partly because I learned what “trivialize” meant).

There’s a lot to be said for that. Recently, I’ve developed a tentative discomfort with the show, even the ones from my time that actually told Bible stories rather than silly reinterpretations of whatever is popular in the secular world. Of course we want our kids to hear Bible stories. But do we really want them to learn about Daniel and the lion’s den from a quirky and absent-minded cucumber? What will they think of when they hear about the real Daniel, learning that he didn’t actually have pizza with the lions after they didn’t harm him? And consider the dubious trivialization of David’s adultery — comparing the real David’s tragic lust and subsequent murder of Bathsheba’s husband with Larry the Cucumber’s longing for an ever-growing collection of rubber duckies. What are we doing to these kids?

They’ve not made one show about Jesus (and don’t get me wrong, I don’t exactly want them to), but how can anything claim to be Christian without ever talking about Jesus Christ? It seems less a Christian storytime and more of a moralistic lesson glazed with some Bible verses put to corny songs at the end of every show (and they don’t even do that much anymore).

So I’m just wondering: Do you think Veggie Tales is simply innocent Christian entertainment for kids? Or is it a dangerously simplistic treatment of our faith?

7 thoughts on “Just Wondering: How Christian is Veggie Tales?

  1. Tough question, I suppose that an even more basic, and equally difficult question is “how do you feel about children’s Sunday school?” I was considering a few weeks ago how I was taught Bible stories in Sunday school, certainly watered down, and as flannel graphs go most likely trivialized and silly. Children learn songs like “12 men went to spy on Canaan” where the main goal seems to be to sing about the Israelites lack of faith as fast as possible. I believe the real issue is how to actually teach Bible stories to kids. I was recently in a “family church” where there was no children’s church. I sat next to a seven year old girl and we listened to a sermon about circumcising our ears, not really seven year old girl material if you ask me. How DO you explain David’s lust and adultery to a 7 year old? How can you explain the Babylonian wise men getting torn to pieces with their entire families after Daniel is taken out of the lions den? Sometimes simple analogies are appropriate for adults as well. When Nathan came to confront David about his sin he told him a story about a man who’s desire for one more sheep was used as an analogy for David’s lust and murder. Was that a trivialization of David’s sin? It was an effective tool used to remind/ teach David, is Veggie Tales/ Sunday school flannel graph… (ok you got me on the flannel graph, that IS taking too far) really so different? Is the story told an effective tool for delivering an important lesson? And how much of scripture should be told in it’s entirety to a child? How about Dinah and the Shechemites? The true reason the townspeople of Sodom attack Lot’s house while he entertains his heavenly guests? I believe that the Bible is clear about how it is to be digested, 1 Cor 3 “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.” Is Veggie Tales a horrible way for you or I to get a grasp on doctrine and spiritual truth? Absolutely. Is it making the truths of scripture trivial by presenting them as stories that are approachable for a 7 year old? I suppose that depends on the seven year old, are they ready for something more solid? Even so, Veggie Tales is not meant to be the major teacher of morality in a child’s life. There needs to be additional teaching and examples of the truths being taught in the movie for it to be truly learned by the child. Since Big Idea was sold back in the early 2000’s I believe that there is a distinct lack of good biblically based truth in their films, however the real problem is not with Veggie Tales, but with parents who use the films as the sole teacher of morality in their child’s life, and then expect good results.

  2. Well I’m not going nearly as deep as Zach, but I know I loved Veggie Tales growing up…honestly I still find them entertaining. But I do remember my dad saying that he didn’t like the Bible story versions very well, which upset me at the time. (There used to be some that weren’t really Bible story based…but thinking back on it now, they may have all been parodies of something…)

    Now, I understand…There is something trivializing about giving Jericho Slushies. At the same time, do we want our kids to watch the story of Esther complete with exactly what she did to make the king so happy with her? I don’t think so. I didn’t know the full R-rated version of most Bible stories until I was old enough to handle them, and honestly, even then I may not have understood exactly what it meant.

