When my first children were young, I did what most Christians do. I looked for a Bible “they could understand.” But I found myself having to keep filling in details and explaining away the ridiculous pictures. I soon decided to just read them sections from the actual text on a regular basis.
We read enough in chronological order, on a nearly daily basis, to give them a sense of progression. Sure I divided the readings into portions that fit attention spans, but there was a continuity to it. They often sat and drew pictures of what I was reading about.
Right away I became aware that they were coming away with so much more of the truth of the matter than I could have imagined. More than I was personally teaching them, even! And they were much more interested than I had originally given them credit for.
We would go back and forth from the Old Testament to the New Testament some, but always with an explanation of time frame. It wasn’t hard for them to understand how one led to the other.
When the kids were older, they got time line books (Blank Timeline Book of World History) that they filled in for everything they were “studying.” (Not just what we were reading in the Bible, but anything historical. Most of our history explorations were not thought of as tedious, but as adventures.) We also had a reference time line (The Timechart History of the World: Over 6000 Years of World History Unfolded) that we looked at a lot.
Possibly some people would be concerned with how detailed the text can be in places. However, I found that instead of stressing my children, these accounts showed them that God can absolutely handle real life. The descriptive language grabbed their attention and the depth of issues made sense. Kids aren’t dumb.
It also gave the kids such a better grasp of where they fit in the world. They could tell that the real version was more than myths, in the sense of not being true. (I know that the word myth is used in a different sense in the literary world, but for most people, they think of fiction when they think of myth, so I’m saying they didn’t think they were fictional) That God-given realization of who God is, such as is mentioned in the letter to the Romans, was healthier for being fed with substantial renditions of events.
When I didn’t understand the whys and hows, I just told them. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t completely understand God. On the other hand, they would frequently pipe up with insights that hadn’t even occurred to me. That’s humbling. When they could read, they would sometimes take turns reading sections and it was fun to hear it come alive in their voices.
We never made it an academic study. We would review and discuss, but it was not so we could write a thesis or pass a test. It was for love of the subject. It was for love of getting to know our God.
They could tell that I was enthralled with passing on these things and they enjoyed the excitement, both of my fervor and of the flames, fights, and miracles.
We did memorize some, but we did a lot of that in songs where I put passages to tunes. The kids still sing those songs on the spur of the moment today as adults. That warms the heart.
So, after nearly 30 years of reading the real Bible with my 7 children, I offer these cautions against using “children’s curriculum” or children’s bibles to teach them about God:
- The children learn to associate the Bible stories with cartoons and fiction.
- The characters in the ancient text become one-dimensional when removed from the real setting.
- The people in the Bible are often presented as “relatable” in a child-centered way, and the children learn to think it is all about their own psychological needs.
- The characters in the Bible lose power and force, and thus respectability in the mind of the child.
- The characters in the Bible become difficult for the child to relate with as he matures.
- The child learns to think that the Bible is too long and complicated.
- The whole integrated message of history is chopped up and lost.
- Children lose the opportunity to have their own insights.
- Children lose the opportunity to ask meaty questions.
- The full impact of the events is watered down, if not lost.
- Adults get bored with the telling of the children’s bible stories and that boredom is passed on to the children.
- The children learn to think of the Bible as simply another book they have to study
I’m not saying all these things WILL happen if you read children’s Bible stories to children. We read some of them. In fact, particularly when we were studying other languages, those were some of the simpler things to read.
But I think if you only or mostly read the children’s Bible stories, then you are at risk for some of these bad results.
Now, if you’ve been listening to my other podcasts on Bible News Press, you know that I do some time-travel reporter articles.
My kids understand my Bible News Press articles. They know I am not questioning the text, but rather challenging others to see what the text really has to say. People often make assumptions or don’t pay attention to the complications inherent in everyone’s lives in the Bible , since the beginning of time.
The memories of being able to share the whole, real Bible with my children surpasses anything else I taught them. Don’t deprive yourself of that as a parent. It is a privilege. You will learn a lot and relationship will be built with your children in ways you cannot imagine.
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