A Sober-Minded Evaluation of The Jesus Storybook Bible
Although it was first published in 2007, it wasn’t until around 2015 that I was first introduced to The Jesus Storybook Bible as an option for my kids. At that time, my older son and I had worked our way through several other children’s storybook Bibles, and I was excited for this to be the next step in preparing him for verse-by-verse exposition in a full-text Bible. Hearing that this product had a particular emphasis on Christ in all of Scripture was, of course, an appealing feature to me as I sought to guard against the kind of moralistic instruction that often masquerades as Christian discipleship. Yet, from the very first day that I began reading to my son, I knew we wouldn’t be revisiting it. But, when I broke the news to him, he took it very well. That’s because I explained that this book was not just “not good,” but actually “really bad.”
To be honest, I should have judged the book by its cover, enough so that I would never have started reading it in the first place. With a tagline that reads, “Every story whispers his name,” I should have acted on my suspicions and reviewed it more thoroughly. After all, the keyword “whisper” stood out like a sore thumb to me, representing the kind of language prevalent in both the Emergent Church movement and Charismatic churches. The former types of churches use this catchword because of its hyper-relational appeal (after all, “whispering” presupposes non-confrontational intimacy—prized by the Emergent Church and its dogmatic emphasis on “community”). The latter types of churches use this catchword to represent the supposed relationship they have with the Holy Spirit (wrongly believing that God “whispers,” “prompts,” and “nudges” believers in their everyday lives as they make decisions). Nevertheless, we jumped into the book, only to jump right back out.
Once I put this book in the circular file next to my garage (along with a few other bunkmates, like The Message Bible), I wanted to make sure to warn others, as genuine love for my fellow man would have me do. As you can imagine, though, when I publicly expressed the problems with The Jesus Storybook Bible, I quickly became the object of parental rancor. After all, when a book becomes a bestseller (over 2 million now), you can pretty well guarantee that a large portion of those sales are made to well-intentioned but misguided parents who are wiling to overlook error in the name of sentimentality. In short, I was in a very small minority.
The problems with this storybook Bible are numerous. In fact, my own objections began in the very first story. Beginning with an overarching summary story (prior to the creation account), the author of The Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones (no relation to the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones, as far as I know), starts with “The Story and the Song.” This first story cites a paraphrase of Psalm 19:1-2, and then reads as follows:
God wrote, “I love you”—he wrote it in the sky, and on the earth, and under the sea. He wrote his message everywhere! Because God created everything in his world to reflect him like a mirror—to show us what he is like, to help us know him, to make our hearts sing.
The way a kitten chases her tail. The way red poppies grow wild. The way a dolphin swims.
And God put it into words, too, and wrote it in a book called “the Bible.”
Make our hearts sing? Red poppies? Notice how right off the bat, the book dives into what amounts to man-centered, effusive poetry. Rather than providing the cognitive, God-glorifying, historical account of creation, this book goes straight for emotion—summarizing God’s interaction with creation using fanciful language. This writing style, loosely resembling a Hallmark greeting card, is characteristic of the entire book. (As a brief aside, it shouldn’t be of surprise that The Jesus Storybook Bible is heartily endorsed by Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts—a book containing the same flowery writing (albeit at an adult level), in which Voskamp notoriously wrote, “I fly to Paris and discover how to make love to God.”)
In perhaps the only commendable aspect of this book, this first story goes on to say that the Bible is not just a “set of rules,” but is about a story of God loving His children and coming to rescue them. But of course, even this truth is couched in whimsical language, saying, “It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne—everything—to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!” Nevertheless, if there is one praiseworthy characteristic, this should be pointed out.
But the next story, that of creation, sealed the deal in my mind years ago that this was not going to be a resource for my family. It begins by stating, “In the beginning, there was nothing. Nothing to hear. Nothing to feel. Nothing to see.” Nothing to feel? Although “feel” may be intended to refer to one of the five senses (better described as “touch”), in reality I suspect that this term ends up reinforcing the priority of feeling over and above thinking in the minds of many (a problem that is widespread in culture at large). After all, the book is rife with terms that evoke feeling more than thinking. Certainly, humans are created with emotions; we are not stoic robots. But it is statements like these that are injected into the text, that are unhelpful at best.
The creation story goes on to speak of God creating mankind based on a “dream in his heart,” that they would “share his Forever Happiness” (capital “F,” capital “H”). According to this text, when God saw Adam and Eve “he was like a new dad,” and after they were created, “Adam and Eve joined in the song of the stars and the streams and the wind in the trees, the wonderful song of love to the one who made them.” As I flipped through these pages of the book, all I could think about was Pocahontas "painting with all the colors of the wind" (as the Disney movie puts it). While I certainly recognize that storybook Bibles are inherently paraphrased, there is a big difference between summarizing a biblical account, and re-imagining it. Quite frankly, this account has all the pagan trappings of Native American folklore.
More errors could be discussed, such as the statement that our hearts were made to sing, “God made us. He loves us. He is very pleased with us.” Or that after the flood, God promised Noah, “I won’t ever destroy the world again.” Or the statement that Jesus knew he was “going to lose his Father” which would “break his heart in two” in order to save us (and of course, Jesus calls God the Father “Papa” in this instance).
It is at this point that most parents are liable to dismiss these concerns as “nit-picking,” “legalistic,” “Pharisaical,” or some other similar ad-hominem response. But a recent turn of events just days ago has caused many to reconsider. Apparently, Sally Lloyd-Jones released a book in April 2018 entitled Goldfish On Vacation. One particular page in this book contains an illustration showing what appears to be two men walking next to a child and holding a dog on a leash, all portrayed as a family. One reader on Twitter said the following: “My 4-year-old pointed out to me this ‘family like ours’ unobtrusively in the background of Goldfish on Vacation.” This Twitter user went on to speak of “organic depictions of LGBT families in books.” In response, a tweet from Lloyd-Jones’ Twitter account affirmed that the illustration was indeed portraying a homosexual couple, stating, “Inclusion and representation in picture books is so so important.” Whatever the intentions may be, there is simply no excuse for a professing Christian, let alone an author of a storybook Bible, to speak in an affirming way of the sin of homosexuality—and subtly “sneak” it into a children’s book. The tweet from Lloyd-Jones has since been deleted, but an explanation has been absent.
So, what does this situation have to do with The Jesus Storybook Bible? Far from spiking the proverbial football, the point in describing my own history with this book is to emphasize the fact that it has never been a legitimate resource for Christian families—with or without the recent Twitter situation. But now, there is at least additional evidence that may cause parents to reconsider the kinds of objections presented above. That’s because although, to my knowledge, there is no hidden homosexuality in the artwork of The Jesus Storybook Bible, the same mentality behind that emotive, non-cognitive, sentimental representation of Scripture is almost always the same mentality behind those who accept and affirm the sin of homosexuality (a sin which includes both acts and attraction). An emphasis on “singing in your heart” and “God moving heaven and earth to be with us” is so loaded with emotion that it lends itself well to mantras like “love is love” common among those who support homosexuality.
In spite of its noteworthy emphasis on the redemptive priority of Scripture, in no way would I recommend The Jesus Storybook Bible for you and your family. There are many helpful storybook Bibles on the market; this is not one of them.
Note: Images used under 17 U.S. Code § 107 Fair Use for the purposes of commentary and critique.
 Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 12.