3friends thinking

The inspiration for 3friends

‘Starting Out’

The first piece of inspiration dates back to the ’80s. The work of Scripture Union staff over the years to produce ‘Starting Out’ was groundbreaking in providing a simple, easy-to-read booklet to help young people think about beginning or continuing to follow Jesus. A distinctive of this work was the ‘thank you, sorry, please’ prayer … a simple, yet effective pattern of prayer for beginning and continuing friendship with Jesus.

The writers of this booklet also recognised the need to simply address the basic questions of:

  • Who am I in relation to God?
  • Who is God?
  • Who is Jesus?
  • Why did Jesus have to die on a cross?
  • How can we be friends and followers of Jesus?

Exploring these ideas will also be the challenge of 3friends.

‘Starting Out’ also began by exploring the idea ‘You are special and important to God!’ celebrating our unique relationship with Creator God.

3friends has adapted this idea more specifically to: ‘We all matter to God. We are each welcomed by God. We are all loved by God.’

3friends also utilises a key ‘Starting Out’ question: ‘Are any of these three friends just like you right now?’ thus encouraging a level of engagement with the ideas being expressed by Aurthur, Peta, and Chloe.

The Thinking Teen

Secondly, the investigations and challenges undertaken by the three young people depicted in this resource … Arthur, Peta, and Chloe … are a reflection of three different styles of investigation. These styles have been inspired by observations and a study of Dave Benson accessible now as an online paper … The Thinking Teen published on Jan 20, 2010. An exploration, evaluation, and application of three apologetic strategies in commending the Bible to contemporary western adolescents. Dave Benson

His work suggests there is at least three typical teenage responses to the Bible. These being those of an antagonistic atheist, an untrusting sceptic and a confused seeker. Benson uses the work of Francis Schaeffer, Lee Strobel and Rob Bell respectively to challenge each of these common world views. According to Benson, these theologians offer distinct voices commending the Bible in the market place of ideas.

The challenge here is to appropriate something of this approach for households of faith as well as faith communities who intentionally faith-mentor those of a much younger age than teenagers.

3friends

Will it work?

The result of forming an approach and developing a style for each of the 3 friends, Arthur, Peta, and Chloe will be a construct. This will have its strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully this will allow participants, both faith mentors and young people, to identify with one character in one context and perhaps a different character in another.

All these complex understandings! Yet simply explored! Again, there’s the challenge!

At any point of this more theoretical side of the discussion, feel free to swing over to 3friends adventures and check out how helpful this resource will be for you in your context.

The challenge: exploring complex ideas; sharing them in simple ways without being simplistic!

After more than 40 years of experience and observation in this area of discipling people of all ages, you see and hear some disturbing things. Top of the list are two of the ways I have heard ‘sin’ explained.

Firstly, I once heard that “Sin is the bad things you do, and the good things you don’t do.” Hmmm, what’s wrong with that? Apart from that is entirely simplistic? Apart from the damage inflicted when teaching simplistically and having to reteach a concept later on? Apart from the fact that our behaviour (the bad we do or the good we don’t do) is the outworking of sin … the outworking of systemic failures in relationship with God, our selves, our history, our environment, and other people?

Secondly, I once heard the metaphor used in ‘the Gospel in 5 colours’ that ‘sin’ is black. (You can web-search ‘gospel in 5 colours’, ‘wordless book gospel’ even ‘gospel 5 colours bracelet’.) These days, the ‘black’ colour is now referred to as ‘dark’.
So what is wrong with that approach? Apart from that fact that this approach is deeply metaphorical and children are literalists? Apart from the fact that a lot of my favourite people are black/dark? Apart from the time I heard this metaphor used in a congregation where there were two families of Nigerians seated in the pews? Apart from the lengthy explanations needed to explain away that ‘black’ is not really ‘black’ but ‘dark’? So why use simplistic, dangerous metaphors when it would be easier to teach it simply another way?

Herein lies the challenge!

How do you share complex ideas without being simplistic or complicated?

  • It begins with partnering with Holy Spirit in prayer and in engaging the Bible
  • Next comes the further reading and thinking about the theologies at the heart of our beliefs.
  • It continues into wrestling with complex truths to reword our explanations without jargon. Simply!
  • It involves grounding our conversations, with Holy Spirit’s direction, in the lived experiences of each person we are sharing with.
  • It means growing our abilities to share our own experience of God and our faith journey.
  • It takes a willingness to share our own God experience, questions, doubts, and discoveries honestly.

Enough of that here.

Hopefully, you will see something of this process in the explanations below. In 3friends adventures, you will hopefully see much of this translated to simply express something of the beauty and the complexity of The Gospel message.

notes

Note#1: Underlying assumptions

It’s worth starting with these observations.

