Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The Bible (For Kids!)

One of my first priorities in training my children in the faith is to immerse them in the stories of Scripture—especially The Story of Scripture. Theology and commandments are important, but ultimately it’s the stories that kids will latch onto. They’re easy to remember because our brains are wired to think in narrative (as an anecdote, I’ve noticed when quizzing my daughter on her history lessons, she struggles with the facts; but when it comes to the stories of these ancient cultures, her eyes perk up as she retells the events back to me). Stories hold incredible depths of meaning. And, really, they’re the primary way God has chosen to speak with us. Think about it. The majority of the Bible is not law or theology. It’s story.

Consider how Mark begins his book: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” When Mark sets out to lay out the Gospel, he does not do so by laying out a list of propositions or a road to salvation. He tells a story. The Gospel is a story—one of how God took on flesh, submitted unto death on a cross, defeated death and paid for sin, rose from the grave, ascended to the right hand of the Father, and is coming again to judge the living and the dead (c.f. the Apostle’s Creed).

But, I digress. This is supposed to be a post about some of the tools I use to help immerse my children in those stories, namely children’s Bibles. There’s a lot of choices out there when it comes to children’s Bibles, and despite being somewhat of a collector, I’ve not tried them all. But, I can share with you a few favorites I’ve come across as well as how I use them. For me, I have three main functions I try to fill with children’s Bibles.

1 - Story Bible

Early on my wife and I started a habit of reading books to our kids at night. At this stage of life, we usually read one book of their choice and one Bible story. For this, my favorite Bibles are the “Jesus Calling Bible Storybook” (Sarah Young) and “God’s Words to Dream On” (Diane Stortz).

Both of these contain dozens of short, consistent, self-contained stories that work great for bedtime. Each “Jesus Calling” story ends with a Scripture quotation and a short devotion. “God’s Words to Dream On” includes a verse, a prayer, and a bedtime blessing to go with each story. The theology in each (so far as I have found) is sound, though some might not be comfortable with the style of the “Jesus Calling” devotions (they’re written as first person messages from God to the reader—for me, it just a matter of substituting some pronouns).

Some may wonder why I don’t just read the actual Bible to them. Two reasons: 1) I don’t want to leave them with a distaste for the Christian faith because I insisted on doing things in a legalistic manner. Before the printing press, the primary way of teaching children would have been telling the stories of God and Israel orally (and I doubt these were word for word recitations each time). So, why not paraphrase a bit and tell these stories in a way our children can relate to, in a way that gets them excited about our history and our faith? They’ll get around to reading actual Scripture. But we don’t have to wait till that point to help them fall in love with the stories. 2) To help them situate each of these disparate stories into the larger story of redemption. Part of the reason I like these two particular children’s Bibles is that they don’t try to reduce each story into a moral lesson. Rather they use the stories to reveal the character of God and point in the direction of the Gospel. So, I’m not just teaching my children the stories—I’m teaching them a particular way of reading those stories. A Gospel-centered way.

2 - Reference Bible

During Sabbath services, I’m always looking for ways to engage my kids with the sermon (I’ll probably write more on this in a later blog post). One way to do that is to bring out a children’s Bible and show my children what stories the pastor is talking about. There’s some limitations here—a sermon based in one of Paul’s letters is not likely to have a page to reference in a children’s Bible. But, when the opportunity arises, this can be a great way to help your children start making those connections. For this purpose, I use an action Bible. These comic style Bibles typically have more stories in them than one designed for reading at bedtime, and the kids love them.

I don’t actually have a particular recommendation to make in this department. We own the “Bibleforce Bible,” but I must confess that the deciding factor was that we found it on sale at our local Christian bookstore. Personally, I haven’t seen a lot that would make one action Bible stand out from the others (disagree? Let me know in the comments). I will say that out of all our children’s Bibles, this one is my children’s favorite (I’m told because it reminds them of a comic book).

3 - Story of Redemption

My absolute favorite find when it comes to children’s Bibles is “The King Jesus StoryBible” (Ben Irwin). This Bible covers the overall arc of the Scripture and retells it as a single story (meant to be read in a single setting). Starting with creation and the purpose of mankind, it moves through the fall, man’s continual rebellion against God, the call of Abraham, God’s covenant with Israel, the demand for a human king (and their subsequent failures), the exile, and finally the story of Jesus. Here the book hangs out for a little bit to emphasize the significance of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our King. Then, after solidly hitting the central Gospel story, the book points toward the church after Christ’s ascension, calling the reader into this Gospel story and mission that started with the apostles and continues with us.

Besides doing a superb job of drawing together these disparate stories into a single narrative focused squarely on the King Jesus Gospel, this book also contains illustrations that give parents a launching point for probing deeper into the individual stories. For example, when talking about how the apostles’ (”Jesus’ friends”) went out to share God’s love (in fairly high level terms), the associated illustrations show scenes from stories like Paul and Silas in prison and Paul’s ship in the rough seas.

I pull this Bible out on special occasions (like Passover and Sukkot) to help us all (and, yes, I mean all of us—I’ve found this type of Bible summary just as helpful for myself as for my kids) take a step back and see the forest again. It reminds us what our faith is all about. That’s why it’s my favorite among our children’s Bibles.

Honorable mention goes to “The Story of God with Us” (Padgett and Gregorie). This book performs much the same function (and likewise does an excellent job) as “The King Jesus StoryBible”. Main differences are that this book is slightly less in the weeds, slightly more repetitive (which with children can be a good thing), more ethereal in the illustrations, with a particular focus on the God dwelling with us theme (“The King Jesus StoryBible” could be said to have more of a focus on the Kingship of Jesus).

That’s a peek at my children’s Bible collection and how I use it. As I said before, there’s a lot of selection out there. Ultimately, what’s best for your family will be whatever helps your children to connect with the story of God and Israel and fall in love with our Messiah. Don’t be afraid to branch out and get creative (I haven’t even touched on alternative media such as the Superbook tv series). And, whatever you use, engage with your children. Who knows? Perhaps God will speak to you through a children’s Bible as well.

Do you have a favorite children’s Bible? How do you engage your children with Scripture? Share below.

(This article can also be found on the HFF blog

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