The Creator of “VeggieTales” Tells a Biblical Story at the Children’s Level
The ancient Christian leaders who wrote the Nicene Symbol never produced a scroll explaining the mysteries of the Holy Trinity to children.
This is not the language one finds in cartoons: “I believe in one God, Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things, visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of light, true God of true God, begotten not created, of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made … and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Creator of life, who proceeds of the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified. “
There is more, of course.
Phil Vischer, famous for “VeggieTales”, knew he couldn’t tell the whole story of the Bible without discussing the Trinity in one way or another. So, he placed this puzzle at the beginning of “The Bible for Children to Laugh and Learn,” his new 52-chapter Bible stories book targeting 6-10 year olds. In Vischer’s fanciful language, it sounds like, “In the beginning there was God. Just God. Nothing else. no caterpillars, no lakes, no oceans, no horses, no elephants and no frogs. Not even the smallest. Just God.
Wait for him: “There is one God, but there are three persons in God. God the Father. God the Son. God the Holy Spirit. … I told you it was tricky. Vischer chuckled, trying to explain the challenge – looking a bit like the Bob the Tomato character beloved by millions of viewers.
“You can’t do it justice. There are just too many,” he said. “You can’t say what needs to be said, but you can tell children something like, ‘This is a mystery that we can’t fully understand, but that’s okay. It’s part of a Big story.'”
Vischer knew he wanted to produce a book that would be rather odd, in terms of bookstore selling options. The 343-page volume is not a set of individual, isolated Bible stories similar to those seen in the early years of Sunday School, books that often feature what he called “cute stories with animals – like a whale, a talking donkey or Jesus surrounded by sheep. “
It is also not a children’s translation of a real Bible. Instead, the goal was a book with a story arc for use by parents or grandparents sitting with one or more children and reading for about five minutes – day after day or night after night. In other words, Vischer, 53, wrote it for his own grandchildren.
The team behind this book were also well aware that Bible literacy levels had collapsed. The American future may soon look like the results of a UK Bible Society survey a few years ago, in which 1 in 3 children did not know the Nativity story was in the Bible. Additionally, 27% of UK adults did not wonder if Superman was in the Bible, and more than a third wondered about Harry Potter.
The goal was to deal with biblical literacy, Vischer said of his previous 13 video “What’s in the Bible?” project. It was also at this time that Vischer first moved into delicate New Testament territory. It was a challenge for an artist who, in the 1990s, had a sign saying, “We will not describe Jesus as a vegetable” near his “VeggieTales” office.
“What’s in the Bible? Started in 2012, which was the ‘first time I said,’ Oh! I need a Jesus. What does it look like ? “We were very intentional that he would appear Middle Eastern, as opposed to Aryan, instead of looking American,” Vischer said.
Venturing from Genesis to Revelation also meant that this book should include the crucifixion and church life after Easter. Towards the end – in the pages that Calvinist and Catholic parents will criticize – Vischer tries to explain the building blocks of salvation. “I think we tell kids Bible stories, but we’re not doing a good job telling them the whole Bible story,” he said. “Kids want to be a part of a great story. If we don’t tell them the Bible story, then they’ll just look to ‘Star Wars’, ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘Avengers’, and that will be it.”
Terry Mattingly is the editor of GetReligion.org and Senior Fellow for Media and Religion at King’s College New York. He lives in Oak Ridge.