A couple of weeks ago I had a wonderful conversation with a friend about what kinds of theological books work well with 2 1/2 year olds. I mentioned that we weren’t having luck yet with The Big Picture Story Bible and I was wondering if she had any suggestions for Bible story books that resonated with her three children when they were my daughter’s current age.
She reminded me of Read Aloud Bible Stories (which, for some odd reason, I hadn’t yet introduced), but then the conversation turned from the topic of books to the topic of storytelling. My friend suggested, especially at this young age, not relying exclusively on books to teach children the stories of the Bible. Instead, she encouraged me to tell my daughter Bible stories in my own words.
My first reaction was theological anxiety: what if I got it wrong?! I wouldn’t want to mess up my daughter’s understanding of God just because my own biblical literacy isn’t quite up to par with that of a professional scholar. From my perspective, one of the beauties of books is that I can pre-read them and give them some thought before sharing them. If the book is a winner, I can just sit down and (without worry) enjoy the reading experience with my daughter. Telling Bible stories in my own words seems like it would require accuracy in and depth of biblical knowledge – not to mention quite a bit of skill in the art of storytelling.
Or does it?
When I related my worries to my friend, she said I had misunderstood her suggestion. She didn’t want me to think about telling Bible stories in my own words as formal theological education at all. Instead, she was encouraging me to share my love of God to my daughter directly from my heart to hers. She was encouraging me to tell her in my own words what it is about Jesus that moves me and makes me want to follow him. “What do you love about Jesus?” she asked me. “What do you think of when you think of him?” Those are the kinds of storytelling prompts that she thinks are most helpful.
The more that I think about this conversation, the more I’m convinced that my friend is right. After all, we can’t theologically educate anyone into the Kingdom. Following Christ isn’t just about believing all the right things in your mind. Your heart has to be inclined to the beauty of the Trinity, too, and letting children catch a glimpse of what that looks like in your life has got to be one of the best ways to inspire that trait in them. (Well, that and a lot of prayer!) It’s not that right theology doesn’t matter; not at all. It’s just that if we start to think about Christian education just in terms of a transfer of theological facts, we’re probably veering off course just a bit.
If any of you have experience in storytelling with your kids (particularly in reference to spiritual things), please comment and share your wisdom with us! Once I’ve gotten more practice in it I’ll be sure to report back, but I’d love to learn from you all. I’m particularly curious about any differences in children’s responses or follow-up discussions to reading Bible storybooks than to hearing you speak in your own words from your heart.