The gospel sketched for kids

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Next month, our daughter turns two. Ever since she was born, we’ve wondered: how do we introduce her to Christ? We had her baptized a year ago — now what? How do we help her to embrace faith in God for herself? Somehow, coaxing her into praying the sinner’s prayer as soon as she can mouth the words and leaving it at that doesn’t feel like the best way.

That’s what led me to Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel several months back. (You can read my review here, if you want.) Scot argues that what we call the gospel isn’t really the gospel — or at least it’s an incomplete gospel. The true gospel is not four spiritual laws or some other formula. It is a story — specifically, Jesus’ story, which in turn was the fulfillment of Israel’s story. That is the gospel the ancient church confessed from its its earliest days (see 1 Corinthians 15). And that’s the one we should be sharing today.

Near the end of his book, Scot takes a stab at sketching this gospel in story form. It’s not something that can be distilled into a sound bite, though. As Scot writes, “The assumption that the gospel can be reduced to a note card is already off on the wrong track.”

The gospel sketched in Scot’s book is the one I want to share with my daughter someday. What I wrote below was an attempt to translate it into simplified (hopefully not simplistic), kid-friendly version. Someday, when my daughter is ready, we’ll sit down and read this together. (In the meantime, any suggestions or feedback would be welcome, especially if you’ve interacted with Scot’s book.)

_______________________

The King Jesus story

It all began with God.

God made everything you can see.
(And even some things you can’t see!)

God made the world to be his home.
Then God made the very first people
so he could share his home with them.

God gave them a beautiful garden to live in.
He gave them a job to do:
take care of God’s good world;
rule it well on his behalf.
But they didn’t.

They didn’t like doing things God’s way
and not theirs.
So they took what wasn’t theirs,
and tried to rule the world their own way.
They tried to be God.

So the very first people
had to leave the garden.
They had to leave God’s presence.

Without God,
they began to die.
But God never gave up on his people.
He still loved them.
He promised to fix the world
so he could share it with them again.

But it wouldn’t be easy.
Everyone who’s ever lived,
from the very first people
all the way to you and me,
have gone the same way.

We’ve all taken what isn’t ours.
We’ve all tried to do things our way.
We’ve all tried to be little gods.
Things kept getting worse.
But God had a plan.

God chose a man named Abraham.
He gave Abraham children,
and grandchildren,
and great-grandchildren.
God turned Abraham into a great nation
and called it “Israel.”

God made Israel his chosen people.
They would help him fix the world.

God went with Israel
everywhere they went.
When they were slaves in another country,
God remembered them.
When they were treated badly,
God rescued them.

God gave Israel a home.
He gave them a job to do:
show the world what it’s like
to be God’s people.

God gave Israel priests
to teach them how to love God.
He gave them laws
to teach them how to love each other.

God told his people,
“If you follow me,
you’ll have a good life.
You’ll get to help me fix the world.”
But Israel didn’t listen.

God’s people didn’t want God
telling them how to live.
They wanted to do things their way,
just like the very first people — just like all of us.

God’s people didn’t want God
to be their king.
They wanted a king of their own,
a person just like them.

So God gave Israel a king.
Then another king.
And another.
Some were good. Some were bad.

Mostly, the kings did whatever they wanted.
They took what wasn’t theirs.
They ruled Israel for themselves, not God.
They tried to be little gods.

So God sent prophets
to tell the kings and their people
that there is only one true King;
there is only one true God.

But the kings and their people wouldn’t listen.
So they had to leave their home.
Other nations came and conquered Israel
and carried God’s people off by force.

Israel lost everything.
Then there was silence.

Years went by.
No one heard from God anymore.
Until . . .
something new happened.
God sent someone:
a person just like us, yet different.
Someone who could rule the world
the way God wanted.

God sent Jesus,
his chosen one,
to rescue Israel
and fix the world.

Jesus did good wherever he went.
He healed the sick.
He fed the hungry.
He rescued people from all sorts of problems.

Jesus did everything God wanted,
but it wasn’t what God’s people wanted.

They didn’t want Jesus to be their king.
They didn’t want the kind of kingdom he would bring.

So one day, some powerful people decided
they’d better put a stop to Jesus
before he took their power away.

So they arrested Jesus.
They stripped him naked.
They nailed him to a cross
and watched him die.

