Is The Jesus Storybook Bible Theologically Accurate?

April 20, 2023

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Is The Jesus Storybook Bible accurate or does it wander into heresy? In this episode, Elizabeth Urbanowicz reviews the popular children's storybook bible that is used in many homes, churches, and Christian schools worldwide. Learn about the book's engaging illustrations, accessible language, and cohesive representation of the biblical narrative, while also uncovering potential concerns.


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode today. Today's question says, "I recently read some articles about problematic theology in the Jesus Storybook Bible, and I wondered your views on this resource. Thanks." Great question. I know that The Jesus Storybook Bible is a kids' Bible that is in many homes and churches and Christian schools across the country and across the globe. So this is a great question to explore.

But before we do that, I would ask if you found this content beneficial, please make sure that you like and subscribe so that you don't miss any future episodes and would also ask that you consider writing a review and sharing this content with those in your sphere of influence so that we can equip as many adults as possible to get our kids carefully evaluating every idea they encounter.

Now, whenever we're reading someone's thoughts or opinions on something, I think that there's certain questions that we should always ask ourselves, and the first question I think we need to ask ourselves is, what is this person claiming? What is this person claiming is true? So in this case, with this article that you've read about The Jesus Storybook Bible and maybe some problematic theology, is this person claiming that the stories in the book are incorrectly represented, that they don't stay faithful to the biblical narrative? Is this person claiming that the overall focus of the storybook Bible is incorrect, that the author is not correctly translating the themes of the Bible down for little kids? What is the claim that this person is making? What are they saying is the problematic theology? So that's a question I think we can ask ourselves in any situation. What is the claim that this person is making?

The next question we should ask ourselves then is what evidence has this person given to support his or her claim? Okay, so first we need to recognize what is the claim. Then once we recognize what that claim is, then we need to ask ourselves, what evidence has this person given in support of his or her claim? Sometimes we may find that someone has not given any evidence in support of their claim, they've just made an assertion without any evidence. But in the times that someone has given evidence, the next question we need to ask ourselves is, do I think that this evidence is sufficient for supporting the claim? Now, sometimes if someone hasn't given any evidence, then it's like, well, no, there's no evidence here to support this claim, so I can't believe this claim. Other times we may say, yes, I think you know that this person has fairly represented the evidence for his or her claim, and I think it's proving that the claim is true.

Other times we might say, "you know what? This person gave one or two strands of evidence, but you know what? I don't think that it's actually enough to support the claim." So we might have to do some further digging. Now, if you're thinking, oh my goodness, Elizabeth, I have no idea how to do this, how did you just come up with that? One thing I'd recommend is that you check out our Careful Thinking Curriculum. At Foundation Worldview, we have a curriculum for kids ages 10 on up teaching them how to systematically evaluate ideas, and we train them in things like asking "what is the claim? What evidence is there to support the claim? Is there sufficient evidence to support this claim?" To just really teach kids and the adults going through the curriculum with them how to think carefully through any idea that they encounter? So highly recommend you check out our Careful Thinking Curriculum if you're interested in more information about that.

Now, specifically as regarding The Jesus Storybook Bible, I haven't read these articles that the person is referencing, so I can't give you my thoughts on the articles that were read, but I can give you my thoughts on The Jesus Storybook Bible in general. I do have a copy of it. I know that the church that I go to and churches I've attended in the past have all used it with the younger children in the church, and so some of my thoughts on the storybook Bible is one, it's well written. It's written in words that kids can understand. Sometimes I pick up a children's book and I'm like, I don't think this person has ever interacted with children on a daily basis because the words that are used are just so far outside of the vernacular of a three-year-old or a four-year-old. I'm like, what is going on where that's not the case with the Jesus Storybook Bible. It's written in language that's very easily understandable and accessible for kids.

It also has really engaging illustrations that the author and illustrator teamed up really well to match the language that's easily accessible for kids with illustrations that are also engaging and easily accessible for kids. Sometimes I've encountered storybook Bibles for kids that are well written and they faithfully follow the biblical narrative, but they might have three paragraphs on a page, and I'm thinking, oh my goodness. You know what? Three, four or five year old, there's no way that they're going to stay seated and pay attention to one picture that's used to represent three or four paragraphs. That's just not how God designed the three and four and five year old mind to work. So that's another thing I love about The Jesus Storybook Bible is that the text and the illustrations go hand in hand. There's an appropriate amount of text per page. The illustrations are engaging. They go really well with the words.

Another thing that I think the Jesus story Book Bible does well is I think that they've done a good job of pulling out key narratives in the text. Anytime someone is writing a children's Bible, they cannot include every single narrative in scripture nor every single portion of scripture. And I think that the author of The Jesus Storybook Bible, I believe it's Sally Lloyd Jones, I think she's done a really great job of identifying what are key narratives that our kids really need to understand if they're to understand the whole story of the Bible.

