40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible by Robert L. Plummer, (Kregel, 2010), 347 pages. It's not common for children's ministers to recommend books on interpreting the Bible, but I'm pleased to recommend this one by Sojourn pastor, Rob Plummer. Most don't know it, but Rob was the pastor responsible for children's ministry when Megan and I first began attending Sojourn. He was our first community group leader, and he asked us to serve with the children's ministry as once-per-month teachers of the Toddler class when we first became members. As a pastor and a father of three daughters, Rob has a strong passion for children's and family ministry. He is an example pastor in his home, and he has always had a heart for giving our kids sound Bible teaching when they gather on Sundays. His heart for teaching children shines through at various points in his latest book.
40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible tackles all of the major questions about Bible interpretation in an easy to read and digest question and answer format. We'll use portions of this book immediately in our Sojourn Kids leadership training. Here are a few of the gems from Rob's book that will be helpful for children's and family ministry leaders:
Question #17 is "What is the Overarching Message of the Bible?" Teaching kids the overarching storyline of the Bible is essential. Think about Dorothy Sayers' insistence that every grade school child know the story of the bible in outline--Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation. Consider Phil Vischer's new video series, "What's in the Bible?" Our own children's ministry is adopting a new curriculum in June called "God's Story" that stresses the Bible's storyline. However, when emphasizing the forest, we can sometimes miss the trees:
An influential children's Bible that tries to teach the big picture of the Bible using 'kingdom' as a significant organizing principle was recently published. Fittingly, this children's Bible is title The Big Picture Story Bible... In an attempt to systematize the Bible under the theme of kingdom, some poignant details of the text can be overlooked. For example, after I read the account of the conquering of Jericho to my four-year-old daughter from The Big Picture Story Bible, her response was, "Where is the lady? Why did they leave out the lady?" The author of the children's Bible had left Rahab and her heroic faith out of the story" (153-54).
Questions #21 is "How do we identify literary genre--and why does it matter?" Identifying genre is very important for children's ministry, because we can inadvertently teach students that Biblical stories are only fairy tales if we are not careful with our language:
In choosing to express his or her ideas through a particular literary genre, the author submits to a number of shared assumptions associated with that genre. For example, if I were to begin a story, "Once upon a time," I immediately cue my readers that I am going to tell a fairy tale. Such a story likely will have fantastical creatures (e.g., dragons, unicorns), a challenge to be overcome, and a happy ending. Readers will expect the story to be directed at young children, primarily for the sake of entertainment, but possibly also for moral instruction (185).
Question #22 is "How do we interpret historical narratives?" This is essential because often teachers (even some children's curricula) will appeal to obscure details in a story to make a point that the passage doesn't really make. See Rob's example:
Many details in stories are not presented as normative. That is, the author is not intending to present all persons or actions as moral lessons. For example, my wife and I were once listening to some audio messages for new parents. The speaker exhorted parents to put their babies in cribs (as opposed to having them in the parents' bed) because Mary put Jesus in the manger (Luke 2:7). The key interpretive question of course is: why does Luke tell us that Jesus was placed in a manger? Was it to teach us how to put our children to bed, or was it to emphasize the Savior's humble origins? I've always wanted to point out to the speaker advocating cribs that Jesus told a parable in which a man's children are described as being in bed with him (Luke 11:7), probably the normal sleeping convention of that day, yet still only a colorful detail in a memorable story--not a normative principle (193).
As you can see, Bible interpretation does have a lot to do with children's ministry. If you are a children's minister, I hope you can pick up a copy of this book for yourself and your leaders.