Innovative books on the Bible for youthworkers, teens and children

I’ve been writing the last few weeks about reading the whole Bible narrative as one unfolding drama, and describing, in short-hand, this narrative as the journey through good creation, radical fall, wholistic redemption and future consummation in a new creation.  I’ve noted books that in one way or another help us get that Story in our bones, and that help us read and study and live into God’s redemptive work—His Kingdom “on Earth as it is in heaven”—by seeing the Bible through these lenses, and our lives as unfolding stories which can be shaped by the Bible.  Many of the books I cited are rooted in the work of authors like Al Wolters (and his popular, important Creation Regained) or N.T. Wright’s stuff on the “acts” in the Bible, or the creative and feisty “anti-commentary” on Colossians by Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat, which illustrates this sense of God restoring creation, bringing us home to shalom, even as we are in a world of great sorrow and injustice.  As Bob Wauzzinski, author of the Ruth book I’ve highlighted, says, “the ‘history of redemption’ must lead to the redemption of history.  And that starts with creation!” And then I threw some other important new resources in the mix—the serious and important collection of articles on the Bible by D.A. Carson or the unusual but informative Girardian study of the Jesus Driven Life by radical Mennonite-ish friend Michael Hardin.  All of these odd and interesting titles that I described might help re-energize your interest in Biblical studies.  Or, if you are new to the Bible, it will help you get going in the right direction.

Work with youth?  Children?  There are tons and tons of resources here at the shop, but if you want a few to chew on, enjoy this little list.  Do pass it on to anybody in your church or fellowship who might find it interesting.  Talking about books like this–even if you don’t intend to buy them now—is an important and strategic ministry.  Blessings on your conversations!

Story Signs and Sacred Rhythms: A Narrative Approach to Youth Ministry Chris 0310291992.jpg  Folmsbee (Zondervan) $14.99  I’ve liked this guys earlier books on youth ministry, and a friend out his way (Kansas City) knows him and speaks highly of him.  Here, though, he’s done a stunning piece of work, evocative and insightful and playful and interesting.  Tony Jones says it “proposes no less than a re-invention of youth ministry based on a robust narrative theology—in other words, a theology of youth ministry that follows the contours of the biblical story.”   I like this line from a great blurb by Mark Riddle, who says “this book represents a beautiful combination of research, know-how, curiosity, intuition, and the expansive experience that is uniquely Christ Folmsbee.”  Or, as he puts it, “in a world of deconstructionists, Chris reconstructs a youth ministry that has depth and vitality.”  And, again, it is an approach informed by this narrative theology, the very stuff I’ve been writing about,  informed by the very flow and shape of the big Biblical picture. Forward by Scot McKnight—-which surely ought to indicate how good this is.  Know any youth workers you could gift it to?

9780310273660_th.jpgShaped by the Story: Helping Students Encounter God in a New Way  Michael Novelli (Youth Specialties) includes a DVD $29.99  I’ve been wanting to tell you about this cool paperback for more than a year, and keep wishing I knew more groups that use it.  I wanted to report that it really works, which I think I can, given that I now know a few who have told us about their finding it helpful.  It is, as the title implies, a guide to helping students (and I’d include even college students or younger adults here, if you want) learn this basic overview of the plot of the Bible.  Call it a postmodern “Bethel Bible” class, or a hip, youthful “Disciple” course, maybe, but know this: it is energizing, draws students in, engages them, by using an approach (I don’t want to call it a technique, but a “way”) that was introduced to Mike by a missionary.  He calls it “Storying” and is a sequential telling of Bible stories followed by a time of creative retelling and in-depth dialogue.  Early church-era rabbis did something like this and they were called targums.  This ancient/new approach builds a lasting theological foundation (or so they hope) while challenging students to discover their unique identity and calling within God’s Story.  Sounds great, doesn’t it? 

There is a training DVD that comes with it, and it shows not only how to tell the Bible story, but how to do the discussions that will allow your group to experience God in a Biblically-based, and, perhaps, life-changing way.   You can get some of this dialogical approach to Bible learning for free at and after visiting there, you will know if you want to invest in the book.  Please check it out.

t_0310669278.jpgEnter the Story: 7 Experiences to Unlock the Bible for Your Student  Michael Novelli (Youth Specialties) includes a CD-Rom $18.99   Do you think too many people are suggesting dumbing down the Bible for students?  This is a better way, offering more exercises based on his Shaped by the Story project.  Here, you invite participants to step into God’s story (sometimes quite literally.)  With this experiential learning approach, you’ll find detailed instructions to effectively prepare hands-on and engaging lessons on what he calls creation, disruption, Israel’s Journey, The Tabernacle, The Kingdom, Journey to the Cross, and Restoration.  You can “drop these in” from time to time as special pieces to your youth classes or fellowships, or use them in succession, weekly or at a retreat.  This is a great handbook to have around if you want to explore not only dialogical storying, but storying about God’s unfolding Story.  The Bible isn’t a compilation of random episodes, but a coherent outworking of promise and deliverance, fulfillment and hope.  The old song says “we love to tell the story.” This will help you tell it right, in learning ways that are transformative.

