Why I Fell Out Of Love With Two Ways To Live Pt.3

Previously I’ve laid out why I feel that Two Ways To Live is man centred as opposed to Christ centred. Today I look at a third issue, which is that…

It Defines Sin Poorly

For TWTL, Sin is basically defined as rebelling against God and making ourselves king rather than Him. The presentations blurb tells us “men and women everywhere have rejected God by doing things their own way.” Notice that rejection comes from our behaviour – “doing things.” How many times have you heard a conversation that goes something like this?

Evangelist: Do you think you’re a good person?
Non-Believer: Yeh I think I’m pretty good.
Evangelist: Have you ever stolen anything, even like say, paperclips from the office?
Non-Believer: Well yeh I guess, maybe some pens or something.
Evangelist: But that’s stealing. Are people that steal good people? Do you really think God will let people who steal into heaven?

Etc, etc. This kind of thing is standard fare in those American street evangelism videos. But do you see how petty that makes God look? Sending people to hell for all eternity for paperclips? Way to overreact God! Now, I’m not denying that sin lies at the root of this, but trying to convict people on their behaviour just isn’t a winner. Most people won’t even think they’re doing anything wrong, and certainly nothing that merits eternal punishment, no matter what the Bible might say.

So defining sin as rebellion and the things we do wrong is unhelpful (and I think biblically weak). Romans 5 coupled with Jesus’ comments in Matthew 5:19-20 (evil coming from our hearts and that being what defiles us) show us something else. Behaviour isn’t the problem, being is! And because of that we’re condemned from the start. Our behaviour is merely a symptom of corrupted being, something which is far deeper and darker. Now I think people can identify with and are more convicted by this than paperclips. Talking about deep drives that overpower us, the things we say and do that just seem to spill out of us and we don’t really know why. The dark thoughts that run through our minds that we wouldn’t want anyone else to know, or promising ourselves not to do something but finding ourselves doing it over and over again as if we have no control over ourselves. That even when we might behave relatively well, there is still a selfishness in us that we naturally gravitate to.

Can’t everyone see this in themselves? That somewhere, deep down inside, whether we like to admit it or not, there’s a darkness? There’s something fundamentally broken about us, even corrupted but normally we don’t like to stop long enough to think about it?

Now I’m not saying everyone will immediately say yes that’s me, but I think it stirs something deeper in people than running off a list of bad behaviours they may or may not have committed and which they may or may not think are wrong. We need to draw people’s attention to the root of the problem, not just the symptoms. And as someone once said “the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.”

Another feature of TWTL’s take on sin, is sin as self rule. As the blurb says, “we prefer to follow our own desires, and to run things our own way, without God.” Couple that with the little crown pictures throughout the presentation and you’ve got sin as self rule. We’re little Kings and Queens! Here’s the thing. Some people might think they’re running their own lives but biblically this isn’t the case. Ephesians 2:1-2 tell us:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”

Can you see what Paul says there? Before anyone came to Christ, they were under the influence of the ruler of the kingdom of the air. In other words, they weren’t ruling themselves, Satan was ruling them. As Martin Luther said “We are beasts ridden either by the devil or God.” We haven’t climbed onto the throne of our lives because someone else is already on the throne and it’s not us. So why would we want to reinforce the delusion of self rule? If anything, surely that’s to play down the seriousness of the situation?

Check out the first 53 seconds of this video (or watch the whole thing if you get sucked in, I’ll wait)

What happens there? The characters examine the evidence and begin to wonder who they’re fighting for; “Hans, are we the baddies?” They realise they’re on the wrong team and it’s not a neutral harmless one. And that’s our situation. We’re not rival kings & queens to Jesus, we’re subject in the wrong kingdom. We are the baddies on the wrong side of the war. We are not rulers, we are ruled. If anything is biblically true, it’s that we’re on the wrong team and it’s not team “Me”, it’s team “Satan.”

So the self-rule thing doesn’t really sit well for me but I also think TWTL’s answer to this misses a pretty important (and incredibly exciting) biblical point. Effectively, the solution we’re given is to get off of the throne of our lives and put Christ back on it. We need to submit to Jesus. Now submitting to Jesus is right and good, but if we only speak of our relationship with Jesus in terms of submission then we’re left with something very similar to Islam. Even the word Islam itself mean “to submit”

And whilst TWTL speaks simply of getting off of the throne and submitting, the Bible says something slightly different. Take at look at Ephesians 1:19-20:

“That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms”

Here we’re told of what the Father did for Jesus. Now compare Ephesians 2:6 and what God does for us when we come to faith in Christ:

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”

The wording is almost identical and the passages are both so close together that  I think we’re supposed to see that what God does for Christ, God also does for us. Stick this together with Revelation 3:21…

“To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

…and we get a very different picture from TWTL. Rather than being told to get off the throne (which we’re not on anyway), we’re invited to join Christ on the throne and share in his rule with him. That’s pretty dramatically different and also a wonderful privilege for the Christian believer but I can’t help but feel that Two Ways To Live doesn’t even begin to factor in this wonderful truth. It just feels like it’s missing a rather large point.

