Ben writes about teaching children the full Bible story, and not merely snippets of it. After all it is God's story for us and to all ages.
My wife and I were once chatting with our children after Church. We asked them what they’d done. They each replied (as always) by recounting the craft. We pressed on. Which part of the Bible were you looking at? “Oh,” said my eldest, “we didn’t do the Bible.”
What’s gone wrong? Let me assure you. There certainly was a Bible passage. So, what happened? The problem seems to be that Sunday School leaders are often wonderfully committed to making the lesson fun. They don’t want to make God sound boring. – An aim we should all endorse. Making the gospel sound boring would be like making the moon landing sound like a mild achievement that happened once!
But in their zeal to be interesting, the Bible itself is often swapped out for Bible stories. A retelling of the story in their own words without direct reference to the Scriptural record itself. The leader, of course, knows they’re telling a story from the Bible. But the children often don’t get that. And so, a child can come home from Sunday School. Possibly week after week. Under the impression that they “didn’t do the Bible.”
I believe this is not good at all and should be rectified, at least in part, by holding a Bible when you’re talking about it. In that way, children will at least know that the place you’re getting the story from is the Bible itself.
But is there something deeper going on? Something altogether more problematic? I think there is. Please don’t hear me wrong. I don’t for a minute think that Sunday School leaders have thought about the problem in the terms I’m about to explain. Nevertheless, it’s still a problem.
The issue is an old one: do we believe in God’s great acts in history attested to by Scripture? Or do we believe in the account Scripture itself gives of those acts? In part this is a false dichotomy. We believe both in the event itself (considered as history) and the account the Holy Spirit has given in the ipsissima verba ("the very words") of the Bible. But it is possible to believe in the event apart from the record.
Consider the murder of Julius Caesar. Anyone reading the Shakespeare play will be aware that there’s an historical event that happened that can be put on a calendar. They will also be aware that there’s artistic license, areas of ignorance, and just plain mistakes. If Shakespeare were our only source on Caesar’s murder, we could still talk about the event and offer an outline for history. But we wouldn’t rely on the very phrasing and details of Shakespeare’s account.
The question before us is: Is the Bible like Shakespeare in the sense that it gives an account of historical events, though it itself might be flawed? Or is the very telling of the events, including values, judgements and omissions, inspired by God?
The Reformation doctrine of Scripture is the latter. It might be important for Sunday School leaders - and all of us, really- to think about this distinction.
Children need to understand the Bible as a whole, not as separate stories. The Bible attests not only to true events but gives us a true interpretation. If we sever the two (on purpose or accidentally) we end up with misunderstandings, such as setting “Jesus” against “Paul”. As if the Holy Spirit was divided against himself when he inspired these texts!
The issue is real, and the call is simple: let’s teach the Bible, not just Bible stories. To all ages. In all places. And for all time.