Reviewing V.B.S. Literature
Donald P. Ames
Last year we submitted a review of the various VBS materials being offered and received an excellent response to such an action. Thus, we are again glad to have this opportunity to submit such a review in the hopes it will encourage and help brethren to select good and sound material, with as few objections as possible, and perhaps avoid some major disappointment.
The Cogdill Foundation submitted requests for VBS kits to: (1) Sweet Publishing Company, (2) Gospel Teacher Publications (3) Lambert Book House and (4) Quality Publishing Company. These four publish the most widely accepted VBS literature among brethren, and thus are our major concern.
Sweet: "Rejoice And Praise The Lord"
More and more in recent years, the material from Sweet has taken on an inter-denominational flavor, as if trying to appeal to the Christian Church as quickly as to brethren. The VBS material this year leaves one with the impression this goal is clearly in mind. The theme of the material is "Worship as Praise to the Lord," and the adult class is encouraged to plan and lay out a worship service for the following Sunday. Some good points on the right attitude for worship are included, but again the material relies heavily on additional resources from the Moody Press (Baptist) and Concordia (Lutheran). It is also of such a nature that it requires much additional purchasing of equipment and materials from Sweet to complete.
Promotionalism is more than evident throughout the material. Advertising is included in all student booklets for T-shirts and iron-ons to be purchased with the VBS theme on the front - from Sweet, of course. Teachers manuals (especially in the lower grades) also contain promotions for day schools, mission VBS, etc. Puppets are pushed as an opening act daily, and they in turn promote Kool-aid as a central point to look forward to. Projectors and tape recorders are also needed (extra) for the suggested daily film strips related to the lesson. And, the suggested guide for organization looks more like the charter for the U.N. than a simple VBS!
Their cut-outs are die-cut (partially cut out, punch out the rest), which saves the teacher a lot of time and work in class - and helps the student who participates. Although the RSV is quoted in the text, answers can be easily found in the KJV as well (but the TEV is quoted in the lower grades, without any disavowal of the many perversions found in this mis-translation). The Senior High student book could throw you if you have not used their material before, as it is laid out in sections to be removed daily. Hence, half of the first lesson is in the front, and the rest is found on the other half of the same page in the back of the booklet (pages are marked to help in this skipping around).
There are some serious objections to this material, in addition to the heavily promoted T-shirts and other Sweet publications - some of questionable reliability. Although music in worship is discussed (as an act of worship), it is treated so vaguely that one using the instrument in worship would never be moved to question the scriptural authority for such additions. For the adult class, a special book (13 chapters - obviously too much to be covered effectively) is to be used, written by Wendell Willis (no relation to our editor, I hope). This book denies that the collection taken up by Paul for the needy saints in Jerusalem was to meet any need (a point he contradicts a few pages later), but rather that it was merely a voluntary sharing of love and fellowship among fellow Christians as the mood moved them. He also points out that food was offered as a contribution as well in early churches and was then used by them in their benevolent work (hence the implication is left that the same substitution is perfectly acceptable today as well).
Doctrinal truth is not upheld as that which is the Law of the Lord today. Instead of serving as a guide-line for doctrinal purity, the truth is set forth as a "confession of faith" on the part of that particular writer, and many such "confessions of faith" exist throughout both the O.T. and N.T. Although these "confessions of faith" sometimes separated the Christian from the erring, and caused those of like convictions to pull together, they "were not imposed on believers . . . were not used to attack other Christians, nor were any intended as exclusive" (p. 87). Thus, the gospel is upheld simply as a means to "tie us together," and not as the instrument of God also for purity, rebuking of error, and exposing of false brethren (Jude 3; Gal. 1:6-8; 2 John 9, etc.).
Although baptism is also mentioned, it is treated as an act of "worship," and not as obedience to the commands of God. A vile sinner may be baptized to free himself of his sinful past, but those raised in the church are usually baptized to "dedicate" their lives to God! One is baptized out of a desire to be "in Christ," a part of the body of Christ, and then "exhorted" to cease from sinning from that point forward. It follows faith "naturally," and is a point of dedication - but the point that God commands it for the remission of sins and that the sinner must be convicted of his sinful way of life is glossed over. The teachers manual does mention a few scriptures that could be used to illustrate the point, but the 13-chapter book does not see fit to dwell on the point.
I believe most brethren would be sadly disappointed if they purchased and used this material with the promotionalism, general tone, and unsound teaching therein.
