Archive for the ‘321’ Category

Don’t-Be-a-Slave-to-Writer’s-BlockHello there. Sorry I haven’t been writing very much here recently. I’m trying to write “321” the evangelistic book right now. Please pray for that project if you remember. And perhaps you can help me with something….

At one point in the book I talk about the four fundamental realities you can choose between in the beginning – nothing, chaos, power or love (see here for the seed of the idea). Was wondering if you had any good quotes for each of the options.

If you believe in the beginning there was nothing – life is absurd, meaningless, hopeless.

If you believe in the beginning there was chaos – life is endless struggle and power plays.

If you believe in the beginning there was power – life is a slavery to almighty god or law or fate.

If you believe in the beginning there was love – life is about finding your place in God’s family of love.

Do you have any quotes from nihilists, ultra-Darwinians, determinists, theologians or others that would put flesh on those bones?


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321 in 4 Talks

321 Four Talks

Talk 1: JESUS – Colossians 1:15-23

Talk 2: GOD – Galatians 3:26-4:7

Talk 3: THE WORLD – Romans 5:12-21

Talk 4: YOU – John 15:1-9; Ephesians 5:21-32; Hebrews 4:14-16


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Lazarus not Hercules

Hercules-at-the-CrossroadsThe gospel is not ‘the clever option’ for a discerning religious consumer.  It’s “life unto the dead”.  What does that mean for our evangelism?

Many times I’ve written against ‘Hercules at the cross-roads’ evangelism. Unbelievers are not decision-makers who need to be cajoled or coerced to ‘take a step’.  Unbelievers are ‘Lazarus in the tomb’ – dead in sins and desperately needing the voice of the Son of God.

Well alright, I hear you saying…  But, Glen, at some stage you need to “close the deal”, surely.  At some point the unbeliever needs to make a choice right?  Even if it’s all about ‘receiving Jesus’, fine, there’s still something for the unbeliever to do, isn’t there?  So how do you preach that without falling back into Decision Theology?

Now before I have a stab at an answer, let me distinguish between what must happen in evangelism and what the unbeliever is capable of.  What must happen is that the unbeliever must be born again, they must be forgiven by God, they must be adopted by the Father, they must be united to the Son, they must be sealed with the Spirit, they must be cleansed by the blood of Jesus, they must be pronounced righteous (i.e. justified), they must be made a new creation.  I’m not laying out discrete stages in salvation here – I’m speaking about the same truth from different angles.  The unbeliever must be converted.  But notice this: they must be converted. No-one can get themselves reborn or forgiven, or adopted, or united, or sealed, or cleansed, or justified, or recreated.

What must happen in evangelism is precisely what the unbeliever can’t do.  I know I keep stressing this, but it needs to be stressed: sinners can’t save themselves.  Salvation belongs to the LORD.

But, having said all this, there is a call to repent.  So what does it look like?

Well think of Lazarus called from the tomb.  “Come forth” was the resounding command.  Here’s something very definite for Lazarus to do.  And he did it.  But just think… later that day, as Lazarus had the unusual experience of enjoying his own wake, he could have said: “I heard Jesus’ voice and I decided to obey” (cf John 5:25).  That’s one way of putting it.

But put yourself in the shoes of those would-be mourners, listening to Lazarus.  As he recounts how he beat death, you’d be smiling and nodding, all the while you’d know what had really happened.  You’d seen it all from Christ’s perspective.  It was the voice of the Son of God that raised him and Lazarus found himself unable to do anything but “come forth”.

Lazarus’s story is a conversion story – Jesus set it up like that back in John 5 (see v24-29).  And this story includes the perspective of the listener – a perspective which involves decision.  Every sinner has a “how I beat death” story. There are rational processes that we can reflect upon.  But all this is reflection upon a miracle.  What was actually decisive was the Word raising the dead.

So… and now, finally, I’m going to say something mildly practical… when I call unbelievers to receive Jesus, I try not to frame it as a “decision” they need to weigh up.  I announce Jesus as the Lord.  I paint Him in biblical colours, I tell them what He’s done and along the way I say things like:

“Don’t you just love this Jesus?”,
“Are you finding yourself drawn to this Jesus?”,
“Are you beginning to feel that He really is Lord?”
“Do you want Him?”

