Posts Tagged ‘321’

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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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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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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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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321 and the Fall

321 is a an explanation of the Christian faith in three parts.

3 focuses on Trinity.

2 focuses on Adam and Christ.

1 focuses on union (or one-ness) with Christ.

321 is not structured around the gospel events.  Instead it unfolds the doctrines that explain those gospel events.  Without these doctrines, the events will be misunderstood and the goodness of the good news will be lost.

Last time we considered how 321 interacts with the event of Creation.

Without trinity, creation will be considered as the needy manufacture of a unitarian (and therefore taking) God – not the overflow of a trinitarian (and therefore Giving) God.

Without Adam and Christ, creation won’t be seen as part of the unified movement of creation-and-salvation, but a free-floating project.  Instead, with Adam and Christ, we see how very anchored the living God is to His handiwork.

Without union with Christ, we’ll think of creation in terms of distance and separation, rather than as something destined to participate in God’s own life.

Now we’re going to consider the fall.

How does 3 shape our understanding of the fall

Imagine that God was not Three Persons.  Imagine instead that for all eternity there was a solitary Individual.  If this unitary being brings anything else into existence, his deity would only be preserved by maintaining his absolute supremacy.  For creatures to correspond rightly to this god can only mean their being infinitely “other than” and “less than” a god who is defined over against his world.  If such a being creates then the creation has only one way to relate – it must submit.

What, therefore, is sin?  With a unitarian god, sin is not submitting to the power of the Sovereign.  (Perhaps you’re aware that “Islam” means “submission”).

But with a trinitarian God, what is sin?  Well in eternity this God has not been defined by supremacy but by sharing.  Having others alongside is not a threat to this God – it’s the very definition of His deity.  This God wants to share – to give us of Himself and to draw us in.

Therefore what is sin?  It’s refusing to receive from the generous God.

With a unitarian god, being distant is almost the definition of godliness.  With the trinitarian God, refusing His fellowship is the essence of sin.  And that sets a trinitarian gospel on a very different footing.  The problem with humanity is not, fundamentally, lack of obedience but lack of dependence.

Think of Jesus’ definition of sin in John 16:9: “that people do not believe in me.”  Our great sin is not receiving Jesus (remember that to believe and to receive Jesus is parallel, John 1:12).

Think of Paul’s definition of sin in Romans 14:23: “everything not of faith is sin.”  Again, sin is about not trusting the generous God.  He has given us His Son to be received by faith.  Instead we mistrust Him.  We close ourselves off from the giving God and now must handle life out of our own resources.

Flowing from this mistrust, we may then become mutinous rebels “shaking our fist at God”.  Sure, that might be one manifestation.  But we might also be meek self-haters, looking for love in all the wrong places.  We might be “trying to sit on the throne of our lives.”  Or we might be abandoning rule of our lives to all sorts of cruel masters.  Whichever way we turn, our sin is, first and foremost, our mistrust of God.  And it’s important to set up our gospel presentation in this way.  Because whatever we identify as the ‘problem’, it will decisively shape the ‘solution’ we offer.

If the ‘problem’ is “not obeying God” we have already implied the ‘solution.  Surely the solution will be “to start obeying God again.”  But no, the problem is that we don’t receive the Gift of God (Jesus).  For that, we are “condemned already.” (John 3:18).  But the solution is implied in the problem: “Believe in the name of God’s One and Only Son” (John 3:18).

How does 2 and 1 shape our understanding of the fall

When Augustine and Pelagius went toe-to-toe on the issue of our gracious salvation, Adam and Christ was at the heart of the debate. For Pelagius, we are not born in sin, we are born neutral.  We just use our freedom badly.  We choose sinful things, copying Adam’s bad example.

Now if this was the problem for Pelagius, you can guess what his ‘solution’ was.  Salvation was all about us using our freedom well.  We need to choose righteous things, copying Jesus’ good example.

Augustine saw this as a foul error – it denigrates Christ and exalts ourselves.  No – look at Romans 5:12-21.  We are born in Adam apart from any of our bad choices.  We are born again in Jesus apart from any of our good choices.  Our works just do not come into the equation.  Our second Adam has done it all – reconstituting damned sinners in Himself.

