I often marvel at how God brought me to faith. I grew up in a nominal Roman Catholic home. My parents divorced before I really knew what divorce was. I remember “the talk” where they broke the news. The parents had corralled me in the living room. Mom and dad disagreed so often that they rarely spoke to me as a unit, so this smelled . . . unnatural. I was seated on a drab brown couch, seven years old and facing south. After they told me, I deliberately feigned denseness as a way to express my anger. “What? Does this mean I’ll have no father?” They tried to explain, that no, I had it wrong. But in my horror and hurt, I was determined to remain clueless as long as possible to draw out this excruciating moment for them. Even seven years olds can understand revenge.
My dad moved out, and my mom went to work at Universal Studios. I spent lots of time alone. It was around this time that I stumbled upon a certain children’s Bible. Unlike many versions today, where the pictures are cartoonish, and they edit out the “unseemly” stuff (a preposterous idea, if you think about it!), this Bible had pictures that were realistic and strikingly beautiful. There were no smiling, blush-cheeked giraffes navigating the ramp into the ark. There were precious moments, to be sure. But there were also alarming moments. This Bible included the “R rated” stuff: Jael with her bowl of milk serving Sisera (before driving a tent peg through his temple); a bewildered Athaliah realizing that her gambit was over and she was being led to her execution. The text accompanying the stories stayed very near the Biblical text. The combined force of faithful art and faithful text was gripping. I read it all the time. I remember even dragging it with me on the drive to family outings at the beach. I was captivated. It was through this Bible, and not directly through any people sharing the gospel with me (they came soon after), that God plowed up my heart. It taught me not only to love God, but to fear Him. I began to pray. But God had already written my prayers for me. He answered before I asked. He likes to do that.
We continue to blog through Richard Baxter’s The Christian Directory. The first part of his book (where we are now: I.I.I.IV) is written to those who want to know God and the way of salvation, but don’t know how. If that describes you, Baxter has solid advice for you. Read the Bible often, and soberly, as the surest way to come to faith. “Often” is pretty clear, so let’s camp out on “soberly,” shall we? Our day doesn’t really do sober–especially with children. Today we wonder, “Can children be gripped by anything ‘sober’? Have we not got the thing all in a jumble?” Only if we mistake “sober” for “stultifying.” I take “sober” for reading the Bible seriously, respectfully. Children’s Bibles that—in an effort to be accessible and non-threatening—embrace an unrealistic, cartoonish art form risk having children read the Bible with the same interpretative assumptions that they would use with fictional bedtime stories, or comic books, or stories about Santa Claus. It was the realism of my children’s Bible, the striking pictures, and the faithfulness to the text helped me see that these stories were different. They happened in time and space.
Sometimes we hesitate to use the Bible in evangelism because we have bought Erasmus’ line–that the Bible is too unclear for laymen to read. But my experience is exactly the opposite. Though seven years old, the Bible was not too difficult for me to understand. Rather, God met me within the precincts of my understanding. Naturally, I lurked in the narratives, and had my view of God shaped as I saw his holiness, his majesty, his love, his justice, and his sovereignty lived out. And I saw also that he had a peculiar affection for last-minute rescues. I read of mankind, always straying in their hearts from God. I understood the concept of sin.
Scripture also imparts a high view of Christ. This morning I met with a man for a pre-membership interview. He too had come to place his faith in Jesus Christ simply by reading his Bible. It was in reading the gospels that he realized that this man, Jesus, was more than a prophet. He had to be both God and man. With this conviction, he turned from his sins,took up his cross, and followed Jesus. The Bible is the most effective evangelist.
Are you actively praying for someone you know to come to faith in Christ? If so, think about getting them a Bible. Choose an occasion for the gift. Select a translation that is simple and clear, but allows them to read the Word “soberly.” This, I think, rules out versions like The Street Bible, “First off, nothing. No light, no time, no substance, no matter. Second off, God starts it all off and WHAP! Stuff everywhere!” (Genesis 1:1). I understand what Rob Lacey is trying to do, but it comes across like something out of Marvel Comics. It doesn’t treat either God, the text, or the reader, with respect. The ESV is a solid translation—clear, accessible, and respectful. And there are others.
And if you give a copy of the Bible (not too fancy), help them to know a good place to start reading. It seems sensible to keep Jesus at the center, and for them to start in one of the gospels so they can be introduced to Him. They may or may not read the Bible right away, but I have heard too many stories of people coming to Christ because they finally picked up that Bible someone gave them eight years ago. They read it, and then just like with the Ethiopian eunuch, God sends someone to explain it.
That’s what happened to me. I had my children’s Bible, and God plowed up my heart. But it was the Johnson family who reached out to me, brought me to church, and fielded my questions. And my life, and the life of my children, and children’s children, will never be the same.
Baxter mentions that besides the Bible, it would be helpful to read other books that explain the gospel. They make a great side dish–a baked potato to accompany the steak. But as you choose them, buy them, and give them, remember that in our post-Christian country (and especially in Europe) there is little Biblical literacy. Theological terms that you may have heard since your first bowl of Captain Crunch will be a new language to them. Give jargon-free books, books that do not dodge hard questions, and especially books that engage the readers by explaining the Bible. I think some of Tim Keller’s books are especially helpful at making the gospel clear to modern, unchurched readers. But there are many others.
Whatever you do in evangelism, remember that the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to transform lives. If we want to see more fruit in our evangelism, we need to help people get access to the Bible.