The Bible Story Handbook: a Resource for Teaching 175 Stories from the Bible [A Review]
My wife and I are big readers, and a little while ago she reviewed a cookbook here. We have a young son whom we wish to teach the Bible to, and so when we had the opportunity to read and review John Walton's Bible Story Handbook, she decided to look it over to see if it would be a good resource for us.
One love that I very dearly hope to pass on to my child is a love for the Word of God. And yet, as I interact with my eleven-month-old son, I often find myself looking for fresh insights on how to do this. How can I effectively teach a small child (who understands very little about the world to begin with) the deep and precious truths of the Bible that still teach and challenge me daily? In their resource, The Bible Story Handbook, John and Kim Walton offer guidance to parents and children's ministry volunteers in thinking through the weighty task of teaching the Bible to children.
The Bible Story Handbook consists mainly of case-by-case analyses of 175 Bible stories, designed to be referenced as needed. Each analysis includes key points of focus and application for the Bible story lesson, as well as brief essays on biblical context, interpretational issues, background information, and mistakes to avoid. Before jumping into this index of stories, though, the Waltons offer three general articles discussing the purpose of teaching the Bible to children, and asserting what they believe to be the right and wrong ways to accomplish it.
These front articles are, in my opinion, as essential to the book as the story surveys themselves. The articles guide the reader to consider the self-revelation of God's glory found in the Bible, and then to note common fallacies in children's curricula that present the text in ways that fall far short of this glory. While I do not necessarily agree with all of the Waltons' conclusions in these articles, they are certainly instructive for any parent or Sunday school teacher in recognizing foolish ways we try to make Bible stories more relevant and digestible to children... and, in doing so, how we wrongly water down the truth of God! Instead, the Waltons encourage us to "allow the text to set the agenda, to speak for itself." The subsequent Bible story analyses aim to do just that, carefully studying each story in pursuit of the truth God intends to reveal about Himself.
The structure of this book is what I would deem to be its greatest weakness. In addition to some distracting typos and layout issues (at least in the Kindle edition), I found myself wishing that the story analysis sections had been ordered quite differently, so that the background, context, and discussion of interpretational issues were treated first and built up logically to the summaries of lesson focus and application. With the lesson focus and application summaries at the top of each synopsis, it feels like the authors are asking the reader to simply trust their conclusions rather than taking a more inductive approach that includes the reader in the exegetical process. I would have loved to see more detailed explanations of each story - but of course that would have called for a much larger book and is, after all, what commentaries are for. Besides, it would sort of defeat the purpose of having a concise Bible story reference.
Even with these structural challenges, a copy of The Bible Story Handbook is a useful tool that I'm glad to have on my bookshelf. I envision myself referring to this book in all my future teaching of Scripture (directed to children or anyone else), both for its exegetical insight on specific stories and for the principles of correctly handling the word of truth. Whether or not you agree with all of the Waltons' reasoning, the book is certainly thought-provoking and will at least guide you in the right direction.
DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of a fair, unbiased review.