To prepare myself to prepare a fifteen year old boy with a mental age of three or four for baptism I looked for a few simple booklets on sharing the faith. Surprisingly I could only find two on the market: 'Journey into Life' by Norman Warren, which has been around ever since I can remember, and 'Why Jesus?' by Nicky Gumbel. I know there is a more recent edition of 'Journey...' but as I re-read the 1988 version I found myself less in sympathy with its approach than I used to be. Basically it uses the traditional evangelical evangelistic argument: God created a perfect world, man sinned, we are all sinful and can't save ourselves so Jesus came to die for our sins and we need to trust him. I agree with each point separately, but I don't think it's the only way of presenting the gospel.
Nicy Gumbel's book is compelling if you are familiar with such names as Cicero and Dostoevsky. I guess it appeals to well-educated middle class people who are sympathetic to Nicy Gumbel's background as a barrister. Again, the arguments he uses are fine, but I keep thinking about people on our local housing estates and, without wanting to be patronising, I wonder how many of them have heard of Cicero and Dostoevsky.
I looked in vain on the internet for a simple evangelistic booklet costing under £1 that puts across the Good News to the sort of person that might read The Sun or Daily Mirror. If there is one, I'd like to find it. If not, perhaps I'll produce my own.
To return to the boy I'm preparing for baptism: he deserves to be taken seriously, but the way I would usually share the gospel with people just isn't appropriate in this case. It challenges me to identify what is really at the heart of the good news; how can I express it in a way that he will understand. Intellectually he will probably grasp very little, but perhaps my just being there talking with him and his mum will communicate something of God's love, because that's what is as the heart: God loves us, Jesus shows us what God is like, and he gives us new life that gets better and better.
It's far harder to make things simple than to make them complicated; that's why I like the challenge of talking with children and preaching to a mixed congregation. I think every preacher should be forced to preach to children. I believe that if you can preach effectively from the epistles to children it shows you truly understand what they are saying.
So, watch this space for futher developments.