A solid foundation of truth to help children develop a strong faith in God

A solid foundation of truth to help children develop a strong faith in God

We're excited to announce that More Than a Story: Old Testament is now available, providing parents, grandparents, teachers, and church leaders with an effective and accessible tool for the discipleship of the next generation. 

In the following interview, Sally Michael shares her heart for how this book can give children a solid foundation of truth for developing a strong faith in God.

More Than a Story has a different feel from other Bible books written for children. Why is a book of this type—and tone—so important?

We have many children’s Bible resources consisting of collections of key Bible stories written in an engaging manner. What seems to be lacking is a comprehensive overview covering the breadth and depth of the message of the Bible. More Than a Story attempts to fill in those gaps, giving children a solid foundation of the manifold character of God, the plotline of the Bible, and key Bible doctrines in a child-friendly, engaging, yet respectful manner. It also incorporates many of the non-narrative portions of Scripture—Children need to be exposed to the wisdom of Proverbs, the comfort of the psalms, the warnings and promises of the prophets, the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, the reminders of the gospel and instructions for Christian living in the letters, and the revelation of the glories of the Coming King who will make all things new! Children need a solid foundation of truth in order to develop a strong faith in God.

While the Bible is full of fascinating and exciting stories, we must not lose sight of the fact that it is the authoritative, clear, necessary, sufficient Word of God. So the tone of the book, though appealing to children, is also respectful and honoring of the Bible. There is appropriate sobriety regarding the seriousness of sin, as well as glorious, exalting joy in the redemption bought by Jesus. I have tried to treat the truths of the Bible in a manner worthy of God’s Word, yet still be engaging to children, interactive, and creative. Many actual texts from the Bible are included so that children can experience the power of the Word of God, as well as simply becoming familiar with the text of the Bible—God’s actual words.

How does your experience as a Bible teacher determine the tone and focus of this book?

In my experience of teaching children who grow up in the church, I have often seen a sketchy knowledge of the Bible and a simplistic understanding of its teachings. I have also noted that it is not unusual for children from Christian homes to have head knowledge without heart engagement. One of the most frightening verses for me in the Bible is Romans 1:21"For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

I am, at heart, a teacher, not a writer. Writing is just a medium to expand the scope of my teaching. So, when I am writing to children, I am intent on teaching them solid, life-giving truth. I am very intentional to teach a logical scope and sequence, to present accurate knowledge, to ask the hard questions, to teach children to think and draw conclusions, to see themes and patterns in Scripture, and to accurately interpret the text. But good teaching is not just dumping information into the minds of children. It is helping them to interact with that knowledge, to see the connections between the Bible and their own lives. It is helping children to wrestle with the hard truths and the glorious truths in order to engage their hearts.

I think that the prayer of every good Bible teacher is that the will of the child is influenced to trust in God. So when I write, I am actually teaching—I intentionally try to inform the mind, engage the heart, and influence the will.

Your choice of illustrator was purposeful, too. What kind of images did you want to accompany the text?

I wanted images that give proper respect to God’s Word. I wanted to portray real people, in real events, in real places showing that the Bible stories are true stories that really happened in history. Having biblically accurate illustrations is very important to Truth78. I think it is critical that illustrations portray real emotion and highlight biblical truth. Carefully crafted, prayerful illustrations have the power to speak to the heart. I bought a book for my children when they were little simply because of one illustration in it. It captured my heart. That was almost 60 years ago, and that illustration still strengthens my soul when I think about it. So where do you find such a person to draw such illustrations? God, in His providence, brought Fred Apps out of retirement to illustrate this book. There are more than 470 illustrations in the Old Testament and New Testament volumes. Some of the illustrations are from other books that Fred illustrated, but the majority are illustrations we have had the privilege of commissioning to portray important biblical truths. For example, I didn’t want Joshua leading the people across the Jordan River, but the ark of the covenant carried by the priests, showing that God was going before His people into the Promised Land. Details like that portray great spiritual truth.

You’ve noted that one of the goals of More Than a Story is to teach children Bible study skills. Have you found that parents don’t feel equipped to do that? Is that difficult for churches, too?

I think we underestimate children, and we certainly underestimate the work of the Holy Spirit. Children can be taught to look at a text, ask questions of the text, define words, wrestle with the meaning of a text, draw conclusions, and discern truth. The simple skills of observation (what does the passage say?), interpretation (what does the passage mean?), and application (how does the meaning of this text apply to me personally?) can be learned through prayer and practice. Children can make amazing connections when they are taught the Bible—the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God and is faithful to bring forth fruit.

In my former church, a two-year-old girl in the nursery learned, “No one can serve two masters,” (Matthew 6:24a). When she was three years old and in a preschool class, the teacher was teaching about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. She asked the class, “Should they bow down to the statue of gold?” This little girl became very agitated. She jumped up and said, “They can’t! They can’t! Because of that verse,” pointing to a memory verse card with a symbol for this passage.

