Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Book Review: Bible Stories That End With a Hug by Stephen Elkins

I received this book free from Tyndale for the purposes of this review.

Who doesn't want to teach children about God's love?  We want our children to understand God's love and not develop an unhealthy fear of God, and some Bible stories can be pretty scary.  I was interested to see what stories the author of Bible Stories That End With a Hug would choose that would be great to...end with a hug.  When I opened it, I joked about wondering if the story of Noah and the flood would be included.

Then I saw that it was there.  Cain and Abel were there.  The sacrifice of Isaac was there.

These are Bible stories that end with a hug?  As I read, I discovered that any Bible story can "end with a hug", just by hugging the child to whom you are reading.  The content of the story does not really matter.  Each of the 74 Bible stories contains a summary of the story and a Bible verse (that may or may not apply to the story itself), and a reason for ending the story with a hug.  Here are reasons for some of the questionable stories:

  • Noah:  "Give the one who will obey God no matter what...a great big hug!"
  • Cain & Abel:  "Give the one who pleases the Lord...a great big hug!"
  • The sacrifice of Isaac:  "Give the one who honors their father and mother...a great big hug!"
Also, in the telling of the story of Noah & the flood, it says "Remember they stopped laughing at Noah when it started to rain."  It declines to mention the reason they stopped laughing at Noah was because they were probably terrified because they were all about to drown to death.

Some of the stories with hugs are good lessons, however, such as:
  • Rebekah/kindness
  • Nehemiah/prayer before doing a job
  • Esther/bravery
  • Peter/fishing for people
  • Salt and light/shining for Jesus
  • Good Samaritan/being a good neighbor
  • Saul to Paul/life changed by Jesus
The illustrations were also quite cute.

The biggest problem with giving a hug with each story is that nobody is going  not give the child a hug, whether or not the child exemplifies the reason for the hug.  Another problem is that the hugs (expression of love) are for doing the right things (works) rather than "teaching about God's unconditional love" (from the back cover). For example, in the story of Jonah, the hug at the end is for obeying God the first time.  Do we all really obey God the first time?  And children know they often do not obey their parents the first time, so what is it that this is teaching them?  

A couple of other problems were:
  • Page 59:  "We call the Bible 'God's Word' because that's how God speaks to us.  Everything you need to know about living for God is written there".  This is a bit simplistic and doesn't take into account hearing from God in other ways.
  • Page 97:  "Jesus loved to go to church (called the Temple)".  Church and Temple are not the same thing.
  • Page 117:  Q:  "How do I grow my faith?"  A:  "By obeying God's Word!"  While obedience and Bible reading can help grow faith, faith does not just come from obedience.
I understand that it is very, very difficult to teach the Bible at a level that children can understand.  That is why it is imperative that we find better ways to do it than resorting to the concept of a works-based relationship with God and teaching facts that are incorrect (such as the church/temple example above).  

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