Zondervan’s NIV Bible Curriculum Appeals to Catholics & Evangelicals Alike
Several years ago Zondervan released a condensed version of the Scriptures called The Story, which it describes as “an abridged, chronological Bible that reads like a novel” (see Jan. 2014 TBC). Based on the New International Version (NIV), The Story is now published in several editions for children using the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) with “age-appropriate” design and illustrations: Little Ones (preschool), Children (ages 4-8), Kids (ages 8-12), and Teens. With the addition of leadership aids, study guides, and DVD resources, The Story is now being marketed as a year-long curriculum for all ages.
Pastors and parishioners alike are praising the 31-week church-wide reading program. Here is a compilation of several remarks from the promotional website: “The Story increased our church’s biblical literacy. So many people simply did not have a grasp of the biblical narrative, let alone how it all fits together.... The Story provided an amazing synergy and common focus like nothing we have ever done here.... [Women are saying] ‘For the first time, my husband is reading the Bible every day. We’re praying together, we’re talking about spiritual things together....’ Many of our teens are reading the Bible for the first time. They are engaged in the learning process and are asking good questions.... We are already seeing almost a 20 percent increase in attendance. Not only are our members excited, we are seeing a lot of new faces all of a sudden.... This has really given our church a united focus.... It offers an opportunity for the congregation to gel.”
With such positive feedback from so many, some will deem this review as nothing more than an exercise in nit-picking. But as we’ve previously noted, when someone condenses the Bible into what they perceive are the important parts, their uninspired editing often leaves out very important details. In this case, omissions and distortions are rampant. Time and space do not permit a comprehensive critique of the full curriculum package, but a quick survey through several of the resources in the samples we received presents sufficient cause for concern on several levels. First, contrary to popular belief, participants are not reading the whole Bible; important Scripture portions are omitted or glossed over with “transition text” that gives the impression of a complete and accurate summary but that often obscures or neglects key passages, events, and matters of doctrine. Second, sidebars and subjective commentary run throughout various editions of The Story. Intended as study helps, these additions often supply a distorted interpretation and application of Scripture while simultaneously introducing “emergent” and mystical concepts of contemplative spirituality. And third, the curriculum’s broad appeal and aggressive promotion to Catholic churches reveals an ecumenical foundation for The Story that appears to stem from an agenda for creating a “common core” catechism that will aid in restoring “separated brethren” to Roman Catholicism.
Missing: “The Rest of The Story”
The marketing tagline for the curriculum is “Read the Story. Experience the Bible.” The irony is that although readers “experience” The Story, they are not reading the Bible. Throughout every edition of The Story, doctrine is downplayed. In particular, the definition of sin, as well as its cause and cure, are subtly “reimagined.” Previously, we noted how the account of Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah is condensed to a simplistic summary: “Lot made some bad decisions [in taking] up residence near Sodom. In retrospect, it was a poor choice of real estate….” Nothing of the moral state of the cities and the true purpose for God’s judgment is retained in The Story.
Though neutrality may not offend, it often does go hand in hand with shallowness of biblical knowledge. In The Story for Kids each chapter ends with a few questions. But instead of questions pertaining to what the Scriptures say, the reader is presented with questions such as: What do you think angels look like? Where did you get your ideas? What does the Holy Spirit mean to you? How can you show others that you are a Christian? (p. 225). Most of these questions have a subjective, feelings-based, and works-oriented focus. Yet, biblical faith is objective, secure, and quite independent from what we may or may not feel. As the treasured hymn reminds us, we “dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.” In its attempt to condense Scripture into pre-digested soundbites, The Story misses the mark. As Jesus declared (quoting Deuteronomy:8:3), “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4).
Encouraging Children to “Be Still”
In The Story for Children: A Storybook Bible, by Max Lucado, Randy Frazee, and Karen Davis Hill, young readers are subtly seeded with mystical and contemplative ideas. In chapter ten, “Messages from God,” we read on page 103 that “the Israelites settled in the land of Canaan, the land that God had promised them. Every year the faithful Israelites traveled to the city of Shiloh to visit the tabernacle where they could feel God’s presence...” (emphasis added). Drawing upon their own imaginations, the authors not only tell us how the Israelites must have felt but appear to suggest that it was a key reason for this pilgrimage (a concept found nowhere in Scripture). Today, there is a renewed interest in “practicing the presence” of God by incorporating the occult methodologies of Eastern meditation into Christian worship.