Another thing I really like about the Jesus story book Bible is it shows how the Bible is one cohesive whole. It's not just giving random Bible stories, which I think a lot of the children's Bibles I went through when growing up, I didn't understand the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. I didn't understand how the stories fit together. There was some stories like Daniel and the Lion's Den and David and Goliath, and then there was other stories about Jesus feeding the 5,000 or Paul's nephew realizing that he was going to be killed and going and telling the Romans in authority. And I didn't understand how all of the texts went together as one cohesive whole because that wasn't explained in those storybook Bibles. Where that's something that The Jesus Storybook Bible does really well. It is showing scripture as this one meta narrative focused on God reconciling the world to himself.

And that brings up the next point. The next thing that I really like about the Jesus storybook Bible is it shows how all of Scripture is focused on God's mission of reconciling the world to himself right from this creation narrative to the end when Jesus comes back and we are going to be with him forever in the new heaven and the new Earth. So I love all of these things. I think the Jesus storybook Bible is a really great option for storybook bibles.

Now, I do have some concerns about it. I think that the positives outweigh the concerns, but I think the concerns we still need to keep in our mind, and my main concern with The Jesus Storybook Bible is that it focuses on God's love more than any other attribute. Every story focuses on God's love, which to some degree that's accurate because God is love. So every story throughout scripture is going to be interwoven with God's love. But the problem that I see with that is that God's other attributes, the fact that God is just, the fact that God does have wrath towards sin, the fact that God is omnipotent or omnipresent, those attributes tend to be overshadowed by God's love. And anytime we elevate one of God's attributes above the rest, we're in danger of wandering off into heresy.

Now, I don't think that The Jesus Storybook Bible wanders off into heresy, but I think it can give our kids an inaccurate understanding of who God is and thinking that God is solely love. And I think in the current cultural context in which we find ourselves, especially where progressive Christianity is on the rise, and a lot of people in progressive Christian circles only focus on God's love, I think that there's a danger that if all our kids are exposed to is The Jesus Storybook Bible, that they could get this incorrect understanding that God's love supersedes any other attribute.

Now, I don't think that we should abandon The Jesus Storybook Bible. I mean, you don't need to have it, absolutely no need for you to have it. I think scripture is sufficient, but if you have a Jesus Storybook Bible in your home or your church in your school, I don't think you need to abandon it or get rid of it or think that it's a terrible resource.

What I think that is wise for us to do is to read the Jesus story book Bible in conjunction with scripture. Now, when I was teaching, I was teaching kids a little bit older. I was teaching third graders, so most of them were eight or nine. And what I would do sometimes is I would read a story from the Jesus story book Bible in my classroom. And after I had read that, then I would have the kids go dive into the text of scripture and actually read that account in scripture. And then what we do is we would come up a list of what are some of the things that the author in The Jesus Storybook Bible got? What are some of the things that align with exactly what God has revealed in his word? And then what are some of the things that deviate from it? What are some of the things that were mentioned that were not mentioned in scripture? Or what are some of the things that are mentioned in scripture that were not mentioned in the story?

Because by doing this, what I was doing is I was training the children in my care to any time they were exposed to some Bible story, that they would then take that story and evaluate it in the light of scripture, and that's what we want. Now, if you're working with a three-year-old, they don't have a super long attention span, and they're not going to be able to pick out what went along with this story and what did not. But what I would recommend for the younger ages is just starting to read scripture to them daily that yes, you have your storybook bibles, but then you actually have them start reading through scripture daily.

And now this is something that I mentioned in a lot of different podcasts and webinars, and I have a friend who actually was listening to some of the podcasts and heard me recommend this. And she has two young boys who right now are five and six, and she thought, "okay, you know what? My kids are old enough to start reading scripture to them." And so I think she started this when they were four and five. And so before bed, she would just read a chapter in the Bible to her kids. And she was shocked to find that, one, they listened, and two, they were comprehending. Now, one of her kids would frequently fall asleep in the middle of the reading, which is totally fine. She had tucked them into bed when she started reading, and the other one will frequently ask her to keep going, to keep reading more.

Now, maybe does he want to stay up later and doesn't want to go to bed? That's a possibility, but he actually asks good questions about the things that are being read. So even our young children are not too young to be read scripture. So that would be my recommendation. I think there's a lot of great things about the Jesus story, but Bible, I think we need to be really careful when we're reading it that we're not elevating God's love above His other attributes.

Really, once our kids are three, we should be able to start reading passages of scripture with them. We can even start at younger ages. We want to make sure that we're immersing our kids in God's word, and then when they get older, if we still have those children's bibles around our house, that's when we can start reading them, those Bible stories, and then actually reading them, the narratives in the text of the Bible itself, and having them start comparing and contrasting the similarities and the differences so that we're equipping them to think critically.

Well, that's a wrap for today's episode. As always, my prayer for you as we leave this time together is that God would richly bless you as you continue to faithfully disciple the children that He's placed in your care. And I'll see you next time.

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