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‘You made it, well done! Let me take your coat and offer you a drink…’
If Christianity is a house, consider 321 ‘the grand tour’. You’re invited to step inside and have a look at the Christian faith from within. You’ll meet our guide, Jesus, who will take us through the house. We’ll explore the big issues: God, the world and ourselves. At the end we’ll sit down with a drink and you can ask your questions. How does that sound?
Perhaps you’re already familiar with Christian beliefs or maybe they are completely new to you. Whatever the case, this is a fresh telling of the Christian story that assumes no prior knowledge. All you need is an open mind and a willingness to explore. If that’s you then let’s take the tour in 3, 2, 1…
I’m a sucker for a freebie, so when Glen Scrivener offered me a review copy of his new book, 3–2–1, The Story of God, the World and You, I jumped at the chance. We already know I enjoy Glen’s writing style, but a book is different from a tweet, a performance poem or even a blog post. Could he translate his witty, engaging style into a longer, more persuasive piece? To be honest, at first I thought the answer was going to be ‘no’. I found the book hard to get into: the whistle–stop tour of Jesus’ life was at once too rushed and too long–winded – it covered what seemed to me to be too many highlights, while trying to paint with broad brushstrokes, and I found myself skipping ahead. Then in the next chapter, looking at THREE – who this God Jesus was representing really is – the sections on ‘Why I am not an a/theist’ felt somewhat cursory. If I were an atheist or a theist, I’m not sure I’d have felt the weakness of my position, or really felt that it was given the attention it deserved. This sounds as though my editorial advice would have been ‘Less about Jesus, more about atheism’, which doesn’t sound like the sort of thing I’m likely to say – just better on both, I think. These criticisms aside, once he actually got into the THREE, TWO and ONE structure of the book (THREE being the Trinity, TWO being Adam and Jesus, and ONE being us, our oneness with Adam and the offer of oneness with Christ), things improved dramatically. Glen’s gift with the succinct story, the pithy point and the apposite aphorism (flavoured with just a smidgen of alliteration) kicked in, and the ride became far more enjoyable. Just a few of my personal highlights: He came closer than anyone before of convincing me of the validity of the idea that in order for God to be love he must be Trinity. Why he must be three, rather than two or 74 is still unclear to me, and why being alone before creation would necessarily have made him self–absorbed and desiring only of slaves whereas being eternally in a deep, intimate relationship (with himself) couldn’t make him exclusive and narcissistic remains a sticking point, but still, he made his point more strongly and clearly than I’ve heard before. The explanation of what happened in Eden when God said ‘You shall surely die’, then Adam ate the fruit and did not instantly drop down dead was brilliant: In December many will go into a forest and – in the name of Christmas joy – hack to death a perfectly thriving pine tree. The minute the tree is ‘cut off’, it’s dead, it is perishing and within a few weeks it will be landfill… According to the Bible, this is the state of the human family tree. Ever since Genesis chapter 3 we have been spiritually severed from God and now we are perishing. We don’t have spiritual life in ourselves, we are cut off and our physical decay is one more symptom of our spiritual disconnection. The same chapter explains the concept of original sin with reference to Glen’s ancestor, Ann Forbes. In 1787 Ann was deported to Australia as a criminal. Because of her crime, Glen was born in Australia, a foreigner from the mother country, separated by an ocean wider than he could ever swim – it wasn’t a punishment for anything he did wrong, he is simply part of a family that is Australian. That might sound seriously unfair if it was my job to get back to England. But in the Bible, that’s not how the story goes… To change the analogy, Glen says, we’re not “Created sick – commanded to be well”, as Christopher Hitchens once put it, but “Born hungry, offered food.” And then there was this: Even as we listen to the Genesis story, we find ourselves crying out ‘But why the forbidden fruit?’ It rarely occurs to us that the Garden was the most liberal, rule–free existence humanity has ever known. Just one boundary proves too many for us. We conclude that the whole set–up is deeply suspicious. How true that is! How often we focus on the one restriction, feeling it must be a trick, a trap, feeling we were set up to fail. We had a whole world of freedom, yet chose to circle round the one tree on the entire planet that we had been told not to eat from. And we still blame Him. Think of how our world views God – all about the ‘Thou shalt nots’, when the story started with one, progressed to ten, then boiled back down to two – and those in the positive, not the negative. We follow a God who commands us to love with all our hearts, and we think him an authoritarian tyrant? This was what I had been waiting for from Glen, this way of capturing familiar truths and holding them up to the light so I catch my breath in wonder at the richness and depth I had never before seen. It’s a real gift. But of course, in a way it doesn’t matter what I thought of the book – it wasn’t for me. It was helpful – some of his illustrations will stay with me and will hopefully spring to mind when needed in the future, so in that sense it was an equipping book – but I am not its intended audience. I rubbed out my margin notes and underlinings, plucked up my courage, and passed it on to a non–Christian friend. What will she make of it? Hopefully someday I’ll be back to tell you her story…
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