The Gospel’s Bigger Idea
You Can’t Tell the Story of Jesus Without Jesus
by Russell D. Moore
Have you ever seen the episode of Veggie Tales in which the main characters are martyred by anti-Christian terrorists? You know, the one in which Bell Z. Bulb, the giant garlic demon, and Nero Caesar Salad, the tyrannical vegetable dictator, take on the heroes for their faith in Christ? Remember how it ends? Remember the cold, dead eyes of Larry the cucumber behind glass, pickled for the sake of the gospel? And Bob the tomato, of whom all that remained was ketchup and seeds?
Of course you don’t. It doesn’t exist—and it never will. The creative minds behind the popular children’s program would reject it out of hand, and the Evangelical video-buying public wouldn’t hand over the cash to buy it. It would be considered too disturbing, too dark, for children.
Bloodless & Mainstream
Instead, the Veggie Tales episodes are bloodless. They take biblical stories, and biblical characters, but they mine the stories for abstractions, for timeless moral truths that can help children be kinder, gentler, and more honest. There’s almost nothing in any episode that isn’t true. But Jesus is missing.
Hillary Warren argues in her study There’s Never Been a Show Like Veggie Tales: Sacred Messages in a Sacred Market that Jesus couldn’t be portrayed as a vegetable without causing many Christians to charge Big Idea—the company that produces the Veggies—with trivializing the Incarnation. A lion is one thing, but a pop-eyed eggplant is something entirely different.
But also, she notes, “from an economic standpoint, the absence of Jesus meant that the series was open to a broader audience than the evangelical Christian one.” Offering “limited references to God” while making sure “the connection to God is not made through Jesus” enables the series to be “the Amy Grant of Christian Video,” able to cross over to a mainstream audience.
In his autobiography Me, Myself, and Bob: A True Story about Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables, Veggie Tales creator Phil Vischer writes about his mother, a children’s ministry consultant with an Evangelical publisher, telling him from the beginning that Jesus should never be portrayed as a talking vegetable. He agreed, “not quite grasping that this guideline would eliminate much of the New Testament as source material for Veggie Tales.”
She likewise warned him not to “imply that vegetables can have redemptive relationships with God.” He should not “show vegetables praying unless they’re playing the role of a historical or biblical figure.”
He talks about the pressure from his growing company’s executive team to expand the Veggies’ appeal beyond Christian customers to “moral active families” by reducing the specifically Christian content. Early on, one potential distributor asked him to remove the Bible verses and references to God from the series.
Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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