Response to Childhood Contextualization

I have a fear of biblical illiteracy. The reason I have a fear of biblical illiteracy is because I myself was biblically illiterate and simultaneously a Christian. It’s a dangerous combination: loving something without actually knowing what that something really is. Loving something only because of what others tell you about it, when you yourself haven’t taken the time or effort to explore it yourself.

It was this same fear that drove me to write my previous article “On Christianity and Children’s Bibles.” Upon evaluating my own life, I realized that children Bibles profoundly impacted how I saw God. The creator of the universe vividly made a smiley man with black dots for eyes. I argue that these images took away my appreciation for the Bible and contributed somewhat to making me biblically illiterate.

I only read the Bible seriously after learning to love literature in general. The Bible is a book, an anthology of ancient texts, and learning to read well leads to reading the Bible well.

So, when I read Ms. Duncan’s article and read this sentence, “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.’” I got worried. If the “real Bible” isn’t enough, then what is? And why is the “real Bible” in quotation marks? Is it because the “real Bible” isn’t as impressive as it ought? Is it because there is not really a distinction, and children’s Bibles are equal to the “real Bible?”

I don’t know, nor do I particularly care. What I do care about is ensuring that everyone reads the Bible as it was meant to be read, as a book, and at the same time read it with the reverence the word of God requires.

If we actually believe that we have access to the living word of God, why don’t we treat it like such?

Ms. Duncan makes many great points, and I don’t feel like going into a long, raving rant about why I disagree with her. Though I certainly do. Rather, let me appeal to the reader, and my respondent with this consideration: what does the Bible look like? What mental images do you imagine? Do you see children’s Bible book images? Do you see those cringey teen-study Bibles? Do you see the absolutely awful, I would say demonic, Founding Father’s Bible (look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about)? Does Yahweh wear an American flag?

We’ve all seen the disturbing reality. We love to make God what he is not. These children’s images creep into our brains, and impact how we view God for the rest of our lives. Why resort to these corrupted images when we have the perfect image in the inspired word of God? We should be eager to open the Bible, read, and learn about God as he is. And as his name implies, he simply is what he is. He and his story are not what we want them to be, nor what we want our children to think they are.

Don’t think I am against all images of God, in fact quite the opposite is true. If you had a chance to stop by the Matthaus Evangelium art show in the Library a few weeks ago, you will have encountered the storybook Bible for adults. The book is a compilation of different artworks from different eras which go through the stories of the Bible. These works differ greatly in style, but all of them attempt to show what the text of the Bible says. Needless to say, the works are grisly, haunting, but also beautiful and inspiring. The aesthetic quality of these works show the effort and great time put into them, and even though not all of the artists were religious, they all showed a deep respect for showing the Bible as it is.

And I’m not going to sit here and say I don’t like the Sistine Chapel either, or the statue of David, or any other great religious artwork. They are astonishingly beautiful. Unlike Children’s Bibles, great religious art from the Catacombs wall paintings to Dali’s bizarre surrealist crucifixions and last supper, point us upwards. Their beauty and visual appearance attempts to stun us into reverence, even if you don’t think Yahweh is an old man with a beard. Sure, I know this is all subjective opinion. But it’s safe to say no children’s Bible is worthy of being compared to great religious art.

The larger issue at hand isn’t children Bibles themselves, but not treating the Bible as it ought to be treated. If we as Christians really hold the Bible to be what it is, why aren’t we jumping with joy to read it? Sure, it is a long, difficult, often perplexing read, but it’s still the word of God. You’d think that would be enough, but it isn’t.

I don’t think we can shift the blame to our fallen nature for why we fail to get excited for God’s word as it is. I think it comes from a lack of trusting and believing that the Bible, as it is written, as it stands as a collection of ancient texts compiled by humans, is the word of God. Consider this next time you read a children’s Bible instead of the “real Bible.” Perhaps the real Bible isn’t the real Bible because you don’t, or don’t want to, believe it. It won’t fit your political agenda, and it won’t make you happy; if you want that, by all means, read a children’s Bible.