The Bible can be tricky to introduce to 21st-century kids and teens. The book is long. It’s gory. It’s sexy. If you’re a kid being raised in an urban, sexually muted, death-averse, relatively wealthy North American Sunday school — or not in any Sunday school at all — it can be a bit of a mystery (and probably not in a good way).
Plus, well, kids today. They’re either addled by too much Netflix and too little parenting, or by too much protective parenting and not enough time to be still.
And yet (bless them), artists, techies, publishers and parents have joined forces to introduce the next generation to Noah, Sarah, Moses, Ruth, Jesus and the Marys — through increasingly hyperactive media.
Over the past few years, the genre of the child-centred Bible has exploded. On the one hand, it can feel a little desperate. As though the stories themselves aren’t enough and need to be razzle-dazzled up to compete with, say, Avengers: Age of Ultron. On the other hand, whatever works. But is it working?
In 2010, David C. Cook published The Action Bible: God’s Redemptive Story. It’s 750 pages of bulging biceps and darkly furrowed brows, drawn by the Brazilian-American illustrator Sergio Cariello, an alumnus of both Marvel and DC Comics. General editor Doug Mauss writes in the introduction that “God is the original action hero. Everyone is so impressed when Superman blows a car over with his breath, yet God created the whole universe with His breath. Superman may save the day with his strength, but Jesus saved the whole world with His death.” I roll my eyes at stuff like this, but my nine-year-old, David, said, “That’s awesome.”
Still, it should be noted, David has kept The Action Bible next to his bed for two years; he has yet to open it. It’s overwhelmingly huge, which I think is the problem. But it’s not the biggest out there.
This May, the Florida-based Kingstone Comics will publish “the most complete graphic adaptation of the Bible ever done,” wrapping several shorter existing books into a three-volume, 2,000-page comic book Bible. In a 2013 Guardian article about the project, Kingstone’s chief executive Art Ayris said, “Boys are sometimes reluctant readers. We are a pretty testosterone-driven publishing company so these comics and graphic novels are pretty adept at catching their attention and drawing them into the story.”
That may have been true for past generations. Comic book scriptures are nothing new — they’ve been around since the 1940s. Kingstone may be successful at convincing boomer grandparents to buy its volumes for Canada’s little Declans and Olivias. But does this generation of kids even read printed books?
Young Canadians aged eight through 18 spend an average of 42 hours a week in front of TV, smartphones and other media, according to screensmart.ca. Why not inject a little religion in there?
With a foot in both the digital and print worlds, the Brick Testament website offers 424 stories and 4,613 illustrations executed meticulously in Lego (though it’s not sponsored or endorsed by the company). The stories and illustrations are all available online, or you can order the hardcover Brick Bible, a two-volume Old and New Testament set geared at older children, teens and adults. Individual Brick Bible stories for young kids are also available as paperbacks.
The Book of Revelation seems a natural for Lego. To illustrate Revelation 4, a section she calls “Heaven Revealed,” Brick Testament creator Elbe Spurling (formerly Brendan Powell Smith) depicts the book’s six-winged, eye-covered heavenly monsters — lion, bull, man and eagle — looking out over a clear blue plastic sea. A speech bubble hovers over the googly-eyed creatures, saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God the Almighty, who was, who is, and is to come.” The graphic is funny because it’s so weird.
However, the website’s King David section is brutal. Stories include “David Impregnates More Women,” “God Kills Man for Touching Ark,” “People of Rabbah Enslaved,” “David’s Son Rapes David’s Daughter” and “20,000 Israelites Killed.” All accurate. All illustrated in gory detail in colourful plastic Lego.
Many parts of the online Brick Testament — which is intended for a more mature audience — walk the line between accuracy and profanity. The paper version, The Brick Bible, excludes scripture’s more graphic elements while remaining refreshingly edgy.
Overall, the Brick series offers a welcome relief from most kid-friendly Bible media, which tend to neuter the violence and sexuality driving the Old Testament — narrative that gives context to the arrival of Jesus in the New Testament.
Search for kids’ Bible apps on your smartphone, and you’ll find a museum of cute and toothless scripture. Many are free but offer “in-app purchases,” code for “a big unexpected bill later.” Kingdom Media, for example, has created a series of illustrated Bible Heroes stories. The tale of Daniel features a den of plump, adorable-looking cartoon lions, while the hero’s doughy face appears, at most, slightly vexed. What we don’t get from this version of Daniel is the reason the story exists at all: terror and danger collapsing under the power of faith and mercy.
Kids are, of course, personally familiar with terror and danger. A terrified lion-facing Daniel will get their sympathy. The Bible is handed down generation after generation to foster God’s hope for the world, which has something to do with faith and mercy. But you’d never draw out those connections from most children’s Bible apps.
What you can do with these apps is plunk your kid down with an iPad and pretend “Christian education” is happening. If the medium is the message, as Marshall McLuhan claimed, it’s hard to see this as success.
Whether it’s an over-whelming comic book tome, a gory website or a bland app, depending on media to communicate and interpret scripture isolates kids instead of drawing them into Christian communities. Even in tech-crazed 2016, nothing can take the place of reading or retelling the stories together, and talking about them with the people you love.