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The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name Hardcover – February 20, 2007
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“I LOVE to give people The Jesus Storybook Bible because from the very first chapter it paints a powerful picture of God’s epic love for each one of us. Sally Lloyd-Jones has a unique way of inviting the reader, young or old, to dive in and discover for themselves the truth and hope of the greatest story ever told.” Amy Grant (Amy Grant)
“Sharing the Gospel with The Jesus Storybook Bible has been one of the greatest privileges of my life.” Ann Voskamp (Ann Voskamp)
“I would urge not just families with young children to get this book, but every Christian–from pew warmers, to ministry leaders, seminarians and even theologians! Sally Lloyd-Jones has captured the heart of what it means to find Christ in all the scriptures, and has made clear even to little children that all God’s revelation has been about Jesus from the beginning–a truth not all that commonly recognized even among the very learned.” – Dr. Timothy Keller, NYC (Dr. Timothy Keller)
“The Jesus Storybook Bible is unlike any other storybook. True, that’s to be expected when you combine the mesmerizing illustrations of Jago and the award-winning writing of Sally Lloyd-Jones, a Brit with an uncanny knack for storytelling.” More to Life Magazine (More to Life Magazine)
“The Jesus Storybook Bible is as theological as it is charming… a very grown up children’s Bible” –Christianity Today (Christianity Today)
The Jesus Storybook Bible is, in my opinion, one of the best resources available to help both children and adults see the Jesus-centered story line of the Bible. Tullian Tchividjian , Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (PCA, Fort Lauderdale, FL.)
In the interests of full disclosure, let me reveal that I had the privilege of reading the manuscript of this book several years ago as a theological consultant to Zondervan, the publisher. I did not know, however, of the fulsome thanks to my husband Tim in the acknowledgments until I received my review copy a few days ago. Sally Lloyd-Jones, a Redeemer member for many years, has done a wondrous thing. She has captured the plot line of redemption in a children's story Bible that sings the praise of Jesus and his saving grace on every page, in every story. Most children's books of Bible stories are little more than a Christianized version of Aesop's fables, or at best, a Christian adventure cartoon. But Sally goes out of her way in the first pages of the book to reclaim the true story of the Bible: not a book of rules, nor a book of heroes, but: “The Bible is most of all a Story…It's like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life! You see, the best thing about this Story is--it's true! There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.” This is heady theology, often missed in adult preaching and teaching, but fully realized in an age appropriate and attractive form that will delight children and often (at least for me) leave the grown up reader in tears. More wondrously, she has avoided the moralism and legalism that so often characterizes Christian educational materials for children. For five years I worked as an editor of children's curriculum, requiring me to review, edit, and sometimes write Sunday school material for children. It is very hard to find (or even produce) material for children that doesn't essentially contain the message “Be good, so that God, your heavenly Father, will love you, and your earthly parents will be happy with you, too.” To discover The Jesus Storybook Bible is to have a unique resource for communicating the gospel to children in all it's fullness. I hope that every family, and even people without young children, would get a copy of this book just to remind them of what the Real Story of the Bible is all about. -- Kathy Keller
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First of all, there are children's Bibles like the Read With Me Bible that are simply bland. Granted, toddlers are not going to pick up on every nuance of a story from the Bible, but the Read With Me Bible often chooses the wrong points to emphasize, entirely leaving out important points of narrative along the way. One story simply lists miracles Jesus did with no context, failing to communicate that Jesus' miracles actually anticipate and begin to realize a new world, a world where God's Kingdom and rule are breaking into the world in a new and exciting way. Now, children obviously won't grasp the entirety of this message (indeed, even the most mature Christian is still growing in their understanding) but Jesus is more than a magician, he is more than simply amazingly powerful, so why drain the miracle stories of their power? If salt loses its saltiness, what is it good for?
Next, there are children's Bibles that don't simply drain the Scriptures of their power, but that actually wrongly interpret the Scriptures in horrifying ways. Two examples from The Story For Little Ones. The story of Samson says that Samson did everything God wanted him to do. This simply displays a level of ignorance about the story of Samson that is beyond belief for someone writing (interpreting) a Bible for children! Samson disobeys God at every turn, and the end of his story is that of a man so consumed by hate and revenge (and who does revenge belong to, by the way?) that he is willing to kill himself to destroy HIS (not God's!) enemies! The point is that the best God has to work with to rescue Israel is someone as corrupt as Samson, yet God is able to use even Samson to rescue His undeserving people! Consider also the end of the Bible, the book of Revelation. In The Story For Little Ones, the end of Scripture is that Jesus will return and take us away from this world and we'll live with him forever. This is exactly what Revelation does not say. Now, I'm not a dispensationalist, nor do I believe in a rapture, but that isn't the doctrine I'm criticizing here. At the end of the book of Revelation, the new Jerusalem descends out of heaven to earth, precisely because the Christian hope is resurrection, not going to heaven when you die (that's what happens to those who die before Christ's return, who go to be with Jesus in paradise). God's goal is not for His people to escape the world, but instead God is working to redeem and recreate the world. That is why Romans 8:22 speaks of the creation groaning as in the pains of childbirth, waiting for the revealing of the sons of God.
