After the Children’s Bible, what?

I love children's Bibles, particularly the Augsburg Fortress Spark Story Bible and the American Bible Society's Read and Learn Bible.  Children's Bibles put the stories of faith into words and pictures in a way that makes them accessible to children, allowing children to grow familiar with Noah and Moses, Jesus and the disciples, and the God whose love is shared through these figures.0806670495h

One of the great things about a children's Bible is that you can open it up at bedtime or story time, to any page, and can't go wrong.  The stories have been selected and presented in a way that will make sense to our children and (perhaps just as importantly) to the adult who is reading with them.

But what happens in 3rd or 4th grade, when the child is presented with a NIV or NRSV Bible?  Even if it is a "youth" Bible, complete with notes and charts and pictures geared toward the upper elementary age level, it is fundamentally different than the children's Bible in that it contains the whole Biblical text.  You can't open the Spark Story Bible and find a long passage from Numbers detailing how the Israelites are organized through their wilderness journey, but you can in the NIV.  You can't open the Read and Learn Bible and find a story detailing God's vengeance, but you can in the NRSV.  That is, what children (and the adults who read to them) learn with a children's Bible is that you can pick up the Bible and read it, and it will generally make sense, because the stories have been pre-selected.  In a full-translation Bible that is just not the case.

And besides the story-selection that takes place within the pages of a children's Bible, the stories themselves are presented in accessible language and with engaging illustrations.  But even the better "youth" Bibles are still full of pages that have nothing but columns of black text – something you don't even see in their textbooks at school!  The NRSV Bible is written at an 8th or 9th grade reading level … and we give it to 3rd graders?  But it is more than an issue of translation or graphical presentation.  Do we really expect our 3rd graders to be able to deal with Judges 19

Is the answer perhaps to create a story Bible that, like the children's Bible, is a selection of Bible stories engagingly presented in paraphrase and with illustrations?  Such a Bible (or, better put, a book of Bible stories) would include a wider selection of stories than the children's Bible, a selection that reflects the abilities of upper elementary youth to comprehend and engage the Biblical account.

And finally, when we present Bibles to our mid/upper elementary children, do we give them and their parents a way to read the Bible?  Do we help them find the passages and stories that are age-appropriate, or give them tools to work through some of the tougher passages?

These are some of the questions I'm wrestling with as I think about the faith formation of children and families, and the importance of making faith-exploration accessible in the home.  Even our most dedicated children and families will miss several Sundays per year of worship and Sunday school, ministries which at most offer about 100 contact hours per year (in comparison, our children get 100 contact hours at school every 2.5 weeks).  Because Sunday morning cannot be the only opportunity for intentional faith formation, we need to not only create ministries of fellowship and formation outside of Sunday morning, but also place in the hands of our parents and children resources they can use during the week to nurture faith and grow into the promises of the Gospel.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

6 thoughts on “After the Children’s Bible, what?

  1. The realistic question is how many parents would even read to or guide the Bible reading of a child 3rd grade and up?
    But there are kids that age, or at least in 5th grade, who can easily read the Bibles that they are given. At some point, it needs to be the whole Bible, not the edited version. I was going to say the “sugar coated version” but that isn’t fair.
    How about some sort of Bible reading guide. I’ve seen some that say something like, “When you are sad read ____.” “When you want to learn about ___ read ___.”
    There could be lists of the good stories, the best passages for when one is tested, the best parts about Jesus’ life, etc.

  2. Chris,
    I hear your comments. I think that my kneejerk reaction was like PS, but as I contemplate where an in-between step might be helpful, I think of the point you make about text and image.
    Yes, I was in upper elementary when I first picked up an RSV Bible and started reading for myself. However, I did it, because my pastor talked about Revelation as the Star Wars of the Bible. Then I started on Genesis and the Gospels. Everything else was mysterious to me, especially when I compared the KJV and the Good News versions I had in my house.
    What about a volume style approach to youth bibles? You get the Pentateuch, the Law, the Histories, and the Prophets in separate book editions. Similarly, you get the Synoptics, the Johannines, the Paulines, and the Letters of Peter, James, and Jude in different book editions. This way the books could include pictures, charts, educational pieces, and also convey some of the formalist pieces that many Christians never get to, but are pretty nice contextualizations.
    The fact is that most of our young people are visually and aurally oriented. They are also tactile. Giving them and their parents ways of encountering the scriptures in age-appropriate framing is still helpful – even for gifted students who may be academically advanced, but not emotionally or socially advanced.
    Besides, what’s stopping the curious from grabbing Mom or Dad’s or the pew’s Bible and comparing?

  3. The first “Bible” I remember owning was The Golden Children’s Bible ( My great-grandmother gave it to me when I was about four. It’s not the actual biblical text, but it is a fairly complete synthesis of the story parts. I never read it.
    The thing I remember is spending endless hours looking at the two pages that corresponded to Genesis 1. It has a circular text area, surrounded by pictures of celestial objects, dinosaurs, a wooly mamoth, birds, animals and Adam and Eve. I read those two pages a lot.
    I’ve completely failed up to now at getting my daughters (currently 9 and 12) to read the Bible. My oldest has a copy of the Golden Children’s Bible and a “Honey Word” NLT. She’s read Luke, John and Acts. She likes to flip through and look at the trite little sidebars. She spends a lot more time ready the Harry Potter series, which she knows like I know the Bible. With my youngest, we’re still working on establishing a love of reading in general and I kind of think the Bible would be counter-productive at this stage.
    The thing is, I’m not sure I would want either of my daughters to spend too much time reading the Bible right now, because they don’t question things enough yet. If they read the Bible, they’d read it like fundamentalists. I don’t think I want them reading the Bible until they’re ready to read a passage like Judges 19 and come to me and demand to know why I would respect a book that has crap like that in it.

  4. Hi Chris,
    I think with this question you’ve bitten off more than you/we can chew. A complete illustrated Bible for everyone? Hmmm….
    Illustrating scripture isn’t new: Renaissance artists, stained glass windows and wood cuts in the Luther bibles were similar attempts to teach through the visual. Have you seen the Robert Crumb Illustrated book of Genesis?
    A step.. but maybe not the way we want to go.
    “Children’s Illustrated Bibles” are the appetizer for the whole meal of scripture.
    I remember being fascinated by the Illustrated Classic Comics edition of the Old Testament. But any illustration is the view of the artist, and not of the imagination of the reader. I’ve had fervent discussions with adults about an image they saw as children, and it was scorched into their minds as literal evidence of ‘how it was supposed to be:’ that Jesus had blue eyes… etc
    We live in a culture that is dominated by the visual; a visual approach to teaching should be only the appetizer to the feast that is the Bible.
    I agree that we need to equip parents to do biblical teaching in the home, as per their baptismal covenant. Most congregations spend far too much time worrying about what the children learn, and not enough time challenging the adults.
    Teaching/learning/knowing the Bible isn’t a one shot effort to be accomplished by confirmation class, but an ongoing, life-long discipline that the church should nurture, encourage, and bless throughout life stages.
    Just my take on this issue… talk amongst yourselves for a while…

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