Basically I allow the word of Jesus to draw them.  (That’s the point of biblical evangelism – letting the voice of the Son of God be heard).  And then, at certain points, I’ll say “If you are feeling drawn to Jesus, that is God calling you.” Or I’ll say “If you are now sensing in your heart that Jesus really is Lord, you’re becoming a Christian. Because a Christian is someone who looks to Jesus and says “Yes, He’s the One.”  Is that happening to you?”

I’m not so much into telling them “Choose to make Jesus Lord of your life.”  I’m telling them “Jesus is Lord, whatever you feel about the matter.  If you can’t see it you must be blind.  If you can see it, that’s God opening your eyes.  Don’t refuse His Gift – receive Jesus, He’s yours.”

That’s my take anyway.  What’s yours?

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This is different to a version I demonstrated a few months ago.  Back then I drew the world twice – once with Adam taking it down and once with Christ raising it up.  That’s obviously not ideal – Christ saves this world.  So in this version we’ve overcome that problem with the help of a nifty fold – Christ descending onto this world to do Adam’s job right.  I much prefer this version – not least because you get to do a bit of gospel origami!

Learn how to draw 321 for yourself here.

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The Importance of Adam

AdamChristCarl Trueman writes here that,

…the question of Adam is arguably the biggest doctrinal question facing the current generation.

He has a couple of strong quotes from Warfield and Bavinck worth reading too.

Last night I taught a little on 321 and experienced some push-back on Adam.

There are issues of clarity – it seems overly complicated to speak of our corporate identities like this.

There are issues of fairness – original sin seems unreasonable (to non-Christians and, one suspects, to Christians too).

There are issues of credibility – no-one believes in Adam anymore. (Non-Christians and Christian alike it seems!)

I’ve written on this stuff here and here, but I thought I’d list some more thoughts in the hope that we might speak of Christ’s vicarious action for the world with a renewed sense of the importance of Adam. With the backdrop of Adam I’m convinced we’ll be able to speak with a greater sense of clarity, fairness and credibility. Here are ten bullet-points, and some further reflections:

1) All Christians are in the business of proclaiming vicarious action: one man on behalf of humanity – on behalf of the cosmos even.  To the Bible’s way of thinking, the fact one Man answers another one man is what makes the gospel clear and credible. Without Adam, we’re proclaiming a vicarious solution to a self-caused problem.  Or, even more ridiculously, a vicarious solution to a God-caused problem.

2) All Christians are in the business of proclaiming a sin problem.  But if “sin” is basically bad behaviour, you’ll draw a blank with many. (See more here)

3) We all know that our families shape us. My ancestor, Ann Forbes, committed a crime, was exiled from the mother country and thousands have been radically affected. One person, one crime, and whole generations are determined. All our family trees are like this. It’s a modern delusion to think that we’re self made people. It’s worth unmasking that delusion because it goes right to the heart of the gospel.

4) It has real traction with the unbeliever to say “There’s a brokenness to me that goes far deeper than behaviour. I’m a part of something bigger than me. Give me the best circumstances, the greatest achievements, my dearest loved ones, and still a selfishness and pride and envy comes out of me that can be shocking.” It connects with people to talk about “deep, overpowering drives”. Connecting that to a problem of being over behaviour is not incredible.  For those being awakened to the truth (about themselves and about Christ) it is very credible.

5) Addiction is a great category for sin opened out by speaking in ‘original sin’ / ‘bound will’ terms. (Not the only category certainly, but an important one),

6) Steve Levy’s “Hell sermon” is a tremendous example of how being “condemned already” (in Adam) connects with unbelievers in a profound way.

7) Mockingbird are constantly culturally relevant because they’re always hammering home the bound will.  See their resources. Here’s an example.  Or try this series: Good News for People with Big Problems.

8) Non-Christians are also questioning our modern equation of freedom with choice – see this TED talk on the Paradox of Choice.

9) Atheists (like Sam Harris) are far more deterministic than any biblical teaching on the bound will.

10) Whether they be atheists or not, many in the culture are drawing deeply theological conclusions from our supposed union with others. It’s just that they’re thinking of their union with star-dust, we’re thinking of our organic union with humanity.  I think we’re offering a much more believable account – certainly one that accords with our deepest feelings of personal affinity.

