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Did Veggie Tales prove that you can teach kids to behave Christianly without teaching them Christianity?

A very interesting article here. Remember those veggies that sung like helium intoxicated chip munks and told stories from the bible almost similar to bible stories? Now there seems to be a hint of regret. You see…

VeggieTales “convinced kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity.” So says founder Phil Vischer in a new interview.

VeggieTales was a rags-to-riches entrepreneurial success story. Vischer and his counterpart, Mike Nawrocki, left college to pursue their dream of making wildly creative children’s videos. At the height of their success in the late 1990s, VeggieTales videos sold 7 million copies in a single year and generated $40 million in revenue. Though primarily aimed at a Christian market, VeggieTales had a broader cultural influence, pushing forward the boundaries of computer animation and children’s programming

But success brought failure. Though Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber are still around, they aren’t the same. Big Idea Productions went bankrupt in 2003 and Vischer lost ownership and creative control of the whole enterprise. VeggieTales is no longer VeggieTales. The characters still exist – and in some cases are even voiced by Nawrocki and Vischer as hired talent – but the decisions are now made by studio execs who don’t share the vision or worldview of the original founders.

In a recent issue of WORLD magazine, Vischer acknowledged to interviewer Megan Basham that the bankruptcy and subsequent trials have given him perspective. His words reveal a man who’s beginning to see the difference between moralism and the gospel. And a man humble enough to acknowledge his role in confusing the two:

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.

American Christian[s]… are 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… We’ve completely taken this Disney notion of ‘when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true’ and melded that with faith and come up with something completely different. There’s something wrong in a culture that preaches nothing is more sacred than your dream. I mean, we walk away from marriages to follow our dreams. We abandon children to follow our dreams. We hurt people in the name of our dreams, which as a Christian is just preposterous.

[“It’s Not About the Dream,” WORLD magazine, Sep 24, 2011, 57-58]

I’ve been strongly critical of the Christian subculture over the years because I believe it does more to distort and discredit the gospel than almost any external threat or influence. It’s good to see one of the former saints of that subculture putting his finger on the same weaknesses. It’s even better to see “gospel awakening” in a man with such deep wells of creativity and talent.

And now, it’s that time for Silly Songs with Larry.

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32 responses to “Did Veggie Tales prove that you can teach kids to behave Christianly without teaching them Christianity?

  1. Christ-Follower October 13, 2011 at 00:36

    We live in a society where Christians act just like non-Christians. There’s no visible difference between the two. It’s sad. Non-Christians are living by the same moral code and American Dream as Christians with only one exception – they don’t believe in the Saving Grace of Jesus Christ.

    We have twisted our faith to make it fit American, not Christian, ideals. The Church in the US is living out the American Dream in the context of their faith. We are more concerned about bringing in the people than changing lives – even though ETERNITY is on the line. Many Christians are now being led to believe that “being good” is enough to get you into heaven.

    The American Church is headed down a dangerous road… a road that might not be leading heavenwards…

    • Jeff Godley October 15, 2011 at 20:27

      The only amendment I would make is that it is not the Christians who are acting like non-Christians – it is the false converts. It is the non-Christians who are convinced that they are, in fact, Christians, who act like non-Christians. Because that is really what they are.

      • Christ-Follower October 15, 2011 at 23:11

        Very true. It’s scary that we too-often assume that “sitting in a church pew means you’re a follower of Christ.”

      • patrickburwell May 30, 2012 at 00:13

        WELL saaaaaaaid. http://HowWillYouDo.org

  2. theologigal October 13, 2011 at 00:54

    “American Christian[s]… are 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.”

    That’s some amazing (and painful!) insight. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. therenewedway October 13, 2011 at 01:03

    Interesting. Thanks for sharing

  4. reformbama October 13, 2011 at 01:12

    I was onto this day one of Veggie Tales.

  5. julie October 14, 2011 at 15:36

    Me too reformbama. And it always bothered me that the mascots for American Christianity were vegetables….

  6. EricB May 29, 2012 at 16:30

    I’ve watched many/most of the Veggietales productions over the years. While none of them are ‘bad’ in themselves or teach obviously wrong things, one thing that really began to bother me is that in NONE of them (that I saw, at least), was the Gospel ever presented. Which dovetails exactly with this article. The Gospel is the most important thing, and is simple enough for a child to understand… so why did they fail to teach it?

    • Acidri May 29, 2012 at 18:16

      Good question!

