Sunday, April 12, 2015

Review of the Jesus Storybook Bible

Everyone who has ever mentioned the Jesus Storybook Bible to me has loved it. Chances are, you love it, too. And I wish I did. After all, I love the heart of the book and believe truly that "Every story whispers his name." But I have problems with the Biblical inaccuracies in the book. I wish I could ask Sally Lloyd-Jones (kindly, because I love her heart) why she felt the need to embellish some parts and leave other parts out in just the way she did.

First of all, I do love the purpose the Sally Lloyd-Jones had in creating the Jesus Storybook Bible. The entire Church, not just its children, needs to see the Bible as a continuing story of redemption with Jesus at its very center. Too often the Old Testament has been neglected, or worse, presented as a collection of moral stories to encourage (or frighten!) Sunday School children to "be good." Lloyd-Jones shows clearly that it's all about Jesus. For example, in the story of Joseph, she writes simply about how Joseph foreshadows Jesus:
"One day, God would send another Prince, a young Prince whose heart would break. Like Joseph, he would leave his home and his Father. His brothers would hate him and want him dead. He would be sold for pieces of silver. He would be punished even though he had done nothing wrong. But God would use everything that happened to this young Prince --even the bad things --to do something good: to forgive the sins of the whole world."
Don't you love that? God not only wrote the story of redemption, He designed it. You can see it throughout the story Scripture tells, (yes, even the Old Testament!) and it's beautiful.

I also share Lloyd-Jones' concern in this interview:
"Children’s lives are so filled, it seems to me, with rules and lessons and instructions and directions and dos and don'ts. (Of course these are all important in their place; all children need guidance and that’s appropriate!) But I don’t always see much Grace being extended to children. We know, as adults, where to find Grace in the Bible. We go the Bible for strength and comfort in times of need, don’t we? But I worry that children aren’t always being offered that refuge, for when they are in need of strength and comfort. I worry that they don’t always know that this incredible, outrageous Grace is for them too. Children need to know that they are loved by the one who made them. No matter what. Always. Forever. Period. And it isn’t depending on how good or nice they are. It’s always and only depending on Jesus and what he has done for them."
Amen, I say.


Why can this story not be told without serious inaccuracies? And why can we not show the glory of God's love even to little children without glossing over the seriousness of sin and the magnitude of God's holiness, justice, and power?

I understand that this is a creative retelling. I understand that such a retelling for little children must be selective, and that it must be creative so that they will see the story in their mind's eye and understand the great truths being told. But in her retelling, Lloyd-Jones writes some things that are frankly not true.

There are cases where my discomfort may possibly be a matter of preference. Take, for example, the Creation story. "God said, 'Hello, light!' and light shone into the darkness." I would have preferred the majesty of God's "Let there be...and there was." I do not see why substituting "Hello" would be easier for a child to understand. And (call me a quibbler) "Hello" does not mean the same thing as "Let there be." Hello is usually more of a recognition of what is already there than a calling into being, and it does not convey authority. I like clarity in my words, even to children, and to me this is especially important when retelling God's Word. I will understand if you think I am being picky about this particular example. :)

However, there are other places where the inaccuracies are more serious. The story of the Fall is an example of this.
As soon as the snake saw his chance, he slithered silently up to Eve. "Does God really love you?" the serpent whispered. "If he does, why won't he let you eat the nice, juicy, delicious fruit? Poor you, perhaps God doesn't really want you to be happy."(p. 30)
Eve begins to wonder, and eats the fruit.
 "And a terrible lie came into the world. It would never leave. It would live on in every human heart, whispering to every one of God's children: 'God doesn't love me.'" (p. 30)
The original sin, according to this book, is not realizing how much God loves you. 

At worst, this is theologically unsound, at best it is a simple glossing over of the actual significance of the Fall. And I ask you, does it matter that we teach even little children the truth about the Fall? That the real temptation was to doubt God's Word ("Did God really say...?") and the real sin was rebellion against God's express command? I think it does matter, because we can't truly know how much God loves us until we realize what He has rescued us from: real sin, and real judgement.

I believe that we must teach even little children the whole truth from the beginning. They may not understand it all, but they will take what they can, and understand more and more as they grow. My concern is to lay a foundation of truth that will not change. If I begin with the Jesus Storybook Bible, I'm going to have to reteach this someday with the real truth about the Fall. What will happen in my children's minds when the new story doesn't match what I had first taught them? Which will they believe?

I'll give you just one more example. Jonah and the Fish. This is the message Lloyd-Jones says Jonah brought to Nineveh:
"'Even though you've run far from God, he can't stop loving you,' Jonah told them. "Run to him! So he can forgive you."'
In case you've forgotten, what Jonah really said was, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" The people believed him, repented of their sins, and God had mercy and did not destroy them.

My only question here is why? Why did Lloyd-Jones substitute a message of grace for the real message of judgment? What is going to happen when little children graduate from this story to the real Bible and discover that God is not a "nice" God? That He is holy and just as well as loving and gracious?

Now, before you object, I love the message of grace. I believe God's love and his grace are amazing and beyond anything I can imagine. I believe that His message of judgment to Nineveh was full of grace. He could have destroyed them without warning, but He gave them opportunity to repent. But why should we put words in His mouth that were not actually there? Why change what He really said? The message of grace and redemption is indeed found throughout Scripture, and will come out clearly even if we stick to the truth.

The Bottom Line
I appreciate Lloyd-Jones' creativity in telling the story of the Bible. She does have a gift, and she is using it for the gospel. I love that she has taken the idea of the continuity of Scripture and the centrality of Christ and made it understandable for children (and in doing so, undoubtedly also made it understandable for many adults who have never thought of Scripture in that way before...what a blessing!).

But I also believe that God inspired the Scriptures, and that therefore even the details are important. That's why I can't get past the times when Lloyd-Jones writes specific details that actually contradict what the Bible says. I can understand and appreciate creativity in bringing a story to life for little children, I really can. But this crosses a line for me. And the sad thing is, it is completely unnecessary. All of Lloyd-Jones' aims could have been accomplished without being in any way untrue to Scripture.

What do you think? Have you read the Jesus Storybook Bible to your children? I'd love to hear what you have to say about it.