The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible strikes the right balance between scriptural faithfulness and a preschooler’s comprehension.
*The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy, illustrated by Trish Mahoney. New Growth Press, 2017, 313 pages
Reading Level: Picture book, ages 4-8
Recommended for: ages 3-5
What’s the Bible all about? Jesus! (The all-purpose Sunday-school answer) But “Jesus” is more than a name, more than a man; even more than a God-man. He’s a game-changer, a culture-maker, a world-shaker—“the way,” pure and simple. He’s huge and yet he welcomes little ones to come to him. But how do they begin to come without some part of him to hold on to? Those toddlers in Palestine, ca. 38 A.D., could walk right up and climb into his lap. Today the common approach is Jesus as friend, a concept that is still a bit shaky to a four-year-old who is likely to designate any peer as a “friend.” And of course, Jesus is much more than that. How does a “beginner” comprehend the gospel of Jesus Christ?
To solve this problem, The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible seizes on the promise motif:
Kids know the value of a promise. A parent’s commitment to go out for ice cream inspires hope. Disappointment reigns when the shop closes early. Broken promises can bring tears. Unlike human parents, our good and all-powerful God always keeps his word (Numbers 23:19). And the way he fulfills his promises is better than anyone could have imagined!
Old Testament stories follow: “Promises Made.” Then an equal number of New Testament stories: “Promises Kept.” The ideas are simple and the wording is conversational and age-specific, while remaining theologically sound. Here for example is the beginning of the flood story:
Adam and Eve had children, and their children had children. Instead of doing what God said was right, all those children did what they wanted all the time. Now the whole world was in trouble. God was sad because of all the bad choices people were making. God said, “I will cover the world with water. I’ll start over with one family.” God chose Noah and his family.
There’s total depravity, righteous judgment, and sovereign choice, in terms little ones can understand and build on. The illustrations are simple, with basic single-tone colors and friendly faces. Some might find them childish; I find them childlike. Jesus is pictured in most of the New Testament stories, but not in shining white (an itinerant first-century preacher does not trudge the dusty roads of Galilee in a spotless robe!). On the very last page, however, he appears not only in white garments but on a white horse (cf. Revelation 5) with a sword to smite the devilish dragon. By that point, both you and your kids should feel like cheering!
The 52 stories can be read or reread at the rate of one/week. Each is 4-6 pages long, includes scripture references (all OT stories have at least one NT reference), and ends with a simple application question. Many of the pictures include counting games, opposites, comparisons, or animals to spot. It’s engaging but not cute—and actually a better choice for this age group than The Jesus Storybook Bible.
Cautions: Violence (The crucifixion story may be disturbing to very sensitive children, as nails are specifically mentioned and shown. I found it just disturbing enough.)
Overall rating: 5 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 5
- Artistic value: 5