The Big Picture Story Bible

The Big Picture Story Bible
David Helm & Gail Schoonmaker
Crossway, 2004

There’s no other way to put it: I love The Big Picture Story Bible.  Love it, love it, love it. It was the one story Bible I knew that I wanted before my first child was born; Haley gave it to us at her baptism, and despite my best efforts, all that love is starting to show up in the broken spine and well-thumbed pages. I may just have to buy my son his own copy.

What’s so fantastic about this story Bible? Why must you go out and buy it now for your children, godchildren, nieces and nephews? Simply put, it’s that David Helm makes it plain – in a manner that is winsome and accessible to young children – that the Bible is more than a collection of stories; it is God’s story, into which we humans are called. It is the story of God’s good, creative intention to bless the earth through his people, under his rule, in his place – and how that intention is achieved through the victory of God’s “forever king,” Jesus.

It’s weighty stuff; one could write volumes of systematic theology unpacking just those two sentences. But The Big Picture Story Bible never feels ponderous or overbearing. The richness of the “big” Biblical story unfolds, all the while avoiding the pitfalls of didacticism and oversimplification. Much of this is due to the spare, straightforward prose; the stories are narrated in short, simple sentences that don’t flinch from the hard grace found in the original text – for example, the account of Genesis 3:

Satan crept into God’s beautiful garden looking like a snake. Satan hated God. Satan wanted to be God. Satan tempted God’s people to eat from the tree. He told them to doubt God’s goodness. He tempted them to disobey God’s word. He told them, ‘You will not surely die.’…Adam and Eve chose to doubt God’s goodness. They chose to disobey God’s word. They did not let God be king over them. They ate some fruit from the tree. They listened to the voice of Satan instead of the word of God. What a very sad day.

This almost incantatory retelling captures the poetry and drama of the Genesis account while simultaneously being perfectly suited for reading aloud to very small children. Each sentence provides a good place to pause and ask questions, and taken as a whole, it gives children a firm sense of what exactly was at stake: not the fruit, but the very question of God’s good authority over humanity.

One of my favorite things about The Big Picture Story Bible is its (very biblical!) account of Israel. Rather than treating Old Testament history as mere background scenery for timeless lessons about God, as so many story Bibles do, this volume rightly tells Israel’s story as being crucial to salvation history. So, for instance, Solomon is important not because of his wisdom, but because in his reign (at least, the first part!) “God was keeping all his promises to Abraham. He had already made Abraham into a great nation. And he had given Israel the land. And now God’s king was bringing God’s blessing to other peoples of the earth.”

Immediately, of course, the story zooms back out and reveals that Solomon is not God’s forever king – he fails, as do all other human kings – but rather points forward to the King who is to come.

And it is in the treatment of Jesus, God’s forever king, that the Big Picture Story Bible really shines. The whole richness of the biblical account of Messiah is here: Jesus becomes God’s place among humans; he creates  and enlivens God’s people; he is the King who embodies God’s good rule. This is Christology 101 for small people, and a beautiful call to devotion for their parents.

And that, ultimately, is why this volume succeeds in that tricky task laid for all story Bibles. It faithfully presents the richness and complexity of God’s witness to us in Scripture, without distortion or misplaced emphasis. While there is no substitute for reading Scripture to and with our children, The Big Picture Story Bible is an outstanding introduction to the overarching biblical narrative. It honors both the fullness of the biblical text and the young child’s ability to hear it–which has earned it a place on my daughter’s nightstand, and hopefully on yours as well.

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14 thoughts on “The Big Picture Story Bible

  1. …just put this on hold at our library! we are still looking for a children’s bible that is just right.

    do you know the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones? we thought it wasn’t as good as her Lift the Flap Bible.

  2. I hope you like it as much as I do!

    We do have the Jesus Storybook Bible, and will be reviewing it on the blog sometime this fall. I do like it, quite a bit, although for different reasons than The Big Picture Story Bible. I’d be interested to hear what disappointed you about it.

    In general, when I’m not reading actual Scripture to my kids, I like to have several complementary resources — because no one abridged version can capture the whole breadth and vision of the BIble itself!

  3. the idea of several complementary resources is excellent. i had it in mind to find the *perfect* picture Bible, but maybe that’s not even necessary.

    as for the Jesus Storybook Bible…i didn’t really like the illustrations. just personal taste, but still important i think. because i still remember the illustrations from my childhood Bible. also, we really loved the Lift-the-Flap Bible and so had high expectations!

    i’ll let you know what we think about the Big Picture!

  4. Thanks for this review! I LOVE the Big Picture Story Bible. It is by far my favorite, for the reasons you stated — it gives an accurate, yet age-appropriate overview of redemptive history, and shows that all of biblical history is God’s story. It tells the whole story of salvation history in a connected manner and in a way that points to Christ throughout. Yay!

    Although I like the Jesus Storybook Bible, i think I prefer this Bible overall, for a couple of reasons: the illustrations in this one feel a little less “fairytale-ish” to me, and therefore the biblical story feels more like narrative and less like fiction, and, I thought it described things more accurately theologically than the JSB did (for example, I was uncomfortable with JSB calling Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac a “present” to God (it was an act of obedience in response to God’s command), and with titles like “Daniel and the Scary Sleepover”, which seemed too “fairytale-ish” to me. That said, the JSB does a wonderful job of very clearly pointing to Christ as the main character of Scripture, and I liked it overall.

    All that to say…thanks for reviewing this excellent book!

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