But in evangelism, Pelagius forces his way right back into our preaching.  We are reticent to speak of our union with Adam – it sounds anti-science, anti-reason and unfair.  (It’s none of those things by the way, I just don’t have time to address those questions now).  But in modern evangelism we neglect the bondage of the will and put our choices right back at the heart of the gospel.  We tell people that their bad decisions and deeds have separated them from God.  We might then tell of the work of Christ on the cross, but what we’ll really major on is the Decision which the sinner needs to make.  That’s where all the emphasis will lie.

And the sinner will be addressed as a free agent – they are Hercules at the cross-roads (pictured above), virtue lies in one direction and vice in the other, but it’s all down to them.  Whatever else we might have said about sinners being “lost” and “bound” and “blind” – we’ll forget that now.  Whatever else we might have said about Christ and His work being decisive, we’ve now moved on to the business end of proceedings.  The spotlight is unmistakably on the sinner.  It’s down to them.  They must refuse vice and choose virtue.  This is where salvation happens.

Does that kind of preaching sound familiar?

Why?  Why is there such a focus on decision-theology in modern evangelism?  Partly I think it’s because of the way we’ve set up the “problem”.  We’ve made the fall about behaviour (rather than being).  And we’ve located the problem within reach of the sinner.

But if it’s about deeds and decisions and if it’s about me then… how is Jesus the solution?  Perhaps Jesus can give me a really good talking to and perhaps He can persuade me to “Make a Decision”.  But at the end of the day, that kind of salvation happens in me, not in Him.

The true gospel is so much better than that.  The problem is far deeper than my behaviour, it’s about my very being.  It’s also “above my pay grade”.  The problem is out of my hands – it’s in a humanity in which I am culpably complicit.  But I can’t remake myself.  I can’t solve human nature.  The problem is deeper than I can handle and it’s also way over my head.

But then, so is the solution.  Just as I was caught up in something bigger than me, so now in Jesus I’m caught up in something bigger still.  The problem was out of my hands but so is the solution.  And that’s good news, because if it was down to me I’d spoil it.

Hear the gospel according to Adam and Christ: In Adam, though you’d done nothing bad, you were disconnected from God and cursed.  In Jesus, though you’ve done nothing good, you are reconnected to God and blessed.

This is the gracious gospel according to Paul, according to Augustine, and according to centuries orthodox Christian theology of virtually every stripe (…except, I’m tempted to say, evangelists!)  But if we deny this teaching our understanding of ourselves becomes shallow, the human will becomes sovereign, Jesus and His work becomes incidental and the gospel becomes an ultimatum.

Let’s get the problem right.  Only then will we have a solution that’s truly good news.

Next time we’ll consider the work of Christ according to 321…

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I’ve begun to explore how the three truths of 321 interact with the four planks of other gospel presentations (creation, fall, cross, repentance).  Those gospel events are vital.  But the three truths of Trinity, Adam and Christ and union with Christ are essential if we’re to understand the four events rightly.

Today we’ll think about 321 and creation….

“God made you, therefore…”

How do you want to finish that sentence?

There are many implications of God’s creative work.  But so quickly we want to speak about what it means for us.  And even when we consider what it means for God we cite implications like: God owns everything, He has certain rights, He’s the legitimate ruler of the universe and of you.  Essentially we think Creator means Creditor or Creator means King – in fact it can be hard for us to think in any terms beyond this.  “God made you, therefore you owe him” is a pretty common way of unpacking the implications of creation.  And when it comes as the first point in an evangelistic presentation, it introduces God to us in profoundly unhelpful terms.

When Athanasius was battling Arius, he identified a grievous error in the heretic’s method: Arius named God from his works and called him “Uncreated”.  He should have begun by naming God from his Son and calling him “Father.”  (Contra Arianos 1.34)  If the first thing we know about God is that he is Maker, we’ll start our gospel on the wrong foot.

