USA Today religion reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman had an excellent article about Christian children's book offerings. Apparently Christmas is peak season for sales of children's Bible storybooks. Which makes sense. I'm buying this one, among others, for my nieces and nephews. I was particularly struck by an angle Grossman used -- parents who are looking for books that do not treat the Bible as a collection of rules. I'm surprised by how many supposedly Christian children's books aren't distinctly Christian at all. Anyway, you may be familiar with the friend of the blog who was quoted here and whose family was pictured with the story:
And every Bible storybook reflects a certain theology, says Ted Olsen, managing editor of Christianity Today. He and his wife, Alexis, searched carefully for the one they read to their 18-month-old son, Leif.
"Most Bible stories are told like Aesop's fables, refitted to a moral lesson that is almost always, 'Obey! Obey your parents! Obey God! Oh, look how good Noah is -- he obeyed God!'" Olsen says.
"Sure, we want Leif to understand obedience, repentance and forgiveness. But we're more concerned that he get to know Jesus is the grand arc of the Bible story. We're like a lot of young parents who don't want to be talked down to. We're not afraid of encountering theology. We want to be intellectually and spiritually engaged when we read to Leif."
Go Olsen! They chose The Jesus Storybook Bible collection, in case you're interested. Grossman discusses some of the more symbolic treatments and engages publishers who take a different route:
That innovative approach doesn't fly with the Rev. Paul McCain, publisher for Concordia Publishing House, established in 1869 by the deeply conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, a 2.5-million-member denomination.
"The more seriously a church body regards the Bible, the more seriously they will present it, in a child-friendly way, but not water the content. We don't throw the King James Bible at them, but we don't turn it into Mother Goose, either. We don't avoid the s-word, for sin; the G-word, for God; or the J-word, for Jesus," McCain says.
Concordia has compilations such as A Child's Garden of Bible Stories that have sold steadily since 1948 and a 40-year-old series of 105 pamphlets known as the Arch books. They feature scores of stories, from the Nativity to obscure stories such as Zerubbabel Rebuilds the Temple, from Ezra 3:6.
I read every single Arch Book about 100 times when I was growing up. Yes, I was a lonely child. Anyway, I thought this story worth highlighting because of the fantastic and meaty quotes Grossman got on what could have been a very shallow and puffy story. It's also helpful. One thing I've noticed about a lot of religion stories is that they attempt to cover every religion's approach to a given topic. As this story demonstrates, sometimes it's better to narrow the focus.