Okay, finally on to The Jesus Storybook Bible. This Bible works to explain the big idea, and big picture of the Scriptures at every turn. The focus is on God's love for the lost, the great problem of sin, and the great hope we have in Christ. So, for example, the story of the Exodus is told not as the story of God's great magic show, but instead on the great, mighty, and terrifying rescue of God's people from their slavery, pointing forward also to humanity's slavery to sin and coming rescue in Jesus. That is why the subtitle to this Bible is "Every Story Whispers His Name." Every story anticipates the coming of Jesus and the great rescue he brings to those who put their faith in him. This is a great Reformed concept, and a great Reformed work for children (I am an evangelical Presbyterian, by the way).
Now is this Bible perfect? No, and no translation is, much less a paraphrase. Other have commented on some of the shortcomings of this Bible. Sometimes the language and tone is a bit casual, although casual doesn't necessarily mean disrespectful. Every story doesn't say as much as it could, although this is a strength rather than a weakness for a paraphrase (See: The Message). Not all of the theology expressed in the paraphrase matches perfectly with my own, but I see that as a teaching opportunity rather than a fatal flaw, not to mention that I think children should know early on that there are many ideas in the world, and not all of them are equally valid, and certainly not all of them are true. But again, the strength of this Bible is that it gets the story right, interpreting the main idea correctly and always pointing toward Jesus.
I want to preface this by saying that much of the Jesus Storybook Bible is very well done. Many of the reasons we won't be reading it again are preferential more than theological--the tone and style are not what we're looking for, but many may love it. However, as we read through the book with my son, we ran across some issues that cemented our discontent, and many of them were things we consider non-negotiable issues. While a book for kids is obviously not going to be a thorough or completely accurate translation of biblical texts, we feel very strongly that we don't want to be teaching anything now (explicitly or otherwise) that we will have to "unteach" later. This goes for tone, details, attitudes and big concepts alike. That said, here are a few of our thoughts.
I'll start by mentioning a few things I really liked about the Jesus Storybook Bible (JSB). I thought the whimsical style really suited both the creation narrative and the description of Revelation. It also worked well for many of the Old Testament stories (Tower of Babel, Noah & the flood, Jonah). I appreciate the emphasis on Christ as the center of God's plan and love the idea of "every story whispering His name" (the tag-line for the book). That being said, we really felt that the authors overstepped and added to or changed parts of scripture in a way that could be genuinely harmful to our children's developing spiritual lives and understanding. I'll give a few bullet points that stand out to me with an example of each.
- The result of the fall. The JSB says that because of the fall, a terrible lie came into the world: "God doesn't love me." This theme runs throughout many of the stories. Now, of course doubting God's love is part of the results of the fall, but to sum it up that way really doesn't get to the heart of our culpability and need for forgiveness. We are broken, but we are also responsible. We are not just victims of the fall, we are perpetrators, and I think that is incredibly important for children to understand.
- The addition of unnecessary and unbiblical details. In almost every story, the JSB has embellishments that stray from the text. While that's somewhat understandable to make it accessible to little ones, we really felt they stepped over the line and described scenes that were not only not in scripture but could easily sway the understanding of a biblical character's character and personality.
o Example: In the story of God's command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, after God stops Abraham, there is this paragraph:
"Abraham felt his heart leap with joy. He unbound Isaac and folded him in his arms. Great sobs shook the old man's whole body. Scalding tears filled his eyes. And for a long time, they stayed there like that, in each other's arms...."
I am uncomfortable with that not because it isn't true, but because I have no idea if that's what happened. It's highly specific and it feels wrong to me to tell my kids a Bible story that way. There's nothing wrong with saying Abraham was overjoyed, relieved, and rejoiced, but being so specific feels eerily of untruth to me.
- The addition of details that are ANTI-biblical. I know that sounds very harsh, but I mean to make a distinction between details that we can't know, like my point above, and details that we know are untrue, if relatively "harmless."
o Example: In the story of Jacob working for Laban to earn Rachel's hand:
"One day, Laban said, `Jacob, I've decided to pay you for your work. What do you want?' A sudden thought struck him. `How about one of my daughters?'"
