When Jesus gets angry, we’d best pay attention.
Mark tells us that Jesus was “indignant” when his disciples tried to send children away. He said, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14).
Jesus takes children seriously. He calls children to come to himself, welcomes them with open arms, and loves them. And that’s why it’s critical we teach children well.
However, that’s hard to do with young children, like toddlers and preschoolers. How do we engage children when they’re just starting to grasp basic realities? How do we help them know and love the Bible when they can’t understand half its words?
The answer: translate the truths of God’s Word into a format children can understand. And that’s exactly what Jared Kennedy has done with The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible.
Language Kids Understand
In 313 beautiful pages, Kennedy—pastor of families at Sojourn Community Church-Midtown in Louisville, Kentucky—captures the story of the entire Bible for a toddler and preschool audience. He does that by using the language of promise.
“Kids know the value of a promise,” he explains. They feel the sting of disappointment when a parent promises them ice cream but the shop is closed. “Unlike human parents, our good and all-powerful God always keeps his word (Numbers 23:19),” Kennedy explains. “And the way he fulfills his promises is better than anyone could have imagined.”
Toddlers aren’t too young to come to Jesus.
In 52 stories, Kennedy traces the history of redemption—from creation to Jesus’s final return. The Old Testament stories are labeled “Promises Made” and the New Testament stories “Promises Kept.” Each story is four to six pages long and contains one key truth to remember and a simple application question to start discussion, making this a perfect tool for family worship or Sunday school.
The illustrations by Trish Mahoney are a spectacular addition—bold and colorful yet single-toned so as not to overstimulate young readers. There are also educational elements woven throughout, like counting, opposites, patterns, and recognizing shapes and objects.
Deep Theology for Young Minds
The best part of The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible, however, is its theological rigor combined with respect for the audience’s mental capacity.
For example, take the story of Joseph. At each bad event in Joseph’s life, Kennedy repeats the refrain, “Was that good? No.”
Joseph’s brothers were angry and jealous of him. “Was that good? No.”
His brothers took his coat and threw him in a pit. “Was that good? No.”
He was sold to traders who took him to Egypt. He was thrown in prison. “Was that good? No.”
But then Kennedy explains, “Lots of bad things happened to Joseph, but God was always with him.” At the end of the story, he finishes with a new refrain: “Was God’s plan good? Yes! Even when bad things happen, God’s plans are still good.”
The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible is aptly named—this is truly a gospel resource.
In a handful of sentences and pictures, Kennedy explains the sovereignty of God over suffering and evil in a way a 3-year-old can understand. Kennedy doesn’t avoid hard doctrines; he tackles them in age-appropriate ways.
He also includes a careful balance of stories, adding some you might not expect in a children’s Bible, like Nehemiah going back to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall or Jeremiah getting thrown in a pit.
In every story, Kennedy points to the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus Christ. He points to Jesus’s perfect obedience, sacrificial death, resurrection, intercession, forgiveness, love, and faithfulness. The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible is aptly named—this is truly a gospel resource.
There’s only one thing in this Bible that may be a concern to some parents: the depictions of Jesus. Parents disagree about whether or not it’s appropriate to view pictures of Jesus (and whether that depiction violates the second commandment). The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible does contain these depictions, but they’re fairly generic and ethnically accurate (and not abundant).
Jesus Calls Children
The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible reminds us all of something deeply important: toddlers aren’t too young to come to Jesus. As Kennedy writes, “Jesus wants even the youngest and smallest children to come to him” (228). They just need to be taught in a way that’s understandable, compelling, and relevant to them.
And that’s something a tool like The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible can help you do well. By using simple sentences and vocabulary, reinforcing concepts through repetition, asking questions, and pointing to Jesus in every story, this Bible gives children the foundation they need to understand the gospel. And that’s the best gift we can give toddlers and preschoolers—a foundation for faith.