Phil Heaps, co-pastor of Highbury Baptist Church, has written a 36-page evangelistic book entitled, 'Who stole Christmas?' published by Day One publications. It can be bought for £2.99, or for £1 each in a box of 100 from the Day One website.
The author presents the Christmas message by means of a brilliant analogy with Dr Seuss's "How the Grinch stole Christmas". The first part is a clever, interesting and convincing account of Christ's birth and who he was. Sadly the last part deterioriates into a very standard evangelical waffly explanation of why Jesus died and rose again, without any clear call to action.
⦁ It says the real Christmas message brings hope but it doesn't explain what the hope is. Neither the kingdom of God nor a new earth nor even everlasting life is mentioned!
⦁ It says that true joy comes from peace with God, but most people have no sense of guilt or of not being at peace with God; God simply doesn't enter their thoughts.
⦁ It says that Jesus died in the place of the guilty, which is untrue: we still have to die, whether or not we have put our trust in him.
⦁ It says 'God chose to take responsibility for our rebellion and to bear the full penalty of his own law in the person of his Son', which again is untrue. The 'full penalty of his own law' is the eternal death of both body and soul in hell and hence permanent separation from God. (Revelation 22:14,15) You can't be permanently separated from God for only two days and nights.
⦁ It correctly says that God's judgement hangs over us because 'we have broken his law, despised his rule and defaced his world'; but it does not say how that judgement will be enforced when we are brought back to life on the day of judgement; how we shall be thrown into the lake of fire, unless Christ has redeemed us through our faith in him or we have lived exemplary lives without ever having heard of him. (Romans 2:6-8; Revelation 20:12,13) Christians might know this, but the book is not addressed to Christians.
⦁ It says that Jesus has paid off the debt for all those who put their faith in him so that they don't have to face God's judgement, but until the penultimate paragraph it says nothing about the main reason Jesus died, which was to set us free from sin by breaking its hold over us so that we can keep God's righteous laws and live righteous lives. (e.g. 1 Peter 2:24) Even at the end all it says is that 'when you put your trust in Jesus who died for sinners and rose again God not only forgives you but he also puts his Holy Spirit within you, to transform you and make you new.' What is the nature of that transformation? In what way are we made new?
⦁ Like most current Western evangelism, it perceives salvation merely as a personal transaction between a person and God, instead of one's adoption into the family of God through baptism by local church leaders. (Mark 16:16) That's surprising for a Baptist pastor.
⦁ Towards the end I was beginning to lose interest. I think this book would actually be better if it finished at the end of page 31. (However, in that case it would have to be stapled, since most printers require a minimum of 40 pages for a perfect bound book.)
⦁ It ends merely by saying, "This is the stolen Christmas that needs to be returned and embraced. My prayer is that you might discover it for yourself this Christmas time." That sounds like something Archbishop Justin Welby might say to finish a Christmas address. There are six more blank pages that the author could have used to explain how to be born again and become a disciple of Christ.
Summary: a brilliant idea, particularly well written in the opening chapters, but in my view its promise of being something special falls flat because of the watered down gospel presentation typical of most Western evangelism. It's probably still worth giving people as an evangelistic tract, and the first part especially should help people to take more seriously the truth of Christ's birth among us as the Son of God, but it could have been so much better!