Q & R: Help! My kid just asked Jesus into his heart!

I’m in the UK at Greenbelt, and in a couple of my sessions, the questions again come up about what and how we are teaching our kids a fresh approach to the Christian faith. Here’s a Q I received to that effect a while back:

Okay, so that actually hasn’t happened (yet), but we go to an open-minded but still conservative-leaning church, and this is the paradigm of explaining salvation to kids each Sunday. The language of our peers at church demonstrate that’s how they think of “child salvation” as well.
I started my journey through A New Kind of Christianity about 8 years ago, but only now am I having my own children at the age where they can make these kinds of decisions. My oldest is almost four, and is starting to sing Sunday School songs and listening to music that tells Bible stories. Every night we read The Jesus Storybook Bible to him and his little sister before bedtime each night. He is clearly interested in Jesus and the Bible, so I’m pretty certain that when an opportunity arises for him to “ask Jesus into his heart,” he’ll probably do it. My church isn’t pushy in that way (that I can tell), which is definitely a plus.
I’m not afraid of him making a decision as a youngster to follow Jesus, but I’ve lamented for a while now how “easy” it is to “get saved,” when Jesus’ invitation to follow him implied some sort of cross to bear. My son does not and probably cannot truly understand that side of the gospel. Instead, children are joining a “club” where they are now on the road to heaven, with the implications that now they must live like the Bible tells them to (which is a different type of “club” used for behavior modification!). I personally asked Jesus into my heart at age 5 during Bible school, but I doubt I really “got saved” until my teenage years when I started to understand the nature of the commitment I had made as a youngster. I decided to keep on keeping on, rather than turn away from God. In my testimony today, I tend to emphasize I’ve always believed, but that I made a more mindful commitment as a teenager.
I know a bit of your journey from reading your books, so I’m sure this isn’t new for you. I’m also guessing that as a grandfather, these questions are becoming fresh in your mind. What advice do you have for parents of youngsters who want to communicate that salvation is by grace through faith while avoiding the pitfalls of easy believism? How do we communicate The Secret Message of Jesus in a non-confusing way but still faithful to the original message? Perhaps you’ll advise that they are More Ready Than You Realize, but as one of the two adults who know my children extremely well, I’m a bit nervous (thankfully my wife isn’t sweating this!).
My son understands that things need to be fixed (restored would be the “theological word” from Colossians 1:20). So far, the best I’ve come up with is explaining that Jesus came to fix the world because the world is broken. The Jesus Storybook Bible (and John Eldredge) speaks of the Big Story that God is telling, so I use that as an analogy to explain that God wants us to join God’s* story.
Maybe to put you on the spot “a little tiny bit” (as my son would put it): how would you, today, explain the gospel to a four-year old?
Thanks so much if you have the time to respond!
* speaking of pronouns, do you use masculine pronouns when speaking? I know your writings have minimized the use of “he” and “him,” and I do that to a large extent

First, let me remind everyone of an important international conference to grapple with these issues, to be held in Washington DC in May 2012. It would be great for your to register now and start telling your friends about it … bring along a group from your church. You’ll find more information here:

Here more of the R:

Thanks for your question(s). I think you’re doing all the right things. I’d be thrilled for your child to ask Jesus into his heart. I would tell him that God loves him and wants to fill him with love and wisdom and kindness and strength and courage … so he can join God in doing good in our world, spreading love, joy, and peace. I’d let him know that when he fails, God understands and forgives.
I wouldn’t promote a violent-God-threatening-with-hell argument with your son, but would instead talk about the hellish things people do when they don’t know that God is love and that God loves us all. I like the idea of joining God’s story … being on God’s team might also communicate to a four-year-old, or working with God, being one of God’s helpers.
I try to avoid male pronouns for God in both speech and writing … as a spiritual discipline to remind myself that God is bigger than male or female alone.
Keep up the good work – and do help spread the word about the important gathering next May. I hope it sells out – the subject is so important for parents, Sunday school teachers, youth workers, educators of all sorts.