The other day I was given a beautifully bound copy of the Authorised Version of the Bible. However, what made this Bible special for me was the inscription on the inside front cover:
‘Dr Barnardo’s Homes’
Stepney, Limehouse, and Bow, East London;
Ilford, Essex; Hawkhurst, Kent; Gorey, Jersey
Ontario and Manitoba, Canada
Is presented to
On leaving the Homes
With best wishes for his future welfare and prosperity
From his sincere Friend
Thomas J. Barnardo
9th June 1895
I did a quick ‘Google’ search to see if I could find a reference to this young man, but failed. I wondered what became of him. In particular, I wondered whether he ever read his Bible. The Bible is in such a good condition, that sadly I think not.
This then led me to wonder how many children and young read the Bible today, some 120 years after William Dalton was first presented with his Bible. I checked out a YouGov survey commissioned by the Bible Society and published in January 2014, and discovered that although the Bible can be found in more than half of homes in England and Wales, 38% of children aged 8-15 said that they had never seen, read or heard of Adam and Eve, while as for the story of the story of the Crucifixion the number rose to 43%. Over 60% of children indicated that they had not read, seen or heard the Feeding of the 5,000 (61%), the Good Samaritan (61%) and the Creation story. While for Daniel in the lion’s den it was around three quarters (72%) and for the story of Solomon a massive 85%.
Yet the same survey revealed that around 49% of children aged 8 to 11 describe Bible stories as interesting, while 31% of children aged 12-15 feel the same. Surprisingly, even at 14 and 15, when interest might perhaps be expected to decline, the proportion who think Bible stories are interesting remained high at 35% and 27%. In other words, there is an appetite for the Bible!
So why do so many children not know key Bible stories? Perhaps the key reason is that only 35% of children have had a Bible story read to them by their parents, and just 16% by their grandparents. To my amazement, Christian parents are not much better at reading stories than parents in general: for almost a third (30%) of Christian parents say that they have never read Bible stories to their children.
Clearly here in England and Wales we have a national problem which urgently needs to be addressed on a national level. But it also needs to be addressed at a local level too – and this is where local churches have a role to play both with children within in their local communities as also with children within their own church. However, the key point that I wish to make is that Christian parents and grandparents need to step up to the plate and ensure that their children and grandchildren know and love the great Bible stories so that their children and grandchildren might come to know and love the God who first loved them.
My mind goes to the ‘Shema’ which Baptists read at every ‘dedication’ service:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise” (Deut 6.4-7).
As I have never ceased to emphasise on such occasions, parents cannot delegate religious instruction to the church and its children’s activities; rather ‘God-talk’ first and foremost is to take place in the home. And, of course, what is true of parents, needs too to be true of grand-parents – for in the words of the Psalmist “even to old age and grey hairs” we are to proclaim God’s wondrous deeds “to all the generations to come” (Psalm 71.18).