Dr. Emmett Cooper
Emmett Cooper, America's expert on making God's Word stick, is a warrior poet for children. After creating the revolutionary Honeyword Way of Learning, he field-tested the materials for 20 years prior to the publication of THE HONEYWORD BIBLE. This was accomplished through key churches, Christian schools, camps, home-schooling groups, and club programs throughout the United States, as well as 12 foreign countries. The tens of thousands of children who participated in these tests proved conclusively that God's Word can really, really stick because HoneyWord really, really works!
Emmett is the author of MAKING GOD'S WORD STICK, GOD HAS EYES IN THE BACK OF HIS HEAD, and GOD LOVES MOO.
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FIRST EDITION recently conducted a Q & A with Dr. Emmett Cooper, author of MAKING GOD'S WORD STICK, and, now, the creator of THE HONEYWORD BIBLE, published by Tyndale. Dr. Cooper is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary where he received his Ph. D. in Ministry to Children. He speaks throughout the country, conducting workshops for children and children's workers. In this interview, he discusses the inspiration behind writing THE HONEYWORD BIBLE and its simple yet effective method of teaching children the meaning of God's Word. He also talks about his dream, otherwise known as the Every Room Project, of providing a children's Bible for every hotel room in North America.
Fabry: If you've ever taught Sunday school or attempted devotions with your children, you know it can be a difficult task to try to get their little minds around the truths of Scripture. Today, Dr. Emmett Cooper is with us to discuss THE HONEYWORD BIBLE, and his goal is to make God's Word stick in the life of your child and maybe in yours as well.
Why HoneyWord? Why use that picture of the honeycomb on the front?
Cooper: It comes from Psalm 19:10 where David says, "Thy Word is sweeter than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb." That's our goal in this. We want to help kids experience God's Word in such a way that it's attractive and sweet to their tastes and they love it.
Fabry: And you believe that there are about 250 really key core verses in the Bible that kids don't have to necessarily memorize, but that you want to get into their hearts?
Fabry: How do you get them to do that then?
Cooper: Well, it's all based on Deuteronomy 6:8 where Moses, through inspiration, is saying that if you want God's Word to stick in the heart of a child, you tie it to a symbol. When you see that symbol, it triggers precisely what you tie it to.
Fabry: So that's why you call these triggers or clickers.
Cooper: We call them clickers, because once the meaning, the life application meaning, of a verse or a passage clicks in a child's understanding, then the second step is to make it stick in the heart long-term.
Fabry: Does it work the same way for an older person as it would a 7-10 year old?
Cooper: Technically, this Bible is for children of all ages. From Matthew 18, we know that Jesus said that if you really want to make it big in the Kingdom, you're going to have to be a child and have a childlike heart. So, the focus is children, but it's really for all of those who are childlike in their hearts.
Fabry: Let's step back for a moment. As you walked in the studio today, you handed me a copy of this Bible that you've been working on for 20 years. When you first saw it and first held it in your hands, what did you do?
Cooper: Yesterday was my wife's birthday. My wife and I got off the plane, and we went to where the Bibles had been shipped and touched one for the first time. We began to open it and to remember a lot of different stories of this long, long journey. We just broke into spontaneous worship. It was just a tremendous moment of "Thank you, God. You did it."
Fabry: What was the spark, the "clicker," for you 20 years ago?
Cooper: It really came about as a result of feeling or knowing how many children were bored with the Bible. It just wasn't something that was really exciting to them. This is the Living God and His Living Word, and yet so many kids at church and Christian schools and so forth were just bored with it. We thought, "You know, something is not right here." Over a period of time, God opened our minds to a visual way that enables a child to understand it first, but then to remember it later. It was a process of piecing together a number of Scriptures.
Fabry: I know that you went to several higher learning institutions. Were you sitting at Colorado Christian University one day saying, "I think I'm going to do a Bible when I grow up"?
Cooper: No. All this took place after my formal training. It was just simply a result of coming alongside various children in different contexts and knowing that somehow we were missing the mark.
Fabry: Now, you have children of your own.
Cooper: Four. Two boys and two girls. They range from ages 9-22.
Fabry: So, during pretty much of the formative years of your HONEYWORD BIBLE, your kids were old enough to understand and learn some of the things that you were teaching. Were they ever your guinea pigs?
Cooper: They were. The whole method has gone through a number of refinements. They went through all the struggling years while I was trying to refine this and streamline it and simplify it.
Fabry: Give us one of your clickers then to kind of jump us right into what you would do in a classroom setting. I've seen on the website how excited the kids get at this. What's one of the verses that you use?
Cooper: One of the values that we all want to teach our children is to respect other people's property. One of the commandments is "Don't Steal." So, knowing the HoneyWord Way of tying the message to a symbol, we created a lesson for this. The life application rendering of it is "I won't steal, even an orange peel" to convey to that child that you don't steal anything. Stealing is stealing. So, you take the concept of not stealing and tie it to an orange peel --- something that small. It's a visual. They can see an orange; they can see an orange peel.
