Look out, Larry the Cucumber. You’re about to be challenged by the blue-haired, bespectacled Sunday School Lady. She’s a stickler for historical and theological accuracy, and she won’t go easy on you—or on the young viewers you both share.
What’s in the Bible is Veggie Tales creator Phil Vischer’s newest offering. While Veggie Tales began by retelling familiar Bible stories in order to teach general lessons about virtue and morality, What’s in the Bible teaches just what the title indicates—what’s in the Bible, why it’s there, and why you should care. Vischer and a cast of hand puppets (including the aforementioned Sunday School Lady) are out to teach the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, using popsicle sticks, a flannel graph, timelines, and pirates. Far from distracting from the message, these verbal and visual antics hold the viewer’s attention while Vischer and his brightly colored costars lecture on complex historical and theological topics not normally offered to the very young.
Veggie Tales has enjoyed a large and varied audience—so large and varied, in fact, that its own success has sometimes eclipsed its intended purpose. Vischer himself states in the introduction to the first episode of What’s in the Bible that his original passion for teaching children about the Bible soon waned under the pressures of running a very successful business. What’s in the Bible is his attempt to reboot the conversation that began with Veggie Tales. It’s a conversation that has benefitted from Vischer’s time away from the Veggie Tales empire; while What’s in the Bible is targeted at a slightly younger audience, its factual content will challenge the most seasoned Bible quiz guru.
Parents who look forward to Veggie Tales style humor may be disappointed by this series—but their children won’t. What’s in the Bible isn’t likely to attract the college-aged crowd in the way that Veggie Tales did—this is completely and intentionally a show for kids. The first time I watched the show (thank you to Tyndale for providing me with a free review copy), I was disappointed. The jokes, I thought, were flat, the antics predictable, and the information far above most young viewers’ heads. Next I watched it with a group of kids, ages 2-6. I was wrong—they loved it—and it has since grown on me. The puns and running jokes that I found groan-worthy delighted my young companions, who were hours later still referencing what they’d seen and heard.
This is not to say that the series is only funny to preschoolers; parents who grew up in the evangelical Sunday School subculture will find plenty to appreciate and reminisce over even if the frequent quips make them groan. In one regular segment, a puppet newsroom features clocks showing the current time in London, New York, Tokyo, and… Wheaton. In “A Pirate’s Guide to Church History”, a pirate puppet details such things as the church councils that led to the Biblical canon we have today, and the reasons why Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic Bibles are not all uniform. The timeline he references stretches from Jesus Christ to Billy Graham. The inclusion of a flannel graph, Sunday School Lady’s indispensible companion, will amuse those who grew up with this Sunday School staple.
Biblical illiteracy among all ages is an increasing problem in a culture dominated by screens rather than books. Vischer states that 65% of young church goers will leave the faith by the time they start college, and he hopes his attempt to teach through television will help young minds access the information they need to interact intelligently with the “most widely known, least widely read” text in history. Let’s hope he succeeds—and if he doesn’t, let’s hope that at least Sunday School Lady will find a way to empower the saintly women whose Sunday School ministries are so important.
Those of you who wish to view the newly-released inaugural episodes of this thirteen-DVD series are in luck—on Monday, April 5th, we will give away two free copies to randomly-chosen members of our Facebook fan page. Your children—and their Sunday School teachers—will thank you for entering. ‘