Bible Stories for Children

Ashley pointed me to an interesting article in the USA Today this morning that discusses different stances and approaches to telling Biblical stories in the form of children’s books. The article was pretty well balanced (surprisingly) and I thought I would distill what was said and offer a view that wasn’t presented, that is, not to tell children these stories when they are small.

The Purpose of Scripture

Someone once told me (perhaps one of my Bible professors at Huntington, Dr. Fairchild perhaps) that the Bible is not a book to be cuddled up with on a sofa with a cup of coffee and a blanket. I’m guilty of trying to read the Bible this way in the past, and usually it ended with me passing out or losing interest. The reason: the Bible is not feel good reading. And that’s okay.

Scripture is full of lots of interesting narrative, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s narrative that is meant to be entertaining. I’ve found that the best way to read the Bible is sitting at a table, upright, with notes to the left and the book open in front of me. Sometimes I will have music playing, but usually not. And I have to work to stay involved and reading. This process can be tiring, and usually it can only last for a short while before I have to stop and do something else, only to come back and start again later. I would describe the process as work, as beneficial, but not necessarily as fun the same way I would describe reading Chuck Palahniuk as fun.

I don’t believe it is offensive to God that I don’t curl up with the Bible the same way I would with a fictional book whose purpose is to entertain. What is important is that the Bible is used for the purpose it was intended—that is, communication of the events, practices, and theology of the writer’s day.

Children’s Books

Children’s books tend to serve a few different purposes. In an effort to categorize children’s books, I would break them into a few categories:

Fun and Entertaining
I would call any book that is meant to entertain without a specific ulterior motive a fun and entertaining children’s book.
We all know these books. They are hardly ever fun and usually rank up there with educational video games when it comes to a kid’s interest in them.
While I would say Biblical stories fit into this section, it is broad enough to fit in things like Aesop’s fables and other fables intended to deliver a message to the reader. Usually the intended message is explained in the end.

I’ll grant that there these descriptions bleed over into one another, but generally each story fits into only one of the above.

Most Bible storybooks try to be a mix of all three categories. There are different angles with each type of book, of course. One series, from the LCMS is called The Fall Into Sin:

[This book series doesn’t] mince words. This one tells parents to confess their sins and teach children to thank God for sending a savior.

Or, another book from the series Nana’s Bible Stories typically has stories like this:

A butterfly visits Jesus on the cross, gets snagged on a splinter and saved by a drop of Jesus’ blood.

It isn’t that books like these are communicating false things (although the one about the butterfly seems a bit irresponsible) I’m left with the question: Is this the way we should be communicating scripture to children?

How Should We Talk to Kids About the Bible?

The Bible is full of stories which are either too complicated for a child to understand or so disturbing (when understood) that a child would probably be harmed by learning of it. And by trying to tell these stories in children’s books with cartoon characters and, at times, completely fictitious additions, are we doing them a disservice? It seems that they will grow up either desensitized to the stories they are told or unaware of the true meaning behind the stories.

Because these stories are often not appropriate to be told at bedtime (the story of the flood, for example), maybe we should hold off until they can be understood by the children. Maybe (gasp) Bible stories should never be bedtime stories. Maybe that is abusing the scriptures. I’m not suggesting we neglect our responsibility of teaching our children about the Bible, I’m only suggesting we do it in an appropriate way.

Can we talk to kids about God, their faith, and redemption without storybooks? I think so.

Can we treat the scriptures with respect and make it something that kids want to learn about? Maybe not, honestly. But is that a bad thing? In general Christians (myself included) tend to take the low road, attempting to make Christianity something that is desirable to many instead of something that is true. There are times when more people should be offended by a teaching from scripture than should like it. And I think there are times when someone can only appreciate portions of scripture when they have reached a level of maturity to deal with it.

Let’s let kids be kids and not try to make the stories in the Bible fit in with contemporary storytelling and entertainment. If that means they don’t know all the stories the other kids do as they grow up, so be it. Experiencing scripture at a later, more mature age may be what certain people need for it to have real meaning in their lives.

3 thoughts on “Bible Stories for Children

  1. Thought provoking article, Ryan. I think I would differ on a couple points.

    One, I think there’s a time to “curl up” with the Bible and enjoy the true stories (not all of them are bloody and confusing). Christmas being on of those times. But I agree with you that the Bible is also worthy of our focused attention and effort.

    Two, I think it’s a mistake not to tell kids stories from the Bible. I have in mind here the command from Deuteronomy 6:7 – “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” – as well as the example of Jesus, who somehow found a way to communicate the goodness and truth of God to children.

    The way forward may not be open-shut, but I believe we can find ways to introduce our kids to the beauty and truth of the Bible in appropriate ways…one of these ways may be to embrace the Bible as “literature” and allow them to enjoy the true stories.

    Btw, I’m happy to have found your blog…I’ll be back for sure.

  2. Thanks AJ. I’m flattered you commented. In quick response:

    1. I suppose that’s a good balance to my point above. There are stories which are easier to read through, and should probably be enjoyed for the sake of themselves. Thanks for that.

    2. I’m still struggling with how this sort of command is to be understood and followed. I appreciate your thoughts though. It’s not an easy thing to do, and we shouldn’t be surprised that it isn’t, I think.

    I look forward to hearing from you and discussing these sorts of things in the future. Thanks again for commenting, AJ.

  3. Good article, Ryan.

    We should give the Bible the authority it deserves as th Word of God, but I think it’s fine to tell bible stories to children. That’s because it’s the best way for children to understand the gospel.

    As they grow older, they can be given more ‘meat’ to have a deeper understanding.

    CS Lewis commented that he wrote The Chronicles of Narnia because he wanted to make it easier for children to understand the gospel and Jesus when they grow up later, not at the time of reading his books.

    Having said all these, we should never turn Bible stories into fiction by telling children it is so. But even at their young age, they’re quite capable of believing in good and evil and forgivenes.

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