Telling the Truth

Around a month or so ago, Donald Miller asked this great question on his blog: Why don’t Christian books read more like the Bible? Can we handle the truth?

He points out what ought to be obvious: the Bible is a book of scrupulous honesty in which very few of God’s followers escape a clear-eyed portrayal of their failures, and which is full of all sorts of things most Christians roundly disapprove of and would prefer to never talk about: incest, rape, murder, and hypocrisy. Um, and if you missed it, the Biblical writers are most interested in telling about these things when they’re done by God’s team, rather than the “bad guys” – the Canaanites, Philistines, Pharisees. It’s a massive, sprawling, beautiful and utterly unsentimental account of who God is, who he says we are, and how he deals with us.

It’s not terribly pretty or nice, but it is beautiful, it is true, and it is good.

That’s our book, but, as Miller goes on to observe, if you put a group of leading evangelicals in a room and asked them to write a book about God’s message for the world:

…we’d likely get some specific theological statements, mapped out like math, some song lyrics, some stories that make God and his followers look good, and after each chapter, actionable steps leading to a more vibrant life in which you are happy and financially stable. In other words, you’d get modern Mormonism.

That stopped me up short, as I started thinking about the books we use to introduce our kids to God’s message for the world. What’s the difference between a children’s book that is faithfully like the Bible, and one that filters the Bible to make it more appealing or accessible? Between one that tries to conform to the truth as it is revealed in Scripture, and one that is trying to mold that truth into a shape that feels more attractive?

(Obviously, any children’s book has to be age appropriate–it simply wouldn’t do to fill a preschool story Bible with the stories of Noah’s drunkenness and the mob outside Lot’s house in Sodom. No four-year-old should have the imagination to understand what those stories are getting at.)

But that aside, I guess my starting point on this question would be Mr. Beaver’s reply to Lucy regarding Aslan: “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” The Bible, and the Word to whom it testifies, aren’t safe. They make powerful claims on us, and on our children. They shouldn’t leave us untouched; Scripture is a voice through which the Holy Spirit woos our hearts and captivates our unruly wills. In it, we are bidden to abandon ourselves and die with Christ so that we may one day rise with him. “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31)–we may just lose ownership of ourselves, and become transformed into Christ’s likeness instead.

So one of the things I’m looking for in the books I choose for my kids is that they don’t shy away from telling the truth as Scripture tells it. I’m looking for books that move my kids, that tell the truth about sin and redemption, and that above all witness to the beauty and glory of God – which can be a very different thing than having a happy ending, or being a comforting bedtime read. Unfortunately, there are lots of well-meaning books out there that fail: they lapse into comfortable sentimentality, whittle faith down to simply assenting to the right propositions, or encourage kids to be good without simultaneously telling them they can’t without the power of God. I don’t think those are the books that would be in Aslan’s library, and I’d like to find better for my own as well.

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