Fabry: You could say simply, as the Scripture says in Exodus, "Do Not Steal." But by putting that orange and the peel in front of them and then having it rhyme… Do all of the clickers rhyme?
Cooper: All of the slogans of the HoneyWord Lessons do rhyme. They are designed to rhyme because there is something magical and rhythmic when you have something that rhymes for a child. It's just more fun.
Fabry: I know that, especially from a New Testament perspective, you are simply copying the things that Jesus did. Didn't He simply walk by a field and say, "Look at the field. It's white unto harvest"? He used many other things as well.
Cooper: That's right. The way that I like to explain it is that if you could hold the Bible in one hand and then hold the created world in another hand, you would actually have two books by the same author, which are designed to be seamlessly used together in any teaching moment that sticks. My belief is that too often when we come to teaching kids, we only use one of those two books. That's why it doesn't stick. If you want it to stick, you use both. You tie God's eternal principles, His Word, to a visual image so that when the two are welded together or linked, a memory is permanent.
Fabry: When you open this Bible, what will people see that is different? The whole NLT of the Bible is there. What are they going to see that is not normal?
Cooper: They are going to see 250 HoneyWord Lessons, full-page lessons, right alongside the Biblical text where that passage is drawn. The HoneyWord Way is going to be teaching two things: a life application concept in a fun way that is memorable, and, secondly, a book and chapter location where they can find that truth. Alongside John Chapter 4 and the story of the Woman at the Well, they will see a clear glass water pitcher conveying the lesson "Be True 'Cause Jesus Can See Right Through." Just like we can see right through a clear glass water pitcher, Jesus can see into our hearts. Then they'll know it's from John Chapter 4 because right alongside that clear glass water pitcher will be a giraffe, for John the giraffe. And he will be flying through the handle on a 4 in the floorboard, which is the symbol for number 4. So, they'll know not only the lesson, but also the book and chapter location where it's found. They'll know two things.
Fabry: This is not a mnemonic device. It's a picture that you've incorporated that goes back to the Old Testament.
Cooper: That's exactly right. We know today from brain research that the most efficient way in advertising, for example, to get a concept over is to go into the right side of the brain through a symbol or a visual that then links over to the left side of the brain to pick up the linear equations or the sentence or the slogan that's tied to it. We're just incorporating not only how God wired our brains, but how He wired the universe and how He wrote His Word. They're all seamlessly integrated.
Fabry: One of the concerns that I have with Bibles for children is that in some places where I've opened them up, they look all cluttered to me. You can't tell what part is the Bible and what part is the commentary or devotional. I was so glad when I opened yours up. You can see the text of Scripture is not interrupted by anything. In the lesson in Galatians 1, I see chapters 1 and 2 on the left-hand side, and then on the right side, a full page is your clicker for the verse that is highlighted in Galatians 1. The verse says, "I am shocked that you are turning so soon away from God who called you to Himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the good news but is not the good news at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ." And then on the right-hand side, your clicker is a twisted coat hanger. Tell us about that.
Cooper: It's just a way to visually help a child to remember to resist whoever twists the truth. That's what Paul is calling upon us to do here - to know the truth, live by the truth and measure everything by the truth and resist those who twist it. A twisted coat hanger, a mangled, twisted coat hanger, is the clicker that triggers this mental image. You can't hang clothes on a bent-up coat hanger, and we're to hang truth on our lives, so to speak, the wardrobe of our hearts.
Fabry: When I was a kid, memorization was everything. You memorized X number of verses and you got so many prizes. You don't really believe that then? You don't think that memorization necessarily gets into the hearts - not that it's bad, but that it is not the end to all things. It's not about being able to say the verse; it's being able to internalize it.
Cooper: I'm glad you brought that up, because I'm a big fan of word-for-word Bible memory. But, that's not, in my opinion, the big priority when it comes to children. It's valuable for a child to be able to quote a certain verse, but too frequently, when I travel around the country, I'll ask a child who has memorized, for example, Eph 2: 8, 9 (or whatever it might be) what the passage means. They say, "I don't know." It is of some value for them to be able to say it, but it is of even greater value to be able to know the life application meaning.
Fabry: "Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee." If you can memorize that, it's great. But if you don't really internalize it into your heart and live it out, then what good are words simply memorized?
Cooper: And here's the HoneyWord Lesson that we've created on that exact verse: "I've swallowed the book - hook, line and sinker."
Fabry: Tell us about the HoneyWord Bible in Every Room project.
Cooper: It's a dream that I've had for years and years, as I have traveled so much, to provide a Bible for children that travel with their parents and grandparents in hotel rooms and motel rooms of the United States and Canada. There are 7 million hotel rooms throughout the United States and Canada, and the Gideon Bible has been a great blessing for many people for decades --- over 100 years. And, yet, when it comes to reaching children, I think that this Bible will be something that is more attractive to them. We are in the process of placing this Bible in every room throughout the country.
