The Greatest Story (Account) Ever Told

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I know Jesus said he had all the power, but is that the same
power that Pokemon and Digimon characters have?”

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“Moses parted the Red Sea, but have you seen what Harry Potter’s
done lately to Voldemort?”

“And, of course, it wasn’t a big deal for the big fish to spit
out Jonah. He also did it for Pinocchio and Gepetto.”

•••

Ever feel as if you’re having to wade through a cultural morass
of mythology to help children understand that God’s Word is no
myth? And that while God’s truth is truth, all the things children
are exposed to in their culture aren’t God’s truth?

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With amazingly realistic and believable visual storytelling
(television and movies), it’s getting harder for children and
adults to distinguish reality from fiction. Soap opera production
companies regularly receive fan letters, not to the actors, but to
the characters. The emotions experienced by some devoted TV viewers
when a beloved character dies often rivals the grief of real-life
losses.

Those of us concerned with teaching the Bible to children seek
new ways to clear up this clouding of truth and imagination. We try
to demythologize the Scriptures, to make a clear distinction
between Moses and Harry Potter, between Peter and the characters
from Pokemon, between Jesus, our Superhero, and X-Men.

And so we should. But it’s not easy. As many teachers know, kids
not only find the fictional TV and movie personalities more
interesting, they sometimes have trouble thinking of people in the
Bible as anything more than fictional. In one sense, the solution
seems obvious: Parents should limit and supervise their children’s
exposure to pop culture, making sure they fill their lives with
truth, goodness, and beauty (Philippians 4:8). Quite true, and something
all parents should aspire to. But what about the children’s church
leader, standing alone before 25 energized kids with GameBoys in
their pockets? Many children in our day haven’t been brought up
with a balanced exposure to pop culture, and the task of making the
Bible seem real can be overwhelming at times. So how do we do it?
How can we demythologize the Bible for the children we serve?

The Divine Drama

If we treat the Bible as a single, unified historical account,
with Christ as the central person, we’ll begin to see the Bible not
as “Neat Tips for Living” but as the great Divine Drama, the most
exciting account ever written. In seeking to demythologize biblical
accounts, we must keep in mind both that the Bible is a story of
mythological proportions and that it’s, in fact, true history. We
must consistently emphasize this in our lessons — and our teaching
style — whatever part of the Bible we’re presenting.

I heard once of a student who said the one phrase in the
Apostle’s Creed that he couldn’t bring himself to say was “under
Pontius Pilate” (as in “He suffered under Pontius Pilate”), because
that put a historical date on Christ’s life. The student could
believe in a nice moral fable, an inspiring myth, but the problem
was, Christians always insisted that the thing actually
happened.

Teachers, then, need to remember that the account of Christ
begins, not with “Once upon a time” — or the contemporary
counterpart, “Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away” — but it
begins with “In the time of Herod, king of Judea.”

The Not-So-Boring Truth

In a pluralistic society where our beliefs are only one of many
options, how can we impress upon children the importance of Christ
and his love, the forgiveness of sins, and all that’s encompassed
within the Christian message? How can we answer kids’ question: “So
what?”

We have one great weapon in this battle: the account itself.
Those who think of the Bible as nothing more than boring
theological propositions or a how-to manual must reorient their
views. You really have to work to make the gospel boring. The
account of God becoming Human, and being murdered by Humans, only
to conquer death itself to save Humans may be shocking, but never
boring. Christianity has doctrine, to be sure, but it’s revealed to
us primarily through the moving, exciting, dramatic, sorrowful,
joyful, true accounts of Scripture in letters, poetry, history,
dreams, and visions.

This is what we need, then: a new generation of parents,
teachers, and pastors who understand the Bible as phenomenal
history, and who will tell, with passion and wonder, the greatest
account ever written. We must pass on the great chronicles of the
Divine Drama, without altering the script.

Practical Principles

As you strive to teach biblical accounts to children, remember
these practical principles.

The Andy Griffith Principle — In one episode
of The Andy Griffith Show, Opie and several of his friends, bored
by history class, complained that they shouldn’t have to learn such
dull stuff. Andy — with true aim, targeting the imaginations of
the boys — reminds them that history is about “Indians and
Redcoats and cannons and guns and muskets and stuff.” He then tells
them a slightly overcooked version of Paul Revere’s midnight ride
and “the shot heard ’round the world.’ ” As the story intensifies,
the camera closes in on the boys (and Barney!) — eyes wide, mouths
open, muscles tense, completely absorbed in the story. Learn from
Andy. Become a skilled storyteller. Beware: It takes practice and
is anything but easy. But it’s worth the effort. And as long as you
don’t lose sight of the big picture, it’s not so bad to remind kids
that the Bible is made up of “heroes and villains and swords and
spears and shields and stuff” (Hebrews 11:32-38).

The Anti-Chronological Snobbery Principle
C.S. Lewis referred to those who despise history as engaging in
“chronological snobbery.” In contrast, the Scriptures teach us to
look to the past for examples, both negative (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11) and positive (Hebrews 11). But don’t stop at the end of the
Bible. Church history is overflowing with incredible accounts of
faith, courage, and adventure. We Christians need to be much more
familiar with our history. Need a couple of ideas to get you
started? Try looking up the amazing accounts of Polycarp and Thomas
Cranmer.

The Application Principle — Theologian R.C.
Sproul encouraged Christians to read the Bible “existentially,”
that is, “to put ourselves in the life situation of the characters
of Scripture…feeling the emotions of the characters we are
studying.” Get inside their skin; ask yourself how you would feel
and react in their situations. This is a great way for children to
apply the Bible to their lives; teachers can point out that, as
Christians, the children are themselves figures in the great
history God is writing.


William Chad Newsom is a freelance writer in Greensboro,
North Carolina. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses,
and prices are subject to change.

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