More Than a Story is a new kind of Bible resource for children — taking children on a chronological journey through the Bible with a God-centered, gospel-focused, discipleship-oriented, and theologically grounded perspective. Though the Bible is full of stories, it is more than a story; it is the authoritative Word of God that, throughout its pages, proclaims and magnifies the majestic character of God, his work in this world, and his plan of redemption for sinful men through his Son, Jesus.
Truth 78 is releasing the New Testament volume of More Than a Story just in time for Christmas 2021. The book’s author, Sally Michael, answers a few questions about this helpful resource below.
More Than a Story has a different feel from other Bible books written for children. Why is a book of this type and tone so important?
Sally Michael: We have many children’s Bible resources consisting of collections of key Bible stories written in an engaging manner. But what seems to be lacking is a comprehensive overview that covers the breadth and depth of the message of the Bible. The More Than a Story Old and New Testament volumes attempt to fill in those gaps, giving children a solid foundation of the manifold character of God, the plotline of the Bible, and key Bible doctrines in a child-friendly, engaging, yet respectful manner. It also incorporates many of the non-narrative portions of the scriptures. Children need to be exposed to the wisdom of Proverbs, the comfort of the Psalms, the warnings and promises of the prophets, the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, the reminders of the gospel and instructions for Christian living in the letters, and the Revelation of the glories of the Coming King who will make all things new. Children need a solid foundation of truth to develop a strong faith.
While the Bible is full of fascinating and exciting stories, we must not lose sight of the fact that it is the authoritative, clear, necessary, sufficient Word of God. So, the tone of the book, though appealing to children, is also respectful and honoring of the Bible. There is an appropriate sobriety regarding the seriousness of sin as well as glorious, exalting joy in the redemption bought by Jesus. I have tried to treat the truths of the Bible in a manner worthy of God’s Word while still being engaging with children, interactive, and creative. Many actual texts from the Bible are included so that children can experience the power of the Word of God and become familiar with the text of the Bible, God’s actual words.
How does your experience as a Bible teacher determine the tone and focus of this book?
SM: In my experience of teaching children who grow up in the church, I have often seen a sketchy knowledge of the Bible and a simplistic understanding of its teachings. I have also noted that it is not unusual for children from Christian homes to have head knowledge without heart engagement. One of the most frightening verses for me in the Bible is Romans 1:21: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
I am at heart a teacher, not a writer. Writing is just a medium to expand the scope of my teaching. So, when I am writing to children, I am intent on teaching them solid, life-giving truth. I am very intentional to teach a logical scope and sequence, to present accurate knowledge, to ask the hard questions; to teach children to think and draw conclusions, to see themes and patterns in Scripture, and to accurately interpret the text. But good teaching is not just dumping information in the minds of children — it is helping them to interact with that knowledge so that they see the connections between the Bible and their own lives; it is helping children to wrestle with the hard truths and the glorious truths to engage their hearts.
And I think that the prayer of every good Bible teacher is that the will of the child is influenced to trust in God. So, when I write, I am actually teaching. I intentionally try to inform the mind, engage the heart, and influence the will.
You’ve noted that one of the goals of More Than a Story is to teach children Bible study skills. Have you found that parents don’t feel equipped to do that? Is this difficult for churches, too?
SM: I think we underestimate children, and we certainly underestimate the work of the Holy Spirit. Children can be taught to look at a text, ask questions of the text, define words, wrestle with the meaning of a text, draw conclusions, and discern truth. The simple skills of observation (What does the passage say?), interpretation (What does the passage mean?), and application (How does the meaning of this text apply to me personally?) can be learned through prayer and practice. Children can make amazing connections when they are taught the Bible, and the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God and is faithful to bring forth fruit.
In my former church, a little 2-year-old girl learned the verse, “No one can serve two masters.” At 3 years old in the preschool department, the teacher was teaching about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. She asked the class, “Should they bow down to the statue of gold?” This little girl became very agitated, and she jumped up and said, “They can’t! They can’t! Because of that verse.” She was pointing to a card with the recognition symbol for “No one can serve two masters.”
As to the question, “Are parents and the church equipped to do that?” Absolutely! They can ask who, what, when, where, why, and how questions. They can help children to apply Scripture by answering the questions: “What should I think? What should I be? What should I do?” The question is not one of equipping but of intentional exposure to the actual words of Scripture. Are we intentionally teaching our children to be Bereans who are “examining the Scriptures daily”? How often do we actually ask children to read a text and answer questions about it?
In More Than a Story, you aren’t afraid to ask children to look at sin and its effects. How do children process a topic like that?
SM: Children are pretty matter of fact. They don’t have the emotional baggage adults have to cloud their thinking. They more readily accept hard truths than adults do because suffering and difficulty are not usually personal for children but rather academic.
That said, I think it is good for children to feel uncomfortable, even concerned about the right things. As my former pastor John Piper once said, “[I]f we don’t know what our real plight is, we may not recognize God’s rescue when it comes.” Randy Alcorn agrees. He writes, “Fear of Hell serves as a merciful call to repentance.”
We want children to feel the discomfort of being a sinner, of deserving the wrath of God. The cross is meaningless to a person who does not understand that he is under the just judgment of God. To minimize sin is to minimize Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on the cross. So, More Than a Story does present the essence, pervasiveness, and problem of sin. We are serving our children when we teach the seriousness of sin because their eternal souls are at stake.
But we must also pair that sober news of judgement with the gloriously good news of the gospel. The goal is for children to treasure the Savior, run to him for rescue, and put their trust in his work on the cross. Yes, More Than a Story presents the bad news, but it also surely portrays the glories of God’s mercy, the incredible forgiveness for sin paid for on the cross, and the glorious message of the gospel. The good news of a merciful God permeates this book. It presents the good news as GOOD NEWS!
Which biblical events in More Than a Story hold particular meaning for this very difficult year?
SM: Rather than just pick a particular event I would say that the message of God’s providence, his faithfulness to his people, the pervasiveness of sin and the effects of the Fall, and the reality of future glory are the truths that hold fast our hope in these difficult times. I want children to know that God is sovereign and good, to know that all his promises are “yes and Amen in Jesus,” to know that weeping endures for the night, but joy comes in the morning, to know that this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory steadies the soul and informs our emotions for the difficult times.
A story in the Bible that particularly illustrates this for children is the story of Joseph. The truth that God is always at work accomplishing his purposes and that what others meant for evil, God intended for good is so easy for children to see in the story of God’s faithfulness to Joseph and the offspring of Abraham.
What are your hopes for More Than a Story?
SM: My hope is that More Than a Story will impassion parents to take the spiritual nurture of their children seriously and that it will be a good foundation for them to understand how to do that. My prayer is that this book will ignite in children a desire to seek God and that this book will lead them to the Book — the inspired, trustworthy, precious Word of God.
Editor’s Note: On Nov. 16, Truth 78 featured More Than a Story on their Zealous podcast. The Truth 78 leadership — David and Sally Michael as well as Jill Nelson — let us listen in on one of their recent conversations at the Truth 78 staff retreat. The end of the podcast includes a call to action for men from David and an explanation of the More Than a Story vision and how the resource is a great tool for families to begin with in their homes.