Part 4 coming soon…

Challenges and Opportunities

Once a year I do a  short talk at the carol service of a local special needs school, which is held in our church building. It’s a fun service, if not a little crazy and this was my second time doing it. The children range from primary school age all the way through to 6th form and all suffer from various forms of learning difficulties and physical disabilities. Some children’s conditions are very severe, others wouldn’t look out of place in an ordinary classroom. And it’s that which really makes it such a difficult talk to do.

The teacher in charge said I should aim it at about the level of a 6 year old. This is tough for me anyway. Normally, I work with 11-18’s and so never really do any work with younger children. If I do, I always find it tough, as that age really isn’t my gifting (I certainly don’t have much patience with them). So was already on the back-foot. Couple this with the fact that I don’t have any experience of working with children with learning difficulties or disability and you can probably understand why it was so daunting for me. It also didn’t help that this year the school had told me I would only need to attend but then I found out a few days ago that wires had been crossed somewhere and actually I would be need to do something. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not the fact that the kids have problems that bothers me. I’d been briefed beforehand that some kids would just scream and cry throughout, try and make a run for it and such like but that the best thing to do is just let the teachers and carers sort it out and to crack on as if nothing was happening. That was fine. It was the message I struggled with.

I’d planned to show a short video of the nativity that I would narrate and then explain how Jesus had come to rescue us from all the wrong things we had done and why that’s so brilliant. But as the service started I panicked and changed direction. I know this might sound wrong, but I cut out everything to do with us being bad – so the sin effectively. Now I wouldn’t normally do that under any circumstance because our sinfulness and need for rescue is just absolutely central to the gospel message. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell these kids they were sinners because there were children in the room who clearly had no control over the way they behave. Of course, I know they are sinners, we all are and it’s not just our behaviour that can be sinful. But I just couldn’t do it. There were kids in those rooms in wheelchairs, barely conscious and drooling, and that’s who they are, 24/7. There they were with their parents and families and I just felt like I couldn’t get up and basically say they had all gone against God and that’s why they needed Jesus.

So I bottled it and went for something about Jesus being the greatest gift because he never wears out and breaks but will last forever. If we trust in him then we will have eternal life with him in heaven and that basically Jesus loves them. I will quite happily stand up and say that as talks go, it was a low.

But I want to do next year, hopefully with more notice and with more time to think through how to share the gospel with these children. If anything, it made me question my academic, intellectualised, middle class faith. None of those children are ever going to wrestle with Anselm’s theory of atonement, or Luther’s thought on justification by faith alone, but Jesus came to die for them and so in some way, it must be possible for even the most severely disabled to child to put their faith in Jesus. A real childlike faith. Pretty humbling for us middle class educated types talking about whether people have quite “got it” yet.

On the flip side of that today, I had a good chat with my line manager about involvement in our local secondary school. I generally get in a few times a year for a couple of assemblies and am occasionally asked to come and be questioned about the churches view of one topic or another. And I love those classroom sessions. Sure the kids are a bit more rowdy than at church but some of them ask far better questions than my churched kids. It’s a brilliant opportunity to tell the gospel to kids who really haven’t heard it before. Problem is that those sessions are few and far between and I really want to become a heavier presence in the school. So next week I have meeting with the head of R.S. to discuss what I could do. Anyone got any ideas? At the moment I’m pretty much stuck with just asking to get in more regularly. Thoughts would be appreciated.

We also had a good chat about the CU at the school. Basically, there isn’t one. Most of the young people from my youth group go further afield to school and so we have relatively few contacts with youngsters in our local school and those that we do are, well perhaps not the most committed of Christians. They’re mostly still at the stage of not wanting to let their friends know they’re Christian, let alone spend one lunch break a week at a Christian group. How have other people got CU’s off the ground? Is a CU even the way forward? My line manager and I think we need to use the Christian teachers we know there. They will have far more freedom and sway to advertise things and get things done. I’ve got a few on my radar and so I think the next step is to approach them and go from there. The encouraging thing is that as there is currently nothing really happening, I’ve got nothing to lose. I can try various things and see what happens.  Like I said, if anyone with schools work experience is reading this, please chuck some ideas this way as I will happily take them, CU related or not. There’s over 1000 kids in that school and most haven’t heard the gospel so we’ve got to do something.

So it looks like I’ve got a big task ahead but it’s one I’m looking forward to.  I find getting the gospel to un-reached people really exciting and exhilarating and I’ve tended to find that it’s when I step out and take risks for God that I see him do really amazing things. Something to be praying for methinks.