If I said that Norman Warren was one of the most significant British Christian figures of the last fifty years I imagine I would get two surprised responses: who? and why?
Norman, who died last month, was an Anglican vicar in England for many years, but his claim to significance is that he wrote the evangelistic booklet Journey into Life.
Although in a modern edition Journey into Life is still around, younger readers may be unfamiliar with it and will almost certainly be unaware that for over a quarter of a century after its publication in 1964, it was to be found on bookstalls in every church where the gospel was preached.
Indeed, for many years no serious evangelical travelled without copies to give away (I must've given out thousands!). It has had British sales of over 30 million and given that it was translated into countless languages, must have had an enormous print run globally.
Journey into Life briefly, clearly and effectively explains the gospel. It covers what being a Christian was not and then, after explaining the human predicament, goes on to who Jesus was and the meaning of the cross. It then leads the reader to the point of decision with a prayer of response about accepting Christ.
It was a booklet offered to many who were searching for God and I was given it at a critical point in my own journey to faith. Like many others, I followed the journey that Norman laid out for me and made my decision to receive Christ.
Journey into Life was – and I use the phrase precisely – a work of genius. It had many virtues. For a start, the booklet format – concise, clear and easily distributed – was just right. Another virtue was the writing. Norman, who was a hymn writer, knew how to say the maximum with a minimum of words.
At the time a vicar with a working-class parish, he realised that those he was trying to reach needed easy words and knew little theological language. Norman's use of straightforward words and identifiable concepts was enormously aided by the excellent illustrations which broke up the text and made abstract ideas understandable.
Coming at the time when the world was shifting from being focused on words to images this was a real asset. Journey into Life was a visual book that engaged with even those who struggled to read. Indeed, its format and style were so radical that it was turned down by several publishers as being too simple or suitable only for children.
Yet the success of Journey into Life lay not just in its presentation or writing. There was a real spiritual wisdom both in what it said and what it didn't bother to say. In its few pages, there was the gospel, distilled, and accessible for all.
Journey into Life was a booklet for its time and it did an enormous amount of good.
So, along with many other people, I'm very grateful to Norman Warren for that little booklet. In 1 Corinthians 1, the apostle Paul, speaking to a church dazzled by skilful oratory and flamboyant preaching, talks about how God has chosen foolish, weak, lowly and despised things to build his church. Journey into Life is precisely that. Thank you, Norman!