Chances are, if you’re the type of person drawn to my blog, you’ve already heard of The Jesus Storybook Bible. This popular children’s book by Sally Lloyd-Jones is celebrating its 10th Anniversary with a new keepsake gift edition, which our family was blessed to receive in exchange for this review.
Although I’ve heard effusive praise from many people for this Bible storybook over those ten years, I’ve hesitated to get a copy for our family until now because of specific issues I’d read about in other reviews, though I love the overall idea of the book. Now being able to read the entire thing for myself, I love its ultimate purpose even more. In retelling these popular stories from the Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones carefully and intentionally shows how each one points to God’s plan for salvation through Jesus. “Every story whispers his name,” the title page proclaims, and Lloyd-Jones is diligent in revealing the connection to Jesus in each and every one, whether retelling Old Testament history, summarizing the message of one of the prophets, or presenting events from the life of Jesus Himself. Each story can be read individually and ends with a paragraph or two that points to God’s “Secret Rescue Plan” or the “Promised One.”
I think it is crucial for all believers to understand the Bible as more than a series of disconnected stories, and so I applaud Lloyd-Jones for the charming way in which she presents the overarching story of salvation in a way even children can grasp. However, the reservations that have held me back from using The Jesus Storybook Bible with my children remain, and there are certain stories I will most likely skip or edit when I choose to incorporate it into our family discipleship.
There are two main issues that trouble me. First (and most disturbing to me), is the presentation of the Fall of mankind. Rather than the problem being that Adam and Eve chose to disobey God’s direct command, Lloyd-Jones presents the trouble as them believing “the terrible lie” that “God doesn’t love me.” While I appreciate her description of the consequences of the Fall (“God’s creation would start to unravel, and come undone, and go wrong. From now on everything would die–even though it was all supposed to last forever“), I want my children to know that the reason evil, sadness, and death exist in the world is because Adam and Eve made a choice to disobey God and trust their own wisdom rather than His instruction. Reducing the Fall to them believing a terrible lie about God’s love (reiterated later when Jesus appears to the disciples after the Resurrection and commands them, “Tell them I love them so much that I died for them. It’s the Truth that overcomes the terrible lie.“) misses a major theological point.
The other issue I have is that a great deal of license is taken with some of the stories that end up presenting an interpretation that is not necessarily in line with the biblical text. For example, when the Bible describes man being made in God’s image, I have always been taught that implies much more than a physical resemblance, but Lloyd-Jones has God stating, “You look like me,” like a proud father admiring family traits in his offspring. The Bible says that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. Lloyd-Jones tells her readers this is because Rachel was beautiful and Leah was ugly (whereas the Bible just says Leah had “weak eyes”). In the story of Daniel, Jago’s illustration shows a lion lounging across Daniel’s lap, going beyond the Bible’s description of an angel closing the lion’s mouth. When the magi come to visit the young Jesus, the Bible doesn’t specify how many there were, but Lloyd-Jones chooses to say there were three wise men, following tradition rather than Scripture. The interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer strays a little farther than I am comfortable with, though that’s more a matter of personal taste. I am grateful for the Bible references given for each story, and I would encourage parents to read (or reread) the Scriptures before sharing these stories so they can guide their children as far as knowing what’s actually a part of the Bible and what the author added or adapted in her retelling.
Overall, however, my impression of the book is mostly positive. Lloyd-Jones’ poetic writing style makes The Jesus Storybook Bible far more pleasant to read than many children’s Bibles. I loved this paragraph in the story about Noah and the Flood:
“The story was going to wash away all the hate and sadness and everything that had gone wrong, and make the world clean again. God had thought up a way to keep Noah safe, but Noah would have to trust God and do exactly what God told him.”
This isn’t a storybook for toddlers or even most preschoolers, but I think most children from age 5 or 6 on up would enjoy listening to the stories and looking at the pictures. The illustrations by Jago are quite distinctive. I wasn’t sure I cared for them at first, but they grew on me, though I had issues with a few of them. For example, none of the pictures of Jesus after his Resurrection show marks from the nails in His hands or wrists, even though the Bible is very clear that such wounds existed.
So did I change my mind? Yes and no. There is so much to love about The Jesus Storybook Bible, and I would hate to miss out on those aspects because of the issues I have discussed. The introduction in particular is outstanding and a solid resource for introducing the idea of an overarching story of God’s “Rescue Plan” to children. I plan to read the majority of it with our family, but I will definitely supplement it with readings from other Bible storybooks or Scripture itself. In addition to the stories that contained too many liberties in their interpretation for my taste, Lloyd-Jones leaves such well-known and beloved stories as those Moses as a baby and Daniel’s three friends in the fiery furnace. However, she also includes things often left out of children’s Bibles, like the story of Naaman and a summary of Isaiah’s prophecies. Overall, children reading (or listening to) The Jesus Storybook Bible will come away with a better understanding of how every story in the Bible tells the message of God’s love and how much He cherishes relationship with the people He has created. For that reason, I think discerning families will be blessed by reading and discussing it together.