    I think that Veggie Tales does a good job of teaching kids moral messages from Bible stories, without giving them the graphic details that they can neither handle nor understand. While some of them may seem a bit ridiculous, really, Larry wanting just one more beautiful rubber ducky isn’t much different that David wanting just one more beautiful woman…in both cases they are little better than possessions, pets at best. I understand the agreement that they take important Biblical stories of true historic events too lightly, but I think that we don’t tell our kids the full story anyway, so does it matter that much? Besides, the most trivializing part would be the humor, but I’m pretty sure God has a sense of humor, too. All you have to do is look around creation at some of the funny things he created to realize that!

  3. Zach, I absolutely agree that the real issue is how to teach the Bible to kids, and I think you’re right to bring up Paul’s discussion about milk/meat. Certainly, we should be careful to communicate things in age-appropriate ways. I’m not sure how to go about that exactly. I guess a good rule of thumb is to always communicate the actual meaning of the text whenever you tell the story. You don’t have to appeal to all the specifics to do this, just like pastors shouldn’t appeal to the original language when talking about every single word of a verse (I actually can’t stand it when some people do this…like college chaplains. It’s insta-rapport, credibility on the cheap, and an undergrad minor in Greek doesn’t exactly make them experts). In whatever you communicate about the passage, be sure to get to the central meaning. In other words, don’t just appeal to inaccurate moralistic readings of the story (e.g., David’s lust for Bathsheba reminds me to be content with what I have), but instead understand how the story fits into the whole OT narrative. Breaking the OT down into a bunch of isolated stories makes this mistake particularly easy to do. Then the stories only matter insofar as they apply directly to my life, which is a pretty slippery hermeneutic, IMO.
    As for your comment about how to teach the hard stuff (e.g., the townspeople of Sodom, etc.) to kids, yeah I don’t know the answer. I will say this though, I think we sell kids short a lot. I think children can understand a lot more than we give them credit for. While that doesn’t mean you need to go into every detail, it does mean that you communicate what the Bible says without changing the meaning. I think of the Flood narrative. How is that taught in flannel graph? (I can’t resist) With pictures of a big happy ark with smiling animals sticking out of the top and a big rainbow set against a blue sky. Of course the Flood was nothing like that. Let’s flannel graph the people floating dead in the water and the raven not returning to Noah because it found lots of scrumptious corpses to feast on. Okay, not really, but we CAN communicate the deep sadness of the Flood in creative, age-appropriate ways, along with the divine judgement it represented. Certainly kids aren’t too young to understand the reality of God’s wrath. And yeah, throw in the rainbow as a sign of God’s promise and faithfulness to his people. But more than anything, let’s please be true to the text. I’m not sure Veggie Tales makes that easier to do. It often dresses up Bible stories to make them more exciting, but I wonder: maybe if the Bible seems boring when we teach it, perhaps we’re teaching it the wrong way.

  4. Rachel,
    You make an excellent point regarding the Esther story. We probably don’t want to teach the specifics of that to kids. I would add that we want to make sure we teach the story rightly, and that means (I would argue) that we don’t make Esther into the hero, as is common. We can figure out creative ways to do this, I think.
    I’m not sure that the rubber ducky/beautiful woman connection really holds up. Certainly, kids can’t understand adultery and lust and such, but they CAN understand how David’s sin affects the whole nation of Israel, how it ties into the subsequent events in his life (leading directly to Absalom’s revolt, for example), and how it reminds us of how desperately important is Jesus’ mission as the Son of David. Can this be communicated using a ducky? Maybe…but it would be hard.

  5. Well, I read this last night and wanted to reply, but it was late. Now it seems you’ve stolen my thunder, Andrew. Still…

    I haven’t seen any Veggie Tales in a long time, but the many recountings I’ve had to suffer through have given me pause. I do not think it’s wise to mix fictional elements into bible accounts, especially silly ones like pizza eating lions. Mind you, I’m not against silly stories. In fact, silly songs like The Hairbrush Song, The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything, and The Song of the Cebu are exactly what made Veggie Tales so brilliant in the first place. But let’s keep the two distinct.