In my own experience, I’ve seen non-Christians respond powerfully to Adam and Christ teaching.  Secular folks have become Christians through 321 and the Adam stuff has made a deep impact.  On Sunday I preached on Romans 5 and the common response from listeners was “I wish my unbelieving friend could have heard that.”  Not – “That was weird, let’s keep it to ourselves!”

I’m sure I’m wrong in many, many cases, but when I hear people say “The world will never believe in Adam”, I suspect they really mean “I do not believe in Adam.”  That might be completely false, but it’s a suspicion that’s been borne out in a few specific cases.

You might ask, “What on earth should we say to our scientifically minded friends who laugh at an historic Adam?”  Well I’d simply ask them about their belief in Christ. With 1 Corinthians 15 open I’ll say, “Here’s the bible’s logic: if Christ rose, Adam fell. Let’s ask whether Christ rose…”

I’m not seeking to build discrete theological points in a sequential argument – in which case I suppose we’d have to lay an Adam foundation first. But no, I’m inviting the non-Christian into the bible’s world and saying “Look around at the whole thing, see how it fits together. See how this story helps make sense of your story, etc, etc.”

I’m not asking them first to buy Genesis 2. Nor am I asking them first to buy Genesis 1.  To begin with, I’m asking them to view the world through a different set of lenses and praying they’ll “See it!”

Notice that I want them to “view the world” differently.  I think that’s important.  So often in evangelism we want maximal agreement in advance and so, for instance, when we teach on God, we won’t make explicit that we proclaim ‘the God of Jesus‘. Instead  we’ll just let their default doctrine of God slide – maybe addressing that down the line.

In the same way, when we teach on humanity and the world, we leave people’s ruling assumptions alone.  We basically ask them to switch their view of “God up there” and possibly “me down here” but there’s zero transformation of their view of “the world out there.” It’s enlightenment evangelism, with a transition of “the man upstairs” but little or no change in their vision of the real world, down here.

I’m fully aware that such transformation is a life-long activity.  But given that saving faith fixes on the enfleshed, crucified and risen Christ, the youngest Christian’s vision of ‘the world’ is beginning to be transformed. Again, I’m not asking anyone to believe in ‘Genesis first’ or anything like that.  I’m just saying, when we invite our friends into a Christian view of reality, we’re inviting them over to our place – a grand and strange old house. But we’ll be super hospitable and we’ll pray they’ll grow to love it.

The trouble comes when when we leave the house built on the Rock and simply build on supposed common ground.  Great will be the fall!


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Evangelism Training Session 6

EvangelismHere’s the sixth and final 321Go evangelism training session.

The others are:

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

Session 4

Session 5

Session 6 Handout



Our Words – His Words  2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Luke 10:16

What does it mean to go in Jesus’ name?


Prayer for Openings  Acts 16:13-15; Colossians 4:2-6; Ephesians 6:19-20

What does it tell you about evangelism that we need open hearts, doors and mouths?


We’ve thought about these sentences:

“That’s what I love about Jesus…”
“That problem is far beyond me/us…”
“That’s what I love about being a Christian…”
“That’s what I love about my church…”


A Final Sentence Up Your Sleeve

“What’s stopping you becoming a Christian?”


Helping Them Make A Start  John 1:10-13

Explain that salvation is to know and trust Jesus (it’s a marriage union with Him)
We do this together with His brothers and sisters (talk about church)
We hear His word (talk about the bible)
We speak to Him (talk about prayer)

If they want to receive Him: Romans 10:9-13 – Believe, Confess, Call


Who Do I Know Who Needs to Know?

How open are they to me?

1. Nodding acquaintance / rarely see em
2. We talk, not very deeply
3. A friendship is there
4. We could talk about most things
5. We talk about everything

How open are they to the gospel?

1. They don’t know I’m a Christian / Don’t want to know
2. They know I’m a Christian but not much more
3. We’ve spoken about gospel things once or twice
4. They’d come to something / read a book
5. They’re open to exploring Christianity in a deeper way

Spend time thinking of 3 friends and how they might meet with Jesus.

Pray for them and for opportunities to share Jesus with them.


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Evangelism Training Session 5


321-GO! Part 5


Problems of the Head Luke 10:25-30ff

Coming to Christ is like getting to know a potential partner
Questions are involved, but questions are not the be-all and end-all!
At some point you just know enough to trust them.