Jesus didn’t fight back.
He didn’t raise a sword;
he didn’t even raise a finger.

And so the powerful people
thought they had won.
They thought they had beaten
God’s chosen one.

But there was something they didn’t understand.
They didn’t know that Jesus died
not because he had to,
but because he chose to.

They didn’t know that they,
like all of us, deserved to die
for all the times we’ve gone our way
and ruined God’s good world.

They didn’t know a servant’s death
was the only way to live.
They didn’t know a servant’s cross
was the only crown worth having.

The one true King had come
and given his life for the world.
But they didn’t even know.
No one did.

But then God —
the one who made the world,
rescued Israel,
and sent Jesus —
raised him from the dead.

Lots of people saw him alive
before he went back to God.

But Jesus didn’t just rise from the dead.
He defeated death,
so it wouldn’t have power over us any longer.

God gave us the King we needed,
a King who loves, forgives,
and changes everyone who comes to him.

This King gave us a job to do:
love each other with all we’ve got.
Because that’s how we show others
what it’s like to be loved by God.

That’s how we show others
what kind of King we serve.
For now, the world is still broken,
still waiting to be fixed.
But someday, our King is coming back
to rescue us and share his home with us again.

Never again
will anyone take what isn’t theirs.
Never again
will anyone ruin God’s good world.

God will live with us,
and we will rule the world for him.
Forever.
(For Elizabeth)

42 thoughts on “The gospel sketched for kids

  1. Reblogged this on Disableme's Weblog and commented:
    Check this out if you are looking for ways of sharing the Gospel with your children. I was thinking it would be cool to have them draw a picture next to each stanza in order to get them to interact with the story. What do you think?

  2. I just absolutely love this. It is so simple. So genuine. Although you said that you wrote this for your daughter, I think it’s equally good for grown ups because it emphasizes what really matters (not all of the things that grown ups seem to argue about all of the time).

  3. Having worked in children’s ministry for the past 20 years, I can be very critical of ways people try and frame the gospel story for children. I think we do too much theologizing and over interpreting for kids. We don’t allow them space to hear the stories and play with them. We don’t allow the Holy Spirit room to do his work in them.

    That being said and having not read this one by McKnight yet, I think what you wrote was pretty good. There are some words like “rule” and “kingdom” that I would either change or give a bit more context to, but overall good! I see an illustrated kids version of King Jesus Gospel based on what you’ve begun here as something that would be valuable :) I only wish I had thought of this ;)

    Now I have to go pick up the Kindle version of King Jesus Gospel and read it for myself!

  4. There is a kids bible out there that is brilliant. I have read King Jesus Gospel and also Simply Jesus by Tom Wright and this book is of their ilk. Just reading the contents page I was like wow, this is like no kids bible I’ve ever seen before. This bible is one complete story with important themes running the whole way through it. All other kids bibles I’ve seen are just a collection of well known bible stories all isolated from one another. In my mind, for kids and adults this book is brilliant. I even thought of preaching through it, haha.

    It’s called ‘The Big Picture Story Bible’ by David Helm with Illistrations by Gail Schoonmaker. Check it out. Thumbs up from a guy whose life changed after reading King Jesus Gospel.

  5. I love it man! As far as a critique (because you asked for one),
    I would include:
    – That the Prophets not only told them that God was their King, but that the King was coming back to start the establishment of His kingdom (that he would fully establish at his final coming)
    – And that those who follow him as the King are currently citizens of His kingdom now!
    – And that the people (Israel) were actually waiting for the King…but thought that He was going to do what they thought should be done NOT what He thought should be done…so they killed Him.

    I know this is for children and adding anything will only make it longer and more complicated, but when I tell my daughter this story I really want her to understand that 1. Israel was waiting for a King, but they didn’t like Him and 2. (super important) that those who call Jesus King and follow him are, in fact, citizens of His kingdom even now.

    I hope this was helpful…if not I think what you have is really great!