  7. DAve May 29, 2012 at 17:53

    I would garner that not one, NOT ONE kid has altered their behavior because of veggie tales. Had a seizure, yes, but altered their behavior, no.

  8. patrickburwell May 30, 2012 at 00:01

    Paul Vischer and I traded emails in 2006 (1) about his moralizing Christianity without the Authority of Jesus in his VeggieTales cartoons. His response was to say he thought bringing a good message to youth was ok, that he can get to speaking about Jesus ‘later.’ That’s like trying to explain to a child why it is wrong to steal your hotdog without telling her it’s because Jesus says it’s wrong (http://www.christianmovies.com/time-changer-dvd).
    “Because God says so!”, is the RIGHT answer. I am glad to hear, finally, Paul has begun to see the error of Godless morality. But I fear he has a lot of damage to answer for.
    Our nation’s founding has had the SAME GRAVE ERROR. To declare the right way to govern a nation without Declaring WHO says it is right has led us to a failing country full of self-serving, self-glorifying, sin celebrating reprobates running the nation. Unless we, as a people, turn back to Jesus as FOUNDER of our country we can expect His continued Judgments:

    * 53 Million babies murdered at the altar of convenience is a Judgment of God.
    * A President that declares sexual deviates getting married is to be celebrated and yet tells us the murders of Christians in Muslim countries is just “A misunderstanding”, Obama is a Judgment from God like Saul was to Israel..
    * 200,000 (100,000 unsolved) MURDERS in the USA in 1990s is a Judgment of God.
    * Students not being told WHO HITLER IS AND WHAT HE DID in our nation’s Universities is a Judgment of God (see www 180Movie.com).

    I can go on but you can see for yourselves what is happening.
    We have representatives that LAUGH at enforcing voter fraud laws, LAUGH at the notion they are to serve ANYONE, LAUGH at the idea that the promises they made they should actually KEEP when they get into their offices of influence.
    And now we are looking at a Mormon becoming the next President as our best option?
    We have whole congregation of Christians in mega-sized churches being spoon-fed outrageous lies, all in the Name of Jesus! And these professing Christians eat it up like candy while sinners die outside their door having never heard the Gospel. But I doubt many of these “Christians” would even know the Gospel if they heard it! I certaoinly didn’t for FAR too long! Vischer shouldn’t feel like the lone Ranger here; We are ALL complicit.
    America could be rescued if we had the support of the people, but 1/2 of all Americans live off of the government now and nearly 1 in 4 are PERMANENTLY unemployed (http://www.shadowstats.com/alternate_data/unemployment-charts). Some stats indicate 1 in 3 today!
    So, is this the end for the USA? Will Kirk Cameron’s http://www.MonumentalMovie.com light a fire to rescue us or are we looking at a forced civil unrest anbd financial calamity worse than Greece soon?
    Paul Vischer is amerely a symptom of the general moral decline in the US. And that moral slide occured because Jesus was reduced by people like Joel Osteen to someone you can get stuff frrom if you “really beleive” instead of a Cross Scarred Savior God that gave His OWN LIFE to rescue sinners from their JUST reward of Hell.
    So where does the blame lie? At the feet of the Church. WE ARE TOI BLAME. WE have failed America and the World.
    Christian, you have but one Biblical recourse. You must learn, finally, how to stand and declare the Gospel BIBLICALLY and GET TO IT, while you still can.
    Go to Wayofthemaster.com and get schooled in the Way Jesus declared the Kingdom of God.
    And if you are not a Christian then understand this: It makes no difference to God whether you claim you knew or not. You ARE responsible for your thoughts, words and deeds. Jesus will Judge you and His Judgment will True and Good ALTOGETHER!
    But you have, still, the opportunity to repent, so listen up. If you ever lied, stolen or lusted you will be GUILTY before the Just and Holy Jesus as a Liar, Theif and Adulterer. But Yahweh desires ALL to come to repentance, to turn from their wicked ways and Trust in Jesus to save them from what they so justly deserve.
    Jesus came to call sinners to repentance, not the righteous. Declare the truth to yourself, BE HONEST; Admit your Sin. And then trust in Jesus like you would a parachute when you are jumping from a burning plane.
    God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so you will not have to perish but can have His Eternal Life.
    Call on Jesus while you are able.
    150,000 people die every day in this world, and today this could be you. Let the Light of God’s Law, the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 {http://www.ebible.org/web/Exodus.htm#C20V3}, show you your need for the Savior and call on Jesus to rescue you TODAY.
    You have NO promise of tomorrow.

