This may not mean anything to you so let me explain. Saint Augustine, who lived from A.D. 354-430, was one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all times. His writings were very influential in the development of Western Christianity. And he served as the bishop of Hippo Regius (modern Annaba, Algeria). So there you have it. In the world of an imaginative three-year-old, he's "Augustine, the hippo." How did my son, Aidan, discover Saint Augustine? A book. A fascinating little children's book that we have read together most nights of his life.
In my opinion, it's never too early to teach God's Word to your children, and it's never too soon to introduce them to the great saints who have gone before us. There are plenty of wonderful books out there, and Christian parents should read all sorts of things with their children. Sure, read Green Eggs and Ham and The Gruffaloâ€"these are fun books that help our kids learn to love reading.
But as Christian parents, we should also be intentional in our book selection. Allow me to recommend two very helpful books for the wee ones. I've used these books with my boys, and each one has been a big hit.
The Church History ABCs – This is an entertaining and edifying book, written by Stephen Nichols, and illustrated by Ned Bustard. It takes children through the alphabet, and teaches them about twenty-six important people from church history. Each page has a fun illustration of the character, a really short description, and a slightly longer explanation. For example, the A page has this short description: "A is for apricot, apple, and Augustineâ€"Africa's ancient bishop."
The description is great for the young kids who are a lot more interested in the pictures and want the pages to turn rapidly. But as the kids get a little older and a bit more patient, the longer explanations can be read. These paragraphs introduce the characters and the theological truths they are associated with.
Here's the explanation of Saint Augustine: "When I was a young boy, I took some pears that did not belong to me. I did not want the pears; I just enjoyed doing wrong. But God loved me and Christ died to forgive all my sins. Years later when I was serving as a bishop, I wrote two famous books. And I worked hard to remind the church that God loves us before we love him." This type of explanation can spark some great spiritual conversations between you and your child.
The Jesus Storybook Bible – Overall, this is probably the best children's Bible I've seen. Sally Lloyd-Jones takes children through the entire Bible in forty-four short storiesâ€"twenty-one in the Old Testament and twenty-three in the New Testament. Each story includes Scripture references and beautiful illustrations. The installments are typically six to eight pages, and take about five to ten minutes to read with your children, so this book is best for kids who can sit still for a while.
The strength of this children's Bible is that it really focuses on Christ. For example, at the end of the story of David and Goliath, we find these words: "God saved his people. David was a hero! Many years later, God would send his people another young Hero to fight for them. And to save them. But this Hero would fight the greatest battle the world has ever known." This book lets the little children come to Christ in every single story.
It's never too early to start teaching God's Word to your children, and it's never too soon to begin introducing them to the great saints who have gone before us. I encourage you to invest in these books. Buy them and use them with your children or grandchildren.
Make time to tell your little ones the true stories of God's Word. Teach them about Abraham, Moses, and Job, and show them, as Sally Lloyd-Jones so brilliantly puts it in The Jesus Storybook Bible, that "every story whispers his name." Take a few minutes each night to help your son or daughter get to know the heroes of church history.
And before you can say "Reformation," your toddler will have a room full of stuffed animals named Martin Luther. Trust me, it's a good thing.
Dillon T. Thornton is a graduate of Beeson Divinity School (M.Div.) and a student at the University of Otago (Ph.D. candidate). He is an ordained pastor/teacher within the Southern Baptist tradition, with over ten years of diverse ministry experience. He has published a number of articles in pastoral periodicals, including Preaching magazine. Dillon is currently serving and studying in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Dillon Thornton's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/dillon-thornton.html