This post is continued from here.
I’ve been pleased that, in the last month, the 321 video has been shared so widely. It’s meant that I’ve been able to interact online with a handful of people who have raised questions about the presentation. I’d say the reservation people have had is this: “Where’s repentance?” In fact it’s pretty much the only objection I’ve heard so far.
I was bracing myself for Trinitarian discussions. I was gearing up to present robust defences of Adam’s historicity. None of that has come up. Yet.
But a good 8 or 10 times someone has said “This is a deficient gospel because there’s no summons to repent.”
There are a number of ways to respond to this. One is simply to say “This is only a 5 minute summary. You can’t say everything.”
Another is to say “the word ‘repent’ is not magic. John’s Gospel, for one, gets along fine without it.”
Another is to say: “Repentance is not, properly speaking, a part of the good news. The good news is the announcement of Jesus – His dying, rising, enthronement and return. The gospel is not about us, it’s about Him. Repentance is the response to the good news.”
Those things are true and they need saying at some point. But in most cases I’ve responded with a question of my own. Roughly speaking I’ve asked “Since 321 presents humanity as lost in Adam with no spiritual life in ourselves and no ability to produce life… and since the new life is presented as coming entirely from beyond us in Jesus… and since the new life of Jesus is presented as an all-embracing, marriage-like oneness with Jesus… what does the command to “be one with Jesus” lack which using the word “repent” would add?”
I’ve asked that kind of question many times but I’ve not yet received an answer. So let me ask it more generally…
If we proclaim the renunciation of self in Adam and the receiving of new life in Christ, what more do we want in our definition of repentance?
I know that no-one in these discussions wants to question salvation by “faith alone.” But I do fear that – in wanting something more – ‘faith alone’ is exactly what’s in jeopardy.
In some evangelistic presentations I see a desire to present salvation as a discrete series of steps. There tend to be a sling of synonyms made into stages. The unbeliever is told to confess and profess and turn and surrender and trust and repent and submit and admit and believe and commit and do. It’s not the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. It’s more stream-lined than that. And it’s about internal, mental hoops to jump through. But still, so often it’s a system we offer to people rather than the simplicity of offering the Son.
Have you ever heard a “close the deal” evangelistic talk in which Jesus Himself is not presented or offered? Perhaps the preacher has simply piled up illustration upon illustration – “There’s a line… cross the line. Jesus has given you a cheque… bank the cheque. In the Matrix there’s a red pill and a blue pill… which pill will you take?” What might begin as a call to “simply trust Jesus” becomes an exhortation to adopt this attitude or that, this resolution or that, and then… Well the thing is, when repentance is this discrete thing then the sinner who repents is only really left with their discrete repentance. They’ve “made the step”, or whatever, but they’re in great danger of leaving the meeting with a resolution not a redeemer.
All of which is to say – Offer Christ. The new life is in Him. And if a non-Christian hears this offer and says “I’m not sure I have it in me to repent”, tell them:
“You definitely don’t have it in you. But God has given it to you in Jesus. Have Him!”