Children love stories, and so I guess a good way to communicate the gospel to them is to simply tell them the old, old story of Jesus and His love. I have two lovely granddaughters, both under the age of eight, and I often wonder about when and how I should share the gospel with them. Yesterday, I downloaded a beautifully illustrated comic-book-style tract for children, and I was very interested to see if I would be able to use this approach with my ‘princesses’. So I eagerly viewed it seeking to see it both through the eyes of a child and my own theological spectacles. Here is the gist of it – see if you can spot what is missing.
The story starts with an ‘in the beginning’ account of creation from right up to when God made Adam and Eve. Then comes a series of frames depicting a very glamorous Eve interacting with the serpent and eating the forbidden fruit. A text box describes the effects of this disobedience with the words, ‘Adam and Eve had disobeyed God. Their innocence was taken away. Now they knew the difference between good and evil.’
The next set of pictures show the forlorn couple being expelled from the Garden of Eden. The text box insert reads: ‘GOD’S PROMISE OF SALVATION: The perfect unity between God and His beloved creation was broken. Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, they were separated from God. But God already had a plan to redeem His creation. God’s plan would bring the hope of salvation to all the people of the world.’ Then comes a picture of a sin-ravished world, before moving on to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. The insert text box reads: ‘God loves us. But we sin, which separates us from Him. Sin means going against what God wants for our lives. But God had a plan to fix the broken relationship’.
Then follow depictions of Jesus being baptised, teaching, interacting with children, feeding the hungry, and walking on water. Then there are some pictures of the Pharisees plotting against Jesus, His arrest in Gethsemane, trial, and crucifixion. Next, come depictions of the empty tomb and Jesus commissioning His disciples before ascending into Heaven.
The last set of pictures show the disciples praying, going out, healing the sick, and telling the story about Jesus. Then, after a depiction of persecution, comes the assurance that despite troubles and hardships the good news keeps spreading across the world. The final admonition to the reader is: ‘You can help to spread the good news too!’
The children’s tract then ends with five steps – Step 1 God loves, Step 2 We sin, step 3 Jesus died, Step 4 God forgives, and Step 5 We accept. The concluding panel starts with ‘You Are a Follower of Jesus! What Happens Next?’ and then gives four suggestions for spiritual growth.
Ok. Is this what I need to use to help my granddaughters enter into an eternal yet present-day relationship with Jesus? If not, then what is missing? Here are the things I noticed were missing:
- The impact of original sin is understated, but more importantly, not really applied to the reader at a personal level. There is no attempt to explain the spiritual death that came into the world from that moment onwards. Sin is simply described as ‘choosing my own ways over God’s or doing anything He does not want me to do.’
- There is no mention of the need to be ‘born again’, although this was the central issue that Jesus addressed in John Chapter 3. Because there is no focus on the rebirth of the dead spirit, there is no reference to a spiritual relationship with God through Christ, nor of the required response to God’s supernatural intervention in our lives.
- The only pointer to the work of the Holy Spirit was the picture of a chubby little dove over Jesus’ head when He was baptised. No mention of Pentecost or the need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit.
In my sermon ‘The Tree of Life Triptych’, I make the statement that our churches today are crowded with Christianised people who have never been born again. Therefore they have no real relationship with God, no empowerment for life and ministry, and no evidence of ‘salvation’ beyond rule-keeping, rituals, good works, and some bible knowledge. I have written on this subject before under the titles of ‘What Must we do to be Saved’, ‘The Need for New Birth’ and ‘Stillborn Souls’.
I have no doubt that the folks who produced the beautiful children’s gospel tract are dedicated men and women earnestly seeking to bring children into the Kingdom of God. However, I have serious reservations concerning this tract and other similar efforts to ‘evangelise’ without presenting the need for:
- The supernatural action of the Holy Spirit in miraculously bringing life to a spiritually dead human being;
- The clear presentation, appropriate to different age and cultural groups, of the deity and humanity of Jesus and what He achieved on our behalf through His crucifixion and the resurrection;
- The need to respond to this with belief in who He is and what He has done, heartfelt repentance for the sin of rebellious self-centeredness and confession of this, passionate petition to God to grant a personal rebirth of the spirit by virtue of what Jesus has done, and testimony of this reality (preferably through public water baptism).
In my considered opinion and understanding of scripture, anything less than this yields only spiritual inoculation, lifeless religiosity, frustration, and continued separation from God now and for eternity.
One of the reasons our churches are full of spiritually unregenerate ‘Christians’ is the way we present the Gospel to our children. Another reason is our neglect of preaching the full and glorious gospel to adults and often substituting a ‘while all heads are bowed and all eyes are closed’ altar call formula.
In 2 Timothy 3:5 Paul describes the ‘victims’ of impotent evangelism as ‘having a form of godliness but denying its power.’
My challenge to all of us is to examine what we believe and how we communicate this to others, not least our children.