The new children’s animated video series Iesodo (the way of Jesus) is produced and written by our most recent guest, Rob Loos. I had the opportunity to preview two of their titles, Faith and Love, which the publishers provided for our honest review.
The Iesodo stories are based on the life and teachings of Jesus and told through a community of various bird species. At first I had a problem with Jesus, the almighty Son of God, being represented by a skinny-legged dove. I was used to Aslan, C. S. Lewis’s allegorical representation of Jesus as a lion in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
“Safe? . . . Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Iesodo is much milder by comparison. He’s good, kind, loving, and faithful. He’s diligent about studying ancient scrolls (representing Scripture). He gently teaches, corrects, and provides for his followers.
However, when he stands up to the hoopoes, who represent the Pharisees and Sadducees, he’s pretty meek. I see nothing of the Jesus who turned over the money changers’ tables and called the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs” (Matt. 23:27). Perhaps Jesus’ power and majesty will be better represented in later episodes.
I also couldn’t see Peter, a strong fisherman, as the bulbul Rocky. He just seemed too small, meek, and weak for Peter.
In the videos I watched, the animation was wonderful, the music catchy and enjoyable, and the stories sweet. In Love, I especially enjoyed “Together,” the song a newly married bird couple sings at their wedding.
With very cute songs and animation, this video also presents the story of Zacchaeus as a ruthless tax collector. Iesodo teaches the friends the value of loving their enemies, and Zack learns that sharing with friends is a whole lot more fun than hoarding everything for himself.
The Iesodo stories deal with potentially sensitive issues in a child-friendly way. Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana is reenacted as Iesodo turns water into nectar. Later, a bird is brought to Iesodo for stealing another bird’s mate. She is truly sorry, and Iesodo tells her to go back to her flock. “Follow your heart and do what’s right from now on,” he says.
I like the emphasis here on true repentance and doing what’s right. But I don’t agree with “follow your heart.” Following her heart is what got this little bird into trouble in the first place. The Bible tells us “the heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9),” so I think Iesodo should have worded his advice differently. Parents would do well to point out to their children that sometimes emotions lie, so we need to stick to what God’s Word teaches instead of what our hearts may tempt us to do.
Faith shows Iesodo feeding five thousand birds with five acorns and two fish, a cute twist on the original. On the way home, Iesodo’s friends have to cross a stormy sea. I liked the creative way the writer found to get airborne birds down onto the water. Then Iesodo could calm the sea and Rocky could learn about faith by walking on water. By the way, the animation of the storm and waves was breathtaking.
Faith also encourages viewers to have faith and act on it, but it never says where to place that faith. Who or what must they put their faith in? Themselves? Iesodo? Faith itself? Tim Timmons rightly points out in his commentary that we need to put our faith in Jesus, so it’s important for parents to explain this to their children.
Earlier in the video, Iesodo had sent out his friends to spread the “good news,” recalling the time Jesus sent out His disciples in Matthew 10, Mark 6, and Luke 9. The birds define the good news as “helping, sharing, learning, and loving.” I like the message in the song, and I think children will be inspired to help, share, learn, and love more because of it.
However, this “good news” falls short of the true gospel (the “good news”), which is God’s reconciliation with sinful mankind through Jesus. I’m not sure how the producers of Iesodo could have presented the gospel more clearly at a children’s level in Faith, but I hope they are able to do that in future videos.
Meanwhile, parents can access Tim Timmons’s commentary on each story and the referenced Bible verses to help teach their children how the stories relate to the real life of Jesus.
The danger I see here is if parents don’t know or don’t teach their children the true gospel, then viewers might accept only a so-called “social” gospel: Do good and help those in need. Without a true relationship with Jesus Christ, this is purely human effort and doesn’t result in saving faith. (See Ephesians 2:8–9.)
When Jesus sent out His disciples, which this event represents, He gave them power. He told them to preach that the kingdom of God had come and to cast out demons, heal the sick, and raise the dead. The disciples also preached that men should repent (Matthew 10, Mark 6, Luke 9).
The Iesodo videos, designed for a crossover audience of both Christians and non-Christians, are merely a starting point to share the truths found in the New Testament. The producers don’t pretend anything else. As such, I think they do an excellent job. I just hope and pray that the children and parents who watch the videos will eventually understand and accept the whole of the good news, that Jesus came to seek and save the lost and pay our sin debt in full. I pray they will know not just Iesodo, the way of Jesus, but Jesus Himself.
