I was recently alerted to the story that Walmart will soon be selling "religious toys" in some 425 of its mega stores across these lands. The person who forwarded an e-mail to me about this seemed to think it a good thing for the kids. These are not any religious toys you see, they are best of breed Bible Action figures. Sort of like GI Joe's but with Bible characters. See the Nightline story television story here. Here is a brief excerpt from the story which ran in the USA Today:
For David Socha, CEO of One2believe, it's a dream come true. "Our goal is to give the faith-based community an alternative to Bratz dolls and Spider-Man," he says.
The toys are based on biblical stories. For example, there's a set of 3-inch figures based on Daniel in the lion's den for about $7. A 12-inch talking Jesus doll is about $15. And 14-inch Samson or Goliath action figures are about $20.
To be fair, Socha offers his reasons for what he calls "the Battle for the Toy Box" in his rallying cry for support of Bible action figures. Please don't think this is a joke either as Focus on the Family and Family Life seem to be standing with the project. Now, I believe this company to be sincere, concerned about kids and is generally trying to do something good for Christian parents whose kids and toy boxes swim in secular seas. Here are just a few reasons not to play with Jesus dolls and have Daniel replace the little people.
First, that which is on the lunch box, is usually something kids leave behind. Currently as an adult I do not play with GI Joe's and I do not define my life by the narrative of the 80s film Clash of the Titans. I did however have a Titan's lunch box at one time (I actually found a picture of it on the web - not mine, but just like it). My point is that kids move on from childhood toys and ideas and into life which ought to be more serious. Why would we want to put Jesus on our kids lunch box? My concern is that when the children properly give up childish ways (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).
Second, something that is a toy is not something upon which an adult bases their life. Quite simply, the gospel narrative, God's redeeming story in Scripture, is the story by which we define our lives as followers of Christ. The creation of all things, human beings made in God's image, our rebellion and sin, God's promises in the unfolding purpose of redemption, the inauguration of the Kingdom in the new covenant, and its coming reality when Jesus returns to rule and reign. This is not like the story of He man and The Master's of the Universe.
Third, it trivializes the characters of Scripture who were real people many of which faced great hardship in the service of God. Let me quote Rocha:
This is a chance to let our voices be heard. By supporting this program we can send a message to other retailers and toy makers letting them know that we, as a Christian community, are truly concerned about the toys that our children play with! We are aware of the influence that toys have on our young children’s impressionable minds, so we would like to see more God-honoring options available. It’s a “Battle for the Toy Box”!
http://store.messengersoffaith.net/ Emphasis in original
I love his zeal and desire no ill will towards his company, but do we really want Jesus and Spider-man battling for the toy box? Personally, I hope my kids see Jesus as the creator God, Lord of the universe, who spoke space-time into existence, died on an unjust executioner's cross for the sins of the world, rose from death and is coming again to judge the living and the dead. To have him battle with Spider-man and Barbie, seems to place him in a rather trivial fight. I just assume Jesus can whip GI Joe, I don't need to them to battle in the toy box to find this out.
Fourth, making our own Christian subcultural toys fosters a Christian sub culture which teaches kids to pull away from the world - thereby communicating that believers should not live in culture with "non Christian things." This leads us in square contradiction to the missional thrust of Scripture where God's people are called towards people and culture not away. Yes, we do not receive sinful aspects of culture, yes we do not want to "love the world" for this is indeed is enmity towards God (James 4:1-10). But we are not to carve out a hermetically sealed bubbles where by we live surrounded by Jesus dolls for our kids, goofy t-shirts for our teenagers and imagine sparkling grape juice for the wedding feast at Cana.
If you think this is a great thing, please feel no condemnation from me, after all Alistair Begg even endorsed them and I respect him quite a bit. I simply would rather my kids throw some other things around the house and learn to love Scripture as Scripture. But if someone buys our kids one of these, by all means we will not throw away Jesus. And the "little-people" looking nativity scene is kind of cute. Perhaps setting that out at Christmas would be a delightful exercise for my 3 year old.
Finally, do not read this as an endorsement for the ridiculous toy market which is out there for your kids, advertising furiously before their little eyes creating covetous eight year old monsters across these lands. Nor do I want you to hear any condemnation of Mr. Socha's company. Yet if you want to be a counter-cultural toy buyer, buy things that help them read, learn mathematics, think rigorously and tell them the high mountains of science, the Scriptures and theology await them. And don't freak out if your girls play with a non Bible character doll or your boys like transformers - they will one day grow up and leave behind a box full of childish things. By this time, our prayers would be that they have a solid foundation in Scripture, worldviews, a love for Jesus and a passion to be on mission with him in the world. This is much more radical than playing with a Sampson doll in the living room, or pulling a string to hear Jesus talk...and much less silly.
What do you think?