The Bible Story Handbook
John & Kim Walton
Sarah and I have written repeatedly about the importance of beauty in theological books for kids, but our blog tagline is “beautiful and true theological books for children.” We are, to be sure, equally as concerned with the issue of truth. If we believe the Bible to be God’s special revelation to us (and we do), children’s theological books that don’t accurately reflect Scripture are a big problem.
Today’s review isn’t of a theological book for kids but rather a book that will help us grown-ups do a better job in selecting and thinking critically about theological books for kids. And who wouldn’t want that? The Bible Story Handbook is an excellent resource that I think all families and churches, or anyone who reads or tells Bible stories to children, should have on their shelves.
Think of The Bible Story Handbook as a mini Bible commentary that’s written specifically for parents and children’s ministers. John Walton is a Bible professor at Wheaton College and he and his wife bring academic expertise and practical church experience to this project – it’s a winning combination. Most of the book is divided into 2-3 page long entries; the authors cover 175 of the most commonly told Bible stories from both Testaments. For each Bible story, the Waltons follow the same outline: Lesson Focus, Lesson Application, Biblical Context, Interpretational Issues, Background Information, and (my personal favorite) Mistakes to Avoid.
There are a number of ways this book would be useful, but here’s one scenario. Say your child was recently given a Bible storybook about Daniel and something about it strikes you as not exactly right, but you can’t quite put your finger on the exact problem even after reading the original biblical account. Flip to the corresponding chapter in this book and you’ll find a brief, highly accessible discussion on how to tell the story faithfully and common pitfalls to avoid. Most of the content is not altogether different from what you’d find in a commentary written for adults, but it offers some distinct advantages: namely, that it’s written with great awareness for how Bible stories are typically presented (for better or worse) in children’s storybooks and in contemporary children’s ministries.
As much as I love the reference sections of this book, the best part may actually be the introductory chapter, only 15 pages in length. There the Waltons lay out their heart for children being told Bible stories in a way that preserves Scriptural authority, encourages belief response, avoids educational of behavioral agendas, and doesn’t extrapolate with details or themes that simply aren’t found in the original text. It alone is worth the price of the entire book! Here’s a sample of the wisdom they offer us:
Is there a “wrong way” to teach a Bible story? Indeed there is. If we set our own agenda above that of the text, we are teaching the story wrongly… It is not important to the author of John 6 (the feeding of five thousand) that the boy shared his lunch. If we teach these things, we are telling the story wrongly because we are substituting what we want to teach at the expense of the biblical author’s message. A story is told rightly when we can confidently claim that it represents the intention of the author and the authority of the text… If we present something as God’s Word when it is not, we are misusing God’s name.
Sobering, but I couldn’t agree more. You can be sure that this book is going to be used in my evaluation of books we’re considering reviewing here on the blog, and I commend it to you as well.