Answering Questions: Reframing, Reflecting, Revealing…

We reframe the questions around the Bible’s definitions. (You could use 321!)
We reflect the question back because they too must answer it.
We reveal the gospel focused on Christ and Him crucified.


DISCUSS these questions using Reframe, Reflect, Reveal…

1) If God is all loving, all knowing and all powerful, how can he allow suffering?

2) Religion simply causes wars

3) How can Jesus be the only way to heaven?


A Sentence Up Your Sleeve…

“Can I step back and tell you what Christians believe in 5 minutes…”


Problems of the Heart  2 Corinthians 5:10-21

We want to feel ok with the world But Jesus hits a conversation like a sack of bricks.

We want to feel ok with God So I don’t want to get too involved with ‘the world’

We want to feel ok with ourselves But frankly we’re spiritually dry and it feels like a duty.


How would the Apostle Paul handle these objections? (2 Cor 5)



1. What problems of the head do you feel most keenly? How can they be addressed?

2. What problems of the heart do you feel most keenly? How can they be addressed?

3. Can you explain the Christian faith in 5 minutes using jargon-free language? Try it on each other.


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people together arrow


Session 1

Session 2

Session 3




Session 4 Handout

Session 4 Audio


God is a Community on Mission… and so are we! John 20:21-23

Outgoing-ness not so much a decision or act – a way of life.


Not Simply Sent… We Join Him In His Outgoing Life  Matthew 28:18-20; Heb 13:13

If God is outgoing, what does it mean to be godly?


Mission is a community thing  John 13:34-35.

What kind of community reaches the world?
Why should this be so?


We Help Each Other  1 Peter 2:9-12; 4:10-11

What does it mean for church to be a priesthood?

What is the significance of our different gifts within the priesthood?

Remember 1 Peter 3:15 – All are called to use words when the time is right!


A Sentence Up Your Sleeve…

“That’s what I love about my church…”



1. Sometimes it feels like God is up in heaven and wants us to go out and bring people in. How does this teaching challenge that thinking?

2. How does your community think of your church? (Do you want those thoughts to change?)
How does your church think of your community? (Do you want those thoughts to change?)

3. How can the life of church be more invitational? How can you be more invitational?

4. How would you complete that sentence “That’s what I love about my church…”? How might you naturally talk about your church family with friends?

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How are we one with Jesus?

Vine and Branches  John 15:4-5

Head & Body / Groom & Bride  Ephesians 5:25-30

Ruler and rulers  Revelation 2:26-27

Priest and People  Hebrews 4:14-16; 6:19-20; 7:23-28; 9:23-28; 10:11-14

Champion and Army  1 Samuel 17

Seed of Abraham  Galatians 3:16,29

Son and sons  Galatians 3:26

Anointed one(s)  1 John 2:20


The Privileges of Oneness with Jesus

His Status
His Inheritance
His Family



If you asked the non-Christians you know ‘What is the Christian life all about?’, how would they respond?

How does Oneness with Jesus shape our understanding of the Christian life?


Becoming One with the Son of God  John 1:12-14:

How does someone become a Christian?



People often say “I wish I had your faith!” What’s their understanding of “faith”?
How can people “have faith”?


A Sentence Up Your Sleeve…

“That’s what I love about being a Christian…”



  1. Sometimes people worry that offering Jesus “for free” will lead Christians to be careless about “doing good”. Given what we’ve been discussing, what would you say to that?
  2. Often we worry that we’re not clever or knowledgeable enough to share our faith. How does this teaching give us hope in our evangelism?
  3. What do you love about being a Christian? How could you drop this naturally into conversation?


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What’s the big problem with the world?

DISCUSS: “You and I do bad things and fail to do good things.  If we don’t sort out this sin problem now we’ll be in trouble when we die.”

What’s good and bad about this statement?

How would you improve it?


1 Corinthians 15:20-23

In Adam we – and the whole world – are taken down to death and curse

In Christ we – and the whole world – are raised to life and blessings


Shaped by our families

In Adam we share:

family historydisconnection from God.

family traitsdefects: suspicion, slavery, selfishness, stuff-ups

family inheritancedeath.

