I’ve made it clear in the past that I think it’s essential to teach our children that the Bible is not a series of disconnected stories that each have a moral or life lesson. Instead, it’s one big story from beginning to end, showing God’s unfolding plan of redemption. Unfortunately, much of the typical children’s material available tends to take the approach of teaching an isolated Bible story with a simple, moralistic application. Think of the popular Veggietales movies. As much as our family has loved and enjoyed them, for the most part this is the approach they take. It’s very difficult to find material that focuses on communicating the one storyline of the Bible: God’s story.
Thankfully, in recent years several good resources have become available. One of the newest is The Bible Story Handbook: A Resource for Teaching 175 Stories from the Bible by John and Kim Walton. This book is a fantastic resource for Sunday School teachers and youth workers, homeschooling parents, pastors, or anyone who teaches the Bible in any capacity.
The authors’ premise is that:
“When we tell Bible stories, we should always contextualize these stories within the Big Picture of God’s plan as it is revealed in the Bible. This Big Picture answers the question, ‘What is God’s purpose for our world and what part does the Bible itself play?’…The Bible’s objective is not transformed lives, though knowing God should transform one’s life. The Bible’s objective is not the adoption of a value system, though a value system would certainly be one outcome of authentically knowing God. The Bible is not a collection of role models, dusty hymns, and obscure prophetic sayings-it is rather God telling his own story.” (p. 27)
“Our approach to the stories of the Bible ought to focus on how each one helps us to understand God and his plan better.” (p. 30)
After spending time in a very thorough introduction laying out the case for teaching the Bible in this fashion, listing some of the common mistakes they’ve seen when it comes to typical approaches, and answering possible objections, the Waltons go through 175 Bible stories from the biblical narrative, offering background information and teaching suggestions.
They examine seven elements in each story: focus, theme, application, place in the Bible, interpretational issues, historical and cultural background, and mistakes to avoid. The layout is very user-friendly. It’s simple to turn quickly to the particular story you need and glance through the information. I’ve found it handy not only for planning lessons, but also to supplement other things we’ve read or just give me quick background to discuss a particular event. I’ve even used it in my own Bible reading for historical context and background information.
Here’s an example of the difference in approach: a popular children’s Sunday school curriculum (which shall remain nameless) has a lesson on the story of Jonah with the theme that we should obey God (as well as our teachers, parents, and other authority figures). Is this really what the story of Jonah is all about? Turning to that story in The Bible Story Handbook, we see that, in context, the focus of the story is that God shows His compassion where He will…it is not earned and is never deserved. He sometimes gives us a second chance even when we don’t deserve it. This turns the lesson from moralistic (“here’s what you need to do”) to God-centered (“here’s what God is like and how He goes about things”).
Next comes a brief (about 1.5 page) discussion of the major interpretational issues: from the question of what type of fish swallowed Jonah (and does it matter?) to the Ninevite response (did they repent and become followers of God or is that reading too much into the text?). Then we have a short paragraph of historical background about Ninevah. Finally, the Waltons list several mistakes to avoid, such as turning Jonah into a great missionary or focusing on his “prejudice” against the Ninevites. Focusing on these things detracts from the major theological point of the book.
I’ve found it most helpful for me to use as a quick reference and supplement to other things our family does. For example, when reading about a particular event in Grandpa’s Box or our Bible reading, the kids sometimes have questions or want to learn more. I can quickly pull The Bible Story Handbook out, locate that story, and glean some great discussion points and background information just by quickly scanning through.
If we simply want to teach our children moralism, we can use something like Aesop’s Fables. On the other hand, if we want our children to know God, to understand how He works and how they can participate in His plan, we need to teach the Biblical narrative in context and according to the Author’s intent, instead of as a series of isolated events that offer moral instruction and encouragement. Whether planning lessons from scratch, supplementing other curriculum or material, or just using it to accompany family Bible reading and discussion, The Bible Story Handbook is a valuable tool in this process! I’ve found it very handy to have around.