    Kenneth

    p.s. Don’t be afraid to use terms like “rule” and “kingdom”…almost every great children’s story has Kings or Queens or Princess and Princes. Heck, even Disney World has the “Magic Kingdom”

  6. Fabulous! I love how you have broken down the story into manageable thoughts and events. I would love too see this illustrated and published:)

  7. This is great Ben. I will definately use it with my ‘much older than Elizabeth’ children. Very well done. God bless.

  8. yeah, Jesus StoryBook Bible tells the story well, weaving God’s rescue plan and Jesus as Savior into EVERY story, from Genesis through to Revelation–AND she includes Revelation!!! Who does that for kids!?!? Everyone thinks they won’t get it! She also includes Isaiah/Micah/some of the prophets. Definitely two thumbs up, I use it often. even with grownups.
    But, keep yours for Elizabeth. Since you’re her daddy, yours will be the best story ever!

  9. Thanks all for the comments and kind words. Kenneth and Henry, I really appreciate your suggestions to help sharpen this.

    I’m not familiar with the Big Picture Story Bible, but we have the Jesus Storybook Bible and I’ve even read some of it to our daughter. (She’s a bit young for it now, but I think it’s something we’ll use more when she’s a little older.) I also really like what I’ve seen of the Children of God Storybook Bible by Desmond Tutu.

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  12. Would you be willing to give permission for me to include this as a bulletin insert for our church? This has great value way beyond children!

  13. Ben great sketch. I like the simple language and of course capturing the idea of the whole gospel is very exciting and would be wonderful to share with any child.

    I read “The King Jesus Gospel” at the beginning of the year just before I came into my current role of leading a Children’s ministry. It influenced me greatly but probably more at a framework level rather than the gospel sketch in particular for Children’s ministry.

    For me the idea of the Gospel being the Story of Jesus. Which to understand fully you need to understand the Story of Israel can be a framework that guides the bible story telling we will engage children with. There are of course then so many ways to teach and share those stories with Children that will engage them with the various learning styles that Gardner encourages us to use in teaching.

    One such way I think is exciting and we are working with to share the whole gospel to children is through “Godly Play” which was developed out of the work of Jereome Berryman. Anyway they are a few quick thoughts on what has to be one of lifes great privileges and that is sharing the gospel story with Children.

    Happy to chat further if you wish in more detail about how I have been using McKnight’s ideas along with some other stuff to develop our Children’s Ministry.

  14. I’m no fan of the “sinner’s prayer” and “easy believism”, but that poem at the end make no mention of sin. In light of Matthew 1:21, this seems to be a big oversight and thus reducing the story to something other than “Jesus saving his people from sin.” And how to be rescued from the consequences- the atonement.
    And 1 Cor 15 talks a lot about sin too.
    So, unless I’m messing something, even that poem leaves out a major theme of the Gospel; sin and the atonement.

    • rockstarkp,
      the problem of sin is woven throughout the piece: “So they took what wasn’t theirs, and tried to rule the world their own way. They tried to be God.” A bit later, to reinforce the point: “Everyone who’s ever lived, from the very first people all the way to you and me, have gone the same way.”

      What I’ve tried to do, hopefully in keeping with The King Jesus Gospel (which is what this is based on), is to set the problem of sin in its larger context, i.e. God’s plan to return to and restore the whole of creation. In other words, let’s not just treat the gospel as a legal transaction dealing with the issue of personal sin. That’s certainly a part of it but not the whole of it. If that’s all we focus on, then all we’re left with is what Scot McKnight calls “the soterian gospel.”

      • Ok. I see that. I agree we need more than the “soterian gospel”, but we also don’t want to abandon it either.
        I’ll be sure to re-read the poem again when I get home from work tonight too :)

  15. I also have reservations about two parts at the beginning of the poem:

    “God gave them a beautiful garden to live in.
    He gave them a job to do:
    take care of God’s good world;
    rule it well on his behalf.
    But they didn’t.”

    Where does it say that Adam and Eve did not take care of the garden?
    They might have disobeyed God, but the disobedience wasn’t because they failed to take care of the garden.

    “They didn’t like doing things God’s way
    and not theirs.
    So they took what wasn’t theirs,
    and tried to rule the world their own way.
    They tried to be God.”

    Where does it say that Adam and Eve tried to “be God.” Now, they might have disobeyed God’s command, but is that equivalent of trying to be God? Children often disobey their parents, but I wouldn’t equate that with their wanting to be the parent, but wanting to do something that the parent forbid.

    • Both concepts are rooted in the Genesis stories, which present Adam and Eve’s test as a choice between obeying the divine mandate (Gen 1:28, also hinted at in 2:5, where the writer laments there was “no one to work the ground”) or pursuing human autonomy. Choosing autonomy constituted a failure to do the work God had given the first humans – i.e. care for the garden and rule on behalf of God.

