Why I Fell Out Of Love With Two Ways To Live Pt.4

After taking a short break from this series over the Christmas period and new year (Happy New Year BTW), I thought I should probably get a shift on and actually get down part 4 of my look at Two Ways To Live. So without further ado, the other problem I have with TWTL is:

The Illusion of Choice

Now this might be a slightly controversial one as I know Christians have different views about this. TWTL’s tagline is ‘the choice we all face’ but I just don’t think following Jesus is about making a choice (hear me out), because I don’t think any of us have the ability to make the choice to follow Jesus. Left to our own devices, we are so steeped in sin that it is impossible for us to choose Jesus of our own accord. We’ve already seen in part 3 that we’re not free agents and that before being saved we’re under the rule of Satan. Two Ways To Live doesn’t pick up on this, which is a shame, but it also paints another unhelpful picture of what we’re like. We’re depicted as empowered decision makers who should take the clever option for the discerning religious consumer and make the enlightened choice. But this idea is foreign to the Bible.

We’re not empowered decision makers, given a choice and just needing to make the right one. We are captives in the strong man’s house (Mark 3:27).  We are helpless slaves to sin (John 8:34).  We are whores besotted with terrible lovers (Ezekiel 16).  We are sheep following after bad shepherds (Ezekiel 34).  We are thirsty beggars drinking from broken wells (Jeremiah 2:13-14).  We are lost and must be found (Luke 15). We are snake-bitten and need healing (John 3:14f). We are famished and need Bread (John 6). We are dominated subjects in Satan’s kingdom (Ephesians 2:1-3).We are dead and need raising (John 5:24f).

These are not pictures of empowered decision makers who just need to choose to get out of this situation. These are pictures of people who are hopelessly lost, enslaved, dead! That last picture, death, is the most helpful in seeing where the idea of choice falls down. TWTL presents us with two lifestyle choices. But of course, we don’t really have a choice, because we’re spiritually dead and dead people don’t, in fact they can’t, make decisions! When was the last time you heard about someone who was dead and one day just chose to be alive again? When was the last time you went to a funeral and you heard the vicar say in his address, “well it’s terribly sad that she’s gone but who knows?! She might just choose to come back again!”Or when Lazarus was dead in the tomb, did we hear Jesus say, “I’m sure he’ll choose to be alive again when he’s ready?”

Imagine that you’re walking along the street one day and “BAM!” You have a heart attack. You fall to the ground and your heart stops beating, leaving you lying dead on the curb. Now you are in no position to make any choices at that point. You are entirely dependent on salvation coming from outside of you. Maybe a passer by or a paramedic will step in and administer CPR, get your heart beating again and give you your life back. But you! You were powerless. This is exactly the situation we’re in.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2:1, 4-5

We were dead and made alive, and this wasn’t our choice. Following Jesus is not something we choose to do. We don’t weigh up the evidence and then choose to have faith. Faith is given to us as a gift, it comes from outside of us.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God
Ephesians 2:8

Now one of the ways we might receive faith may involve us weighing up the evidence but let’s not falsely pretend we’re free agents reaching this point ourselves. We’re only going to come to faith if faith is given to us. Even in those circumstances, we’re still receiving it.

Think of a couple of classic illustrations we often use and how they’ve been influenced by the same sort of thinking as TWTL. Take the illustration of being stuck in a burning building and the fireman putting his ladder up to the window. All we need to do is make the decision to jump into his arms and let him save us. Or the image of being lost at sea and floundering in the water, until a boat appears and someone throws you a life ring, urging you to take hold of it. I’ve used both these and similar illustrations before. But don’t they suggest that the fireman himself can’t really rescue us and that those on the boat are ultimately helpless to save us? In the end, the focus is put onto us and our decision. Choose to leap into the fireman’s arms. Choose to grab the life ring. Once again, subtly, the focus is being moved off of Jesus and onto us (and the gospel simply as self preservation again). It would be more accurate to have us as the person overcome with smoke inhalation and not breathing, or the body floating facedown in the water, lungs filled with fluid, who is then resuscitated by our rescuer.

Ultimately, the gospel is not a one of two lifestyle choices, it is life to the dead and the dead can’t choose to make themselves alive again, Christ gives life. I think this has far greater impact than Two Ways To Live.

If not TWTL, then what?

So you’ve probably guessed by now that Two Ways To Live doesn’t float my boat. So what does? Below is 321, an outline I have been particularly taken by in the last year. I’m not going to say anything about it, it’s just yours to watch. Below I’ve also posted some links to a few articles from the writer of 321, Glen Scrivener, where he addresses how 321 relates to the classic gospel outline of Creation, Fall, Cross and Repentance. Enjoy!

321 & Creation
321 & The Fall
321 & Christ’s Redemption
321 & Repentance Part 1
321 & Repentance Part 2

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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…

Why I Fell Out Of Love With Two Ways To Live Pt.2

Yesterday evening I talked about Two Ways To Live’s lack of Christ centred-ness. I probably could have spoken more about that under this next heading, but thought it would be easier to break them up for the sake of length. So, issue number 2…

It’s Quite Man Centred

It’s tagline is, “The Choice We All Face.” The main focus of the whole thing is us and our response. That’s not to say it doesn’t look at the works of Jesus but his works are framed within something which is very much about us – the two ways we have to live and the choice we need to make (more on choice in part 4). So it’s not about Christ and what he’s done, it’s about you and what you need to do. This is part of the reason it struggles to remain Christ centred.