    Kids are both more perceptive and more daft than we give them credit for (as father of five I believe I speak with a degree of authority here). For example, I know of a number of kids, including a couple upwards of ten years old, who believe in Santa Claus. On the other hand, I would go farther than Andrew and say that while a kid even younger than that may not know the specifics of sex, he certainly knows that his father should love–and spend the night with–only his mother, and not also his friend’s mother (or a stranger he saw at the swimming pool).

    Zach some of the questions you raise are hard ones, and I’m sure I don’t have all the answers; although as Sunday School superintendent I guess I’d better try (and to impugn the hallowed flannel graph…you lost some credibility there, cousin). But I’m convinced that two things are wrong: reducing the bible to a series of moralistic tales (this is the view of many “good” people who are comfortably embarked on a journey directly to hell; morality has never redeemed a single soul), and substituting inaccuracies–including the omission of important details–for parts of bible accounts we think the audience might be uncomfortable with or unable to process. Over the course of the years that Gwen and I have been parents we have read through a number of bible story books with the kids and whenever one of them does this I immediately stop and at the very least correct the account. Often we have gone to the actual text, regardless of the kids’ ages. I would rather they incompletely understand the truth than firmly grasp untruth.

    Does that mean we should describe every detail of what Esther or David did to a four-year-old? Of course not; the bible itself uses euphemisms. But even a four-year-old understands the basics of attraction between men and women. (And many other topics; these just happen to be the ones that have come up.) They know from dozens of Disneyfied fairy tales, for example, that a smart girl can use her beauty to win the favor of a prince. They know from those same fairy tales that men like beautiful women and will sometimes do awful things to get them. If they can handle it in a fairy tale, why should we alter God’s word?

    While I wholeheartedly endorse learning through many different media, it’s especially important when dealing with young children to distinguish between the authority and authenticity of Scripture and that of mere stories (you’ll note that I don’t even call them “bible stories”; I prefer a term like “accounts” or “narratives”). Anything that gets in the way of that distinction is potentially harmful. The teachers of our 2s and 3s class were furious when Regular Baptist Press changed its illustrations for that age group’s material from realistic to cartoonish. They told me they have a hard enough time explaining that Jesus dying on the cross is real but the Easter bunny is not without having a Jesus who looks like Disney’s Gaston. (I wrote RBP a letter expressing their concern but go no response.) I think Veggie Tales treads on thin ice here. I wouldn’t issue a flat-out prohibition against venturing there, but a warning sign is certainly in order.

  6. After rereading the thread I have to add one more thing on the topic of how we treat some of the more gruesome or graphic elements in Scripture. We recently read the flood account in the latest of our children’s bible story books (it doesn’t call itself that, by the way, which I appreciate; it’s called “The Children’s Bible” from Golden Press, copyright 1965, and probably the best one we’ve found so far). Here’s a direct quote: “Every living thing that moved upon the earth died: birds, cattle, beasts, every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth, and every man.” That makes what happened pretty clear, even to the four- and five-year-old. Still, I stopped and asked them to imagine every person and animal on earth drowning–the fear, the sadness, and yes, the dead bodies. Too much? I don’t know, but I wanted each mind at the table to grasp as fully as possible God’s position on sin. It was a sobering moment (and not just for the kids), but hopefully effective.

  7. Hi there, I’m so glad you blogged about this, I was thinking of doing the same! I don’t believe “Veggie Tales” is a Christian show at all. That show was nothing more than a clever ruse to get Christian’s watching, that’s why the bibles message was quickly over shadowed and then pretty much replaced by a lot of Hollywood box office movies that as a Mom, I don’t want my little one asking me who is “Cabin Boy” or “Get A Life”! The show does nothing but plug Hollywood smut that Christian kids shouldn’t even hear about! let alone watch re-enactments of them on a so-called-children’s Christian shows. I have researched Phil Vischer & Mike Nawrocki and these 2 are part of the illuminati uprising-(New World Order) That is the ONLY reason they are allowed to continue on, (TV. & radio). It was all a clever ruse to deceive the masses and help usher in the satanic New World Order. I have seen both of them giving their illuminati hand jesters to show whom they pledged allegiances too! They are a couple of “Ravenous Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing” to put it mildly. It makes me sick & sad when they target the venerable little one.

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