Phil Vischer, the creator of VeggieTales, said this in an interview with World Magazine,
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.
This admission has been applauded here and here. Russell Moore has also had some things to say about the morality vs. gospel presentation from VeggieTales. Vischer has moved to a new work called What’s in the Bible? that looks very much worthwhile.
I, like those above, am always encouraged by anyone who wants to take the gospel more seriously and share it more explicitly. My question is this, is morality anti-gospel? Furthermore, is it wrong to teach our children or even our fellow believers, “Be more forgiving because the Bible says so?”
I am not attempting to defend every VeggieTales episode though I gladly allow my son to watch all of them. Do they take serious the gospel and seek to share it explicitly? No. Should I, as a father, rely on outside media to teach my son the gospel? No. Should I even rely on outside media to teach my son right from wrong? No. Further, is it wrong for me to teach my son morality or to teach him to ‘be more kind because the Bible says so?’ I would argue, no.
Russell Moore, in the above referenced video, says, “Crucifixion, substitution, resurrection, judgment, condemnation. That is the gospel. Anything else is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.” How can anyone not say “Amen!” to that? Of course morality is not the gospel. Teaching our children, don’t do X because the Bible says don’t do X, is not the gospel. And even if our children do all that the Bible says to do, they will not be Christians. That is all true.
But does that mean we don’t have a responsibility to teach our children morality or right from wrong. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says this, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children…” (emphasis mine) Some of those commands referred to are moral commands and they are to be diligently taught to our children.
The Great Commission says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (emphasis mine) Again, the commission is to disciple believers and part of that is teaching them to observe the commands of Christ.
All of that to say that morality is certainly not the gospel but it can point us there. That is what Paul is getting at in Romans 3:20 (For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.) I am teaching my son morality or right from wrong now. I am teaching him, “Don’t do X because God tells us not to do X.” Is that anti-gospel? Only if I teach him that not doing X will save him. Morality only becomes anti-gospel when we teach it as gospel. Morality is only anti-gospel if when failures come we don’t teach the truth of Christ coming to save those who fail.
Morality seems to have become a dirty word in our gospel-centered circles. But we must not avoid teaching truth from scripture, including the ‘don’t do’s’ , in our efforts to clearly teach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I certainly don’t believe that any of the men referenced above think we should not teach our children right from wrong. But I do think that in our zealousness for the pure gospel we have a tendency to overreact when someone teaches morality, whether it be in cartoon world or from the pulpit.
Let us not teach any other gospel than the gospel of Jesus Christ. But let us also teach the full counsel of God, commands and all.