Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Evaluating Bible Story Books

We have 10 children. And so we have collected lots (way lots) of Bible story books. Most were given to us or the various kids. We also strive to have morning and evening devotions with the whole family.

What we have learned is that most Bible story books are junk tainted with the poison of false doctrine.

What we have also learned is that we should not underestimate our children's ability to enjoy and understand the Bible. Bible story books are a substitute. Some few are well done.

I hope to give the reader some ways to evaluate the value of Bible story books before purchase. It is nice to have the littlest children looking at good artwork from such books while the corresponding Bible account is read. Sometimes it is desirable to have a Bible story book with the readings broken up into simple time limited accounts.

And there are always family and friends who have children that might not otherwise ever read or hear the Bible read to them.

In each of these situations picking an Bible story book that is faithful to the Scripture is important.

A sample of variety in kinds.

Bible story books can be thematic: the Christmas story, Alphabet (The Bible ABC Book), Miracles, the Exodus;

They can be designed to be devotional: Eggermier's, calendar based story books (The Children's Everyday Bible), One Hundred Bible Stories.

They can be designed to teach Bible history: Children's Story Bible, The Bible Story, One Hundred Bible Stories.

And sometimes they are just meant to be funny pictures with moral lessons: The Children's Story Bible, The Children's Everyday Bible, The Bible in Pictures, Veggie Tales.

Some basic standards

There are issues of material quality when giving a gift: is it paper or hard covered, glued, stapled, saddle stitched; whether the paper of the pages is fragile or durable; and whether the art work and arrangement is worthwhile.

But the standards we will consider here have to do with some quick ways to check whether the story book is faithful to the Scriptures.

First: Remember your Catechism: The Law, the Gospel, the response of Prayer; the Means of Grace: Baptism, the Keys, and the Sacrament of the Altar.

Check the story about the Lord's Supper, The Baptism of Christ, the Great Commission. If these accounts are included watch for any rephrasing of the Words of Institution  or redirection of meaning away from God's grace and forgiveness toward moralizing--making the Means of Grace into a new law to be better people.

This first set of examples is from The Children's Everyday Bible published by Dora Kindersley Ltd., 2002.

Changing the Sacraments into mere symbolism

This is a calendar based devotional with simplified but eye catching artwork. The account of the Lord's Supper is slotted for October 17th (not really great for observing the seasons of the Church year).

The text says:

"Then Jesus took some bread and thanked God for it. He broke it into pieces and told his friends the bread was like his body. Next he took a cup of wine and said the wine was like his blood. Jesus was talking about the way he would give up his body and blood when he died on the cross. He would die to save people from their sins." (p. 300)

Notice that right away we see that this Bible story book is unsuitable because it changes the words and meaning of Christ's institution of the Lord's Supper.

Moralizing Repentance and Denying the Means of Grace

This book also shows how Baptism is often twisted in Bible story books.

 The book presents John the Baptizer on July 31 with the Baptism of Jesus on August 1.

Both the mission of John and Baptism are perverted.

According to the text, John preached, "Tell God you are sorry for the wrong things you do. Start over again. Live good lives that please God, because God's kingdom is on its way."

The text describes baptism this way:
"Because of his words, many people asked God to forgive them. John baptized these people in the Jordan River to show they now had a new life." (p. 222)

So John's preaching is changed from a Gospel of Repentance for the forgiveness of sins into a chance to reboot your life and try again. Original sin is denied and Baptism is made into a work that is give people a picture of their starting over fresh to do better. 

A second example of Moralizing Repentance and denying the Means of Grace is found in the Pentecost account.

 This lesson is scheduled for Nov. 6.

In response to a very short word from Peter the response is:
"The people wanted to know what they should do."

To which Peter is supposed to have said:
"Tell God you are sorry for your sins, and be baptized to show that you believe in Jesus," said Peter. "Then the Holy Spirit will come to you too." (p. 320)
Notice here that Baptism is not acknowledged to be God's work, rather Baptism is made into something people do to demonstrate to God and other people that they really mean it. Baptism is perverted into a human work for self-righteousness.

