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Guest Commentary: Rethinking VeggieTales

Dec 17, 2002 09:27 AM EST

"Every word of God is pure ... Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar." Proverbs 30:5-6

There is nothing in this world more important to Christian parents than to watch their children develop a love in their heart for Jesus Christ. However, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for parents to ignore the fact that the culture is bombarding their children with messages running contrary to the biblical principles of the Christian faith they want to pass on.

Interestingly, according to the recent findings of a nationwide survey, it is not only the culture sending confusing messages to their children. Christian pollster George Barna's research has concluded doctrinal confusion abounds today within the Christian church.

Results of this study indicate Christians are increasingly adopting spiritual views that come from Islam, Wicca, secular humanism, the eastern religions, and other sources. Furthermore, Barna stated, "because we remain a largely Bible-illiterate society, few are alarmed or even aware of the slide toward ‘syncretism' -- a belief system that blindly combines beliefs from many different faith perspectives."

As a consequence, parents are now also confronted with a church that has been negatively influenced by the culture.

Therefore, in the midst of all the cultural and spiritual confusion, it is understandable why parents would show interest when a movie, like Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, hits the big screen. After all, not only is the movie about a biblical character, it is also void of sex, violence, and bad language.

However, after having viewed this movie, I am very concerned that it will add to the doctrinal and spiritual confusion addressed in Barna's study. Although it is being marketed as the retelling of the Book of Jonah, Big Idea Productions, the producer of VeggieTales, has instead trivialized and rewritten this Old Testament story by turning a serious book about sin, repentance, and God's grace into a Hollywood comedy.

Of course, there are similarities between the VeggieTales' storyline and the Old Testament account. But, for the most part, Big Idea has given themselves the freedom and authority to add to and subtract from the story about a man Jesus himself referred to not only as "a sign," but also as "the prophet Jonah." (Matthew 12:39-41, Matthew 16:4, Luke 11:29-32)

Revisionist History

Just as the distortions of history do not belong in a public school classroom, likewise the distortion of biblical history should not be accepted in the Church.

Nonetheless, VeggieTales associate Mike Nawrocki defends their deviations from Scripture, stating: "Although we have taken liberties, we've kept the theme very much intact." (The San Diego Union-Tribune, "Veggies with Values," 10-4-02).

But herein lies the conflict. Whether they realize it or not, their man-made additions and subtractions from the Word of God have introduced other themes and attitudes, which run contrary to truth and historical fact.

For instance, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune: "Don't expect to see a traditional account of the biblical prophet .... Vischer and Nawrocki (VeggieTales producers) are Monty Python fans," which The Tribune states explains a lot. Instead of following Old Testament history about a Jewish prophet, the veggie Jonah not only has a British accent, but also wore a monocle. As the movie unfolds, many other liberties have been taken, such as the upstaging of Jonah by a very unlikely Middle Eastern character.

Similarly, although Scripture does not give a detailed explanation regarding the sins of the Ninevites, the movie liberally fills in the details claiming: "They lie! They steal! But worst of all, they slap people with fishes!" Now wait a minute! I realize the producers added this untrue storyline of slapping people with fish to make the kids laugh, but what line and verse in Scripture gives them the authority to do this? Furthermore, is this the kind of theme that should generate a big laugh? When is what God described as "wickedness" a laughing matter for any age group?

But laughing appears to be exactly what the producers want. For instance, according to the Big Idea website, Jonah set sail on a pirate ship that eventually went "to the heart of Nineveh for a hilarious showdown."

Hilarious? What a contrast to the heart of Charles Spurgeon, who said: "May I never take a dry-eyed look at sin."

There were many other unbiblical additions, such as the scene of Jonah playing a game of fish with the pirates to determine who should walk the plank. And then, staying true to their comic book storyline, Jonah is seen floating around in the stilled water with his inflated yellow rubber ducky before being swallowed up by the big fish.

The spiritual danger and confusion surrounding the addition of truth and error in the mind of a child was evident from a conversation overheard between a father and his four-year-old son watching the movie. Repeatedly the son would quizzically ask," Dad, did Jonah really do that? ... Dad, did that really happen?" Regardless of the good intentions of this father, ideas contrary to Scripture were being planted in his son's mind. Furthermore, is the subtle idea also being planted that scriptural error is acceptable?

Undoubtedly, many Christian children will also be viewing this movie over and over again when the video is available for purchase -- introducing and reinforcing both truth and error to Christian youth. Will a parent know whether or not the lie ends up becoming what is believed to be the truth in the mind of their child?

