Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Caution: This Book is Not for Children…or is it?

Let me confess right from the start that there is a copy of the newly released Brick Bible: A New Spin on the Old Testament on my seven-year-old’s nightstand. I should also confess that for the first time ever the other day my son said to me as I was putting him to bed, “I’d like to read the Bible in bed for a while before I go to sleep mom. Is that okay?”

I have spent my morning reading through the slew of one star ratings that this Old Testament, illustrated entirely in Legos, has received on Most of them made me chuckle. The subjects for complaint range from the uncensored reproductions of stories that involve violence, sex, childbirth, and nakedness to the unsympathetic way that God is portrayed throughout. The fact that I have been receiving exactly the same concerns from a group of women ranging in age from 30 to 90 who are working through an Old Testament survey course (with nary a Lego in sight) speaks to me of the level of accuracy that the Brick Testament has achieved.

A few caveats. After digging into the background of the author, I will say that he is an “interesting” person who I probably would not allow to babysit my child. You would have to figure that someone who could construct such an extensive re-creation of the Bible would have to be a little crazy (and I mean to use that word in the very nicest of ways). I also understand the confusion that many folks seem to have over this book, because YES, Legos are children’s toys, and so it is natural to jump to the conclusion that this is a children’s book. I know that it is entirely an occupational habit that I actually look carefully at a children’s Bible before I give it to a child. But come on folks, maybe we should all look a little more carefully at any type of media we buy for our children, even if it does have the word Bible on the front.

So, after reading through parts of the Brick Bible with my child and thinking even more seriously about how and what we teach our children, I have begun to consider the possibility that all Bibles should have a warning label on the front, for adults and children. Here are my thoughts:

It is important to remember that almost every picture Bible/children’s Bible is going to do three things that make it different from the actual Bible. It is going to omit the difficult stories that have questionable content for young children (e.g., Sodom and Gomorrah). It is going to summarize and shorten most other stories by jumping over questionable content or even extensive details that are harder to illustrate (e.g., Hagar and Ishmael’s portion of Abraham and Sarah’s story). Finally, and this is the trickiest one, a children’s Bible will often attempt to answer the child’s perennial question – why. A children’s Bible will often end a story with the lesson to be learned, explain a character’s motivation, or even provide God’s perspective on the story – even a story like the book of Esther which, in the biblial version, doesn't even mention God at all.

When we read the actual Bible with children we don’t have the luxury of three items listed above, which makes reading the Bible with children a lot more work. Let’s be honest, it makes reading the Bible with adults a lot more work as well. We are not just called upon to read and explain stories that make us uncomfortable, we as adults are left in the position of answering the question – why.

Here is just a sample of the “why” questions that can come up when children read the Bible. I am sure you have your own as well. Why does God kill Egyptian children? Why are so many of these stories so sad? Why do the Israelites have to be circumcised? Why is Jesus so mean sometimes? I can honestly say that the question on circumcision is the only one out of this list for which I am confident of my answer – a sign that these truly are difficult discussions to have with children.

This leaves me seriously considering when and how we introduce not just the difficult stories of the Bible to children, but the unedited ones and the open-ended ones as well – the ones that are not wrapped up nicely in a bow at the end.
In our house, it would appear that 7 is the age at which we are making that shift, evidenced by the fact that I am allowing my son to call The Brick Bible his Bible. But we have also made the shift in another way, in that when we read together in his “approved” children’s Bible, I find myself more and more often adding in the details and the stories that it has left out.

As he begins to read on his own, we will start reading an actual translation of the stories that he has come to know as a child and talk about what new things he is noticing, now that he is reading the actual Bible.Hopefully, by the time he is a young teenager (most likely when he stops wanting to talk with me about anything) he will be able to start seriously considering some of the most difficult stories and how they shape what the Bible is to him.

Finally, the introduction of the Brick Bible to our house has reminded me of the important rite of passage of having a book in your possession that, while it seems to be something socially acceptable, turns out to be something that a child/young teenager can be shocked by (this reminds me that we may be just about ready to start subscribing to National Geographic). It reminds me of the moment when I discovered the Song of Solomon in my Bible and couldn’t believe that this racy stuff I was reading was actually in the Bible that all three pastors at my church had signed and given to me when I was just in elementary school.

Allowing children to discover that there are some strange and unfamiliar things in the Bible can sometimes be the way they learn to spend time reading even the tame parts of it. 

What are the questions that your children have asked you about the Bible that you have struggled to answer? What are the questionable stories in scripture that you have struggled with? If you have flipped through the Brick Bible yourself (or checked out the even more complete Bible on the website), what was your impression?


  1. You know me, Rebecca. I forge into questions with honesty and (sometimes) the insight I have gained from the stories. (And yes, I do have the Brick Bible on my 7 year-old's night stand, too.) And sometimes, I don't know if I am making life easier for my children or not. I mean, they sort of believe that all adults are willing to hear their questions or observations - and a few of them really are. But sometimes they are asked to NOT ask questions or have doubts.

    I remember when Walter (now 10) was only 1 1/2 years old, a friend of mine came over to visit. He had to have his diaper changed and, in the process, he told my friend the proper name for what was inside that diaper. I believe, "Oh my G**, Amy! How does he know THAT word already?" was her response. My reply was simply, "Because that is what it is." After he was dry and clean, he toddled off and made some toy mess in some other room and my girlfriend processed what I had said. He knows it, because THAT is what it is. The Brick Bible is just another Bible - full of our faith.

    I am proud to say that when my friend had her son a couple of years later, Jacob, too, knew the proper terminology for what was inside HIS diaper.

    I realize this is an odd analogy, but it hits on the same concept. We are beautifully made. Even the seemingly 'unspeakable' parts of us. Although I cannot always answer the question of "why?" when it is asked, I can always say that I am honest with my children. So, when all is said and done, they can know that when I say I love them, they know it is true. But more importantly, when I tell them GOD loves them, they will know that is true, too.

    Now, where is that NEW Testament Brick Bible. That one might get a little less flack!?!??! Hmmmm.... can you say, "Ye who are without sin?" or "Revelation?" OK, maybe the New Testament would have its quirks, too.

    1. Thanks for your reflections Amy!

      I really struggle with the idea of how make sure I am never teaching something to a child (when it is my own child that would cover a variety of topics) about the Bible that someday I will have to unteach.

      Speaking of the New Testament the one that always comes up is the story of the Nativty. I am not sure how the Brick Bible does in separating out the conflicting stories of the Gospels. My guess is that is priority for showing what is 'really' in the Bible stops short of that.

  2. My daughter (age 4) asked me why God killed all the other animals (I think the people part still hasnt hit her) after seeing an illustration of the flood with some animals floating in the water (forget where she saw that). Shortly after that, while singing "Joshua fit the battle of Jericho," she asked why the walls had to come down... Being one who strives to be completely honest with her, I know exactly the struggle you're describing... Any suggestions? Perhaps the best answer is simply "I don't know".

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  7. This is an interesting take on the old testment, I'm not really sure if I would let my son read that book but it sure is an interesting way to introduce him to it. I would like to recommend my favorite air conditioning service in jacksonville fl