Our problem is not so much our behaviour, it’s our being.
How will this affect our evangelism?


O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
A second Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came.
Praise to the Holiest in the Height, J.H. Newman

How does Jesus solve our disconnection, defects and death?

John 3:1-18


A Sentence Up Your Sleeve…

That problem is beyond me. I don’t think I/we can ever solve it, do you?”



  1. How are Adam and Jesus similar?  How are they different?
  2. Someone asks, “Why is there so much suffering and evil in the world?”  Using the teaching of this session, how would you answer?
  3. If you were asked “Why did Jesus come?” how would you answer?
  4. What is the “problem” you’d drop into conversation above? How do you think you could naturally speak about our great need for a Saviour?


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THREE          God is Three Persons united in love

TWO               The story of the world is the story of two representatives

ONE               You are one with Adam. Will you be one with Jesus?



 What was there “in the beginning?”  John 1:1-18






From His Family to Our Failures  Matthew 3:13-17

He joins us in our filth to invite us to His Family.


It All Begins With Jesus  John 1:14; John 14:5-10; Colossians 1:15

Which God do you believe in?

Which God don’t you believe in?


A Sentence Up Your Sleeve…

          “That’s what I love about Jesus…”



  1. “What’s all this trinity nonsense?” asks a friend. What do you say?
  2. What are the dangers of speaking about an unChristlike God?  Have you fallen into that danger?
  3. How would you complete that sentence in conversation: “That’s what I love about Jesus…”?  What would you say about what first attracted you to Christ?  What would you say about what currently attracts you to Him?

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321 Houseparty Talks

Priesthood of Christ

I had a great time this weekend with Emmanuel Church, Plymouth. It was a time of refocussing our vision through the lens of Jesus. In Him we see God, the world and ourselves rightly.

If you’ve heard me before on any of these passages, move along, nothing new here. But if not, here are the mp3s and Powerpoint …

Beginning with Jesus – Colossians 1:15-23

God’s Threeness – Galatians 3:26-4:7

The World’s Twoness – Romans 5:12-21

Our Oneness – John 15; Ephesians 5; Hebrews 4

Communion – 1 Corinthians 10:14-17; 11:23-26

Powerpoint Slides


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321321 begins by associating God with three-ness.  “God is three Persons united in love” says the presentation.  And occasionally people have asked, “What about God’s one-ness?”

Well the short answer is – it’s right there in the explanation: “three Persons united in love.” That phrase is just trying to unpack the word Trinity which is itself only the squashing together of “tri” and “unity”.  Just from the word ‘Trinity’ it should be clear how the church has considered God’s one-ness historically. God’s one-ness is a unity of the Three.  It’s not a unity apart from the Three or underneath the Three. But often we think like that.

It’s always revealing when people say things like: “Trinity is great but we also need to focus on God’s unity.” This is literally the same as saying “The unity of the Three is great, but we also need to talk about the unity of God.”  At that point we really need to ask, “What is this second kind of unity you want to talk about? And what is this God you want to talk about apart from discussion of the Three?”  Those are worrying questions to raise!

To answer them, people sometimes try to wheel in Gregory of Nazianzen for support. In doing so they make him say the precise opposite of what he meant.  Here’s his famous quote:

No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendour of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one.

Wonderful theology. Yet in a heartbeat the thought can get turned into…

Once I’ve spent a decent amount of time thinking about the one God of monotheism, I then force myself to spend the same amount of time considering Father, Son and Spirit.  And once I’ve given equal airtime to the Three, I return to my philosophically defined monad.

But that couldn’t be further from Gregory’s meaning. The One simply is the profound interpenetration of the Three and the Three just are ‘in’ each other in unloseable, mutually-constituting, ontological oneness. Gregory is not saying that we ought not to think of one-ness and three-ness separately. He’s saying we cannot do it.  The one and the three are strictly mutually-defining concepts.

Yet every time someone says “Let’s not prioritise trinity, let’s give equal time to the unity” they attempt this feat.  Whatever three-ness they’re considering apart from the one-ness – it’s not the true three-ness of God. Whatever one-ness they’re considering apart from the three-ness – it’s not the true one-ness of God.

So here’s my offer. I will happily major on the one-ness of God for the rest of my life. I will rename the website one-two-one.org – cool, still has a nice ring to it.  But I’ll do it on one condition: can we please all agree that this oneness is the one-ness of Jesus with His Father?