On page 109, we drop in on the retelling of Samuel being called by God while under the ministry of Eli:
This time, the boy didn’t go to Eli. Instead he answered the voice. “Speak, Lord. I am your servant. I am ready to listen.” God told Samuel about things that would happen in the days ahead. Samuel listened carefully. From that night on, God spoke clearly to Samuel.... And the people of Israel knew that Samuel was a good man of God.
Here we see great selectivity in what is retold from the biblical account in 1 Samuel 3, as well as the way it is presented. First, The Story for Children mentions absolutely nothing concerning the message of judgment upon the house of Eli, nor why—neglecting not only an explanation of priestly functions and their purpose but also missing an important lesson in character, responsibility, and consequences. Second, The Story for Children downplays Samuel’s unique role as a prophet, extolling him simply as a “good man.” In reality, the Scriptures declare that “all Israel...knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord” because “none of his words [fell] to the ground” (1 Sm 3:19-20). Furthermore, Jesus said, “There is none good but God,” which simply illustrates that dumbing down the Scriptures can result in serious confusion as young readers grow. Again, these points would be considered hair-splitting by some—except for the fact that The Story for Children appears to be making a special point in its re-presentation of Samuel’s account. In the sidebar titled “God’s Message,” which is an area intended as a “take-away point,” readers are advised to
Be still and listen. I am calling your name. My people need a strong, new leader. I have chosen you. You will be a wise prophet for them. Through you, they will hear my words and follow.
Since this sidebar appears without any qualification or explanation, the vast majority of young readers—and even teachers—will accept this “Message” as suggesting that all believers can learn to receive direct revelation from God and become “wise prophet[s].” This gross distortion of God’s Word actively promotes contemplative spirituality to impressionable children as a model for “hearing from God.” Not only is this methodology unbiblical—it is dangerous. It includes no warning to “try the spirits” (1 Jn:4:1), which Jesus and the Apostle Paul warn repeatedly will attempt to deceive God’s children.
Offending These “Little Ones”
After a condensed account of David’s victory over Goliath, another “God’s Message” sidebar on page 115 reads, “You shall become a great warrior and leader of my people. I have chosen you not for your riches or your name or your appearance, but for the tenderness and gentle kindness you show when tending your sheep. I have been won over by your heart....” Again, in their attempt to paraphrase God’s thoughts toward David, the authors and publisher seem to be speaking directly to the reader. But did you catch the unbiblical emphasis? In a possible reference to Acts:13:22 (“I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart...”) the authors put words in God’s mouth: “I have been won over by your heart.” In reality, there is nothing in any of our hearts that will “win” God’s favor or approval. According to God’s Word, the truth is that our “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked...” (Jer:17:9) and “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Is 64:6). Once again, core doctrines of our biblical faith are skewed with subtle works-based lies of the social gospel that appear to be skillfully woven throughout The Story.
Turning the pages produces example after example, which ultimately leads one to the inescapable conclusion that this is not merely a retelling of the Scriptures in story form for young readers but is an emergent-ecumenical revision of God’s Word that has the effect—if not the intent—of minimizing the true nature of sin (ostensibly so as not to offend “little ones”). In reality, as leaders and teachers of God’s word, the authors of The Story for Children will “receive the greater condemnation” (stricter judgment) and are in danger of “offending...these little ones” (Mt 18:6) by causing them to stumble in areas of doctrine and practice. This becomes clear in the account of David and Bathsheba from 2 Samuel 11-12, which The Story for Children condenses to a few lines beneath the headline, “A Selfish Decision” on page 118:
King David ruled Israel for many years. He was a good king, and most of the time he made good decisions. But one time King David made a bad choice. He fell in love with another man’s wife!” (italics added)
One can understand the desire to be delicate concerning the sexual nature of adultery, especially when teaching young children. However, to mask the seriousness of the offense by glossing over the concept of adultery and calling David’s sin “a selfish decision” and “a bad choice” (phrases used repeatedly by the authors in place of “sin”) is, well, simply unforgivable—especially in light of these omissions: Nothing is said about David’s murder of Bathsheba’s husband, nor the judgment pronounced by Nathan the prophet, nor the awful consequences suffered by David. Instead, the summary of all these details is presented on page 120:
David’s heart ached. It made him sad to know he had disappointed God. This was a time of many hardships in David’s life. He was a king. He had riches.... But more than all of that, David wanted God’s love. He asked God to forgive him. Later, Nathan told David, “God has forgiven you for the bad choice you made.”
