R.C. Sproul is known around the English-speaking world for his ability to communicate the truths of the Christian faith in a cogent and engaging fashion. In my opinion, he, along with J.I. Packer, have made substantive theological content palatable and accessible to a readership that rarely would ever swim down to the deep end of the pool of Christian scholarship. So when I saw that Sproul had written a children’s book, myself being the father of three small children, I was deeply intrigued. That being said, the following is a review of R.C. Sproul’s The Lightlings, illustrated by Justin Gerard, and published by Reformation Trust 2006.
How do you take a masterful story that spans thousands of years, involves countless characters and settings, has one main author who in turn uses hundreds of other authors to pen his master story, and condense it, illustrate it, and make it attractive to children with an attention span of a flash bulb? Well, Sproul’s The Lightlings, an allegory of the Bible’s story of creation, fall, and redemption, certainly does a great job of trying to do that very thing. In what I believe is his freshman attempt at writing children’s literature, Sproul has done an excellent job, albeit with some room for improvement.
One can sense Sproul’s deep love for the story and symbols of redemption and his mastery of orthodox, Christian truth. Casting the story in the light (pun intended) of a visceral fear for many children (i.e. fear of the dark) is an excellent move to get children immediately engaged. But I thought Sproul’s turning the childhood fear of the dark on its head was his best move of the entire book. Instead of trying to pacify a child’s irrational fear of the dark with pious platitudes and scriptural reasoning, Sproul, in a non-threatening way, gets children to search outside their own young minds to feel compassion on those who fear the light.
The next commendable portion of the book are the illustrations by Justin Gerard. To be honest, when I saw the cover of the book, I almost cringed, thinking to myself, “This is going to be another Thomas-Kincade-esque illustrator.” But as one progresses through the book, Gerard does a good job of turning down the lights (pun intended again) as well as changing the animals and other features to a accentuate the more foreboding atmosphere of the forest’s darkness. I especially liked the illustrations that cover two whole pages with no text.
The thing that I would say is the biggest drawback is that the book seemed to be more concerned about making sure the parents liked the theology that lies behind the story as opposed to being concerned about drawing in the child reader/listener. Overall, the economy of words was not as careful as it should have been, evidenced by my five-year old daughter’s “That was a long story!” For instance, setting up the story in the beginning took two whole pages of text (pp.8-9) which could have been reduced to one page to help with this. I also would like to have seen Sproul take two or three more lines of text to accentuate the Lightlings fear of the light.
Overall, I would give this book three and a half out of five stars. I think Sproul did a very good job for his first time around, and I look forward to any of his future excursions into the realm of children’s literature. I look forward to reading this book many more times with my children and reviewing the questions and scripture references at the end. This would be a great activity for Sunday afternoons when one thinks of how to engage their children with dedicating the whole day to corporate and private acts of worship.