Every Wednesday in Holy Relics, Martyn Jones explores artifacts unique to Christian subculture. Except this Wednesday. This Wednesday, Alan Noble is the Holy Relics Guest Writer.
The Full Armor of God Playset has been the gold-standard in Christian toy weapons for decades. In an increasingly politically correct, feminizing culture, the armor and sword embody an older, more masculine style of imaginary play, and yet the playset also boasts spiritual value for the child, because symbolism. Even if your parents object to play-fighting, they can’t really say “no” if you ask them for the “Full Armor of God,” because you are really asking for a deeper understanding of God’s Word: “Mom, if you buy me this, I’ll be physically experiencing symbols from the bible. This is basically a means of grace. The Word becomes plastic. Come on, mom!”
And besides, it is made of “play-safe plastic,” so it isn’t like you are going to kill your sister or anything when you whop her with the Spirit-of-the-Word Sword. Unfortunately, “play-safe plastic” is a marketing-speak for “crappy plastic,” and the sword never lasted me very long before it began to break off at the hilt—of the Word. You’ve got about ten real quality hits before you have to duct-tape your Spirit-of-the-Word Sword or resort to using the Shield of Faith as a weapon (which is a legitimate apologetics strategy). Despite this poor craftsmanship, I suspect that the Full Armor of God Playset will be popular as long as kids like beating each other and Christian parents are uncomfortable with violence, so, right through the tribulation.
Here’s how Amazon describes the playset:
The playset features the whole Armor of God, as referenced in Ephesians 6:13-18:
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
So, how does the playset do in capturing Paul’s imagery?
- Belt of Truth? Check.
- Breastplate of Righteousness? Check.
- Shield of Faith? Check.
- Helmet of Salvation? Check.
- Sword of the Spirit? Heck yeah, Check!
- Shoes of the Readiness Given by the Gospel of Peace? Well, no, but we got some Shin Guards of Guardiness.
“Shin Guards”? This mistake is strange on two accounts. First, isn’t it basically false advertisement (“lying”) to call this the Full Armor of God when it’s actually Most of the Armor of God and Some Greaves?
Second, if the point of these toys is so that “Kids will get the real feeling of suiting up in the armor of faith,” doesn’t this experience breakdown, since the “shin guards” aren’t actually a metaphor for the spiritual reality Paul is describing?
“Charlie, now, I bought you this Full Armor of God Playset so that you could experience what Paul was talking to the Ephesians about when he said to put on armor. Each of these pieces is a physical symbol of the way God asks us to prepare ourselves for Spiritual Battle. Well, except for the shin guards. Those are just shin guards. They protect your legs from crippling attacks by war hammers, axes, maces, and long swords. So, they’re pretty important. And you know what else is important? The gospel of peace.”
The description of the spiritual benefit of this toy seems confused, too. How can you get the real feeling of suiting up in spiritual armor by wearing fake physical armor? That would be like trying to get the real feeling of communion with Christ by drinking fake wine.
But then perhaps that’s simply what we do. We craft flimsy artifacts, shadows of shadows of ineffable spiritual truths. And we need them to remind us. We need to feel the weight and power of a sword to remember that the Holy Spirit is awe-full. We need the cover of a shield to remember that we are safe in Christ, secure from all that may be thrown at us in life. And most of all, we need to be mindful to put this armor on, to accept that it is ours, that it fits us rightly as made for us by God. Flimsy swords as flimsy symbols for flimsy people who are prone to co-opt the Word’s imagery to suit our fantasies–true of little boys as well as grown ups. So let us bind our shins with peace, and go forth eager to feel the weight of the Word in our hands and experience its truth deep in our bones.