Child Contextualization — A Response to "On Christianity and Children's Bibles"

The main problem with Overos’ article on children’s Bibles is the assumption that children’s Bibles claim to be scripture when they are actually an entirely separate category.

Children’s Bibles are an attempt at contextualization of the gospel in a way that will reach children on their level. There are many different children’s Bibles just as there are many different full English translations of the Bible. With that variety comes varying levels of quality, just as with other translations.

In multiple of Dr. Ward’s mission classes, he discusses the need for and challenges of contextualization of the Gospel for a particular people group. In my ten years of volunteer and vocational children’s ministry, I have learned to see children as a people group who need the Gospel story presented in very different ways than adults and teens.

The difference in language, education, and maturity do present many challenges in presenting the Gospel to children in a way that results in true faith in Christ and a resulting changed life. Many of the same principles for contextualizing of the Gospel to different cultural contexts can be applied to adapting the Bible to a way in which children can understand and grow.

Contextualization must be rooted in scripture. I was frustrated by Overos’ implying that children’s Bibles “dumb down” the Bible to a point where they lose “the larger theological point” and become simply “entertainment.” Of course children’s Bibles need to be theologically sound as he implied, and as stated before, you will have varying levels of success in this goal with different authors.

I agree that some children’s Bibles have become a collection of good stories with a moral for being good. But I think it very wrong to say all children’s Bibles fall into this pattern. I have read multiple children’s Bibles which tied every story into the grander story of Christ in a way which gave me a greater appreciation for the Gospel than I ever could have gotten trying to read the “real Bible.”

Many Biblical scholars work to write children’s Bibles that are extremely theologically sound and demonstrate the varying general of the scriptures in an incredible way which many would call a literary work of art just as Overos said the full Bible was.

Contextualization must also be culturally specific. I would agree that “it isn’t fair to just tell kids what happened and hope they understand,” as he said. I would also hope that no church would do that to anyone regardless of age. Have you ever attended a church service where they read scripture without any sort of discussion or commentary by a preacher? I haven’t. Even on the adult level we still have those who explain the Word to us. Children simply need a bit more explanation.

We must also help them see the larger story of the Bible. Overos asks, “How do we teach children those stories which are vulgar, violent, and confusing?” He says, “you don’t.” I think we would both agree that there needs to be discernment in how we teach the tougher stories to kids. But, I would say that children’s Bibles are a beautiful way for kids to understand the big picture of the Bible and how the smaller parts fit in so that, as they are older and more mature, they are able to learn more and more until they are ready to put in the more confusing stories. When they are ready, they can read the “vulgar and violent” stories but see where they fit into the bigger picture.   

Finally, contextualization must be relational. Parents are the main source of spiritual discipleship for their children. Sunday school, and church as a whole, act as a resource for parents to help equip them for that task. Teachers and mentors also must enter into relationships with their students if they are going to accurately influence them on a contextualized level they can understand. As those relationships progress in time, they help the children mature into teens and adults and slowly grow in their understanding on the Bible as a whole.

Kids need the Bible in a way they can understand and take joy in. This doesn’t mean we only tell them the good parts of the Bible that end happily with a quick applicable moral. This means that we, as teachers and mentors for kids, must learn the beauty and joy of the Gospel and learn to paint that beauty in a way kids can see it and desire to have it.

A full appreciation of the Gospel requires a broad understanding of the whole Bible. Children’s Bibles serve as a great resource for children and adults alike to achieve this understanding. If we, as adults, learned to see the fairytale of the great prince coming to rescue his bride from the prince of darkness we would grow in our love and appreciation for the prince thus kindling a fire to seek him more than ever before.