Author: Brendan Powell Smith
I come at this review with such a heavy heart, because I believe the premise is brilliant, but the execution is terribly flawed. Using Legos to tell the greatest story ever told is fascinating and appealing to multiple generations. My generation would read out of nostalgia. My kids love everything Lego, and so the appeal would obviously be there. Smith’s execution of the scenery from an artistic standpoint is amazing. The photography is wonderful, the product of a decade of work. These graphic novels read so easily and well, that I am equally joyful and devastated, because the content couldn’t be more short-sighted and void of the fullness of God’s character.
I would summarize this attempt at a biblical synopsis as caricature at best. In leaving out the essence of the gospel, the story becomes a mockery of God’s revelation.
Regarding that violence…
Before I completely lose the people who might love this work, I am NOT upset at the violence or even the vulgarity of particular scenes. (Though I understand a number of panels have been removed because they carry the shock factor far beyond what might be “necessary” – I am thankful) I applaud the attempt at maintaining authenticity in the historical account. The Bible is a violent and vulgar story at times. Read the last two sentences again, because most reviewers who disapprove of the depiction do so for this very reason. In fact, it is the violence and vulgarity that caused Sam’s Club to remove this volume from their shelves.
Any faithful telling of redemptive history will include lots of blood, and lots of inappropriate accounts of sin. Yes, even sexual sin. The Bible is not shy about reminding us all of our legacy of sin. For the many who complain that a kid might just pick this up and be scarred, I remind you that they also might pick up the actual Bible and read the very same stories, though with words instead of toy pictures. Instead of silly plastic figures, they’d just have to use their imaginations to decide what it looked like when the Levite cut his concubine into a dozen pieces and shipped her to the tribes of Israel.
A bigger issue…
I’ve spent a couple days trying to sum up the theology of the Brick Bible in my head. I still haven’t nailed it down, but here are a few key observations that bother me way more than the violence.
1) God the Father is always angry. Smith uses real Lego pieces from real Lego sets to provide faces throughout the work. (As a side note, it is part of the fun to look for characters I recognize – various Star Wars and Harry Potter, for example – and how they were used.) Smith’s chosen face for the Father is one of upturned eyebrows. God is presented in perpetual anger.
2) Missing the mark on Moses. Bible quiz: why didn’t God allow Moses to enter the promised land? You won’t find the answer in the Brick Bible. The account of Numbers 20 is included, but without the sin of Moses. Consequently, when God forbids Moses later in the Brick Bible, it is just another account of Angry God withholding goodness from people. The absence of grace is also reiterated by the inclusion of Moses among the murderers in hell at the conclusion of Revelation. Moses actually has the front and center place in hell for that crowd. So while our forgiveness towards others is necessary (see #5 below), God’s forgiveness is conspicuously absent.
3) God’s judgment is the big picture. It is true that Jesus talked about hell more than heaven, but Smith spends so much time on hell that you wouldn’t even believe heaven is a reality. I also missed the kingdom of heaven come crashing to earth. At every turn in these novels, God is judgment. Absent is “the LORD, the LORD, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children”. (Exodus 34:6-7) I’m not saying God isn’t the epitome of justice, but his justice does not exist in a vacuum.
4) Jesus died for no good reason. The Lord is depicted as a kind of nice guy. He teaches – but his teaching is a frustrating mixture of moralism and futility, telling people to be good, but that it’s unlikely our angry God would ever let them into heaven. He provides no solution. His death was not only ineffective to pay the ransom for sin, but it was not appropriated to anyone to draw them near to God. It just sort of happened. Angry God strikes again.
5) Forgiveness might be the basis for salvation, rather than faith – and certainly not grace. Forgive others and God will forgive you. In other words, tolerance is king. Because the life of Christ was not a preparation for the death of Christ, and because neither the life nor the death of Christ are presented as a gift to sinful humanity through the good news, then the resurrection also is a byline. There is no real basis for hope. The way to heaven comes by forgiving everyone. The introduction to the New Testament Bricks, written by a seminary professor, provides the foundation for the relativism that follows. Truth is subjective (especially stuffy old truth provided by millenia of scholarship, prayer, and ministry by Christ through his Church), and so forgiving everyone as they live out their experience of truth is the apparent key to eternity. Granted, this is not explicitly stated – but in the absence of the gospel, this is the most consistent message throughout.
Can you make the Bible say that?
The New Testament includes Scripture references near the spine, which is helpful – I’m guessing an idea that sprung up after the Old Testament novel since they are there absent. And yes, the vast majority of the text is direct quotation from the Scripture. But quoting half of a Bible verse is not necessarily helpful. Context matters. “Behold, the Lamb of God…” is a flowery half-quote, but it is given weight by the other half, “… who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29) Guess which half was not found in the New Testament novel?
A series of half-verses and quarter-passages without access to the explanations offered elsewhere in Scripture will only create a fractured doctrine built on a heaping mound of misunderstanding. The Brick Bible is a series of hand-picked illustrations used to portray a partial understanding of God. Imagine with me, if you will, the backlash if I were to use the same process to caricature another person? To see sin without seeing the image of God? To see their faults without their qualities? There is an inherent hypocrisy in this work of tolerance to skip out on the whole revelation of God as the perfection of love, justice, mercy, grace, wrath, and forgiveness.
Overall, I enjoy exercises in critical thinking. So I embraced the mental calisthenics. Though my facial expressions at times may have suggested otherwise, I found something in this reading. But where I had hoped to find a fun resource to reference in ministry from time to time, I instead found an account too dangerous to even grant such an endorsement. I would not recommend these books to anyone who is not familiar with the Scriptures. Otherwise, the absence of context could be very damaging.
The introduction states that the novels are an invitation to read the Bible. I’m not so sure. For those who already believe this always angry, one-sided caricature of God, they will only be emboldened in their incomplete views – such a result does not require further Biblical exploration. Believers might be drawn to the Scriptures to reaffirm what the novels miss. I’m not sure what happens in between.
If only someone would write a toy Bible with sound doctrine. A toy Bible with the shock of God’s forgiveness in the midst of our overwhelming sin will compel people to read the real thing for a good reason.