Each of these storybook Bibles has its own strength, and we should thank God that all three are available. If one can afford it, the path of wisdom is probably to use all three as tools to help prepare our younger ones to grow in grace and knowledge and to begin to explore for themselves the Bible itself.
The Children's Story Bible by Catherine F. Vos (382 pages; Eerdmans, $27.50)
In 1892 Geerhardus Vos became the first Professor of Biblical Theology at Princeton University and is today widely considered the father of Reformed Biblical Theology. While seminarians still study (or at least, should study) Dr. Vos's work, it is undoubtedly the case that it was his wife who had more readers and more comprehensible prose! Mrs. Vos published her Story Bible in three volumes toward the end of her life, in the 1930s, and in so doing has influenced countless young readers (and their parents).
The main goal of the book appears to be to retell the biblical stories within the biblical storyline in a faithful and understandable manner. The OT portion contains 110 stories over 260 pages, divided into seven parts: Creation, Wandering, Laws, Settlement, Kings, Prophets, and Exile. The NT portion has 92 sections in 114 pages, with just two divisions: Saviour and Early Church. The result is significant amount of information. Her rendition does not merely recount the familiar stories the way most story Bibles do (Noah, Joseph, Daniel, Jonah), but it provides information on Israel's sacrifices, feasts, kings, prophets, and so on.
Of the three books reviewed here, Mrs. Vos's is far and away the most comprehensive and least interpretive. That means that, despite the fact that it's the oldest, it may also be the least read. With shorter attention spans (for both kids and parents!), and with greater and greater emphasis on cool graphics, there's a certain sense in which this book doesn't seem to "fit" in the 21st century. But if Christian families neglect this modern-day classic, it will be to our own shame and detriment. This is a book to buy, to treasure, and, most importantly, to read as we seek to convey to our children "the whole counsel of God."
The Big Picture Story Book Bible, by David Helm and illustrated by Gail Schoonmaker (456 pages; Crossway; $22.99)
David Helm is Senior Pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Chicago and Executive Director of the Simeon Trustand author of this book, which (as the title indicates) focuses on the big picture of the Bible. Of the three books reviewed here, this one has the least amount of words, the most interpretive drawings, and the most focus on the Story of the Bible (instead of on the individual stories that make up the Story).
With regard to the illustrations, they are engaging, instructive, andlike the biblical stories themselvesrepay close attention and multiple viewings. For example, look closely at this sample (after clicking the link, scroll down to page 32). Not only are Adam and Eve shown with arms extended upward in worship, but if you look again, you'll see that the shadow from their hands is reaching back toward the forbidden treeforeshadowing the Fall that is about to come.
With eleven chapters for the Old Testament, and fifteen for the New, Helm uses simple language to teach children Graeme Goldsworthy's paradigm for understanding the importance of the kingdom of God for biblical theology. Virtually every chapter subjects its stage of redemptive history to the scheme of people, place, and rule. God's goal is for God's people to be living in God's place under God's ruleand each chapter asks if this is the time when God will send his "forever king."
This one won't help your kids learn all of the individual stories (for that turn to the other two), but this is the most effective resource I know for conveying a simple Goldsworthian perspective on how to understand the big picture of God's story.
The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name, by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jago (352 pages; Zondervan; $16.99)
Of the three books being reviewed here, this one by Sally Lloyd-Jones (no relation to Dr. Lloyd-Jones, except through Adam and in Christ) has the most amount of narrative and artistic flair in retelling the biblical stories about God's loving "Rescue Plan" for God's children. Of the three authors, she's clearly the best "storyteller." God is consistently viewed through the lens of a Father yearning in pain and love for his wayward, broken, hurting children (which at first seems to mean all mankind). One cannot cover all of the basesespecially in writing for childrenbut by focusing almost exclusively on this aspect of God's character in the OT stories, one wonders if children are adequately prepared to understand Christ absorbing God's "fierce anger" (her words) at the cross on behalf of law-breaking rebels. Despite numerous strengths, I think this may be one place where her retelling of the pre-cross storyline could be improved.
With 21 OT stories and 23 NT stories, Mrs. Lloyd-Jones has a way of insightfully getting to the heart of the matter in a memorable way. For example, here's her description of Namaan: "All Namman needed was nothing. It was the one thing Namaan didn't have. God knew that Namaan was even sicker on the inside than he was on the outside. Namaan was proud. He thought he didn't need God. His heart didn't work properlyit couldn't feel anything. You see, Namaan had leprosy of his heart. God was not only going to heal Namaan's skin, he was going to heal his pride." As they say, that'll preach!
Mrs. Lloyd-Jones's unique contribution is seen in the subtitle of the book: "Every Story Whispers His Name." Her pastor Tim Keller has written of the book: "I would urge not just families with young children to get this book, but every Christianfrom pew warmers, to ministry leaders, seminarians and even theologians! Sally Lloyd-Jones has captured the heart of what it means to find Christ in all the scriptures, and has made clear even to little children that all God's revelation has been about Jesus from the beginninga truth not all that commonly recognized even among the very learned." In a blog comment Keller reiterated: "I'd urge ministers to buy it and read it for themselves. It will improve their preaching." Keller is rightMrs. Lloyd-Jones sees how the OT stories point to Christ in powerful ways.
Justin Taylor, blogger extraordinaire, is the managing editor of the forthcoming ESV Study Bible (Crossway).
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