You see, if we’re talking about Christ, if we’re talking about the gospel, if we’re talking about salvation, then whatever one-ness we uphold must not destroy the concrete Person of Jesus. It must not mess with the gospel economy in which the Son lives and dies before the Father, is exalted and ministers before Him.  It must not dissolve our salvation in which the Son bears us before the Father. If Jesus, if the gospel, if salvation determines our God-talk then the one-ness we maintain must be a one-ness of distinct Persons mustn’t it?  It must be a one-ness that includes difference and interplay and relationship mustn’t it?

So if the one-ness we’re talking about is the “one-ness” of Jesus with His Father then sign me up. I couldn’t be more for “one-ness”.  I’ll talk about this one-ness until Jesus returns.  But some want to talk about another one-ness – a one-ness that would dissolve the Person of Jesus, His gospel, His salvation. A one-ness that would involve not merely looking away from ‘the Three’ in some abstract sense, but looking away from Jesus and His gospel in order to know God. To look to this other one-ness is to look away from the God of Jesus and we must never do that.

There can be only one kind of one-ness. And it’s the one-ness of the Three.

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Here are two different 321 songs – both are based on Fanny Crosby’s “To God be the Glory”.  One simply uses the old tune (and has slightly child-friendlier lyrics), the other is a round.


I’ve used different lyrics at different points, but I think these are the words I’m most happy with:

Forever Three tethered together as one,
The Father and Spirit embracing the Son.
Before and beyond and beneath and above,
Our God is a Family united in love.

Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the peoples rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
Be filled by His Spirit with all Christ has done.

The world has a history written by two:
King Adam fell faithless, King Jesus renewed.
First Adam brought darkness and death and a curse,
But Jesus came second — the fall to reverse.

Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the peoples rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
Be filled by His Spirit with all Christ has done.

Once born into Adam but now we can be
United to Jesus, adopted, set free.
As one with the Son we are given new birth,
His Father, His Spirit and heaven on earth!

Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the peoples rejoice!
O Come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
Be filled by His Spirit with all Christ has done.


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321 – A Kids Song

Thanks to Fanny Crosby

Our God is three Persons together as one,
The Father, the Spirit and also the Son.
Before and beyond and beneath and above,
Our God is a Family united in love.

Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the peoples rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
Be filled by the Spirit with all Christ has done.

The world is a story that’s written by two:
King Adam fell badly, King Jesus renewed.
First Adam brought darkness and death and a curse,
But Jesus came second – the fall to reverse.

Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the peoples rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
Be filled by the Spirit with all Christ has done.

We’re born one with Adam but now we can be
United to Jesus, adopted, set free.
As one with the Son we are given new birth,
His Father, His Spirit and heaven on earth!

Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord,
Let the peoples rejoice!
O Come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
Be filled by the Spirit with all Christ has done.

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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!”

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This is part of a series exploring the interaction of 321 and the four events which more commonly organise an evangelistic presentation.  We’ve had

—  321 and Creation

—  321 and Fall

—  321 and Redemption

Now we’ll consider 321 and Repentance.

You’ll notice that I’m not considering Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation.  More properly those are the four gospel events – all four resting in God’s hands.  I’m considering “repentance” rather  than “consummation” simply because the evangelistic presentations with which we’re familiar tend to finish with our work not God’s.  And perhaps that’s significant!  We’ll see.

Today we’ll examine repentance according to 3, 2 and 1.  Tomorrow we’ll draw out some implications…

How does 3 shape our understanding of repentance?

Trinity means that God is Giver (see here).  Therefore the Fall is a failure to receive from the giving God (see here).  What then will repentance involve?  Well it can’t involve a summoning up of religious resolve!  It can’t be the determination of the sinner to “get serious” and start making up the missed payments.  That kind of self-will is virtually the essence of sin!

No, repentance with the triune God means receiving the gift of the Son.  The Father has given Christ to the world (John 3:16).  The new life is not in us – it’s in Jesus (1 John 5:11).  Repentance – the new life we must have – is a gift of the Father, present in the Son, offered by the Spirit (Acts 5:31; Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25).

How does 2 shape our understanding of repentance?