Jeanne Gowen Dennis, HeritageofTruth.com
We like watching Kirk Cameron with Ray Comfort teaching Christian apologetics, and Kirk’s Monumental documentary was inspirational in many ways. So we were expecting to enjoy Saving Christmas. However, in our opinion, Saving Christmas does not live up to its name.
Saving Christmas is an apologetic for traditional American Christmas traditions, thinly veiled as entertainment. In the movie, Kirk’s character systematically goes through various Christmas decorations and symbols trying to convince a brother-in-law that they all have a biblical basis, or at least a biblical application. The brother-in-law is presented as a legalist, someone who can’t get into the Christmas spirit because he’s hung up on the non-biblical aspects of the celebration.
Some of Kirk’s arguments are good, and the information he presents is interesting. We encourage parents to share with their children the symbolism and historical information behind Christmas symbols and traditions, some of which the movie points out. For example, it was wonderful the way Kirk took the swaddling clothes at the manger and compared them to the empty grave clothes after Jesus’ resurrection.
Kirk rightly points out that the gospel message can be told through many of the Christmas symbols, but on two points at least, his arguments fall short.
The first big objection I have to Kirk’s apologetic for American Christmas traditions is his take on Santa Claus. Kirk points out that the original man called St. Nicholas was a defender of biblical faith, especially of the essential doctrine of the deity of Christ. Nicholas was also a generous and beloved man. It is good for us to remember him.
However, no matter how much we want to remember St. Nicholas, we cannot biblically justify many of the Santa traditions our culture practices. Where in the Bible does it say that in the name of fun we can be dishonest with our children? Instead, God commands us to teach them the truth about Him:
“You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deuteronomy 11:18-19 NASB)
Where does it say we should teach children that anyone but God can:
• see them all the time
• know whether they’re awake or asleep, and
• know if they’re good or bad?
Only God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent (all-powerful, all-knowing, and present everywhere). So what happens when we tell our children that a kindly old gentleman possesses these attributes and flies around the world delivering presents – even magically entering their own homes? The myth of Santa Claus steals the childlike wonder and devotion that should belong only to God.
“I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.” (Isaiah 42:8 NIV)
My fear (and my experience) is that teaching children the myth of Santa Claus as truth can actually hinder them from finding true faith in Jesus Christ. “After all,” they might say, “if my parents lied to me about Santa, maybe they lied to me about God too. Or maybe they were duped themselves.”
“Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:4 NASB)
And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 8:2-6 NASB)
I don’t see anything wrong with giving gifts in memory of a saintly man, as long as we don’t lie to our children about it. Children understand about pretending. So tell them you’re pretending. Say it’s a fun, traditional game to give gifts in the name of Santa Claus. Then tell them the true story of St. Nicholas.
You also can enjoy Santa movies with your family as long as you approach them as you would a fairy tale or fictional story, but not as truth.
My second problem with Kirk’s apologetic is when he urges the brother-in-law to view the decadent pile of gifts as a cityscape of buildings and imagine all the people who hear and celebrate the Christmas message around the world. That’s a poor excuse for the “give me this and I want that” attitude of most children in America today.
It’s fine to give one another gifts, but what about teaching our children generosity and self-sacrifice? Jesus came to give Himself for us:
And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. (Ephesians 5:2)
Shouldn’t we teach our children to remember the poor? To reach out to the homeless? What about remembering in prayer our brothers and sisters around the world being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ? Is there room for that in our Christmas celebrations? Jesus didn’t come the first time as a king; He came as a poor child laid in a feed trough.
It is right and good to celebrate the greatest gift the world has ever received, God’s gift to humankind in His Son. The incarnation is an incredible reason to celebrate! The eternal, immortal God chose to come to earth as a child of flesh to save us from our sins and to reconcile all sinners to God:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:1,14).
Saving Christmas has some good points, but you don’t need this movie to save Christmas. Whatever your holiday traditions, you will save Christmas in your home when you focus on the magnificent truth that Jesus Saves.
© Jeanne Gowen Dennis, HeritageofTruth.com