Interfaith Alliance

Just as VeggieTales' producers have taken liberty with the description of sin and the depiction of a prophet of God, they have also added an interesting character named Khalil -- a name meaning "friendly" in Arabic with deep roots in the Islamic faith. It is Khalil, who is half caterpillar-half worm and wears a turban, who not only becomes Jonah's traveling companion, but also his conscience. He is also the character who appears to be boasting about his "positive mental attitude" -- not because he listens to God, but because he listens to "motivational tapes." His tape can be heard saying, "You are powerful and attractive ... you do not run from your problems." Surprisingly, it is also the worm (who according to Scripture didn't appear until the end of the Book of Jonah) who was given the opportunity of delivering the film's central message of compassion, mercy, and second chances.

However, to the contrary, God chose to work through His prophet Jonah, not through "a vaguely Muslim traveling salesman." (The Washington Times, "Vegetables Tell Bible Tales," 10-5-02) It may be politically correct and acceptable in liberal religious circles to intentionally add a popular Muslim name such as Khalil to the biblical account of Jonah, but once again, not only is this addition contrary to Scripture, but also in light of Khalil's winning performance, conservative Christians and Jews alike should question the confusion of this addition.

But perhaps the most disturbing part of the script is the presence of Khalil in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights with "the prophet Jonah." However, unlike Jonah, Khalil is portrayed as upbeat about his unfamiliar surroundings, while Jonah is seen grumbling about the prospect of facing death. Then, on the third day, Jonah and Khalil were both spewed out of the fish, landing in the sand together to carry out their mission; hence, distorting the miraculous event Jesus referred to as "a sign": the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

It is very obvious from the movie that the man Jesus called "the prophet Jonah" is the one who is depicted as arrogant and uncompassionate. In other words, he is the one with the problem! For instance, in the movie after Jonah delivered his message of "stop slapping people with fish," he is later seen gleefully awaiting the destruction of Neneveh. He coldly tells his friend Khalil, "Now it's time to watch the fun and watch God wipe them off the face of the earth!" Of course, it is Khalil, described in The Washington Times as "the good guy," who ends up putting the prophet in his place. Khalil says, "Would you look at yourself?" ... "God is compassionate" ... "Did it ever occur to you that God loves everyone?" ... "You are pathetic!" ... "God wants to give everyone a second chance, and so should we."

At this point, the story of Jonah abruptly comes to an end. Khalil and Jonah's camel are seen walking away from Jonah in disgust, leaving him alone in the sand. Curiously, after Khalil had sternly delivered the movie's message to Jonah, Khalil was unwilling to extend to him the same compassion. Thus, even more confusion.

Tampering with Scripture

Man has no authority to rewrite, tamper with, adulterate, or pervert the sacred writings of the Christian faith. Scripture states, "You shall not add to, nor take away" from God's word. (Deuteronomy 12:32, Deuteronomy 4:2, Revelation 22:18-19) Once Christians begin carelessly adding to and subtracting from God's Word, where will it end?

Christians are to be valiant for the truth (Jeremiah 9:3). When the Word of God declares that believers are to "rightly divide the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15) that is precisely and exactly what it means!

According to The MacArthur Study Bible, "rightly divide" literally means "cutting it straight." Furthermore, John MacArthur states this is "a reference to the exactness demanded by such trades as carpentry. Precision and accuracy are required in biblical interpretation beyond all other trades because the interpreter is handling God's Word. Anything else is shameful."

What's the Bottom-line?

In a recent interview with one of the Veggie creators, Phil Vischer shed light on their bottom-line. It's entertainment. In fact, Vischer said, "As much as we want to teach, as much as parents want us to teach lessons to their kids, and as much as we want to put impressive images on a screen, we never forget that we are in the entertainment business. And if our movies don't first entertain a whole family, it doesn't matter what else we've tried to do, because they're not going to be there. They're going to be out of the room." (Baptist Press, "'Jonah,' a whale of a good time," 10-2-02)

But, when is entertainment ever more important than truth?

Men of God such as A.W. Tozer would never have agreed with rewriting Scripture in order to draw a crowd -- and he would have been heartsick if he lived to see the day that Christians would be having fun with the Book of Jonah. Today his writings almost sound prophetic on the use and abuse of humor. He wrote: "... when humor takes religion as the object of its fun it is no longer natural -- it is sinful and should be denounced for what it is and avoided by everyone who desires to walk with God .... My plea is for a great seriousness, which will put us in the mood with the Son of Man and with the prophets and apostles of the Scriptures .... Then we may attain that moral happiness which is one of the marks of true spirituality, and also escape the evil of unseemly humor." (The Best of A.W. Tozer, Book One, p. 147)

"A Sign of the Prophet Jonah"

Parents can unknowingly introduce their families to false teachings by innocent-sounding movies such as Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie. Although it teaches children values such as compassion and mercy, can Christians overlook all of the other many confusing messages that alter the true, historical account of Jonah?

Our response will be both an opportunity and a challenge.

As Christians, our opportunity is to communicate to our children and the nation that we are unwilling to compromise the integrity of Scripture and the memory of man Jesus himself referred to as "the prophet Jonah."

Our greatest challenge is: How faithful will we remain to the inspired Word of God?

By Cathy Mickels