As a pastor to children and their families, I search far and wide for resources that would prove helpful to parents as they seek to disciple their children in the gospel. In my experience perusing children’s resources, I’ve learned that there is a sweet spot of gospel excellence that many authors struggle to hit. Good children’s Bible resources are both centered on the good news of God’s redeeming grace in Christ and accessible and enjoyable for children to read or hear.
Some children’s resources are nothing more than moral lessons aimed at behavior modification. Others get the gospel, but are dry and boring. Few modern children’s resources will stand the test of time because of these failures. However, some diamonds shine through the rough of mass publication and marketing. Books like Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Story-Book Bible, David Helms’ The Big Picture Story Bible, and Kevin DeYoung’s The Biggest Story each beautifully expose the heart of the gospel, appropriately account for the development of children, and are written with such skill that both parent and child can’t wait to turn the page to the next chapter.
Jared Kennedy, pastor of families at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY, has added a diamond to the small, but growing ring of excellent, gospel-centered children’s resources with The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible. Jared Kennedy is a gifted and experienced author whose work has blessed many leaders, especially children’s leaders like me. The temptation to work for behavior modification or moral character development in children is strong, but in all of Kennedy’s work he avoids this pitfall by clinging to and pointing to the free grace of God in the gospel as the only vehicle of change for a child’s heart. The same is true for The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible.
All parents struggle to find the sweet spot in teaching the Bible to their kids because it’s hard to find, especially with toddlers and preschoolers. The question many parents have is, “How can I teach the deep truths of the Bible to my kids in an understandable and desirable way?” Because we don’t merely want our children to understand the Bible. We want them to want the Bible. We want them to crave the Christ it reveals.
The challenge of teaching deep truth to young hearts increases as age decreases. The younger the child, the more difficult teaching the Bible becomes. I can attest that no amount of seminary training can make reading and teaching the Bible to a two year-old at bedtime easy. While Kennedy makes no promises to magically transform family worship or bedtime Bible reading, he has written a book that will help parents hit the sweet spot of teaching the Bible to the youngest children in their home.
Kennedy divides The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible into two big sections in accordance with the Old and New Testaments. He structures his book through the lens of promise. The Old Testament section is titled, Promises Made. The New Testament, Promises Kept. I immediately resonated with this and have witnessed how easily kids relate to the idea of promise. Kids understand promises. They know what it means to keep and break a promise. As Kennedy asserts in the introduction, “Kids know the value of a promise.” He frames the Bible as a series of promises made and kept by God.
The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible is laced with simplicity and flexibility. Each chapter of the book tells a different story of the Bible. It is designed so that families could walk through the book in a year by reading one chapter each week. Most helpful to parents, each chapter contains one key truth and one key question. This format gives children something to remember and consider each week. There are simple and fun elements on every page that are ideal for families with children of varying ages.
As I read through this book with my two year-old and one year-old, I noticed they both were intrigued by something different. My one-year old loved the creative and colorful illustrations while my two year-old had a blast with the counting and object recognition elements. This is the first Bible story-book I haven’t had to modify for my boys who are at more challenging ages to understand deep biblical truth.
Kennedy’s storytelling skills shine through on each page as he speaks the language of young children. A glaring example comes in the first story. Kennedy simply and beautifully describes the doctrine of ex nihilo:
Once there was no sky, no trees, and no animals. The world was empty like a blank piece of paper. Then God made everything. God didn’t use crayons or stickers like we do when we make things. God used only words. He said, ‘Let there be sky and water, land and plants, sun and moon.’
Even when it comes to explaining how Adam and Eve were created unlike we are created, Kennedy simply, yet captivatingly writes,
God wasn’t done. He saved his most special creation for last. Do you know what was missing? Us. There were no mommies and daddies. No sisters and brothers. No friends. Do you know how many people God started with? Just 2. 1 man. His name was Adam. 1 woman. Her name was Eve. God made Adam and Eve to be like him.
Kennedy takes on the difficult task of teaching deep abstract truth and does so in such a way that a two year-old can both understand and enjoy. Every chapter tells a different story of the Bible with similar creative and captivating skill.
Gospel-centrality penetrates The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible. Where appropriate, Kennedy makes Christ connections in Old Testament stories. Readers will find it refreshing that Old Testament stories and heroes are not lauded as mere examples or moral ends. Instead, Old Testament stories are rooted in the larger plotline of Scripture and are presented as shadows of a much greater reality.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the pleasant and enjoyable illustrations in The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible. I’m by no means an art critic, but I can say that my boys had fun with Trish Mahoney’s illustrations. They aren’t distracting or bland.
Even though it causes my blue blood to boil to applaud a Louisville Cardinals fan, author Jared Kennedy has offered Christian families a true gem. With the use of The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible, family worship will immediately be infused with a dose of laughter, life, and love. Parents with small children will find a resource that will help their children better understand and love the truths of Scripture. If you want to introduce your toddlers and preschoolers to the Bible, I can’t think of a better place to start than The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible.
The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible officially releases November 13, 2017. It would make an awesome Christmas gift. I highly recommend pre-ordering a copy from Amazon. You can also learn more about the book from the publisher, New Growth Press. You can follow Jared Kennedy on Twitter @JaredSKennedy,
I received an advanced digital copy of this book from the author. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.
Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.