Marriage Parenting teens

The Gospel According to the Little Mermaid

I have 3 little ones who are no longer little.

This morning my son walked into school as a freshman in High School.  My little princess is now in middle school.  And my baby is in 3RD GRADE!  What is happening?  I glance up at the calendar on the wall and marvel how quickly the pages seem to turn.  October already?  Wasn’t it Easter just last week? The hands of the clock appear to accelerate as my frantic mind begins to contemplate, “how can I make the most of the time we have left?”

How can I effectively communicate the intricacies of the gospel before they leave the nest and begin to question everything we have ever taught them?


Finding the Gospel in Pop Culture

Brown hair curled, white dress flowing, and smelling of fruiting perfume; my little Scarlett came downstairs looking beautiful.  This was Daddy-Daughter-Date-Night!  We had secured tickets to The Little Mermaid Broadway Musical playing at The Smith Center.  Honestly, my mind wasn’t yet in the right place.  The week had been long and the day I had just experienced seemed longer than that week.  I was tired.  I wasn’t feeling very Disney.  But she had been counting down the days to this moment for weeks.

“How do I look?”  Looking up at me with those blue eyes framed by a hundred freckles I suddenly remembered that tonight wasn’t about me.  “You look like a snowflake!”  She smiled, took my hand, and off we went to our little adventure.

This was a story I knew very well.  The songs have been in my head since childhood.  I could (and did) sing along to nearly every song, occasionally glancing down at my little mermaid as the glow of stage lighting bounced off of her smiling reflection.

Ariel longs.  Sabastian frets.  Eric struts.  Ursula schemes.  Children watch.  Triton forbids.  Ariel rebels.  Ursula waits.  The audience knows.

When the Sea Witch offered Ariel a chance to fulfil her dreams, disobey her father, become human, and win the heart of her beloved prince – I noticed Scarlett learning forward on the edge of her seat.  All that was required of Ariel was to relinquish her voice and sign a document pledging her eternal soul to Ursula if she wasn’t able to get Prince Eric to fall in love with her in 3 days.  Ariel Agrees!  At first it appears that making the deal with Ursula was the right choice.  She had legs, had met Eric, and was living in his castle.  Surely Ariel could save herself regardless of her disobedient behavior.

But alas – she is utterly unable to redeem her lost condition.  After 3 days of extreme effort and help from friends, Ariel is unable to make Eric fall in love.  Ursula then arrives back on the scene, ready to claim her prize and enslave the little mermaid for all eternity.  All seems lost until King Triton appears.  He attempts to save Ariel but is confronted with the sad but certain realization that Ariel had sold her soul in a binding contractual agreement – and there was NOTHING that King Triton could do about it!

But then we see a twist!  An offer that nobody was expecting.  A substitutionary sacrifice could be made.  If King Triton would be willing to take the place of his beloved daughter, leave his throne, and take Ariel’s punishment – then Ursula would be satisfied, the payment would be made, and Ariel would go free.  Would the king be willing to sacrifice himself in order to save his beloved daughter?


The Gospel – It’s Everywhere I Look

It’s called The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon or The Frequency Illusion.  This is the illusion in which a word, name, or thing that has recently come to someone’s attention suddenly seems to appear with improbable frequency.  It’s like when you buy a yellow car, you start becoming more aware of yellow cars.  The number of yellow cars hasn’t increased, but your awareness of yellow cars has.

Have you noticed that the Gospel is everywhere?  Stories of redemption and substitutionary sacrifice are everywhere (Titus 1:15).  Katniss is willing to sacrifice herself for Prim.  Samwise is willing to sacrifice himself for Frodo.  Even Darth Vader ends up sacrificing himself in the end to save his son Luke.  Sure, there are many examples of a false gospel for those who are looking – but there are just as many (if not more) examples of the Gospel of Jesus Christ playing out all around us.  If you play chess you might be willing to sacrifice a knight in order to take out a queen.  If you play baseball you might be willing to hit a sacrifice bunt in order to advance a base runner to another base.

It’s almost as if the human spirit is obsessed with the idea of Sacrificial Love.  Our greatest heroes are those who are willing to sacrifice themselves for others, on the battle field, in falling towers, in Colorado school hallways, or at Las Vegas music festivals.


Point It Out

As I sat there with Scarlett my own parents came to mind.  I have a very clear memory of my father sitting with us in our family room after we first watched The Little Mermaid.  He turned off the television, turned on the lights, and opened his Bible.

“What was your favorite song in the movie?”  Charity spoke up first, “Part of your World.”

“What did Ariel do wrong?”  “She disobeyed her daddy.”

“What happened when she disobeyed her daddy?”  “Everything seemed to be okay – but then bad things began to happen.”

“Who saved Ariel from becoming a seaweed?”  “Her daddy!  He was going to take her place.”

My father went on to explain, “we have all sinned and walked away from our Heavenly Father.  This sin is like making a deal with the Devil.  Our soul is his and we are headed toward eternal punishment.  But God loves us so much that He became a man and died upon the cross to pay for our sins.  This act of sacrifice as freed us from our sin penalty and we can now be saved.  Jesus resurrected from the grave and now offers freedom and forgiveness to anyone willing to receive it.  Matthew, have you received Jesus as your savior?”  “Yes, Dad.”  “Joshua, do you understand how Jesus sacrificed himself for you?”  “Yes Sir.”  “Charity, do you believe that Jesus died for your sins too?”  “I do, yes.”

God told the nation of Israel in The Shema that they were to love the Lord, keep His words, and teach them diligently to their children.