    Patrick Burwell, OnlyJesussaves.com
    1. http://onlyjesussaves.com/docs/VeggieLies2.doc
    Patrick Burwell, OnlyJesusSaves.com

  9. cscott May 30, 2012 at 00:38

    I noticed very quickly upon buying my son veggie tales that the gospel wasn’t presented, no has Jesus Christ name ever been mentioned in any episodes that we have. But my intention was merely for his entertainment..fathers if you’re purpose for buying veggie takes was to teach your kids the gospel? Then its time to man-up, the command was given solely to us ephesians 6:4

  10. Evangelism May 30, 2012 at 14:00

    I like the “idea” of Christian cartoons and animation and they do capture the attention on young children and can be used to instill values etc… The problem is when the creatives get too carried away with the comedy and make the sacred ridiculous. Seeing the Veggietales Nativity DVD cover and promotional display with baby Jesus portrayed by a vegetable (a small carrot from memory) is in my opinion poor taste. The film makers are obviously very clever and funny in their writing and animations but I wish they had just developed some great mainstream, neutral, comedic stories. I know it can be easy to get carried away when writing comedy and that is where it can be dangerous if you are writing comedy based on biblical events. I guess it is more difficult to come up with story lines from original thought compared to basing it loosely upon the already written Bible stories.

  11. Evangelism May 30, 2012 at 14:11

    #cscott
    Great point, we shouldn’t rely on animation, DVDs or others to minister the Gospel to our children. As Christian parents, we must teach them ourselves with the Bible and our own testimony. It is good to reinforce our own teachings though, with sound, biblical tools like books and DVDs. I know that God is not opposed to humor but I have never seen that used in the Bible to the measure than many modern ministries and DVDs like Veggietales do. Let them be entertained but not at the expense or integrity of the teaching or message.

  12. YL May 30, 2012 at 15:40

    Veggietales has been entertaining my children since they were toddlers. And I have always treated them as such – entertainment. Good, clean, fun for the children. Better than a lot of other cartoon videos that are around. As far as the gospel goes, I think children must hear and see the gospel in their families, homes and churches. We cannot expect the gospel to come from a cartoon of this sort. Speaking of entertainment, my youngest has always been afraid to watch the Autotainment DVD. I’m not too sure why.

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  14. Pak Ken May 30, 2012 at 17:53

    As a parent of 4, that traveled the globe for 20 years to share the gospel, I greatly appreciated Veggie Tales. The gospel was already explicit for my family, so some family friendly entertainments was much appreciated. Especially in contrast to what was found in the rest of media.
    It is also true that you have to gather an audience before you can speak to an audience. I think it would be fair to say that a few families gathered over the years and watched Veggie Tales with friends and neighbors. I would also believe that among those that had the light of the gospel, the gospel was shared in approriate ways.
    Let’s not demand too much of mass media, when God choose our individual mouths as the divine instrument of proclamation.

  15. Clark Dunlap June 3, 2012 at 02:49

    I STILL think silly songs with larry was a world-tilting cultural event!

    • Acidri June 3, 2012 at 14:02

      Really?

  16. Melanie Dafler June 3, 2012 at 10:11

    It never occurred to me now that tha stories are all old testament “law based” but the heart of Christianity is following Christ and loving others as he first loved us. There is never any mention of Jesus death or resurrection in Veggie Tales. Not bad as a good alternative to other junk that’s on TV, but it is definitely not witnessing to young children.

    • Acidri June 3, 2012 at 14:02

      Rightly said, Melanie!

  17. Pingback: Veggie Tales creator: “[I convinced] kids to behave Christianly without teaching them Christianity.” | Defending. Contending.

  18. ChurchSalt June 5, 2012 at 00:36

    Here’s a question: Did the preacher in your church preach anything substantially different last Sunday? Maybe he mentioned Jesus, but did he explain sin, and what Jesus was doing on the Cross? Did he discuss what repentance is, or the fact that true salvation shows itself in the life of the convert? I submit that the vast majority of American church-goers are in VeggieChurches hearing the same message of morality with only the presentation being different. Just look at the messages of most Rick Warren sermons, as well as most of his purpose-driven followers…

    • Acidri June 5, 2012 at 04:38

      Rightly said.

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