As the focus is squarely on us, Jesus and his works can never really take centre stage. Everything is framed around us escaping judgement and so the gospel becomes nothing more than a get out of jail free card. Jesus’ works are really just a means to an end, rather than Jesus himself being the big deal. This is in turn means that love for Jesus isn’t really encouraged, just preservation of self, namely avoiding hell.

I can think of a number of times I’ve asked teenagers why they trust in Jesus and the answer has been, “because I don’t want to go to hell.” There is some value in that, but as soon as they say it, I always rather think they’ve missed the point. Surely it should be because they’ve caught a glimpse of who Jesus is and what he’s done, that Jesus is so incredible and beautiful that they can’t help but surrender to him? The focus should really be on Jesus rather than benefit for self.

So the way Two Ways To Live frames things makes it very hard for Jesus to appear as anything other than a means to our salvation rather than our salvation himself – salvation becomes about escaping hell rather than knowing God through Christ (John 17:3) and as in my previous post, because the link between God and Jesus isn’t that explicit anyway, it become even harder to avoid this.

Part 3 to follow…

Why I Fell Out Of Love With Two Ways To Live Pt.1

OK OK, so in fairness, I don’t think I was ever “in love” with Two Ways To Live. To be honest, I’m not sure that I ever really felt that strongly about it. But nonetheless, it’s certainly been the default outline I’ve fallen back on when explaining the gospel, even if I haven’t explicitly started drawing out the six boxes.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Two Ways To Live, the whole presentation can be viewed here.

Even though I always seem to default to this outline, over the last year or so my attention has been drawn to a number of issues which have led me to question it’s helpfulness. Most of this has been a result of reading Glen Scrivener’s blog over at http://www.christthetruth.net which is undoubtedly  the best and most challenging thing I’ve been reading in the last year. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Two Ways To Live isn’t useful for anyone. It may well work  for you. But I think I’ve reached a point where I need to part company with it and over these next 4 blogs, I hope to be able to explain why and bring together the things I’ve been wrestling with in the last year. And that’s exactly what these blogs will be. Me wrestling. I’m not saying I’m right, or that I’ve got it all sorted, nor am I saying that some of my criticisms can’t be met with an answer. This is just where I’m at.

Briefly, here’s why.

It’s Not Very Christ Centred

Jesus doesn’t make his grand entrance until box 4 of 6. God is mentioned before this but Jesus isn’t. So when Jesus appears on the scene, we can’t help but say “well who is this guy?” He looks like nothing more than a third party stepping into a dispute between us and God that has nothing to do with him. Now of course, Jesus is our mediator so there’s an element of truth in there regarding the stepping in. The big problem though, is that Jesus isn’t a third party, he is in very nature God. But as Jesus hasn’t been mentioned at all until he enters the world, there’s real confusion over who he is. This is the problem I most commonly come up again when using the classic two ways to live outline. I get through boxes 1-3 alright, but when Jesus appears, the whole thing goes to pot.

Seeker: “Who is Jesus?”
Me: “Well he’s God.”
Seeker: “But I thought he was God’s son?”
Me: “Well yeh he is that too, because uh, you see…um… God is a trinity…”

Immediately, I’m back pedalling. Because I haven’t bothered to do the groundwork regarding the Trinity and Jesus’ divinity, it gets complicated very quickly. Now I can already hear people saying, “hang on, the trinity? With a non-Christian? Isn’t that quite advanced stuff (you gnostics you)? Do we really want to be dragging that in at this stage?” Well I want to answer with a resounding “YES!” Why? Because the trinity is at the very core of who God is. It’s inherently part of his nature. Before anything else was, God was Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God but three persons in unity. I’d say that’s pretty foundational stuff. In fact, the more I’ve thought about it, the stranger it seems that we try so hard not to talk about it.

And considering some of the great passages there are which can give clarity as to Jesus’ identity, it almost seems criminal not talk about it. John 1:1-18, Colossians 1:15-20, Philippians 2:5-8, Micah 5:2 are all stone cold classics and undoubted slam dunks in this area. They all clearly show us that Jesus is not a third party who “began”, so to speak, 2000 years ago. He’s the one whose origins are from ancient times, he’s the Lord of heaven, he’s God in the flesh, God with us, the visible image of the invisible God and in him the fulness of God was pleased to dwell.

If this isn’t naturally how we speak about Jesus, we’re always going to speak in a way that divides God and Christ, setting them up against one another and causing confusion for the non-believer. I’ve come to find this a big stumbling block for people and generally unhelpful.

As a slight addendum to this section, I’ve heard some Christians (who are pretty firmly entrenched in the two ways to live outline) almost sneer at this idea. “Oh you’re one of those people who thinks we need to mention the trinity in evangelism,” they say, implying that it’s just some passing fad. I’ve often felt the resistance here has come from those for whom the outline has become a bit of a sacred cow though. Let’s be careful not to be quick to dismiss and slow to re-evaluate. There’s a Pharisee lurking in all of us!

More thoughts on this in part 2. Coming soon!