A series about digital summaries of Christianity
Last time I asked if forgiveness is the best story we have to tell, and now I want to show you three bite-sized versions of what we believe. Each one has a different angle, with its own pros and cons, and each one provides a basic repertoire for talking about faith, however simplified it may be.
First, let’s get some terminology out of the way. I think of these primarily as catechisms, summaries of Christianity for people who are already Christians. That’s a pretty old-fashioned word, especially as these are all online tools, but I think it’s a good fit. I prefer it to ‘gospel presentations’ because these are not exactly about the gospel, and I prefer it to ‘evangelistic tools’ (implying ‘outreach’) because I think they’re generally more useful for teaching insiders than for communicating with outsiders.
But hey, if we are going to communicate with outsiders, we need to know our own story first! (iCatechism is an actual app, by the way.)
Early in my first year at university, I remember being asked to explain Christianity. I remember feeling that I should have known more, and wishing that I could be more articulate, more quickly.
That’s where Two Ways to Live was so helpful: it gave me somewhere to start, and some good categories. The presentation is based on six simple graphics, each with an accompanying Bible verse, and it has had an important place in Australian campus ministry ever since it was created by Phillip Jensen in 1978. Here’s the iPhone/iPad version.
I’m struck by at least two great strengths of 2WTL — ways in which it gives clarity about how Christians see the world. First, 2WTL has a real emphasis on the lordship of Jesus. The whole presentation highlights God as King, our proper place under God’s rule, and Jesus as the embodiment of this.
This goes hand in hand with the way in which 2WTL speaks of ‘sin’. It presents sin as rebellion, a way of life or attitude against God, rather than simply moral failure or wrongdoing. (This enables 2WTL to show our need for a Saviour without trying to elicit guilt in the listener — the reason other presentations could be called manipulative!) It’s a great way to talk about how we relate to God regardless of whether we ‘feel sinful’.
We don’t just need forgiveness, we need God’s rule. And so 2WTL ends with a point of decision: there are two ways to live, one path apart from God and another path in step with God. It gives little sense of what comes after this decision, only that this is ‘the choice we all face’. And this is excellent — as long as we recognise how specific and limited it is.
This is the point at which you can begin to see the limitations. As 2WTL draws to a close, it refers to ‘new life’, but doesn’t flesh this out. There’s only a couple of perfunctory references to the Spirit and to the Church. 2WTL is pretty much an account of Christianity without the Christian life. It’s also striking that the opening emphasis on the created world has disappeared from view.
Although 2WTL talks about a ‘way to live’, it focuses on a moment of decision — and by now you might be asking whether it’s even possible to separate those two things. In fact, if you’ve heard about Christianity elsewhere in the world, you might know that many people begin discipleship long before a moment of conversion! You don’t have to believe before you can belong, and becoming a Christian is always a community thing, not reducible to a personal decision. Although there is some acknowledgement of this in the accompanying information, it’s significant that it’s not in the 2WTL presentation itself, which claims to contain everything you need to become a Christian.
What has been your experience of 2WTL? Next time we’ll look at a more recent approach from America.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.