In 1988 I was given a copy of an earlier book by Trevor McIlwain entitled, Building on Firm Foundations Series, Volume 1, 'Guidelines for evangelism and teaching believers'. Seldom has any book impressed me so much. I found the author had been wrestling with a problem which had engaged me for years: 'How to reach the unreachable.' That is to say, how can you bring Christianity to the vast number of people who know virtually nothing about it? I bought four copies to give away.
Trevor McIlwain is on the staff of New Tribes Mission, and has worked mainly among unevangelized tribespeople who are anxious to learn. In contrast, my interest centres on men and women in Western society who do not believe in God nor read the Bible, and who frankly could not care less.
The gist of Trevor's message is that it is essential for all uninstructed people to begin at the beginning by recounting that the sovereign God created a perfect world, and made man in His own image. But man sinned and so has been condemned to death and eternal separation from Him.
However, the good news is that God planned to send a Deliverer. To accomplish this He chose a particular nation (the Jews) and over succeeding generations instructed them that the death they deserved could be paid for by shedding the blood of an animal. But better still, in due time His own Son would come to earth to die for the sins of all those who believe on Him.
Trevor writes, 'Whether one is teaching the Word of God to a group of professionals in down-town New York or a group of Palawano tribesmen in the Philippines, the basic problem is how to teach the foundational precepts of the Scripture in a clear and understandable way.' The whole Bible, Trevor insists, is history — His Story.
In 1994 I found this further book by Trevor McIlwain: Firm Foundations. This incorporates 'Guidelines for evangelism', but primarily it is a teacher's manual of 50 lessons.
The book is 580 pages, A4 size. It comes with wall charts and diagrams. (A separate children's version in five volumes has also been produced.)
Trevor illustrates the effectiveness of his presentation. When tribal people had been prepared from the Old Testament for the Gospel story, these lessons have been spectacularly successful in bringing them to Christ.
The question I asked was, can the method be adapted for teaching modern, Western-culture agnostics? In practice this has proved difficult — first, because few non-Christians are willing to make the huge investment of time required, and second, they find starting with the Bible, God and Satan too remote. The problem, as they see it, is that they are in a mess, and they want to get out of it as quickly as possible.
Does that mean the book is of no value in Western society?
I think not. For instance, I used it in my private devotions and found it enthralling. Many Christians who could be regarded as well-taught are nevertheless unfamiliar with the historical, chronological, panoramic pattern of Scripture. They have never linked the whole of the Bible together, and rarely understand the foundational importance of Genesis.
I think it is too much to expect non-Christians to study the Bible in depth, and they do not attend church. What is required, then, is that ordinary church members should be so steeped in the foundations of Scripture that they can 'gossip' it to people they meet on the train, at work, in school, university or elsewhere.
One last condition: before we can help anyone, it is essential we know where they are at — that is, their present level of knowledge. Do they believe in God? What is He like? Are they different from animals? Are they sinners, separate from God? Is there a Heaven and Hell? Is Jesus Christ truly God and man? Did He really die on the cross to save them? When we know this, we can help them at a level they can understand. As a conversation opener everyone is interested in the origin of man.
I strongly recommend this book.