Have the challenges, questions, and uncertainties of this past year motivated you to start the next year with a better approach to reading the Bible with your children? January is the time when a lot of Christians try (again) to read through the Bible as a family. But it’s not always an easy task. What’s a good approach to reading the Bible to children?
We’ve heard lots of suggestions about how to do this. Years ago a pastor friend said simply, “start reading in Genesis 1:1 and just keep going.” He believed the best approach was the direct one. “Just read the text,” he said. We decided to try it. But as we encountered the stories of Abel’s murder, Abraham’s polygamy, Lot’s incest, and later, the moral madness of Judges 19, among others, we didn’t always feel equipped to explain the meaning of the text (Neh. 8:8). Then we ran into the well-known mid-March malaise that can affect even seasoned Bible readers after spending weeks-upon-weeks in Leviticus and Numbers. Add to that our restless toddlers and before long, we found ourselves floundering.
“You need a children’s version of the Bible,” others said, recommending books full of bold, colorful, even artistic illustrations of Bible stories. They were fun to look at with all their graphic art but often contained too little actual Bible. For example, the whole time we were reading through Acts (28 chapters), our youngest child was stuck on two pages. All his storybook Bible included from Acts was a short retelling of Paul’s shipwreck off the island of Malta (and there was nothing from the Epistles).
Other friends expressed frustration with a hit-or-miss approach––reading a Psalm or a Proverb here, a parable there––admitting they were sabotaged by their over-busy schedules and easily distracted offspring. Is there a better way?
A better way to read the Bible with children?
When author Sally Michael was a young mom, she found herself frustrated with the shallowness of materials written for children. To make up for the lack, she would add to her Bible story reading. “I stopped and asked some questions,” she said, “I pushed them to think critically to discover the implications of what we read and to apply it to their lives.” Eventually, she decided to write the kind of book she wasn’t able to find.
More Than a Story: Old Testament is the first of the two-volume set she’s written to help children explore the message of the Bible, with their parents, in a comprehensive and engaging way. Each chapter includes large amounts of actual biblical text, key Christian doctrines, realistic illustrations, and discussion questions to start conversations with children about the meaning of the stories and how to apply them.
As we embark on a new year, let us pray that God will open his Word to our children and that he will open their eyes to behold the wonderful things it contains (Psa. 119:18).
Unlike many children’s story Bibles, More Than a Story shows children the problem of sin against a holy God. “Most children’s and Bible story books don’t teach children their plight,” Michael says, “because we don’t want children to feel uncomfortable. But I want them to feel uncomfortable because I want them to be driven to the cross so that they can be saved!”
She attributes her approach to her former pastor, John Piper, who says, “You have to know your plight before you can recognize the rescue.” It is only with the realization of the very bad news about sin, that the very good news of salvation makes sense.
Sally has been instrumental in my view of mothering as primarily a discipleship vocation, and I’ve long admired her ability to make massive biblical truths accessible to children. In More Than a Story, the Bible stories are both well-told and faithful to the original text. It also contains stories that other children’s Bibles tend to skip over. It’s written for children to understand, but not dumbed down; it’s age-appropriate, but doesn’t skip over big truths about God, his wisdom for living in a confusing age, and his unfolding plan of redemption.
Michael wrote this book for parents, grandparents, and Sunday School teachers to help them introduce children to the big God of the Bible. She says her hope is that God will use this Bible storybook “to lead children to The Book––to give them a desire to read the Bible and know its author; to put their faith in Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sin and the fulfillment of all of His promises toward them, even eternal life.” Her prayer is that this and coming generations of children “might become mighty oaks of righteousness standing firm against the onslaught of untruth in this age.”
I’m planning to read More Than a Story with our younger two sons in 2021 (the New Testament will be released in the fall). Even though they’re older than the target age, the content enriched my soul as I read it, and I’m 50!
We can’t save our children. It is God who gives them new hearts and causes them to believe. But he works through means. He creates parents and charges them with the responsibility for teaching his Word to their children (Deut. 6:6-7). As we embark on a new year, let us pray that God will open his Word to our children and that he will open their eyes to behold the wonderful things it contains (Psa. 119:18).
Make 2021 the year that you prioritize reading God’s Word to your children. Read it with them for their everlasting joy. And yours.