Christian "Edutainment"

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While discussing Bro. Leavell’s review of Phil Vischer’s What’s in the Bible? series, the question of the propriety of entertaining elements being used to teach Bible to children came up.

I voiced some of my concerns here -
Susan R: …Our expectations of our children (in general) are much too low, and I think that is a major error in our thinking. In my experience, kids can take pleasure in learning and don’t need bunny rabbits and superheroes and Larry, Moe, and Curly teaching in order to enjoy the process. One of the primary differences IMO is how we define the words ‘enjoy’ and ‘entertain’- I look for ways to help my kids find enjoyment in life, while I never look for ways to entertain them. Parables, analogies, and illustrations need to have a purposeful, meaningful goal in mind.

I am a firm believer in the idea that the medium affects the message, and audio-visual media has an actual physical affect on everyone, but especially children. Studies show that-
Higher levels of television viewing correlate with lowered academic performance, especially reading scores…

The nature of the stimulus may predispose some children to attention problems… the fast-paced, attention-grabbing “features” of children’s programming (e.g., rapid zooms and pans, flashes of color, quick movement in the peripheral visual field, sudden loud noises) were modeled after advertising research, which determined that this technique is the best way to engage the brain’s attention involuntarily. Such experiences deprive the child of practice in using his own brain independently…

The brain’s executive control system, or pre-frontal cortex, is responsible for planning, organizing and sequencing behavior for self-control, moral judgment and attention. These centers develop throughout childhood and adolescence, but some research has suggested that “mindless” television or video games may idle this particular part of the brain and impoverish its development. Until we know more about the interaction of environmental stimulation and the stages of pre-frontal development, it seems a grave error to expose children to a stimulus that may short-change this critical system.… Jane Healy , American academy of Pediatrics, May 1998

So IMO it isn’t just about the personification of fruits and vegetables, but the dependence of teachers and parents on a medium that in itself may inhibit true learning.
and here -
I don’t see all forms of humor as entertainment, nor is all entertainment humorous. Scripture was not written to entertain, even the parts that are ironic or satirical. I believe that the Word of God is mostly serious and somber. No one is Hell is laughing at the moment.

What we miss is that we have the ability to trained our children’s appetites, which is what Bro. Aniol has explained so well…
Bro. Aniol’s post expressed his philosophy here -
It is my fear that most Christian parents do not recognize that before a child can even comprehend facts, his affections and imagination are already being shaped. In fact, I would suggest that most Christian parents never really even consider the moral imaginations of their children. Sure, we say we are targeting their hearts, and by teaching them biblical truth their hearts are certainly influenced.

But do we realize that a child’s heart is shaped far before he or she has the capacity to comprehend truth?

In other words, far before a child can comprehend his need to love the one true and living God, far before he or she can comprehend the concept of a god at all, the child learns how to love…

What happens with most parents, though, who see only the need to teach their child’s head, is that in order to teach such truths, they are willing to use almost whatever means necessary to do so….

I do not question the noble motives of these people for an instant. But I do question their understanding of how children are taught to worship.

Children learn to worship God primarily through participating in rightly ordered worship.

Children learn to love God by first learning how to love.

Children learn to reverence God by first learning how to reverence.

Children learn to fear God by first learning how to fear.

And children learn the need to submit to the authority of Scripture by learning how we should view God’s Holy Word.
Bro. Blumer gives his perspective here -
Aaron Blumer: I do think there is one way to mix frivolity/humor with “serious doctrine.” As I’ve been thinking about what goes “clunk” in our VBS and what doesn’t, I’ve seen something of a pattern. Humor works well as a tool for exposing the flaws in human nature… our foolishness, etc. It’s true that sometimes humor can make serious flaws look unserious/unimportant so that category isn’t a no brainer either, but I’ve often found that a silly skit in which a character does something goofy that illustrates something true about the way people are doesn’t seem out of character or like a forced wedding between incompatible things…

Also, there is a difference between serious/unserious and important/unimportant. That is, we do not necessarily communicate that something is unimportant when we depict it in a humorous way. The long and glorious tradition (hmmm….Princess Bride) of parody kind of backs that up.

And sometimes laughter is such a powerful tool for getting folks to lower their defenses and consider a truth they would otherwise bristle at…
Scott Aniole: So they use puppets to teach Bible stories, never realizing that their children are learning to view biblical truth as something light and trivial.
Scott, I get what you’re saying and I think the idea that we are going for the mind at exactly the time we should be going for the affections is worth some serious reflection.

But I wonder if it’s so easy to tell what kids are learning. I grew up on this kind of stuff and I did not learn to “view biblical truth as something light an trivial.” Rather, I think that at least some of the time, the puppets—for example—were serious to me. What I see when I watch kids watch skits and things is that they suspend disbelief to a degree we adults are just not capable of. The puppet show becomes reality for them for a while.

