When I was provided with a copy of Sheila Walsh’s, “The Bible is my Best Friend Family Devotional,” I was excited to dig in. I was interested in this work because along with being a pastor who oversees children’s ministries in a local church, I am a father of two who is quickly learning on the fly how to do family worship well.
Before I went through the book, I marked out two areas which I was interested in as a pastor and father: usability/practicality and formative understanding of the Bible and Theology. Walsh’s book is strong in some areas, but leaves much to be wanted in areas of great significance (namely the latter category).
This is easily the biggest strength of this book. I have seen a lot of children’s devotionals and Bibles, but the way Walsh set up this text is a gift to both parents, kids and children’s ministry workers. As much as I loved the set up, it failed to keep my three year old son engaged, which is not to be faulted to the book. He is probably just a little too young for the medium.
The book contains 52 individual devotions ranging from all sorts of topics. The beauty of this is how it is set up. Each lesson begins with a memory verse, then follows a page of teaching on a specific topic. The lessons cover a variety of important topics such as baptism (141), the church as the place where God lives (143), communion (163), evangelism (168) and the Holy Spirit (205).
The following pages of each lesson reveal what I think is the strongest aspect of Walsh’s book. It starts with an activity called “Let’s talk.” “Let’s talk” provides two short questions related to the weekly lesson: one for the parent’s to ask the kids, one for the kids to ask the parents. We found the “Let’s Talk” portions to be something we could actually supplement into our own family worship sessions. I specifically enjoy the part where the child asks the parents questions, this supports the parent’s responsibility to pastor their kids, and also draws out meaningful interaction between the two.
Walsh then provides us with some sort of thematically related activity (titled “Family Fun”), a weekly challenge (ranging from additional Bible studies to games to be played during the week), and concludes with outlining additional scripture relevant to the week’s lesson. Also the cartoons and illustrations are great. Which is sure to help kids stay focused.
With regard to scripture the book moves canonically throughout the Bible, beginning in Genesis and moving towards the NT.
Formative Understanding of the Bible and Theology:
As much I loved, and I mean loved, the layout and usability of this book, I would not recommend Walsh’s devotional to anyone in my church due to the failings in this category.
Let me preface this critique by saying this book is structured to work well with Walsh’s forthcoming “Bible is Your Best Friend Storybook” so perhaps that piece is meant to supplement the weaknesses of this devotional. But since I reviewed this as a standalone, it will stand critique alone.
Walsh’s theology trends towards moralism and behavior modification without any supplement of the gospel hope. Take for example this passage: “Ricky had a second chance, a fresh start. He acted in way that would make God proud. He did his very best to be the best he could be, and before long he was known all over the school as ‘Ricky, the Really Nice Kid’” (Pg. 187). This sentence proves a single incident in a book riddled with the implicit fallacy that Christianity makes us moral people. We should share, forgive, love and obey, but the drive shouldn’t be that we do it because it’s moral, it should be because we obey and love God out of the new heart the gospel provides us. While pieces of this can be picked up in various spots (see specifically the strongest lesson in the book on page 207), as a whole this book lacks the gospel.
The opening lesson on sin (pg 15) doesn’t address the consequences of sin, nor does it tie the problem of sin to our eternal separation from God. As a result we do not see the Old Testament as event which leads us to Jesus we instead encounter it as a set of morals: “Noah’s story is about faith. Daniel’s story is about trust; Jonah’s story is about obedience. And Jesus’ story—the most important of all—is about forgiveness and mercy” (pg 39). However to reduce the Old Testament to morals is to miss the gospel in these pages: Noah shows us God’s anger against sin, Jonah shows us God’s passion for salvation and points us to the greater Jonah who spent three days in the grave instead of a fish, and Jesus’ story is about more than forgiveness, it’s a story of salvation.
Walsh teaches on Romans 8:28 (pg 31) before ever telling us about Jesus and the cross. Romans 8:28 has no meaning without Jesus and the cross since the cross is the place where all things worked together for good in the fullest (also see Rom. 8:39). It’s not until page 115 and lesson 27 that we even find out Jesus died! Not until page 163 do we hear about the cross! Walsh’s theology drives a wedge between the story of salvation and the Bible itself. The Bible contains stories and topics, and the gospel is something which we believe and understand outside of it. But for our children, we must not let these two become separated. If the Bible is to truly become our best friend, it must point us to Jesus over and over again.
Perhaps Walsh is worried about overwhelming kids with theology or imagery of death. But the irony of it is that my son, who was too young for this book, has received and articulated a greater theology of the gospel from other story book bibles and devotionals currently available. Where Walsh’s writing and style lends itself to minds capable of understanding the nuances and need for the gospel, children can be taught this book and end up missing the basic story of Jesus saving sinners who couldn’t save themselves through his cross.
I do really hope that after Walsh finishes the storybook Bible she revisits this project and uses her wonderful template to proclaim the glory of the gospel to young minds.