Finding kids curriculum that both demonstrates accurate and substantive theology is discouragingly difdifficult. Often churches and children’s ministry organizations approach ministry towards our little ones in a way that would either be described as mere moralism or separatist fear. The first approach attempts to raise up good Christian kids with the emphasis upon the former rather than the latter and tends to end up simply trying to convey basic human values in a Christian packaging. This approach is the one that shows kids the story of David is mainly about being brave (btw, it is not) and the meaning of the parable of the sowers is we should make wise choices (btw, it is not). This type of children’s content could easily be altered for a Islamic or even naturalist worldview by just changing a few nouns. Moralistic kids “Christian” materials which make up the vast majority of church children’s materials might only mention Christ’s death in our place or any other tenant of the Gospel when the calendar forces them to consider Easter. Mark Dever refers to Old Testament sermons that lack an understanding of the grand story of Christ as synagogue sermons (meaning they are no different from what you would hear at a Jewish synagogue), moralist kids music and other contents are just mini synagogue sermons. These materials produce shells of Christians adults or vaguely religious adults who probably could not even explain how we are saved. The second approach is far more concerned with how we are better than unbelievers or how evil non-Christians are than they are concerned with the undeserved hope we have in Christ. This likewise misses the centrality of Christ and we need materials that teach our kids a Christ centered faith and Biblical worldview. In my first post a few months back I highlighted several sources for Gospel centered kids music and in this post I will dive down into the substantially shallower well of Gospel centered kids videos.
Lets face it, children love movies and television shows. If my own toddler had her way we would be watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood 24/7 and most children in our children’s church enjoy lessons with short video substantially more than ones without videos. Kids also care a surprising amount about the quality of videos they are watching, there is a reason Disney is a multi-billion dollar organization. Unfortunately the amount of kids videos with any semblance of Christian values, at least mediocre production values, and a wide distribution is hardly over a few hundred. Among those few hundred a majority seem to attempt to primarily teach children good Christian values (whatever that means) as opposed to teaching them anything about God that our Muslim, Pagan, or Jewish friends would disagree with. Christian children’s videos are especially known to emphasize behavior modification, which is troubling since the Christian faith is far more about what God has done than what we do. With some of these moralistic videos I frankly think Christian parents are better off turning on a PBS children’s show or a few of the less narcissistic cable ones. With this all in mind I have come across a handful of really great kids dvds or online videos and I think Christian children and their parents alike can benefit from them.
My favorite children’s video series is a cohesive unit designed to teach the whole Bible in a way that younger elementary children can understand, though amazingly this series can likewise teach the adults who watch it with their children. Veggietales creator Phil Vischer departed his most famous work several years ago with intent to create a more Gospel minded and Biblically educational children’s series. What’s In the Bible with Buck Denver is everything Visher intended and more. In What’s In The Bible Visher uses his unique whit and creative storytelling to teach children the entire Bible book by book and he is careful to show the good news of Jesus is interwoven throughout the Bible story. Visher and his team of unique puppets teach Biblical content and even theology that is seldom included in children’s curriculum (like why we don’t accept the apocrypha or the cycle of apostasy) in a way that actually engages young children. WITB consists of 13 dvds largely divided by different sections of scripture. Each episode (each dvd has two episodes) tackles a different book or books of the Bible, providing a broad review of the book, showing the books part in the grand narrative of salvation, and explaining a different truth of systematic theology. Your children will enjoy the fun characters as they learn more about the Word of God and you might too. Each dvd costs about $10 on many online retail stores though it frequently goes on sale on its own website for as much as half off.
A new online video series seeks to accomplish similar goals as What’s In The Bible though the intended audience is an older one. Last year a Seattle based theologians and a Seattle based artist teamed up to develop a series of free animated videos designed to teach the various books of the Bible and to explain several themes interwoven throughout scripture. The Bible Project likewise seeks to show the Gospel in every part of the Bible, but it’s content is a little more academic. The Bible Project‘s animation is beautiful and it is deeply informative even for pastors. While it’s animations sometimes can be appreciated by all, The Bible Project never shies away from the more mature and even bloody parts of scripture, in fact it often embraces them. In addition the language can be technical and above the level of preschoolers or early elementary students. The Bible Project is excellent for both older children and adults and it can be especially helpful for helping older children understand the importance of Christ’s death. The Bible Project is free on youtube and their own website but they encourage donations to help fund future videos (perhaps you could donate what you might have paid for something else).
A final series I want to recommend is one a little different than the previous two. Theo does not so much explain the content of biblical books, but it gives very practical explanations of systematic theology. Theo is a fun animated series exclusively on dvd that helps kids learn different truths such as “What is Christian Faith?” Theo centers around its namesake Theo an elderly British gentlemen and the two rambunctious mice who live on his estate. The episdoes are all fun and Theo always begins with an important hymn and ends with a way in which we live out the truth of God from the lesson. Theo episodes are brief and enjoyable even to the youngest of children. I’m especially appreciative of the clarity with which Theo presents the Gospel on each and every dvd. Theo can be purchased on amazon, online Christian bookstores, and it’s own website.
Lastly I would like to suggest an individual short video for children from theologian R.C. Sproul. Sproul, who is known for writing academic theology works has created a series of different children’s books with a strong Gospel lens. The most well known of Dr. Sproul’s children’s books is an allegory known as The Lightlings and a few years after its release Dr, Sprouls created an accompanying animatic video. The Lightlings is a short but enjoyable video narrated by Sproul and voiced by various individuals. The Lightlings helps children to understand sin and Jesus as the light of the world and Sproul especially does a great job highlighting Christ’s birth narrative and thus this video might be a great Christmas watch. I believe Sproul has since released similar videos based upon a few other of his books. The Lightlings is excellent both in book and video form and both can be easily purchased on amazon.com.
Undoubtedly there are more children’s videos with both a Christ-centered worldview and decent production values, but these four video series have especially impressed me. While there is nothing wrong with entertaining your child with the latest educational children’s show (though we should show discernment) I believe it is important to also use the time we entertain our children with fun video to teach our faith to our little ones. Fortunately, most of these videos are pretty enjoyable and informative for ourselves as well.