Lambert: "I Choose Jesus"
I must admit this material is very attractive, very appealing, and inspirational - at least to me! An adult class is also included, and the student is encouraged to select Jesus as his Savior, Lord, Teacher, Friend and King. Some good (and needed) material is contained showing that obedience to the commands of Christ is not "legalism" and also in refutation to the false theory of premillennialism, which is sneaking back in some places unawares. Cut-outs for the lower grades are not die-cut, but are well adapted for the lessons. A number of songs are also included in the back of the lower grade class booklets for kids to sing, and the theme of choosing Jesus is well presented.
However, some draw-backs do exist which the user needs to be aware of. The teachers manuals for the lower grades strongly promotes a bus ministry and pushes the idea of refreshments - even to the extent the teacher is urged to bring them to class even if the congregation does not use them in VBS! Intermediate and Junior classes seem to be a bit simplified, and a lot of the work is placed upon the teacher. Lastly, the teachers manual for the Senior High class recommends K.C. Moser's commentary on Romans, The Way Of Salvation, which was one of the early leaders of the false teaching on grace-fellowship -- though the ideas are not carried over into the class material. Since these are contained in the teacher's manuals, they ought to be called to the teachers' attention and avoided.
Gospel Teacher: "Jesus, My Lord"
This series is also good, with the cut-outs for the lower grades die-cut to assist the teachers. It, too, has an adult class, and challenges the student to recognize Jesus as Lord of the creation, of history, of the Scriptures, of the church, and of his own life. Some very good faith-building material on evidences is contained in the teen-age classes, at an age in which many sometimes find themselves floundering on the shores of unbelief.
A class play of the lesson is recommended daily for classes clear up through the Junior level, and without this play, I have serious doubts there would be adequate material to survive a class period of any length. Some overlap exists in the classes, and the material here also would have to be heavily supplemented by the teacher, who has the bulk of the load to carry
Although there is some excellent material in these lessons, it lacks the appeal of Lambert's; and because of the play, I feel many brethren would find it not what they were seeking to teach as material, but simply teaching as a side to entertainment.
Quality: "Praising Jesus"
This is the third year of a rotating series being developed by Quality Publishing Company, and frankly, I have not been too impressed with the quality of the previous two years. However as the saying goes, "The third time is a charm," and this year Quality seems to have finally hit on an excellent combination. The material is very well presented and much more acceptable than the previous two years. The theme is praising Jesus - because He made me, because of His love, because of His word, because of His family (i.e., the Church), and through our obedience and loyalty.
Although the RSV is used again, the lessons are laid out so the more popular KJV can be used just as easily, and in fact, one lesson actually includes a Bible drill for both to avoid any problems. In the lower levels, the cut-outs are not die-cut, but neither are they that difficult. The emphasis on refreshments and puppets is not found in this series either. The material is laid out for a two hour class, which means it can be easily adapted to split classes, or parts omitted for different arrangements (such as one evening session). A time-schedule for each activity is printed in the teacher's manual of the lower grades to aid the teacher in planning his allotted time, and there is plenty to keep the student busy and interested without working the teacher to death as well. Some very excellent material is included in the elementary teacher's manual for class use on answering questions that arise with church discipline and reactions - which would be good for other classes as well.
This does not mean there are no draw-backs to caution against. A number of songs are suggested to be sung by the lower grades throughout the class, and nearly everyone of them is new. This could pose a problem to a teacher who is not musically inclined, even though a simple tune is suggested. A few alternatives are suggested, and also a plug to make up a few of your own (why not?). One teacher's manual even suggests sending a cassette tape to one of the churches in Abilene, Texas (address included) which would be glad to have their young people sing the songs on it. This, of course, would require no "last minute preparation," as sometimes characterizes brethren getting ready.
The Beginners class teachers manual also suggests a class project of making peanut-butter one session which is to be eaten. However, there is enough material this could be dropped without any problem. It also suggests a brief field-trip outside to accumulate things made by God, which could be replaced with class illustrations or as a home-work assignment if the teacher preferred to keep the class more quiet.
There is no adult class in this kit. On the other hand, the Senior High material could probably be used by adults if one so desired.
All in all, I am much impressed with the drastic improvement in quality this year, and very pleased to commend this material to brethren. I would rate it as attractive aE Lambert's, and much easier to use for longer classes, less play and more study, and less emphasis on puppets and refreshments. Quality deserves a big plus on this year's material!
It is hoped such a review is helpful to brethren, and thal we might always use the best wisdom is selecting oui material for the good we seek to do in such teaching ses. sions. Kits and other supplies may be ordered from Trutt Magazine Bookstore (Box 88, Fairmont, IN 46928) and are, I believe, already in stock.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 25, pp. 408-410