      In Genesis 3, it was the desire to “be like God, knowing good and evil” that led Adam and Eve to to eat from the forbidden tree.

  16. Pete,
    Totally agree w/you on the importance of Israel’s story to a fuller understanding of Jesus’ story. I’m not familiar with Godly Play, but sounds intriguing.

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  18. This is amazing! This needs to be made into a children’s book. I love children’s literature, and I think you should look into publishing this. I would certainly buy a copy for my three children. Your message is so clear, and written in a child’s language. Beautiful!

    Denaye Wenger

  19. Absolutely beautiful…a pointed and simple and concise story from Genesis to Revelation. I’d love to use this for my 3 yr. old grandson. I have a pictuof him with thoughtful look, looking into the garden. Are you allowing folks to share this? I totally understand if you’re not.

  20. It is a good survey of the highlights of the Bible story, but I think it leaves out one very important theme–the war between good and evil. Satan was the tempter in the garden; he was also the tempter in the wilderness with Jesus, and the “enemy” who seeks to kill and destroy all that God has created and planned. The final victory over sin is accomplished by Jesus and His angels who rescue us from a world dominated by evil ones. As was mentioned, even the fairy tales and Disney-type stories have a protagonist or “wicked witch” that has to be resisted and overcome. (Think also of The Chronicles, Lord or the Rings, Star Wars etc) I think that would make the story of salvation more complete.

  21. This is beautiful! I so enjoyed it. It is a much better representation of the Gospel than most, and so simple! I especially liked all the parts about the “little gods” – so true! I wonder, though, if something of http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-for-us-or-for-himself–2 and http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/the-joyful-duty-of-man might have a place in there? That’s just what seemed to be missing to me, but it’s your work, so you don’t have to change it on my account. Thank you so much for sharing this!

    • Thanks Mary! I haven’t had a chance to listen to the resources you shared, but I have read Desiring God, in which I think John Piper unpacks some similar themes. My own view is that God is both for us and for himself, that we don’t have to choose between the two. The redemptive drama ends in a way that God gets all the glory. But I also think he loves us for our sake, because that’s the kind of God he is. This, in turn, is part of what makes God so glorious. So I would come at it from a different perspective than Piper, but the core story is something we can all rally around. Thanks again for sharing!

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  23. Both my wife and I read this separately, and both of us were enthused by it.

    Since you have asked for feed back we also said exactly the same thing as a minor critique.

    For now, the world is still broken,
    still waiting to be fixed.
    But someday, our King is coming back
    to rescue us and share his home with us again.

    This could be understood, as far as the world’s brokenness is concerned, as implying that nothing has changed since the coming of Christ.
    We both believe that His people should not be as “broken” as they were (we are being fixed) and that in some ways we are called to take up the task given to Israel of being used by God in dealing with the world’s brokenness.

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  29. Wonderful! I hear you want to write a book of this? With the vast scope of what you want to sum up in language easy enough for a preschooler, you should not feel discouraged if many people have a minor technical niggle. Mine is “God told his people: If you follow me,
    you’ll have a good life.”

    That may sound too much like the prosperity gospel. Could that perhaps be worded another way.

    • Hi Retha, thanks for sharing! Some background to that statement, and then a question…

      I definitely want to avoid something that sounds like prosperity gospel. That bit is an allusion to Deuteronomy 28, where the Israelites are promised certain blessings in return for fidelity to their covenant with God. The blessings promised to them have everything to do with this life: children will be blessed, crops will grow, barns will be full, the rains will fall, etc. Interestingly (and to your point), it’s not “you will live in opulence” but more “you will have what you need.” It’s sustenance, not extravagance.

      That’s what I was trying to get at in the line you mentioned. And in the line that follows (about helping God fix the world), I was alluding to Israel’s primary mission/purpose in the biblical narrative: to be a light of blessing to the rest of the world…a kingdom of priests, etc.

      So with that in mind, can you help me think of ways to say this better? What about, “…you’ll have everything you need” instead of “you’ll have a good life”? Would that help the text avoid some unintended associations with the prosperity gospel, in your opinion?

      I appreciate your encouragement and your input…

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