Growing in God’s Love

In Outlook's 2023 survey about children's Bibles, Growing in God's Love by Elizabeth F. Caldwell and Carol A. Wehrheim was the favorite choice. Jo Wiersema and Amy Pagliarella review it here.

This review is part of a larger series reviewing a crowd-sourced list of popular children’s Bibles for early readers. Read more here.

Amy: So Growing in God’s Love was our most popular story Bible?

Jo: Yes, we had 170 people take the survey and more than 100 said Growing in God’s Love is the Bible they either have at their home, their church or that they’re reading regularly to the kids in their lives. I think this stat recommends the content. The book has a good combination of contributors. It’s only been out since 2018, and it does a fantastic job overall.

It also seems to address some of the things that we’ve critiqued in other story Bibles. It’s comprehensive. It offers activities for readers. It also has a good variety of narratives, stories and characters.

Amy: I would agree. It just feels comprehensive and consistent. It has plenty of women characters and women who are named. It tells you at the top of each story where in the Bible it falls. It has a very appropriate, but short reflection and wondering at the end. I like the way that each story in Growing in God’s Love starts by framing it with something that a kid can relate to.

Jo: It feels almost like a sermon, right? It was nice to see that parallel because that might be familiar for older kids who are sitting in worship.

Amy: Exactly. Of course, the risk with that is that you’re cueing the kids beforehand for what they’re supposed to think about with this story.

Jo: The theology of Growing in God’s Love’s illustrations, authors and editors comes through in the stories. Although it brings a lovely perspective, people who have a different theological take might struggle with how to tell the story in a way that’s still honoring what they believe.

Amy: The theology comes through. I would say it’s not an overtly feminist Bible, but it does lift up strong women like Queen Vashti. I love this because Vashti is usually a footnote in Esther’s story. To have a story that says “Queen Vashti says no” is something that’s so important for kids. It’s a beautiful way of talking with kids at an early age about the safety of their own bodies.

Jo: I do think Queen Vashti is the primary example of consent. That lesson is less prominent with other characters like Sarah and Hagar. I didn’t see the emphasis on consent as consistent across all the stories in the Old and New Testament as much as we saw it in The Peace Table.

Going back to story makeup, I really liked how the psalms and proverbs are presented and the number of epistles that are quoted. I appreciated the very large spectrum of material that was presented. I think the authors do a great job introducing genres and themes and characters. For instance, who are the prophets? What are songs and poems? It gives a nice little helping hand to the grown-ups reading.

Amy: I thought this was also a place where the art was helpful because they switched into illustrations of modern families in both the psalms and epistles. It also refers to the church as we are now, and they do so in a very subtle and beautiful way.

When they present the story of James, it shows people looking in a mirror who are varying in age, race and physical ability. They use subtle visuals to remind kids that how we treat everybody is important. What did you think of the illustrations?

Jo: I liked most of them. There were some sneaky Scandinavian Jesus images. The struggle I have with using diverse illustrations is that it can be confusing to children when characters are constantly displayed differently. This could lead to a little bit of disconnect. What are your thoughts on the illustrations?

Amy: I liked the illustrations, but there were parts that I didn’t love. I felt like these are very earnest illustrations. They’re not trying to be cute, but I wondered occasionally if small children would be able to follow because the illustrations are different, and it’s not always clear that different images are depicting the same person. There were also places where I wondered if the illustrations would engage children because they are very literal and not meant to kind of appeal to kids in a whimsical way.

Jo: This isn’t a whimsical book. You’ll need some Bible competency if you’re reading this to your child, whether as a parent or a Sunday school teacher. The stories are not always told in chronological order, for instance.

Amy: We don’t expect any of these Bibles to be completely comprehensive, but it is nice when it helps kids transition from a child’s Bible to an adult Bible.

Jo: One thing I want to note is that the Hebrew Bible sections are not written in a way that is exclusively Christian. The story of Ruth was clearest in this regard. If you’re reading the Old Testament through a Christ-centered lens (like, for instance, Jesus Storybook Bible), you’ll read about how Ruth is the great-grandmother of Jesus. But Growing in God’s Love doesn’t mention Jesus until the New Testament. If you are in an interfaith setting this could be really valuable.

Along the lines of language, I noticed they make a point to not use male pronouns for God, but this shift deemphasized some things. One example is when Jesus is a child in the temple, instead of saying “I’m in my father’s house,” it says, “I’m in God’s house.”

Amy: Some of the language choice it feels like soft pedaling. Another place that I think I would have liked one more page of detail is about Jesus and his death. It says “Some temple leaders didn’t like the way so many people listened to Jesus’ teachings. They worried that people might not listen to them.” I felt like they needed one more story to explain that Jesus’ teachings were radical. I would have liked a little more straightforward language with kids.

Jo: Overall, I understand the overarching goal of this Bible, and I think they hit that 90% of the time.

Amy: I agree, I think this is a great option for church leaders and families, but it’s not perfect.

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