Behavior vs. Believing
You have maybe seen them. If a parent, you may have even bought them. They are called VeggieTales, and they could be found in the children’s section of a Christian bookstore or perhaps in a church preschool. These videos were an attempt to teach Bible stories through vegetable cartoon characters, such as Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato. Such characters would seem harmless enough. They were characters that appealed to children, as their producers sought to teach Christian values. VeggieTales videos were meant primarily for a Christian market, but eventually, they appealed to a wider audience. Throughout the 1990s, they became quite a success story.
That was then. VeggieTales are no more; that is, they are no longer under the control of the man who created the whole enterprise, Phil Vischer. The production company eventually went bankrupt and changed hands.
Meanwhile, a change was taking place in the heart of Mr. Vischer. He became a man with a new perspective on the videos that he had once produced. Here is how he put it: “[The videos] convinced the kids to behave Christianly without teaching them Christianity.” He went on to explain: “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 is not Christianity, it’s morality.”
He indeed was on to something, a different perspective than what he once had. He now sees Americans drinking what he calls “a dangerous cocktail.” He adds, “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. We’ve completely taken this Disney notion of ‘when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true’ and melded that with faith and come up with something completely different.”
The VeggieTales videos lacked the true motivation for a Christian life. That which alone can provide the true motivation is found alone in the Gospel about Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life for us and shed His innocent blood on the cross for our redemption, “that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
The Pope and “Catholic Identity”
Various Roman Catholic sources have reported that Pope Benedict XVI wants U.S. Catholic colleges and universities to do more to affirm their “Catholic identity.” He had reference particularly to ensuring that the faculties and staffs of these institutions be in line with Roman Catholic teaching. He singled out the church law requirement that Roman Catholic theology teachers have a mandate to teach Catholic doctrine. It was noted that there has been continuous resistance against this mandate in the U.S. A recent example of this resistance was a book published by a theology professor at Fordham University (Jesuit). The book, Quest for the Living God, was denounced by U.S. Catholic bishops as not in accord with “authentic Catholic teaching.” The Pope was concerned about the confusion resulting from “instances of apparent dissidence between some representatives of Catholic institutions and the Church’s pastoral leadership.” “Such discord,” he added, “harms the Church’s witness.”
We, of course, cannot join the Pope in his attempts to reinforce the teaching of Roman Catholic doctrine and solidify “Catholic identity.” However, one can understand that the Pope would be concerned about the more liberal philosophy that has influence in Roman Catholic academic circles.
But this is not only a problem in the Roman Catholic Church. The same situation exists in other denominations, Lutherans included. The loss of “Lutheran identity” has already occurred in colleges that once lived up to the name “Lutheran,” but which cannot be recognized as Lutheran today. And rare is the college or university that can still wear the identity of “confessional Lutheran.” They are a vanishing breed, but are so necessary today. May God preserve their numbers among us.
A Responsible Response
In a response to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) statement on human sexuality (Human Sexuality—Gift and Trust), the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) has a well-crafted statement of its own, in which it upholds the true Scriptural position on marriage. The LCMS response goes into some depth and can be treated only briefly here. It states, for instance: “One may not appeal to ‘God made me this way’ as a justification for sexual sin any more than he or she could invoke this for any other sinful inclination or behavior.” The response also says that by redefining marriage as something more than the union of one man with one woman, the ELCA document “represents a radical departure from what God has instituted and it opens the way for the church to bless what God condemns.”
Part of the ELCA document argues for what it calls “conscience-bound beliefs.” The LCMS statement responds: “Where conscience-bound beliefs govern rather than the Word of God, we are led to what Luther sees as an identifying mark of the theologian of glory. Such a theologian, Luther asserts, ‘calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.’”
To condone and defend the practice of same-sex marriage, as does the ELCA document in its essence, is in direct conflict with the theology of the cross. The LCMS document is a responsible, and Scriptural, response.
Paul Madson is an ELS pastor emeritus living in North Mankato, Minnesota.
Behavior vs. Believing