We find no account of David’s repentance nor the grievous consequences of his sins (the death of the conceived infant). Once more, the plain and pure message of the gospel—namely, sin, repentence, and salvation—are nowhere to be found. The account of King David in the teen edition is only slightly better in the respect that it contains more details, but it is similarly skewed, introducing thoughts and words into the narrative that are either not found in Scripture or are contrary to God’s Word. As TBC’s beloved founder, Dave Hunt, often said: “Examples could be multiplied.”
A Common Catechism for the Apostate Church?
In today’s media-saturated world, we understand the desire for microwaving meals and reading condensed books. In fairness, The Story curriculum is in fact producing some positive results in people who have never read the Scriptures cover-to-cover or who have never benefited from expository preaching verse-by-verse. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with a Bible survey course or with studying the Scriptures in chronological order (historically speaking). Nor is there anything wrong with eliminating chapter and verse divisions (which are not divinely inspired) in order to restore the natural flow of language. But in addition to using problematic translations (NIV and NIrV), The Story is tainted with unbiblical and extrabiblical ideas that cannot be justified by the “greater good.” Furthermore, the curriculum is being marketed to, and embraced by, Catholic churches everywhere. A longtime pastor and friend of the ministry recently contacted us following interaction with a Zondervan salesman.
A Zondervan salesman tried to push “The Story” curriculum on us. Being familiar with Zondervan’s Emergent and ecumenical agenda, I asked if Catholics would like it. He enthusiastically replied that they would. In fact the sales rep boasted that he’d “sold over 50 priests on the package deal!”
Together, publishing giants Zondervan and Thomas Nelson control at least half of the Christian book and Bible industry. With both companies now subsidiaries of secular behemoth HarperCollins, they are part and parcel of the global publishing empire owned by knighted media magnate Rupert Murdoch. And with evangelical and world leaders from Rick Warren to Tony Blair trumpeting the virtues of the Vatican, Zondervan’s Catholic-friendly curriculum provides a valuable support role for Rome’s “New Evangelization” under Pope Francis, the first pope in history to be tapped from the controversial “Society of Jesus” that was founded in 1534 by soldier-turned-mystic, St. Ignatius of Loyola. Swearing absolute obedience to the pope, Ignatius and his Jesuit order were central to the Counter-Reformation—a war against Protestantism that was launched at the Council of Trent (1545-1563).
Inspiration for Ignatius’s now-famous work, Spiritual Exercises, came from his experiences during extended prayer—up to seven hours a day—while living in a cave. (Curiously, Muhammad received inspiration for the Qur’an in similar fashion.) Today, the Ignatian spirituality of Exercises is at the heart of evangelicalism’s fascination with the “spiritual disciplines” and contemplative spirituality that have overtaken Christian schools, universities, seminaries, publishers, and parachurch ministries. The worldwide mission of the Jesuits is to be “contemplatives in action [who] accept whatever mission the Pope requires [for] the greater good of all people from all faiths...[in] broader dedication to the universal church” (www.jesuit.org/aboutus).
In accordance with these goals, it appears that The Story is acting as a “common catechism” for Catholics and evangelicals alike. The best that we can hope for is that rather than remaining satisfied with regurgitated baby food, readers of The Story will somehow be motivated to obtain a real Bible and find that “...the holy scriptures...are able to make [even young children] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tm 3:15).