VeggieTales and Moralism

The other day Carson and I were watching VeggieTales, you know… Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber, and all the other vegetable characters that “teach” lessons from the Bible. As I sat there watching, I began thinking to myself whether or not this animated show was really teaching biblical truths and concepts. Even though the characters were reenacting and explaining Bible stories, my skepticism grew the more I watched and listened. After the show was over, I did a quick Internet search to see what others might have to say about this program. What I found was rather interesting. On September 24th, 2011, published an interview with VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer in which he admitted and repented of teaching moralism rather than Christianity in all of the VeggieTales episodes.

“After the bankruptcy I had kind of a forced sabbatical of three or four months 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.” [1]

What is moralism, and why is not a biblical theology? The distinction between moralism and biblical Christianity is rather simple but can often be overlooked if not careful. At the core, moralism is a “religion” which teaches that man ought to live a life of good moral character by continually doing what is right. While you might be thinking there is nothing wrong with this statement, the serious deficiency of moralism is that it never presents the  gospel message. Moralism preaches that we are to do what is right, but it never addresses the fact that we are unable to do what is right before God.  VeggieTales is just one example of how teaching Bible stories and morality from scripture doesn’t necessarily mean biblical truth is being taught. We can teach our children every moral principal in scripture but if the gospel message is missing, it is nothing more than the self-righteous philosophy found in many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.

As I mentioned earlier, the problem with moralism is that it calls people to live a life of morality (based on God’s law) but neglects to teach about man’s inability to do good or to point to the covenant of grace of Jesus Christ. Moralism presents an incomplete story. For a complete understanding of biblical truth, which we need to be teaching our children, we must comprehend the difference between the law and the gospel and how both impact the life of a believer.

The Bible teaches that God requires man to obey his law (morality). The scriptures also teach that all of mankind is unable to keep those very same commands.  Therefore, God intended his law to have a “pedagogical use (usus elenchticus sive paedagogicus); it shows people their sin and points them to mercy and grace outside of themselves” (Lems). While God’s law reveals his will and standards for mankind, it also brings individuals to the realization that they are in need of the gospel; this is what is lacking in moralism. What man is unable to do according to the law, Christ did in our place- by living a perfect life to the law and paying the ransom for our sins by dying on the cross. God’s law and the Gospel of Jesus Christ work together in the life of an individual to bring about a saving faith.

God’s law not only points someone to Christ but it also guides the believer on how he or she shall live. God’s law has a “normative use (usus didacticus sive normativus) which means this use of the law is for those who trust in Christ and have been saved through faith apart from works” (Lems). The law cannot save people because they are unable to keep it. But God’s law does instruct believers on how they are to behave in the family of God. God’s law is what helps guide believers in the process of becoming holy as God is holy. The commands found in scripture play an essential role in the sanctification process of a believer. While we are to keep the commands of God, we must never forget that our ability to do so comes from the work of Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection has set believers free from the bondage of sin and prepared the way for the Holy Spirit to dwell within believers, to guide and direct them into righteousness.

In raising children and living the Christian life, we must guard against becoming moralistic, demanding do’s and don’ts without grace or mercy. We must also be cautious in becoming antinomian, believing that God’s law is of no use to believers since they have faith in Christ. As Christians and as parents, we must use God’s law the way he intended it to be used- to reveal his will to mankind, to point people to Christ for salvation, and to bring about holiness in those who have faith in Jesus Christ.

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"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

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