I grew up on the Bible. I was in AWANA for 10 years and could quote large swaths of Scripture at one point in my life. I’ve maintained my super church-nerdy party trick of being able to say all the books of the Bible in order… each testament in just one breath.
But in leaving the evangelical church and finding a new home in a mainline denomination, I realized that we mainliners tend to struggle with biblical literacy.
And I get it. When I started seminary, my kids were 1, 3, and 5 years old. I had already deconstructed my theology to the point that I no longer believed every word of the Bible was inerrant and I no longer claimed to accept a literal interpretation. My new hermeneutic was that that the Bible is true and is an authority, but not that it was historically factual nor the only authority.
That presented a problem; I wasn’t sure how to teach about the Bible to my kids, whose brains were not developed enough to consider nuance and abstract concepts like “true but not fact.” I remember in my very first Bible class, full of exasperation, I said, “So what do I tell my kids?!?! How can I teach them these Bible stories as true, if they didn’t historically happen? What do I do?!?!”
And my professor, Dr. Jerry Sumney, gently replied, “You still teach them the stories. They’ll understand more as they get older, but your job isn’t to wait. Teach them Scripture now, and nuance will come later.”
He was right. Just because I don’t believe that David factually, historically killed Goliath with one small pebble doesn’t mean we can’t learn about facing giants that seem too big to defeat.
I heard it once said (by whom, I can’t remember) that some of these Bible stories are “more-than-true.” They aren’t fairy tales or myths, but they also aren’t historical records of fact. They are more-than-true. They embody the great stories of our faith, our God, and our humanity.
A few years ago I used Sparkhouse’s Echo the Story with the youth group I was leading, and that’s when I started to wrap my mind around this. These stories that are now in our Bible — and particularly Hebrew Scriptures (what we sometimes call the Old Testament) — were verbally passed down from generation to generation, not recorded for hundreds of years. Imagine a family sitting around a fire: a tired mom and dad from a hard day of labor, kids everywhere, and a loving grandmother who spent each night telling bedtime stories, stories of their people and their God. About giants and towers and a talking snake and a great flood.
Ever since then, I’ve used adapted prompts from the Echo the Story material every time I approach a text, whether for sermon preparation, personal use, or with my own kids:
What does it teach us about God?
What does it teach us about ourselves, individually?
What does it teach us about humanity?
Why was it important enough to write down?
In the previous Faith at Home post, I wrote about talking to your kids about congregational worship. But what if we took some of those same ideas and practiced them throughout the week?
When my kids learned to read, we gave them each their own Bible (not story Bible). If they can read chapter books, they can read the Bible! Maybe you could even read together as a family – either out loud in the same room, or follow the same reading plan and have one night set aside each week to talk about what you’ve read (using the questions above as a guide) over dinner.
That said, the Bible is intimidating. It isn’t a story from start to finish; there are dozens of authors and multiple genres. So where to start?
The Gospels – Mark is the shortest and most action-packed; Luke is my favorite because of his emphasis on women.
Genesis – Why not start at the beginning? The first 11 chapters or so are particularly interesting and full of well-known stories.
Look up some other stories you already know and read them straight from Scripture! 1 Samuel 17 tells the story of David and Goliath. The book of Jonah (only 4 chapters) tells the whole story of the great fish. The resurrection of Tabitha/Dorcas is found in Acts 9:32-43. Want to know where to find something? Google it!
Compare the same story in different Gospels. For example, Jesus walking on water is in Matthew 14:22-34, Mark 6:45-53, and John 6:15-21. Compare and contrast how the tellings of the story are different. (For a fun activity, think of a memory in your family, of a vacation or special event. Ask everyone to write the story down without talking about it, then take turns reading them out loud. This helps explain why each author includes different details or might have had a different source about it!)
Reread the Sunday School or sermon Scripture throughout the week. No teacher or pastor can talk about everything in the text, so explore it some more as a family!
Just for Fun… My favorite story that people have no idea is in the Bible is found in Judges 3:12-30. If you have a kid who loves “bathroom humor,” they’ll love this one…
That last one brings me to a point worth mentioning: The Bible is full of violence and vulgarity. As a parent, I am very intentional with what media my kids consume, and let me tell you, there are things in the Bible that are not G-rated! That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to talk with them about what they’ve read, and read along with them — but don’t use that as a reason to avoid Scripture altogether! As an adult, it can even be interesting to read some of the details that Sunday school material conveniently leaves out! (Read Genesis 9:18-28 and try to remember if you were taught that part of Noah and the ark as a kid…)
We can all experience the love of God through Scripture — about a Teacher who gathered children close, about a Spirit of Comfort who is more powerful than our fears, about how we always have hope.
And those are stories worth hearing, no matter our age.
** My next post will be a list of children’s bibles and translations I recommend. In the meantime, I’ll say that for kids, my favorite translation is the Common English Bible!