Here’s my interview with William (Bill) Boekestein about his book A Colorful Past: A Coloring Book of Church History. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018, paperback.
1. William (or let me just call you Bill), I really like your idea to teach church history to children through a coloring book. How did you come up with this idea?
While raising four children—the youngest is presently four—a lot of coloring books have come into our home. And it has been hard to miss how engaging coloring books can be for little children (and older people too!). Children don’t skim coloring books. They invest themselves in them. They roll up their sleeves, wrinkle their faces, and get to work! And as they work, they practice endangered contemporary disciplines like sustained noticing and plodding concentration. To get a child focused on a single idea for ten minutes is nearly a miracle today. So, it made sense to me to offer a book that introduces children to some of the great heroes of the faith, that great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12), while they participate in an activity that they love.
2. There are many Christian coloring books out there. What do you think is unique about your work? And what is the main thing you want your readers to take away from your book?
This coloring book is unique in that it is patterned after a mosaic. Each page is a unique snapshot in time; a figure of church history skillfully frozen into an image by the illustrator. That image is important. It helps understand the struggle and success of a special child of God. And that snapshot represents only a brief phrase in the life of that figure. But that figure’s entire life represents only a single tile in the vast mosaic of God’s amazing church.
So, I hope what makes this book special is how children and their parents can use it to soar like an eagle over the theological landscape of the past twenty centuries, seeing how God has built up Jerusalem (Ps. 147:2) with the living stones (1 Pet. 2:5) of highly flawed people. They can get the big picture of God’s work in history. But they can also swoop closer to the ground to ponder what made these forty-two historical figures unique, in the same way that they—the readers—are unique. To say it differently, I hope readers gain an appreciation of both the forest and the trees of church history by coloring this story.
3. Your book contains forty-two historical figures and only two of them are female (Monica and Lady Jane Grey). In light of this your readers might think that in the study of church history women are not as important as men. How would you respond to this?
There would be no important men in the history of the church if not for the love, nurture, and support of countless important women! We could have featured more women who made invaluable contributions to church history (a great idea for a future project!). But your question could similarly be asked of God’s list of saints in Hebrews 11 where named men outnumber women almost ten to one. Each of the named men was shaped by vitally important named and unnamed women. Jesus himself was helped in his ministry by women, many of whom are not named (Luke 8:1–4). So, in using this book, readers might reflect on how God mightily used also the mothers, sisters, and daughters of those who are featured, just as he is served by the amazing women in today’s church.
4. Judging from the contents of the book, it looks like you have a special interest in the sixteenth century period. Am I right? Please elaborate your answer.
There is no unimportant century in the history of God’s church. But something special happened in the sixteenth century. A reform movement, gathering force for centuries, shook the Roman Catholic Church and reintroduced a radical submission to Scripture and the life-saving doctrines of grace. The sixteenth century should be viewed, however, as the “golden-age” of the church. By God’s grace it is possible for Christians today to see even further than Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin (and others) because we stand on their shoulders.
5. What started you on the path to writing for children? And what has been one of your most rewarding experiences as a writer?
My first books were full-color introductions to the Reformed Confessions written for children (Faithfulness under Fire: The Story of Guido de Bres, The Quest for Comfort: The Story of the Heidelberg Catechism, and The Glory of Grace: The Story of the Belgic Confession). I wrote these stories to help my own children and the children of my congregation better understand the story behind the theology they were learning in the preaching.
Most of my books have grown out of, or were written in connection with, local church ministry. Not everyone will write books. But most people would experience such rewards as increased clarity and memory retention by committing their thoughts to writing. This has been my experience. I have also been gratified to receive notes from folks I’ve never met saying things like, “We are using your Bible Studies on Mark and have gained refreshing insights. Thank you!” Writing should serve a definite and defensible goal and be deemed worthy of the enormous commitment and sacrifices need to bring a book to print.
6. What were some of the challenges you encountered on the road to the publication of this book?
One of the challenges was rightly handling the realities of persecution. It is awkward to see Ignatius about to be mauled by lions, Polycarp bound to a pile of wood that would consume him, and Justin Martyr kneeling before the executioner’s chopping block. We hope we’ve handled these troubling realities with appropriate restraint. But we also hope that children will see in the sacrifices of these saints that Jesus is worthy of our calling to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1).
Another challenge was knowing how transparent to be about the faults of our “heroes.” We made the decision to alert readers of Charlemagne’s regrettable habits of forced conversions and womanizing. We could have talked about Luther’s anger or Zwingli’s sexual immorality early in his ministry. This is uncomfortable for us. We want our heroes to be pristine. But that isn’t reality. And sanitizing the lives of our forefathers (and mothers) isn’t good news for us. We need heroes who knew their sins and found salvation not through personally eliminating their faults but through faith in Jesus and his shed blood.
7. What book projects are you working on now?
I hope my introduction to the end times, The Future of Everything: Essential Truths on the End Times (RHB; 2019) will help readers better understand the importance of eschatology for Christian comfort and practical living. My friend Steve Swets and I are also editing a collection of essays for elders and deacons called Faithful and Fruitful (Reformed Fellowship; 2019) which should be a great encouragement to church officers as they carry out their important calling.
Note: Rev. Boekestein’s book is now available through Amazon. You may also want to purchase Amazing Grace, which is the first part of the series called “Stories behind Favorite Hymns for Ages 3 to 6,” available in the US through Reformation Heritage Books and in Canada through Reformed Book Services. Commenting on Amazing Grace, Rev. Boekestein says, “Why hasn’t this book been written before? If you want your children to grow in God’s grace, you will want them to hear this simple story of how grace saved a sinner just like them. I highly recommend this great book.”