0687000823.jpgThinking Theologically About…Body Image, Money, Pop Culture, and Haves & Have-Nots  (Abingdon) $5.95 each.  Leaders guides $9.95 each  We have suggested that the trajectory of the Bible narrative is that, in Christ, the reign of God breaks into history and intends to bring shalom—pushing back the curse of the fall—to every area of life.  It is the task of God’s people to hear and do the gospel, being “living letters” to the world, agents of reconciliation, ambassadors of this future hope.&nbsp
; And so, to discern the times and be faithful to our calling, we must help students read “the Word and the world” to be formed by the Bible in such as way that their “minds are transformed” and they live as “aliens” in this corrupt culture.  This is a project and perspective that is neither fundamentalist or liberal, as I see it.  And I long for creatively done youth curriculum resources that help students see the Biblical story as shaping their worldview and practice and that “hit0687006775.jpg the ground” with practical ways to think about real life.  This wonderful series does just this.  In each book, (there are four different ones) the authors ask, in the final, 6th unit, this questions: “what was God’s original intent?” and “how did ‘the fall’ distort it?” and “how does the Cross transform it?” and then “how are we then to live?”

So, say, for money, or the body, we ask about the creational goodness, the sinful distortions, and the redemptive impact.  What remarkable ways to see each and everything thing in life and culture—made good, truly messed up, and being redeemed by Christ.  Because these were created by United Methodists, they use the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which studies a topic firstly in light of Scripture, then our Experience, using obvious Reason, and asking about the best Christian Traditions and what they have to say.  (This makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?)  Throughout there are journalling options, plenty of discussion questions, a few little rituals to explore. So, each of these four “issue” oriented, hot-topic studies do thoughtful, Biblical study, informed by common sense and church history, which all leads to the big questions in the last session, shaping practice informed by creation-fall-redemption.  How great is that?  Buy ’em quick, before they go out of print!

0310708257.jpgThe Jesus Storybook Bible Sally Lloyd-Jones & Jago (Zonderkidz) $16.99  You know we’ve raved about this before, enjoy the story, the well-crafted telling, the artwork, perfect for young pre-schoolers or early readers.  The most important thing, though, is the way in which it captures the lovely subtitle, “each story whispers His name.”  Each book of the Bible may not “shout” Christ’s name, but it does, if one has the ears to hear, whisper the promise and fulfillment.  I know some can overdo the Christo-centric readings, but this wonderful resource gets it really right; again, it shows that the Holy Book is not a random collection of individual stories nor primarily a book of doctrinal instruction or morals.  We have sold this to adults sometimes by just reading out loud the first part, the bit about the nature of a story, and truth of the Scriptural story, and the way the creation of all things is the start of that drama. By the way, if you noted our recommendation last week of the famous British preacher, Martin Lloyd-Jones and a new book of sermons on Genesis, yes, you are right to see the family name here.  By the way, there is a nice audio CD of some of the Jesus Storybook Bible that comes in a deluxe edition.
0310708257_01.jpgHere is a website that has some audio and video, and a great interview with Sally that explains what is unique and vital about this work.

what-god-has-always-wanted-bibles-big-idea-charles-boyd-hardcover-cover-art.jpgWhat God Has Always Wanted: The Bible’s Big Idea from Genesis through Revelation Charles F. Boyd & Dennas Davis (FamilyLife Publishing) $14.99  This looks like a fairly standard fare children’s story book with upbeat whimsical drawings and a nice, inexpensive feel. (I mean no disrespect to say it feels like a book from Ideals or even a golden book.)  But, wow, what a Story.  It shows the consistent plot-line of the Bible–God bringing the children of earth back to Himself–and it delightfully reminds us that this rescue plan is multi-ethnic and ends up on a newly restored planet.  It is well told, reads well out loud, helps children understand the simple gospel message.  Jesus doesn’t just live “in your heart/chest” but is alive in the world, finishing the good work described in the slow unfolding story of the Bible.  Serious Bible scholars like John Walton and brilliant storytellers like Haddon Robinson endorse it.  God wants friends to dwell with Him and is working out a way for that to happen.  What a big-picture idea.