So I often wonder if what goes “clunk” for me doesn’t work just fine for them after all. It’s not easy to sort out.
Bro. Leavell responded here and here -
My seven year old is a sharp kid. Though he is only seven, he is already in fourth grade. We home school him and this year are using a computer based program. Right now he reviewing vocabulary words and he is playing a game designed to help him remember the words. Educators understand that entertainment can be a great form of memorization and learning and they utilize it in the classroom. One of my four year olds favorite games is the memory flash cards game (that and War). His mind is learning though he just thinks he’s playing a game. I think we do ourselves a disservice by regulating the Word of God to the realms of serious, somber, and intellectual pursuits. The problem usually comes when morality is used for the purpose of entertainment rather than entertainment used to instruct. When entertainment is the goal, the Bible and morality take a supporting role. This isn’t the case in What’s in the Bible but rather it uses the medium of songs and humor to educate children in an overview of the Bible. Major difference between this series and Veggie Tales. What’s in the Bible was mainly review for my kids, but they did learn a lot of new things that they hadn’t heard - like Deuteronomy being speaches from Moses before he died for example. It reinforces what my wife and I are teaching them in a way that solidifies it so they won’t forget it. As I said in the review, parents should not use this series as their only source of Biblical instruction. For us, it’s been the start to many helpful discussions on the Bible.

Scott - sometimes morality really IS funny, even the subject of worship is funny. Consider Elijah on Mt. Carmel in his mocking of the prophets of Baal. Come on, that’s just hilarious! Consider Isaiah for mocking those who make gods who burn one end of the log in the fire and the other end they make a god. What if they burned the wrong end? That’s funny! Smile Remember Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart does good, like medicine, But a broken spirit dries the bones.” When my children learn Scripture, I want to be careful that my instruction of Scripture is not just dry like bones, but that it’s ok to laugh sometimes, even when learning Scripture. If not, for shame on any pastor who has ever told a joke during his sermon to illustrate his point!
… As is usually helpful in these types of things, perhaps more questions should be asked than statements in order to understand where the other is coming from. For example, I hope people understand that I am not advocating frivolity and humor is always approriate or even necessary to make a point. And I fear I

got the point across that the series revolved around just jokes, one liners, and making fun of serious themes in the Bible. To be sure, there is a lot of humor, but usually the more serious tidbits are passed off to Phil himself in the show. He then addresses more serious themes such as sin directly and without humor. While many here might still believe he crosses their line way too much, he at least is not trying to be disrespectful to Scripture by making light of it.

Also, while I really appreciate your (Susan) testimony about how you are rearing your children, it would be highly idealistic to expect that to be the world (even in Christianity) that we live in today. Perhaps if more children and families looked like yours then things would look far different, but that’s just not the case. So, someone like Phil can complain that children won’t sit through the series if resembles a PBS documentary, or he can help parents engage children where they are at with the purpose of exposing them to the truth, authority, and content of God’s Word. One of the most effective ways to do so is the use of humor and ingenuity and this series uses those mediums for instruction, not using the Bible for the sake of entertainment (by the way, I like your thoughts on the differences between entertainment and enjoyment. That would make a good discussion on a thread). While I don’t believe humor is all bad but rather a gift from God when used to glorify Him, it more than certainly has become a dominant characteristic in our entertainment driven culture. But for me personally, I’m not an all or nothing type guy. I’m not going to wholeheartedly endorse everything Phil Vischer nor am I going to off handedly reject his stuff because I don’t agree 100%. Instead, I personally plan on using the series as a tool to assist in giving my children an overarching big picture of what’s in the Bible.

One other note of clarfication is that I wouldn’t advocate this being used for children’s church or Sunday School. I wouldn’t leave a church that uses clips of it to back up what is already being taught in the class, but as a pastor I wouldn’t be out there advocating it. As a parent, I see it has good limited use and for my own personal rearing of my children when we have a free hour. I respect parents who choose to do something different with their family time.
(posts edited by me- see original posts in context by clicking on the links)

What do you think is appropriate use of ‘entertaining’ formats in Bible teaching, be they audio-visual, puppet shows, skits, etc? Do you differentiate between what is simply enjoyment and what is frivolous? Do you believe humor must have a specific purpose in order to be appropriate?

I came across… this blog post this morning, and it was the motivation for going ahead and posting this thread-
This book (The Christmas Angel by Hans Wilhelm) is 90% fiction with a few Biblical truths in the mix… I decided to google the author to see what perspective he was coming from. I found an interview with the author, Hans Wilhelm, and did not care for what I saw. Wilhelm suggests that parents should not teach their children because all parents have to offer is hate… Wilhelm goes on to say only Children can achieve peace and makes reference to Isaiah 11:6-9. Wilhelm has gone astray here too, giving children credit for an act of God.

For Wilhelm, writing about Jesus is no different than writing about Snow White. He has successfully portrayed Jesus as a fairy tale character in this book. The Gospel is fascinating on its own, there is no need to embellish.
Do you think the intent of the author(s) should come into play when deciding what materials to use to teach children about God and the Bible?


I have been wondering in all this, how much of the differences here are personality driven rather than principle driven? How do differences in culture play into this as well? Maybe not at all? Maybe a lot?

Well, I suppose to answer that question, what Biblical principles would one use to measure the propriety of certain teaching methods? We see stories/parables used frequently to illustrate truth, but what level of fun and/or frivolity do we see reflected in the teaching methods of the prophets, or Christ, or the apostles? There are many commands about teaching children, and all of them IMO seem to encourage a reverence for God and His truth. There are no “Thou shalt not use puppets” prescriptuves, but I think Biblical methods and patterns can serve as an indication of where we should draw the line. I don’t throw culture out with the bathwater, but other than using modern English, employing new technologies, and utilizing frames of reference that people are familiar with, what aspects of culture could we employ Biblically?

I am sure that personality has alot to do with our methods and what we believe is appropriate and I don’t believe we have to check our individuality at the door. But I do believe there are some methods that have an unintended impact on how children view and apply the Word of God and Biblical principles.