The Great Commission on Nov. 3 is reversed and made into a new moral demand. Instead of making disciples through the Means of Grace of Baptism as Christ instituted it, Baptism is made a moral deed that should follow the efforts to be good.
He said, "Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I've given you. Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And remember, I will always be with you." (p. 317)
So, despite the nice arrangement, compact lessons, and nifty art work, this particular devotional denies God's grace, turns God's Means of Grace into new symbolic gestures by which Christians demonstrate to God and to others that they really love God and want to do what God commands.

The Veggie Tales were terrible at moralizing in this way. David and Goliath was turned from the account of how God had removed His grace from Saul and given the kingdom to David into a story of triumphalism regardless of size--just believe. David and Bathsheba--instead of the account of horrible sins, repentance, and forgiveness--was turned into a story about being content with your own rubber duck.

But this devotional is just quotes from the Bible!

The Thomas Nelson's Children's Story Bible is a great example of how even a book that simply quotes the NKJV text can be bad.

The arrangement is a little awkward, not chronological nor thematic. The arrangement is based on the order of the Books of the Bible. So, if the family knows order of the books of the Bible, then they should be able to sort out the lessons.

The artwork superb, and if you ignore all of the notes and questions in the book, it might be fine to use. But, if it is just quotes from the Bible, why not just read the Bible?

The section on the Lord's Supper is on p. 196-9 and is the account of Mark 14:12-26.

Here is where the book goes of in the wrong direction. Each reading is followed by a 3 part application with the headings: Discover, Understand, and Live It Out.

Notice what the text says about the Lord's Supper in Understand:
"The bread was a symbol for Jesus' body, and the wine a symbol for His blood, which He would shed on the cross, a sacrifice that would save us." (p. 199)
So, despite keeping to the words of the text of Mark 14, the editors took it upon themselves to make an explicit denial of the Words of Institution which Jesus spoke.

Two lessons later (p. 204-7) we have the account of John baptizing Jesus from Luke 3.

The Live It Out section states the following:
Follow God's instructions for living a Christian life, and He will be pleased.
No grace, no forgiveness, no preaching of repentance: Just do a better job at being good--with the implication that this is enough to make God happy.

In fact, looking at the contents it becomes apparent that the Gospel texts on the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus are not included.

The book includes: Peter's Denial; Jesus' Ascension (with no reference to the crucifixion), And "The Disciples Find the Tomb Empty (John 20:1-10). It is ironic that the Understand section of this account (p. 239) says:
When the disciples found the tomb empty, they did not know what had happened to Jesus, because they did not have the "rest of the story" as we do today.
Since this very book does not include the "rest of the story" there is an implication--perhaps accidental, perhaps not--the implication is that the Bible does not record Jesus' Resurrection.

Despite being nicely made and having great art, this book denies the means of grace and does not include the Crucifixion and Resurrection.  This would make it difficult to recommend to anyone.

Looking Carefully at the More Advanced Books

Sometimes there is a desire to have books with more detail and instruction. But the same basic method applies. Remember your Catechism. If the Law and Gospel are mixed up, if the Sacraments are denied, then the book is not fit for devotional use.

This last example is from Walter Russell Bowie's The Bible Story for Boys and Girls: New Testament.

The book has an index, so we look up the Lord's Supper and turn to page 81 and read through the account.  On page 82 we find these words:

Jesus took the cup of wine and said over it the words of blessing, and passed it to them all. He said that the bread and wine should always be in memory of him as his disciples had known him in this life, and a promise that they should know him in the life to come.
 So Bowie gets rid of the New Covenant in Christ's blood for the remission of sins.

These are the basic tests of a Bible story book or a video or a TV mini-series.

Other things could be added, such as, does it teach Millenialism, does it deny the Trinity, does it deny the Resurrection, the Creation, etc. But for most books and such, the test of Martin Luther's Small Catechism is more than adequate to demonstrate whether a book/video is worthwhile.