Adam cannot repent.  Adam can only perish.  This is a vital point to grasp and Edward Fisher in The Marrow of Modern Divinity expressed it well in dialogue form:

— I conceive that repentance consists in a man’s humbling himself before God, and sorrowing and grieving for offending him by his sins, and in turning from them all to the Lord.

— And would you have a man to do all this truly before he come to Christ by believing?

— Yea, indeed, I think it is very meet he should.

Why, then, I tell you truly, you would have him to do that which is impossible.

According to Paul, the unbeliever is dead in transgressions and sins and bound to Satan (Eph 2:1-3).  No exercise of moral or religious effort can deliver such a person (Phil 3:1-9).  The law, even the law of God, is powerless to save (Rom 3:20; 8:3).  And so the unbeliever is sunk in sin and flesh, bound to Satan, under the law’s condemnation, without hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:12).  There is nothing within the unbeliever that will help them.  Asking Adam to repent is like asking a corpse to ‘get fit’.  There needs to be a new life.  But the unbeliever is in no position to summon it.

How does 1 shape our understanding of repentance?

When I married my wife, “single Glen” died.  That old existence was put to death in our covenant union.  In this sense “old Glen” did not contribute to the marriage, “old Glen” was killed by the marriage.  I became new in one-ness with my wife.  And this newness was a radical, all-of-life revolution.  Nothing remained the same.  Every aspect of my life had to be rethought according to my married identity.  But I didn’t earn any of this.  It was all a gift that came part-and-parcel with the marriage.

In the same way, sinners are offered covenant union with Christ.  In this oneness they are killed and given a new existence.  Everything is different.  Nothing remains untouched by this unbreakable oneness.  The sinner does not (and cannot) earn it.  But in Jesus there is, suddenly, a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

So then, what kind of “repentance” does 321 preach?

Let me break it down into some propositions that I tweeted earlier in the year:

  • Adam cannot repent. Adam can only perish.
  • True repentance must be done to us (as faith is done to us) since the greatest sin is to imagine that we can ‘do penance.’
  • There cannot be impenitent faith (if it’s true faith) or unbelieving repentance (if it’s true repentance).
  • Repentance and faith are not two separate stages of salvation. They are two sides of the same coin. But note – this is a coin God gives to us!
  • Repentance is given to us because Christ is given to us – and that’s the direction of travel, from Him to us.
  • We do not offer repentance to God as our part of the bargain. We’re summoned to repentance in the gospel because this is the life of faith.

And as we offer Christ, we tell the unbeliever exactly what a life of one-ness will look like with Jesus.  Just as ‘marriage prep’ unveils the good and the bad of the union on offer, so we prepare people for the radical, total-life-change which Jesus brings.  But at the end of the day we offer Christ.  And we say as Spurgeon did:

Do not attempt to touch yourself up and make yourself something other than you really are, but come as you are to Him who justifies the ungodly. …The Gospel will receive you into its halls if you come as a sinner, not otherwise. Wait not for reformation, but come at once for salvation. God justifieth the ungodly, and that takes you up where you now are; it meets you in your worst estate. Come in your disorder. I mean, come to your heavenly Father in all your sin and sinfulness. Come to Jesus just as you are: filthy, naked, neither fit to live nor fit to die. Come, you that are the very sweepings of creation; come, though you hardly dare to hope for anything but death. Come, though despair is brooding over you, pressing upon your bosom like a horrible nightmare. Come and ask the Lord to justify another ungodly one. (From “Justification of the Ungodly” by C.H. Spurgeon.  A sermon on Romans 4:5 – found in “All of Grace“)

For more on preaching repentance in evangelism, see this paper I wrote a few years ago.

And stay tuned for part two where we’ll tease out some more implications…

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Click for source: Mormon Website

I’ve been thinking about the three doctrines of 321 and how they interact with the four events of more traditional gospel outlines.  Previously I’ve discussed Creation and Fall.  Now we’ll look at Christ’s work of redemption.

How does 3 shape our understanding of Christ’s redemption

I don’t think I know any gospel outlines that begin with the Trinity.  (If you know of any, please tell me).  But if a presentation does not have the Son of God “in the beginning” it’s going to be awkward to crow-bar him in later.