You can read Gen. 29 to see that this is not an accurate account at all. Jacob is the one who suggests marriage to one of Laban's daughters. In fact, the JSB's version of the story is framed as Rachel being the "popular girl" and Leah the girl that "nobody wanted," while in scripture the only thing to suggest this is a description of Rachel as beautiful and Leah as plain. Not only do we not want to introduce the "pretty popular" versus "ugly boring" dichotomy any earlier than it will present itself, this belies the nature of the passage and hoists far too much modern cynicism onto the story. Is it harmful to change those little details? Maybe not, but again, it makes us very uncomfortable. We would much rather err on the side of caution (and in this case, the side of scripture).
- Irreverence. This is my #1 problem with this text. It's one thing to simplify language and large theological concepts, but unfortunately the whimsy of the language in the JSB often seems to turn into cheek and strays far from the holiness and awe found in the biblical narrative.
o Example: The description of Gabriel's visit to Mary. In scripture, we see Mary as receptive, in awe of the honor bestowed upon her, and both reverent and submissive. The JSB says Mary was "minding her own business" and when the angel told her she was chosen by God, she "looked over her shoulder to see if he was talking to somebody else." I know to some people these additions would feel like no big deal, but we want our children to grow up with an abiding sense of awe at God's presence and work. This was not just some casual encounter! And Mary, as seen in scripture, didn't treat it that way.
When we speak of these incredible moments when God reached into history, I want my children hear them described with reverence and appropriate fear, not nonchalance. Yes, the words and ideas need to be simple enough to be accessible to children, but simplicity and reverence are not only compatible, but according to Christ they require one another.
Alongside this point, we were really disappointed in the immature and petty attitudes portrayed in many of the characters. It seemed that in the JSB, heroes of the faith were always arguing, being petty and rude, and rarely (if ever) maturing throughout their stories. The book seemed to have a very black and white view of its characters. Jesus is good. Everyone else is vicious and just doesn't get it. Sure, we as humans often don't get it. But if I'm going to tell my children that I want them to model their lives after the great men and women in the Bible, I want them to see and hear about those who were changed by their encounters with Christ and lived incredible, selfless lives. I do NOT want them modeling their lives after the men and women in the JSB.
I think the real tipping point for us was the story of the Last Supper. The JSB messed with that particular story so much we almost quit reading in the middle of it. Here are the highlights of the problems we saw:
o The JSB story begins with the disciples arguing over not wanting to wash each other's feet. This is totally inaccurate--See John 13. Not only was there no arguing, but they never would have expected one of them (or Jesus) to do it. It was a servant's job. Jesus brought it up by beginning to serve them, not in the midst of an argument.
o The JSB includes Peter's refusal of Jesus' washing and Jesus' comment that if he did not wash him, Peter could have no part with him. Peter's response of "then wash all of me!" is included, but not Jesus' gentle reminder that only his feet needed washing. In our minds, this is very incomplete. If they did not want to include the more difficult theology of Jesus' second answer, they shouldn't have included Peter's second comment either.
o The JSB changes Christ's words during the Last Supper, having him say, "My body is like this bread. It will break." There are so many things wrong with this interpretation, especially if you do not adhere to the bread and wine as a "mere symbol." The emphasis is on the bread, not Christ's body. Also, the JSB flips the metaphor around and says, "This cup of wine is like my blood." The power in the statements of Christ in the Last Supper is in their simplicity, and we are hard pressed to think of a good reason to change the simple and accurate translation of "This is my body" and "This is my blood." Even if you believe they are simply a metaphor and don't want to confuse (often literal) children, the JSB is liberal with metaphors elsewhere. These essential words of Christ seem an obvious place to keep scriptural integrity.
o The JSB also changes Jesus' specific command to celebrate the Lord's Supper ("Do this in remembrance of me") into a general heaven-ward thought when we consume food & drink (From the JSB: "So whenever you eat and drink, remember... I've rescued you!"). I don't think any Orthodox Christian would see this as an accurate representation of Christ's expectation.
So, I've written a lot of criticism here, and I hope it will be taken as it is intended. It helped us immensely to have to write all of this down. Some points on which I thought I had legitimate concerns, I discovered were not theological at all and I was forced to reevaluate. Others I became even more convinced that this is not the biblical standard I want to hold up for my children. If these were Richard Scarey stories or Curious George, I could look at my kids and say, "That's not right, is it?" But when we sit down and say we're going to learn about Jesus and His story, I want to be as accurate, reverent and choosy as I can be, because there is a lot at stake. Those are our (very long) 2 cents. Please take them with a grain of salt.