Newbell helps children put diversity in Gospel focus
She had taught a children's class on "the image of God and racial harmony" about a year before, Newbell told Baptist Press Tuesday (Sept. 26) in an email interview. "It was such a joy for me to watch the kids think through what it meant to be equally created by God to reflect His image, that God created people different and we can enjoy those differences, that Jesus died for all those different people, and that we can all be brothers and sisters in Christ."
Later that day, a friend told her about a conversation she had with her daughter regarding her friendship with Sydney, Newbell's daughter. She told her mother, "Me and Sydney are made in the image of God. We aren't just friends, we're sisters!"
Newbell said, "At that point I knew I wanted to attempt to write something that parents and teachers could use to share this wonderful message. I also discovered there was little to no material out that I could find on the topic for children."
Newbell's intention came to fruition when "God's Very Good Idea: A True Story About God's Delightfully Different Family" was released Sept. 1 by The Good Book Co. It has reached the American marketplace at a time when many children likely are becoming more aware of the tension over ethnic differences in the wake of protests in Charlottesville, Va., that resulted in deaths and amid the vitriolic debate over National Football League players kneeling during the national anthem.
The book -- illustrated in vivid colors by London-based artist Catalina Echeverri -- addresses diversity by following the oft-cited scriptural storyline: Creation; fall; redemption; and reconciliation.
Newbell wrote the book, she told BP, to equip parents to "help their children understand about the image of God, the beauty of God's creation, how we ruined God's idea through sin, His rescue plan through Jesus, and that He is returning to finish it."
Near the end of the book, Newbell summarizes the stages this way: "God MADE it. People RUINED it. He RESCUED it. He will FINISH it."
She determined to take a Gospel-focused approach to the issue, said Newbell, a resident of the Nashville area and director of community outreach for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
"So often this topic is framed around politics and history," she wrote in her interview with BP. "I wanted to address it differently (although those other contexts are important) and give parents and children a foundation for why it's important to God and how the Gospel affects this discussion and our understanding of race and ethnicity.
"If we can build a foundation based on the Truth, then I think it will be easier to tackle those other areas that touch the topic of race and ethnicity," Newbell said. "Ultimately, this is about people made in the image of God. So, if we can gain understanding about how all of us were created equally by God and all of us need the same saving grace, then perhaps we can begin to work towards really loving one another."
In her book, Newbell explains God's "very good idea" was "to make PEOPLE ... lots of people ... lots of different people ... who would all enjoy loving him and all enjoy loving each other."
After describing the sin of mankind and the saving work of Christ, Newbell points to Jesus' return to "make the world perfect again." Children "don't have to wait till then to enjoy it" if they ask for forgiveness, she writes. The church is where they can experience that enjoyment, the book says.
"Your church friends are your brothers and sisters -- your wonderful and colorful church family," she writes.
Her prayer, Newbell said, is "the church would reflect what heaven will look like for eternity: Every tribe, tongue, and nation together worshipping God. I wanted to close with a focus on the church because that's where the world sees our love (a theme in the book). Jesus says that the world will know us (Christians) by our love for one another (John 13:35). If this is true, then we should learn to love those in the church."
Newbell's other books include "United: Captured by God's Vision for Diversity," which is "a primer of the theology of race," as she describes it, and her story as an African-American woman.
"God's Very Good Idea" is available at LifeWay Christian Stores, among other booksellers, and Amazon.