As to the question about whether parents and the church are equipped to do that: Absolutely! They can ask who, what, when, where, why, and how questions. They can help children to apply Scripture and to answer the questions: What should I think? What should I be? What should I do? The question is not one of equipping but of intentional exposure to the actual words of Scripture. Are we intentionally teaching our children to be Bereans, “examining the Scriptures daily”? How often do we actually ask children to read a text and answer questions about it?

More Than a Story isn’t afraid to ask children to look at sin and its effects… How do children process a topic like that?

Children are pretty matter of fact. They don’t have the emotional baggage that can cloud an adult's thinking. They more readily accept hard truth than adults do because suffering and difficulty are usually more academic for children than personal.

That said, I think it is good for children to feel uncomfortable, even concerned about the right things. My former pastor, John Piper said, "…if we don't know what our real plight is, we may not recognize God's rescue when it comes." [1] And Randy Alcorn has said, "Fear of Hell serves as a merciful call to repentance."[2]

We want children to feel the discomfort of being a sinner, of deserving the wrath of God. The cross is meaningless to a person who does not understand that he is under the just judgment of God. To minimize sin is to minimize Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on the cross. So More Than a Story does present the essence, pervasiveness, and problem of sin.

We are serving our children when we teach the seriousness of sin—their eternal souls are at stake.

But we must also pair that sober news of judgment with the glorious good news of the gospel, so they treasure the Savior, run to Him for rescue, put their trust in His work on the cross. Yes, More Than a Story presents the bad news, but it surely portrays the glories of God’s mercy, the incredible forgiveness for sin paid for on the cross, and the glorious message of the gospel. And it presents the good news as GOOD NEWS! And the good news of a merciful God permeates this book.

How did you determine which biblical events from the Old Testament needed to be included in this book? Which events did you wish you could have included, but just didn’t have the space?

Oh my… That was so hard. I wanted to include it all! But in 90 chapters, you just can’t. I can’t even begin to tell you how I prayed over the table of contents, changed it, changed it again, prayed some more… It was a long, tedious process. I tried to give a fair and balanced treatment of the Old Testament…and the New. I tried to put in all that was of supreme importance, to leave out nothing that would diminish the message of the Bible…and I trusted God to be at work. Did I leave out some things I would have liked to include? For sure.

There are two stories that come to mind from the Old Testament. The first is the story of David wanting to kill foolish Nabal and God’s saving providence to protect him from that (God is so good!) through Abigail’s wise intervention. It is a story of God’s gracious hand holding back the sin nature of His children, protecting them from evil. And Abigail is a great role model for women to be helpmates and women of wisdom. The second is the story of Samson—such an enigmatic figure—with its great lessons about poor choices. But there is so much more to the story. Manoah prayed that he would be taught how to raise Samson. Then you get a hint of God’s purpose for Sampson in Judges 14—when Samson told his parents he wanted to take a Philistine woman as his wife... Talk about poor choices! But the Bible says they did not know “it was from the LORD, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines” (Judges 14:4). And then you read about Sampson in the faith chapter of Hebrews 11. That story takes a lot of explaining, which just I couldn’t do in my page limit.

Which biblical events in More Than a Story hold particular meaning in this very difficult year?

Rather than just pick a particular event, I would say the message of God’s providence, His faithfulness to His people, the pervasiveness of sin and effects of the Fall, and the reality of future glory are the truths that hold fast our hope in these difficult times. To know that God is sovereign and He is good, to know that all His promises are “yes and Amen in Jesus” (2 Corinthians 1:2), to know that weeping endures for the night but joy comes in the morning, that this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory steadies the soul and informs our emotions for the difficult times.

A story in the Bible that particularly illustrates this for children is the story of Joseph. The truth that God is always at work accomplishing His purposes, and that what others meant for evil God intended for good is so easy for children to see in the story of God’s faithfulness to Joseph and the offspring of Abraham.

You have a New Testament volume of More Than a Story in the works. When will we see that, and how will that connect to this current volume on the Old Testament?

Lord willing, that will be available in the fall of 2021. I just reviewed the pencil drawings of the illustrations for More Than a Story: New Testament and they are fabulous. They are in the process of revision and then the coloring, which takes months to do… The text is already written, edited, and awaiting theological editing. Then the formatting begins! We have a great team at Truth78. They work with joy, diligence, and excellence, and we have a wonderfully faithful God, who cares about the faith of the next generation.

What are your hopes for this book?

My hope is that this book will impassion parents to take the spiritual nurture of their children seriously and that this tool will be a good foundation for them to understand how to do that. My prayer is that this book will ignite in children a desire to seek God and that this book, More than a Story, will lead them to THE BOOK, the inspired, trustworthy, precious Word of God.

ORDER More Than a Story: Old Testament

[1] John Piper. http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/god-credits-faith-as-righteousness

[2] Randy Alcorn. If God is Good. (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Multnomah Books, 2010), 321.

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