Children’s Bible Storybooks: Why Do they Matter?

By Dr. Melody Green

The Babylon Bee, a satirical online website focusing on contemporary Christian culture, recently ran an article titled “Banned from Playing Violent Video Games, Local Kid Settles for Reading Old Testament.”  It explains that when a boy’s parents banned his video games on the grounds that they were too violent, he discovered stories in the Old Testament that were every bit as satisfyingly brutal.

What makes this story so funny is that it touches an issue that many Christians today deal with.  On the one hand, contemporary Americans believe that children should be protected from violence. On the other, our movies, television, music, books and news hand it to them at every opportunity. To combat this, those who are concerned about children want them to be exposed to good, wholesome things that we generally believe will help them grow up into good, wholesome people.  Like the Bible with its good morals, and good teaching, and fine examples: except that in order to make it that sort of book, it needs to be heavily edited.  In children’s Bible storybooks, this editing process too often turns it into little more than a book of contemporary morals.  While we feel comfortable giving children brightly-colored, beautifully designed, carefully sanitized versions of the Bible, this too often creates a situation in which the Bible appears to the growing child/adolescent to have nothing to do with the real world as they experience it.  Melody Briggs points out in her book-length study How Children Read Biblical Narrative:  An Investigation of Children’s Readings of the Gospel of Luke, “sanitizing the text leaves it insipid and irrelevant” (68).  Briggs goes on to point out that these young readers, who have been taught that the Bible is a set of stories portraying a specific set of values, far too often drop it as irrelevant before  ever reaching the age their well-meaning scriptural gatekeepers thought they would be able to handle what is really in it.

This semester, Urbana Theological seminary is offering a class that will take a close look at what actually happens in retellings of children’s bible stories, and why it matters.  What is taken out? What is added? At what point does this stray too far from the original intentions of the scriptural authors? How much does this simply reflect our contemporary culture, instead of historical Christianity? Where did this trend come from?  What relevance might this have to where the church finds itself today?

These questions and more will be discussed in the class “Bible Storybooks: A Hermeneutical Experiment,” taught by Dr. Melody Green. For more information on the class, or to enroll (everyone is welcome to take it for credit or as an auditor!), contact mgreen@urbanatheologicalseminary.org.  We hope to see you in class!