61-Ew7gne3L._SL500_AA300_.jpgChildren of God Storybook Bible  Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Zondervan) $18.99  On sale for $14.97.  Yes, the famous Nobel Peace Prize Winner has crafted a beautifully illustrated storybook Bible, and it is a winner.  How can we describe the generous tone, the uplifting way in which the stories are rendered, the appropriate, visionary (but never overly didactic) multi-cultural illustrations.  In fact, this is one of the great joys of the book—it is illustrated by dozens of authors from around the world, and each was invited to offer an artful impression of the story using their own culture.  What a fun and creative way to see global art, to recall the global nature of the body of Christ, and to remember that this grand Story3127829222_99538e0ba9_t.jpg is, truly, about “red and yellow, black and white” as the Sunday school rhyme puts it.  It’s a radical song, you know, and having a Christian hero like Tutu and these artists drawn from the nations are a great way to remind us.
                                                                 The Archbishop signing books at an event in South Africa                                                                

re are free audio downloads at if you want to hear some of it for yourself—you’ll delight in Tutu’s sense of humor, the joy he brings to the project.  This is a very, very nice website.  Do visit, but be sure to come back here!

978-1-4143-3630-5-212x300.jpgWhat’s in the Bible with Buck Denver (Jellyfish Labs) $14.99 each  on sale for $12.97 each
1 In the Beginning
2 Let My People Go

3 Wanderin’ in the Desert

Okay. I hope you trust me on this. These are spectacular!  You may or may not still appreciate the Veggie Tales, although, even if you think the brand became a bit over-done, you have to admit they were clever, witty, and most often very insightful, essentially true to the Bible story.  Well, the honcho behind this whirlwind of brilliance was, of course, Phil Vischer (who, by the way, has a very interesting memoir out, about the rise and fall of the Veggie Empire) and he has decided to focus his energies on a Veggie-like/Muppet-ish, wild and crazy survey of the Bible.  Yep, this is amazing—how does he think of this stuff?—very funny,  engagingly interesting, and very solid stuff about the Bible.  There are three DVDs out at this point, and we cannot say enough about them.  The first one includes a bit about how the Bible got written, compiled and such.  (Ahh, I love the wacky, fast-paced first few minutes, where an old Sunday School lady says “they are only three minutes in and it’s off the tracks already!”) This is tremendous for elementary-aged kids, with some very helpful information, a bit of sarcasm, a lot of inside jokes, and enough wit to keep adults glued.  I suspect not everybody will be as thrilled as I am, but True Fan or not, these are valuable, fun, and highly recommended.  Get your Christian educators on this, pronto.
WebBanner_728x90_WITB.jpgI dare you to listen to the first minute of Phil Vischer’s little video clip here that tells about why he’s doing this project, and not be excited.   Watch the next few minutes and get a rapid fire bunch of excerpts and clips, but that doesn’t do it justice.  Check out the other trailers. Read reviews. Ask around.  I’m beggin’ ya.  Don’t miss this.  What’s in the Bible.  With Buck Denver.  (And Friends.)  

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9 thoughts on “Innovative books on the Bible for youthworkers, teens and children

  1. I have been using Michael Novelli’s Shaped By the Story for several months now and I have to say that the biggest benefit I have seen is the development of theology. They come up with it on their own rather than me telling them what to believe. It has helped their (and my) overall understanding of the Bible and God. It has bee a good thing!

  2. Thanks for sharing this Jeremiah—so helpful to have folks who have actually used resources report back. On behalf of others who may be reading in, we’re grateful. Anybody else??

  3. These are some really great titles for kids, thanks for sharing them. I especially want to check out the book on money. You might also enjoy a new one coming out in October by Darryl Nyznyk called, “Mary’s Son, A Tale of Christmas.” It’s a modern day fiction story that focuses on the true meaning of Christmas – Jesus. This is a rare find these days in the midst of all the commercialism. I am looking forward to sharing this one with my kids.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this. We will definitely look that up and order it in our store. Sounds good. There are a lot of books about the truest meaning of Christmas, though, for kids and adults…we’ll be sharing more during Advent, as we are thrilled that there really are so many truly great books for that season. Do stay in touch.

  5. Wonderful list! A friend and I blog about excellence in Christian kids lit and we’re always looking for new titles to review – I’m familiar with some of your suggestions, but am eager to check out the rest.
    A few of my favorites that didn’t make your list are the Big Picture Story Bible, Love Is, and Peter’s First Easter. If you don’t already carry them in your store they’re worth considering!

  6. THANKS. We sure do have those. In fact, I had a little synopsis of the Big Picture Story Bible which really fit the theme but I cut it as I was getting too long-winded. But, yep, it’s a winner! So glad. What’s your blog called or the address?

  7. Byron, our blog is called Aslan’s Library ( I’d love for you to visit, and if you have any feedback or book suggestions for us to consider reviewing, please feel free to shoot us an email. I was exploring the Hearts & Minds website today and loved what I saw – I wish I could stop in the store to browse (and buy!).

  8. PS I just got off the phone with my co-blogger and it turns out that your store is only an hour away from her parents’ house, where she is visiting this week! If she gets to drop by I will be very jealous…

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