Fabry: If people want to get involved in that (because obviously there is a cost involved if you're trying to do 7 million), they can purchase a HoneyWord Bible or go to the website and find out more about that project.
Cooper: That's right. Actually, you can donate on our website, but the number that we are raising is 70 million dollars, approximately $10 per Bible to place them in those drawers. Not only can a person learn more about it at our website and see the promotional video that talks about the Every Room project, but we're in the process of signing up churches all across America to do an annual HoneyWord Sunday where the proceeds from that offering will go to purchase Bibles for the hotels in the vicinity of the church where they are giving.
Fabry: What would you hope would happen as an end result? Would you hear stories from kids or even adults who pick this up in the hotel?
Cooper: It turns out that over 1 billion people travel through these 7 million rooms every year. Studies have indicated that approximately 5% of whatever is in that nightstand drawer is handled by the people that go through there. That's approximately 50 million people per year that will handle and be exposed to the simplicity of the HoneyWord Bible. We believe that millions of children are going to be impacted for Christ. Christian children will be encouraged and other children will look at the materials inside the Bible and be shown how they can come to Christ and believe.
Fabry: This is going back to your verse about not stealing, but are there any studies about how many people actually take Bibles out of the hotel rooms?
Cooper: We're assuming that there's going to be a certain "rip-off" factor. But we're all ready to bless those people. They can have them.
Fabry: Maybe they'll read what's inside, and it will get into their hearts. This is so exciting. One of the first people that I thought about when I heard this concept was Gary Smalley and his friend, John Trent. They've actually written about this. They say, "HoneyWord harnesses the power of pictures to teach solid Biblical truth. Add in lighthearted humor and a powerful memory system, and you have a very helpful tool for shaping the hearts and minds of our children." I think they really hit on it when they talked about the lighthearted humor. When you talked about the giraffe flying through, that's not your normal picture of what a giraffe would do. But you also really want to give them not just the fluff, but solid Biblical stuff.
Cooper: That's right. The whole goal is to give a child the "I can do the Bible" feeling. If you're in first, second, or third grade and you pick up a 1,500-page book called the Bible, it's just hard for them. They think, "Holy cow, that's a big, hard book!" We're trying to help kids get the "I can do the Bible" feeling.
Fabry: And it goes verse by verse. Give us a verse that you had a particularly difficult time in getting that handle around. Is there one that sticks out in your mind that you had to work on for a while and refine a little bit?
Cooper: Let me just turn to it quickly. I wanted to do a lesson on John 1:14. "So the Word became human and made His home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness, and we have seen His glory, the glory of the Father's one and only Son." I wanted to try to figure out how to convey the God-man concept to a child --- that Jesus was God and He was man. So, the picture that we came up with is that "Jesus is the picture book story of God's amazing glory." That is the HoneyWord Lesson. A child loves to read a picture book. When you look at the life of Christ, He is a running series of pictures of the heart and the person of God. He reveals the Father. He's the God-man who puts God the Father in human flesh.
Fabry: So, there is a balance. You have the negative (there ARE things that are twisted), but you also have the positive - that this is the way God meant it to be. Do you have a lesson for John 3:16? That's probably the most well-known verse of the Bible, and I would think that parents would wonder what you did with John 3:16.
Cooper: The HoneyWord Lesson on John 3:16 is "God's gift is my only lift to heaven." It pictures it in a gift that you open on Christmas morning.
Fabry: Now, you've brought a little box here with a lot of things: a little basketball, an eraser, a coke can, a pitcher… What are these?
Cooper: We call these little things HoneyWord clickers. So, once we teach the lesson to children so that the meaning clicks, then it sticks in their hearts long-term by means of this little clicker. This little bitty bar of soap triggers the lesson and makes the lesson stick in the child's heart for 1 John 1:9. "His soap gives me hope." Here's a ball for Genesis 1:1-"God's call got the ball rolling." The little bitty coke can is for "I'm a can do kid for God."
Fabry: Now, I've seen the videos on the website. There's a dad and a son there. The son is probably 16 or 17 years old, and he went through these lessons many, many years ago. He could immediately remember all of those little clickers that you're talking about.
Cooper: What was so neat about that little piece on the video was that it was eight years after he had been taught this. He still recalled Genesis 1, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, God's image is in us all."
Fabry: What kind of response are you getting from people? I know that the Bible is not actually in the hands of people yet, but what kind of response are you getting from others who have gone through the HoneyWord Lessons?
Cooper: People, almost across the board, say that this is unprecedented as to what it does in a child's heart. You can see children's eyes light up when they can know not only the lesson, but also where it's found. It does an incredible thing to a child's self-image.
Fabry: To know that they can do it and it works! That's one of the great things for every parent --- to know that what you are doing for your child is working!
To learn more about Dr. Emmett Cooper or the HoneyWord Bible, please visit www.honeyword.org. For more information about this interview, visit www.tbbmedia.com or call 800-927-0517, Ext. 106.
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