For one thing, God defined as Creator becomes quite a needy deity.  He’s like the workaholic who doesn’t know who he is unless he’s at the office.  God defined as Creator needs to work.  He requires a world in order to fulfil himself.  And then creation is not so much a gift of his love as a project for his own self-interested purposes.  Instantly the God-world dynamic revolves around God’s needs and we are the ones to fulfil him.

Nicene faith, on the other hand, begins “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.”  Father comes first.  Which means, before anything else, God is a Life-giver.  Because of the truth of 3, He has lived in love long before He has lived in labours.  He does not achieve His divine identity by creating, instead creation expresses His eternal fruitfulness.  He has no need of galaxies, mountain ranges, rainforests and us.  We do not fulfil Him, He fulfils us.  We do not give to Him, He gives to us.

Therefore when the Christian says “God made you, therefore…” – how should we finish that sentence?  There are a hundred things we could say, but perhaps one of the first is, “God is Giver.”  “God is generous.”  “God is immeasurably expansive in His love.”   Whatever we say we need to avoid simply equating Creator with Creditor.  The whole direction of the gospel presentation will depend on this set-up.  Are we introducing God primarily as one who takes (because He’s earned the right by making us) or as one who gives (because He’s shown His life-giving character through creation)?

I hope you’ll see that 3 is a vital truth to surround the teaching of creation.

But 2 and 1 are important too.  Because what connection is there between God, the world and you?  Why does creation matter if, essentially, the gospel is God’s plan to save souls?  What relationship is there between the fall of humanity and the physical world?  What’s the link between Christ’s resurrection and the regeneration of all things?  And what does God actually want with the world?

If the gospel’s not about creation giving to God, then how does God’s giving nature express itself in creation.  Well He gives us our lives so He can give us His life.  He gives in order to give.  He creates a world through His Son and by His Spirit, so that He can enter that world through His Son and by His Spirit.  Again the direction of travel is vital.  God doesn’t create a world below so that we can learn to make our way back up.  He pours out His love in creation so He can pour out Himself in incarnation.  Creation is intended to receive its Lord so that He commits His future to us as a Bridegroom commits himself to a bride.

Creation is not simply a truth to be affirmed and then forgotten while we deal with the spiritual problems of sin and redemption.  Instead creation is the first stage in a unified movement of God, the goal of which is the summing up of all things under the feet of the incarnate Son (Ephesians 1:10)

Therefore the truths of 2 (Adam and Christ) and 1 (union with Christ) are vital – not just for the understanding of redemption.  They earth redemption’s story in creation.  The world, summed up by our Representative Man, is the place where salvation happens.  In this Man, on that cross, in our humanity God has worked.  And in this flesh, on this earth, with these eyes I will see my Redeemer (Job 19:25-27).

…More to follow…

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321 and the Gospel Events

321 is a gospel outline which I hope can teach the church and reach unbelievers with a richer, more Christ-centred account of the good news.  It’s the story of God, the World and You.

3   God is three Persons united in love

2  The story of the world is the story of two men

1  You are one with Adam.  Be one with Jesus.

Here’s the website which we’re building and here’s the animated outline in 5 minutes…

Now let me acknowledge something up front: The three points of the mnemonic are not the central events of the gospel.  Those events have to be narrated in among the three points.  The central events of the gospel are the coming, dying and rising of Christ.  But the three truths of 321 are the essential presuppositions without which the events of the gospel will be misunderstood.

I fully acknowledge that the gospel events, as narrated in places like 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, are concerned with the doing and dying of Jesus.  But that doing and dying will not make gospel sense without a true doctrine of God, of Christology, of  humanity and their proper interaction.  Therefore my contention is that Trinity, Adam and Christ and union with Christ are essential doctrines which surround and interpret the gospel events.

In the next four posts, I’m just going to examine the four truths highlighted in other presentations (like the Four Spiritual Laws, or Knowing God Personally, or The 4 Points) – they are Creation, Fall, Cross and Repentance.  I hope to show that these are vital elements of a gospel presentation and that they should be interpreted according to Trinity, Adam and Christ and union with Christ.  Failure to appreciate these four events in the categories of Trinity etc, will skew the story in unbiblical and unevangelical ways.

More to follow…


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