Monday, 6 May 2013

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones

This will likely be my last post focusing specifically on Storybook Bibles, unless I come across another one that I would want to recommend. I certainly wish there were more quality books in this genre, specifically with the attention to content that I see in Ralph Milton's work, but I've yet to find any (from what I've read, there are likely some wonderful editions of the Jewish scriptures, but I'm looking for the whole Christian canon). There are also tons of these books that I don't recommend, but I won't look at each of them in turn, too depressing.

So the book I'm looking at today is Sally Lloyd-Jones' The Jesus Storybook Bible with illustrations by Jago.

First, the illustrations. I quite like the illustrations in this book. I would describe them as whimsical. There is a sort of lightness to the pictures that I find appealing, as well as an active sense without being overdone or aggressive. There is attention to variety in terms of ethnicity (most characters have a darker skin tone) and care to include pictures with women and children, though not quite enough to be truly representational. I was glad to see Jesus interacting with a young girl, women in the group being baptized by John, and the group huddled together afraid just prior to Pentecost is made up of both men and women. The one odd thing I noticed is that women have no shape. They're all, except for Mary, the mother of Jesus (who gets to have breasts and a bulging abdomen), completely enveloped in tent-like garments. While I imagine the tunics and dresses of that time period were not overly clingy, I'm pretty sure that women still looked like they had female anatomy. Generally though, I appreciate the illustrations.

Now to verbal content. The theme of this book is clearly the story of Jesus, hence the title. Though it covers both Old and New Testament stories, all of these stories are told in a way that is meant to create a sense of the Bible as one story that centers on Jesus as the saviour in God's long term mission of redemption. 

The gift I see in this book is that children have the opportunity to see the Bible as one grand narrative, something that many children's storybook Bibles do not provide. Often kids nurtured in the church grow up with a strong knowledge of particular stories (Noah and the Ark, Jonah in the fish, Jesus in the manger etc.), but no concept of how all these stories come together. This book connects these stories in a very explicit way. While I see this in some ways as a gift, I also see it as somewhat problematic. The author draws very very clear connections between each biblical story and Jesus, making it clear that everything that happens in the Old and New Testament points to Christ. The only problem is that not all those stories do point to Christ. I would agree that the stories all, to varying degrees, are integrated in God's redemptive work (though in some stories even that might be debated), but not all stories point to Christ. This theme, at times, lays heavily on Old Testament stories like a blanket; on the one hand gathering them up into the broader Jesus narrative, and on the other obscuring their original intent and value as Hebrew scripture. In this respect I feel quite torn. I love that the author desires for children to see the Bible as a grand narrative and in particular a narrative that lives on in us today, but I wish it could have been done in a way that allows the Hebrew scriptures to live and speak as they are. 

This book is balanced between OT and NT and includes many of the most popular stories usually found in children's Bibles along with some that are less frequently told. I appreciate that several stories of girls/women have been included. I would have liked to have seen a bit more presented from the prophets (though there is somewhat more than I often find) and certainly more from the stories of the early church (jumps almost straight from Paul's conversion to John's revelation!). Because this book is heavily based on the stories that comprise God's "Rescue Mission" it tends to leave out those stories or writings that don't really contribute to the furthering of the "plot " (Proverbs), which is probably to be expected. 

The central message in this book is that God is a God of "Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love" and Jesus is the truest expression of that love. Because of this central theme Jesus' death is portrayed as indication of God's love for us. "God didn't answer [Jesus]. He turned away from his Boy" (304). God's love was so great, that God turned away from his son and gave him up. There are scads of very biblical ways to understand the atonement (John Driver gives evidence of 23 (?) in Understanding the Atonement for the Mission of the Church) and the image given in The Jesus Storybook Bible is not the one that I would choose to use for young children. In this respect I do not appreciate this book. This image of the atonement is one that adults wrestle with and that has brought tremendous harm to persons who have experienced abuse. There are other ways to tell the story of Jesus' death that create a stronger foundation and allow children to gradually grow in their understanding of this mystery. I very much value the strong theme of God's never-ending love for God's people that flows throughout this book, I would simply choose a different book to read when looking at the atonement.

 This book was written for children under 6 years of age, and I would agree that it is best for young children. Though it is quite wordy for children under 3 and I think children over 6 would start to find the theme too repetitive, especially if they were to read more than one story in a sitting (each story ends by connecting it to Jesus). 

Generally I do appreciate this storybook Bible, even though I have given a couple of really significant critiques above. As with all books of this genre, I always recommend having more than one, since they are heavily paraphrased and very much take the shape of a particular author and illustrator. I think we often forget that a translation like the NIV, NRSV, or NKJV were all put together by larger collaborative groups that spent years in translation, discussion and at times argument in order to present the most faithful interpretation they felt was possible. Children's storybook Bibles are most often the work of one individual and as such should be balanced by other interpretations.

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