Deuteronomy 6:4-7 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

He tells us to speak of Him and His love to our children everywhere life may take us.  When you are sitting around the house, when you are walking through the mall, when you are putting them to bed, when you are waking them for school – everywhere and at all times we should be pointing out the love and grace of our Lord to the children we are raising in the faith.


I had a “life-cycle-moment” on the way home from the Smith Center that evening.

“Scarlett, what was your favorite song in the show?” “Under the Sea!”

“What did Ariel do wrong?”  “She disobeyed her daddy.”

“What happened when she disobeyed her daddy?”  “Everything seemed to be okay – but then bad things began to happen.”

“Who saved Ariel from her fate?”  “Her daddy!  He was going to take her place.”

“Snowflake, did you know that God – in a much more important way has sacrificed himself for you and your sins?  You see, the Bible tells us that…”


What are your thoughts?  Where am I going wrong?  Where do you agree?  What have I missed?  Please comment in the thread below and I will attempt to answer each.

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  • Reply
    October 23, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    Good job! I had a moment like this watching Polar Express!

    • Reply
      Josh Teis
      October 24, 2017 at 1:38 pm

      Love the Polar Express

  • Reply
    Matt Lyon
    October 23, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    So good. I’ll never look at Little Mermaid the same! This continues pattern seen in Acts with Paul quoting pagans as means to preach truth on Mars Hill.
    (If you haven’t read it already, check out “The Stories We Tell” by Mike Cosper.)

    • Reply
      Josh Teis
      October 24, 2017 at 1:38 pm

      I’ll check it out. Thanks Matthew

  • Reply
    Josh Hargis
    October 23, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    Perfect, I have been looking at a way to explain the gospel to my four year old and never could think of a way to begin introducing it on you level of understanding.

    • Reply
      Josh Teis
      October 24, 2017 at 1:40 pm

      Enjoy these days and point your children to jesus. They won’t be ours forever!

  • Reply
    October 23, 2017 at 10:23 pm

    Great article! We also try to be aware of the subtext messages in the movies our kids watch. (Although, with three boys, there is a lot more Star Wars and LOTR than Little Mermaid!). These movies open up a dialogue with our kids and allow us to speak “parables” to them in a language they relate to in the moment. Glad to know we’re not the only ones! 🙂

    • Reply
      Josh Teis
      October 24, 2017 at 1:42 pm

      Yes! Using these types of moments not only allows us to illustrate the gospel but also point out other worldview that are inconsistent with the gospel. Wonderful point.

  • Reply
    Adam Roland
    October 24, 2017 at 6:21 am

    I’m not sure where to start. I don’t reply to articles. But, as a pastor, I am deeply concerned by this article. The Gospel is that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again the third day, according to the scriptures. (I know you believe that.) There truly is nothing new under the sun, and the themes of the great stories recorded in Scripture are found throughout literature. The Gospel is not found in pop culture. The Christian engages culture by being ‘counter-culture’ (2 Cor. 6:17). Themes are not the Gospel, and looking for the Gospel in pop culture is like looking for filet mignon in the city dump. If you don’t find revolting the immodesty, the lust, the immorality, and the deplorable nature of the movies you have mentioned in your article – if those are the elements of your and your family’s entertainment, I would direct your attention to the words of R.M. McCheyne, who said, ‘The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.’ As fathers and pastors, we have a great responsibility. Our holiness and purity of life is far more important than being entertainment-savvy. Josh, I have 7 sons and 3 daughters who have never even seen The Little Mermaid. If I had let them, I know that afterward I wouldn’t be revealing the Gospel to them, but rather, trying to explain why their dad made them watch a movie where the main character was half-naked…
    By the way, I remember your dad and probably met you too over 20 years ago when I took our youth group to West Branch. I trust that you will take the time to think about what I have said. I harbor no ill-will toward you. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. However, you did solicit comments at the end of your article, so I have taken the liberty. May the grace of God sustain us both.
    P.S. I left my comments here, rather than on FB so that they would not be posted without your consent.

    • Reply
      Josh Teis
      October 24, 2017 at 1:46 pm

      I suppose we all have various parenting philosophies. My parents chose to reject certain elements of culture they deemed too unredeemable and chose to redeem certain elements of culture that could be used to point their children to Jesus. Perhaps it is a flawed parenting philosophy. Perhaps yours will work better. God’s grace be with you.

  • Reply
    October 24, 2017 at 8:52 am

    There you go again!
    That Little Red head sure gets herself into some trouble reminds me so much of myself! What a great example to share with your daughter…using everything to point out Jesus and the Gospel!

    • Reply
      Josh Teis
      October 24, 2017 at 1:48 pm

      Agreed! That little Scarlett is just too much some times! Thankful daddy here

  • Reply
    October 24, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    I agree that there are examples everywhere and that everything can be pointed back to God if you are open to seeing it that way, I point this out to my children and grandchildren all the time. As far as the little mermaid goes the one thing that stood out to me the most was the father overreacting in anger because of the depth of his daughters disception and the pain on his face. I point out to them the pain she caused. I also point out that he loved her so much if she had only waited and talked with him she would have gotten her way and her father could have made her a human all along. Some times just pointing out where things started going wrong can help too, her disobedience started much earlier. If we can help our children to step back and see the whole picture or at least that of the parent they may be able to see things a little more clearly as to why they have the rules they do but mostly I wanted them to see the hurt and later the love of the parent as God’s love and care for his disobedient child.

    • Reply
      Josh Teis
      October 24, 2017 at 1:49 pm

      Diana! This is a beautiful point. Thank you for sharing your thoughts

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