Laura Miller | Category: Children's Sunday School
The Christmas countdown has begun and we’ve gotten only to post #2 of recommended gifts that will reinforce the teaching your children are hearing in the Sunday School classes and in church (see post #1 here).
It’s been a tradition in our household to slip a wrapped DVD under the tree as a gift “to the family”. Sometimes it’s the latest Pixar creation or Wallace and Gromit hilarity (yes, still). But sometimes we’ve really scored with great Christian videos for the family to enjoy and be edified and strengthened in the faith while viewing.
A few weeks ago I filled this space with some recommendations for music with a purpose: teaching Bible truths and singing catechisms and memory verses to catchy tunes. Now it’s time for suggestions for DVDs. Here were my criteria:
1. Clear Gospel teaching over moralisms and works righteousness
2. A focus on humans being brought into the Kingdom, not animals (much less vegetables)
3. A realistic view of the hardships of Christian pursuits as well as the spiritual joys
4. A world where children are not autonomous and “cool”ness is not equated with rebellion
That first item on the list is non-negotiable, though not as easy to achieve if all you have to rely upon are bookstores and catalogs for distributors of religious materials, which tend to assume the only thing parents are interested in are talking vegetables. And, one can’t write an article about children’s programming marketed to the church crowd without referencing that most unexpected crew of characters to hit the kid vid scene: VeggieTales and Big Idea Productions. So here’s your tag…but it’s not going to be in the way you might expect.
Bible stories, maxims and characters do make appearances in the VeggieTale products, but if you’re looking for solid Biblical teaching, you won’t find it among the cukes running a chocolate factory or the lessons about bullied asparagus. Cute, yes. Catchy songs, you bet. The message of the sin of mankind (er, veggie-kind) and redemption through the Cross, not so much.
Phil Vischer, creator of Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber, and who sold Big Idea Productions in 2003 while in bankruptcy, has publicly repented of misguided, moralistic teaching in the name of Christianity. He underscores my first point most effectively:
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.
...We're drinking a cocktail that's a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we've intertwined them so completely that we can't tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It's the Oprah god. So I had to peel that apart. I realized I'm not supposed to be pursuing impact, I'm supposed to be pursuing God. And when I pursue God I will have exactly as much impact as He wants me to have. (WORLD magazine, 9/24/11)
With that, here are my recommendations; brief as the list is, I have included links at the end to websites where more biblically sound and family-oriented fare is listed:
For the preschool and early school-age set:
The Theo Presents Series. Start with a hymn, add elegant lines and rich colors, throw in a theologian named Theo – who has at his disposal Shoebox Bible Theater, and two cute mice with antics little ones will giggle over and animation adults will find mesmerizing. Sounds enjoyable, but does it meet our criteria? The lessons are biblically sound and avoid lists of dos and don’ts. The message about Christ-like behavior is to children watching, not to the mice. Whitestone Media and creator Michael Joens have produced four volumes of 3 to 4 episodes each, with titles such as “Abiding in Christ”, “What Is the Church”, “Saving Faith”, “Justification”, “A Day in Prayer”, “New Birth”, and “Armor of God”. The videos may be considered a little plodding for older elementary age – say, 3rd graders whose appetites have already been set by theater action flicks – but for younger children, I heartily recommend the Theo Presents series.
For school age up to adults:
The Dangerous Journey. One of the most influential video series (9 15-minute episodes) our family has ever watched. This narration of a children’s version of The Pilgrim’s Progress also appears in the form of a picture book by the same name. No animation, no pixilation, no special effects. Simple illustrations, a rousing soundtrack of a hymn written by John Bunyan, and a narrator with an amazing array of voices are the distinctives of this offering. Doesn’t sound like much, especially as I added the caveat about “plodding” action for the above review/recommendation, but what stirs conviction in the Miller household is a storyline that intrigues the mind, probes the heart, and posits with a captivating plot progression that nonetheless fascinates those used to faster, flashier scenarios. And it holds the attention of churched kids because they get the allegory and symbolism in this classic. There is also a study guide to accompany the DVD in case you want to invite neighborhood kids to watch it with you.
For older elementary age up to adults:
Radicals and God’s Outlaw. Two offerings in the Reformation Collection from Vision Video that will inform and inspire are these films that display the pursuit for Truth and Faith unfettered by magisterial and ecclesiastical proclivities: Radicals, the story of the Anabaptists in 16th-century Europe, and a biographical movie about William Tyndale, God’s Outlaw. International intrigue, cold-hearted betrayal, national upheaval and deep convictions: this quote from the Vision Video site could easily apply to both narratives: “The world wasn't ready for their message, and they were not prepared to compromise.”
And one final, seasonal recommendation for the whole family:
The Nativity Story. Beautiful imagery, discerning presentatin, thought-provoking juxtapositions.
Many of the films our family has enjoyed over the years can be found for very reasonable prices at Vision Video, including the ones above. In addition, Eric Metaxes maintains a list of recommended viewing for Christian families at BreakPoint.
In addition, in February 2014, look for the release of Alone Yet Not Alone in the theaters. Vigorous campaigning is at work to get the film released here in the Pittsburgh area. The true-to-life story appeared first in book form and relates the account of two sisters captured by Indians during the French and Indian War. It was written by Tracy Leininger, who is the descendant of one of the sisters, and represents a stunning representation of courage, faith and perseverance.
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