Gospel Stories Come to Life in “40”

Written by Terry DeBoer on . Posted in Local

Tanis led children come pageArtist Joel Schoon-Tanis’ conception of the gospel account “Let the children come…”There's more than one way to complete a book project.

And with some side-stepping in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Holland artist Joel Schoon-Tanis used a kickstarter effort to help produce his latest art-filled book "40: The Gospels."

"Like a lot of us in (this year) 2020, I had to pivot," said Tanis, 53.

The artist had spent the better part of the last year painting scenes depicting stories from each of the four gospels. He had lined up an exhibit/tour of churches throughout the Midwest, showing the artwork and garnering pre-sales to be used for publishing costs for a forthcoming book.

But then the pandemic mushroomed, and the entire tour had to be cancelled.

"So I decided to get the book made sooner than later," he said of the work which includes a devotional booklet.

For various levels of kickstarter support, Schoon-Tanis is offering copies of the finished book as well as individual prints of its art work. He reached his goal of $28,000 on July 31. (For more info and to make any additional donations online)


Five years ago, Schoon-Tanis illustrated a book titled "40: The Biblical Story," which covered stories from Genesis to Revelation. (He previously had illustrated a kids' devotional Bible for Zondervan).

"But I saw that there was perspective brought by the gospel writers that I wanted to explore further, and I started developing ideas around different themes," he said.


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Among the brightly colored picture topics – the story of Prodigal son, Jesus' desert temptation and the Wise Men of the Christmas narrative.

One of his favorites is his scene of Jesus telling the disciples to "Let the children come to me."

"If you look closely, you'll see I painted the disciples to look like a gate and their arms are actually swinging open with hinges on them," he said, symbolizing their assumed role as "gatekeepers," shielding Jesus from those whom they thought shouldn't bother him.

"And in the background you see the Temple – the old power structure and the houses of the rich on the hill in a gated community. When people get some power and control.... Jesus says, 'No, I do things differently: bring me the kids.'"

The book cover includes the description, "Interpreted by Joel Schoon-Tanis."

The artist also uses a kid-friendly point of view on each page – story-telling text written as if by a child. He took a cue from his second grade daughter, who in retelling a story makes it vividly different and refreshing. "It's meant to help people 'get there (to the meaning),'" explained Tanis of the artistic choice.

The 104 page, large format book (12 inch square) is accompanied by a devotional booklet with contributions by five pastors, including a missionary in the Middle East.


Since he reached his goal, the artist went live with a gallery page putting each of the images online for viewing (at www.joelschoontanisgallery.com) "That way I can do Zoom talks with church Sunday School classes or discussion groups, and then people will also be able to get the book later if they want it," he said.

Schoon-Tanis divided the book into five parts – four for the gospels and one devoted to Passion Week. He ends it with a brief epilogue on the book of Acts signifying, "the story goes on."

In centuries-old Christian tradition, the gospel writers are imagined as winged creatures carrying the good news. Some of the great cathedrals of Europe feature those figures. For example, Mark is characterized as a winged lion. Luke is a winged ox. Tanis offers his versions of those as well. That makes a total of 46 images.


"This book is meant for all ages," emphasized the artist. "Sometimes people mistake my art as just for kids. But with this (book), you can open it up and have the devotional booklet right next to it."

Schoon-Tanis said the book should eventually be available at selected retail stores.

Although likely categorized as a "coffee table" book, it's really much more, according to the artist. "It is an art book, and it's meant to sit out so people will pick it up and look at it," he said. "But I'm really excited for people to have the devotional booklet and that people will see these stories in fresh ways."
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Author Information
Terry DeBoer
Author: Terry DeBoer
Terry is a journalist/feature writer for newspapers, magazines and websites, with a background in radio broadcasting. His usual beat is arts and entertainment, specializing in Christian/gospel music. A married father of two, he is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan Contributing Writer: West Michigan Christian News August 2011 – Present Feature writer: -Mlive.com (website and various newspapers) 1988– 2016 -Spotlight New Christian Music Magazine 1997-2008 -Church News Editor, Church Herald Magazine 2004-2009

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