Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 06/08/2009 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. A children's storybook Bible refreshingly Christ-centered and worth owning.
What makes the ideal children’s Bible? Winsome pictures? Charming narration? A plethora of children’s Bible storybooks published over the years fit this bill. But these ingredients aren’t sufficient for many believing parents. Indeed, some Christian parents aren’t content with anything less than a word-for-word version, while others' bookshelves are filled with multiple versions of varying quality and biblical fidelity.
Over the course of years while living in New York, English children’s author Sally Lloyd-Jones (no relation to the late Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, apparently) was so strongly impressed by the biblical theology of her pastor, Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, that she wrote and published a new children’s Bible with ZonderKidz, entitled The Jesus Storybook Bible. The subtitle, “Every Story Whispers His Name,” indicates what Lloyd-Jones believes to be the primary difference between her children’s Bible and most (if not all) of those published before: the person and work of Christ resonating in every story from Genesis to Revelation.
Some Amazon reviewers have taken issue with the title of the book, in that storybook must automatically equal fiction. As an English teacher, I don’t share these concerns. A storybook is properly a book of stories. The Bible is a book of stories. Moreover, the author takes great pains through the book to repeat that the stories contained therein are true. Peter Trumper addresses these types of concerns, albeit briefly, in the prologue to his book Breakfast on the Beach, which I commend to you.
Lloyd-Jones’ writing style is generally pleasing, though sometimes a tad gushy or just plain verbose (one does run out of breath sometimes when one is reading this book to one’s children!). I tend to leave out bits such as David’s psalms being in the Top 40 Charts, diminutive Zacchaeus taking a running jump to get into his chair, and Jesus calling Jairus’ daughter ‘honey.’ I substitute the North American term ‘angry’ for ‘cross,’ as I want to be as careful as possible that my children differentiate between ‘cross’ the noun and ‘cross’ the adjective. My children are currently 3 and 5 (almost), the lower end of the target audience for these storybooks, which the publisher lists as ages 4-8.
Tim Keller’s influence resonates throughout the forty-four stories. Every story does indeed whisper the person and work of Jesus Christ. The message of man’s sinfulness, his inability to obey, and God’s enduring grace bleeds through every page.
I was quite impressed with the David & Goliath story, which is reminiscent of Anglo-Saxon poetry (think Beowulf), complete with prominent alliteration and internal rhyme: “His beady, greedy eyes glowered at them hungrily from under his horrible helmet.” While it’s impossible to tell if this effect was intentional, I enjoyed the hat tip to the historical conventions of the English language either way. I could take or leave Goliath's villanious HA-HA-HA-HA-HA's, but my son loves to participate at that point in the story.
However, I was not so impressed with one aspect of the fall of man in Genesis:
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.'
Having spent the best part of two weeks hemming and haahing about the essence of the Terrible Lie, I cannot agree that it can be reduced to ‘God doesn’t love me.’ Questioning God’s love is certainly a natural implication of the Terrible Lie, but the actual content of the Lie is more along the lines of a recent Paul David Tripp poem from his book Broken-Down House:
It has been
a man and a woman
in a Garden
given as a gift
Simply put, the Terrible Lie was (and is) the mistaken notion that we could (and can) do better and choose better and know better on our own, without God's rules.
Likewise disappointing is the retelling of the disciples’ argument about which disciple will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Lloyd-Jones bases her interpretation on the premise that the disciples “had started thinking they had to do something to make themselves special to Jesus.” According to the commentators I have read, however, the clear meaning of James and John asking Jesus “to do for us whatever we ask” is that they believed they were intrinsically deserving of positions of honor. So the story is not about works and trying to measure up, but the prideful belief that they had already 'arrived' by virtue of their association with Christ and their prideful notion of superiority over the other disciples.
Although I would have liked to see the chariots with fiery horses – evidently left on the cutting room floor – Lloyd-Jones instead chose to include the story of Namaan and his leprosy. I will graciously allow that Naaman’s “leprosy of the heart” (indwelling sin) ties in to the book’s theme far better than fiery horses would.
Lloyd-Jones deals with the prophetic sections of Isaiah and Revelation in a charming and age-appropriate way: unfurled scrolls with text and pictures similar to a rebus book.
The retelling of the story of the prodigal son is excellent, and the portrayal of Pharaoh as a petulant, childish ruler is effective. This is not your typical sanitized Bible storybook: Goliath actually dies, and far more importantly, the orthodox understanding of penal substitutionary atonement undergirds the retelling of Christ’s crucifixion. I am in complete sympathy with many endorsers of this storybook who hope that many parents will learn solid theology alongside their children.
Jago’s illustrations have really grown on me. Two of the illustrations deserve special mention: 1) Jesus lifting up the basket of loaves and two fish, winking (why not?) at the boy whose loaves and fish they are, and 2) seated at the Last Supper holding bread and cup. These illustrations are rendered with a softness and perspective that sets them apart from the rest of the illustrations.
This volume is a perfect size for reading to children. Currently we are reading through it for the fourth time, and the Smyth-sewn binding is falling apart. My children are not hard on books but treat them with great respect (I wonder where they learned that?) so I’m not terribly impressed with the book’s durability. Also, the plasticized cover began to bubble after the second read-through, although the book was never exposed to the sun. I do note that a deluxe edition will be released in October of 2009. It is hoped that this newest edition will feature increased durability.
For all its strengths and benefits, you cannot stop at The Jesus Storybook Bible. You must go on to teach the Bible itself, either with the aid of other storybook Bibles or through oral storytelling. In fact, The Jesus Storybook Bible has encouraged me to do just that: to tell the stories of Scripture to my own children in my own voice.
If Mrs. Lloyd-Jones ever reads this review, I hope to see a follow-up storybook Bible featuring the journeys and teachings of Paul.
In the meantime, you can't really go wrong with this volume, even if you share the reservations described above. It is truly solus Christus.
And did I mention my children love it?