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Meet Sally Lloyd-Jones, the most successful Christian author you’ve never heard of

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"I’d always known, ever since I was a small child, that Jesus was my friend, but I think in some ways I was trying to be on the fence," she said. "I stopped trying to keep my options open."

Her first job was at Oxford University Press as an editorial assistant in the textbooks division.

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"Down the corridor from me there seemed to be a lot of laughing, and it was the children’s picture book department. I remember thinking ‘Oh, I’ll never be able to write them, but at least I could work on them.’"

In 1989, she took a job in Connecticut where she eventually became the publisher of the Christian children’s book list that was later purchased by Reader’s Digest. But first she had to mull the offer to move to the U.S.

"I was thinking that if I don’t move, the story will be so awful. It will be like, ‘Once upon a time, I nearly came to America. The end.’ That’s such an awful story!" she said. "So I thought, ‘At least find out if it’s not good.’"

She moved to New York City in 1998, and began to write full time after she later lost her job as part of a major downsizing. She became a U.S. citizen after 9/11.

"People often ask me, ‘What’s your theological training?’" said Lloyd-Jones, who reads works by John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones and attends Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. "I’ve been at ‘Tim Keller university.’ I had been hearing how Jesus is in every story for several years."

Keller wrote the forward to her 2012 book, "Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing," and his wife, Kathy Keller, said she gives "The Jesus Storybook Bible" to everyone from university presidents to car salesmen because anyone can understand it.

"Her book isn’t a bunch of collected Aesop’s fables," Kathy Keller said. "There is an actual narrative to redemption. The stories are not meant to say ‘Live like this, be like this.’ They’re telling us about Jesus. "

Because of her last name, many fans mistakenly believe she is related to Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a Welsh minister influential in the British evangelical movement who’s admired by many American evangelicals.

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No, she gently clarifies with anyone who asks, she is not related to him.

"You read blogs about yourself and you come across these things that are very authoritative," she said. "I’m so easily convinced; I read this one blog that was so official sounding, and it said that I was his wife."

Martyn Lloyd-Jones died in 1981.

John Starke, pastor of New York’s All Souls Church, said he uses her children’s Bible with his four children because it gives a good overview of the Bible with quality writing and illustrations.

"I think the main difference is that the book is both biblical and imaginative. Children’s books tend to err on one of those extremes," he said. "But Sally’s book is strong on both ends."

Her breakthrough as an author actually came through a nonreligious book called "How to Be a Baby . . . by Me, the Big Sister," a New York Times best-seller sold by Random House that won praise in The New York Times. But she doesn’t make a distinction between which books are religious or nonreligious.

"I think the danger with Christian publishing is (the attitude), ‘If it’s got a Bible verse in it then it’s OK,’ even if it’s got really bad writing and bad art," she said. "I suppose my vision has always been that it’s got to be excellent."

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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