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.
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.