How will Jesus be introduced as anything greater than a Prophet in a scheme that does not begin with His divine glory.  Instead, the introduction of Jesus into gospel explanations can only befuddle the non-Christian who is prone to ask “Who is this guy?  What’s he got to do with this creation and fall business you’ve been speaking of?”

In so many schemes Jesus comes late to fix a problem he’s not been involved with.  This has massive implications for the presentation of his Person – does he really come across as fully God?  And it hugely affects the presentation of his work – he looks for all the world like an innocent third party interposed into the God – man dilemma.

John Stott saw the desperate need for a trinitarian framing of the cross when he wrote:

At the root of every caricature of the cross there lies a distorted Christology…  In particular, it is essential to affirm that the love, the holiness and the will of the Father are identical to the love, the holiness and the will of the Son. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. (The Cross of Christ)

The doctrine of penal substitution – which I both affirm and love – has been attacked in recent years.  But the version of it that has aroused such scorn has often been the non-trinitarian caricature which Stott wrote against.  If we’re going to uphold the glory of the cross we must put it in its proper trinitarian context.

How does 2 shape our understanding of Christ’s work of redemption?

Why did Christ have to become a man?  Why couldn’t the Son have incarnated as a literal Lamb?  Or why couldn’t God have “zapped” the wooden cross, rather than his Son?  If redemption is simply about the just justification of sinners in the punishment of the Son – why does Jesus become our Brother?  Couldn’t God’s wrath have been poured out on a non-incarnate Son?

No, no, no!  The Son takes our flesh because he’s entering into our plight and transforming it from the inside.  As many church fathers have put it: He became what we are, so that we might become what he is.  Redemption is not simply the balancing of the punishment books.  It’s about our Maker summing up his creation in himself – taking responsibility for it.  His penal substitutionary death is absolutely vital.  On the cross he is “carrying the can” for his handiwork.  But that act is comprehended within a vast work of creation and redemption – moving humanity (and in humanity, the cosmos) through death and curse to life and glory.

Of course the Son had to become Man.  Man rules the world.  Adam – the pattern of the Coming One (Rom 5:14) – stood over creation, ruling and blessing it.  Through the fall, he failed and cursed it.  Christ comes to wrest humanity (and in humanity, the world) back to God.  In his resurrection, he takes us through death and into an immortal physical glory.  This is the cosmic dimension to salvation which will always be missed when we construe the gospel as, simply, the answer to ‘my sin’.  ‘Adam and Christ’ vitally connects Jesus’ work to this flesh and this world.  Without it, as Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15, we have no gospel.

How does 1 shape our understanding of Christ’s work of redemption?

So 3 assures me that Jesus is God. 2 assures me that Jesus is Man. But you might well think – so what?  I’m still left on the outside of all this.  And at this point two questions become vital to ask and answer:

1) How do I benefit from the Person and work of Jesus?

2) What do I do once I have appropriated Christ’s salvation?

In answer to the first question, many gospel presentations put the task firmly into the sinner’s hands.  Jesus has “cleared the path” through his death and resurrection, now the sinner must “take the step of faith” and come to God.  The appropriation of Christ’s benefits happens through “the sinner’s prayer” in which we ask for – and God zaps into our account – forgiveness, righteousness, the Spirit and eternal life.  Jesus does not really mediate these benefits, he only pays for them.  And this leads to a problem in answering that second question: What now?

Now that I’ve stepped across Jesus – “the bridge” – what is the Christian life?  I’ve got forgiveness and eternal life, so how will the evangelist tell me to continue?  Probably they’ll tell me to go to church, read my bible, pray, try hard not to sin and hold on tight till heaven.  To which I’m liable to say “Why??!  What connection does any of that have to what you’ve described in your sales pitch?!”

But no.  We benefit from the Person and work of Christ because he is given to us in marriage union.  All that is mine is his – he takes my sin and shame and covers over it.  All that is his is mine – he gives me his status, his inheritance, his family connections.  Best of all he gives me himself.  And this is the Christian life: belonging to Jesus and he to me.

So of course the Christian now belongs to his body, of course they listen to him (in the bible) and speak to him (in prayer).  It’s all organically related to Jesus himself.  That’s a salvation – and a salvation message – that makes sense.

But without Trinity, Adam and Christ and union with Christ, the very heart of the gospel – Christ and his work – will be radically misunderstood.



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