In exploring the theme of following Jesus from three unique world views and relating these to the world of a child … particularly that of of an upper primary aged child … certain assumptions are made:

  • Patterns of personality, learning and inteligence styles, and preferences are are set and observable in a child prior to teenage years;
  • The ways of viewing the self, God, Jesus and the world are being formed and developed prior to teenage years;
  • Investigation, engagement with, and response to the claims of Jesus is possible at early ages;
  • Parents, family members, faith mentors and small group leaders need help to be able to see and respond appropriately to these developing world views in children.
  • Children coming to this document do so with some background understanding of themselves, God, Jesus and the Bible story
  • Children coming have some level of curiosity, desire, or commitment concerning being a friends and follower of Jesus

Note#2: JustRight

Wouldn’t you love everything to be ‘JustRight’?

This is a new word invented for 3friends and will be used and applied in a variety of ways in the relationships explored here.

Central to this is the idea of dreaming the Dream of God with God, loving what God loves … loving that all relationships are meant to be and can be just right!

LOVE: who God is, mercy, deepest care and compassion, a full supply of all God’s benefits, Jesus!
ALL RELATIONSHIPS: with God, one’s self, others, our history, our environment and our world.

JUST: justice, fairness, fair for everyone, a fair go, everybody matters to God, fullness, nothing missing!

RIGHT: righteousness, right relationship, correct, healed, healthy, helpful, right for everyone not just me, right view, not crooked.

Yes, the Dream of God is complex, yet simply expressed in God’s love for the world in and through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus (John 3:16ff) … noting:

  • God’s interest is in us personally AND for the rescue of the whole world.
  • A personal relationship with God is important for its own sake AND God’s desire is also for a big rescue of the environment, whole communities, the whole world, it’s systems and structures.
  • All this in order for EVERYTHING to express the Dream and Sovereignty of God.

In exploring what it means to live JustRight in all our relationships, 3friends emphasises that we do so with Holy Spirit’s help.

  • This is how we are meant to follow Jesus. The Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ example for us to follow.
  • This is how we are empowered to imitate Christ and ‘walk-in The Spirit’. Paul’s letters emphasise this.
  • We rely on Holy Spirit together as we are made/formed by God to be the Church.
  • Individually and together we demonstrate the love of God, the truth of God and the power of God.
  • We are a living story of this to one another, our community and the world.
  • In doing so, we express the reality of a relationship with God in the ‘now’ AND as a foretaste of the ‘not yet’ which is to come.

I get upset when I see that things aren’t fair. I am learning to respond well rather than react badly. I dream of the day when there is no bullying. I am learning that every bully has a story makes bully think it’s OK to bully. And I am learning to ask questions in a way that might help to stop bullying.

I love it when we can dream and plan and create together to make our world a better place. When we work together with God’s help to fix stuff that God cares about, it helps me to think that we are making a difference for the best!

I happiest seeing people get better from all sorts of things. My friends say I have a soft heart … lol … but they have a soft heart too by being around me maybe? I am helping them to see the hurt in people of all ages and we are learning to pray for them too.

Who are you most like? Who is your child most like?

Note#3: Sin

Expressing a theology of ‘sin’ is the elephant in the room!

Adults tend to find it difficult to talk about sin simply yet helpfully and correctly around children. ‘Starting Out’ did it extremely well talking about it in terms of ignorance of God, broken off from relationship with God, or ignoring or pushing God away from our lives. As a consequence of sin, a variety of unhelpful, unhealthy and certainly, ungodly behaviours emerge and demonstrate these failures in relationships.

3friends build on this and continue this approach expressing the notions of sin as:

  • Darkness … an absence of or a purposeful covering up of God’s revealing presence (truth and light) … evil (actively working against God).
  • Brokeness … ignorance of God or God’s way for living, heading away/backing off from God, separation, falling short of even our own standards let alone God’s.
  • Lostness … confused, ignoring God, pushing God away, rebellion, believing lies, making gods of other things/people or self.

These aspects of sin will be explored in a variety of ways, sometimes not even using the word ‘sin’. When the expressions ‘failures in relationships’ or ‘stuff-ups in friendships’ are used, you may recognise we are talking about ‘sin’. In this way, the complexities of this topic will be hopefully, simply expressed.

By the way, we could wonder that if sin did have a metaphorical colour, could it be the vile, smelly, multi-colour of vomit? Even then, this would only be symptomatic of a not justright relationship … the true stuff-up in relationship somewhere … resulting in this vomit.

I get worried sometimes when I’m watching TV news … So much hurt and pain caused by people going against God’s Dream for the world! Not happy! But at the same time I know I have to watch out for the ways I might be working against God too.

Sometimes a whole group of people can get things wrong and stuff things up. It makes me sad. It takes courage for groups to own up to the truth and apologise. Well, if I am being honest, I find it hard to apologise for stuff-ups too.

Sometimes it’s not easy being a follower of Jesus and following his example for my life. Sometimes it is easy to go and ignore all that and do what just pleases me. Worse, when I believe a lie about myself and ignore what God thinks is true about me. Ooops!

Who are you most like? Who is your child most like?

3friends thinking

3friends thinking

Engaging the antagonistic atheist, the untrusting sceptic and the confused seeker.

As noted above, 3friends has been inspired by observations and a study of Dave Benson. His work suggests there is at least three typical teenage responses to the Bible. These being those of an antagonistic atheist, an untrusting sceptic and a confused seeker. Benson uses the work of Francis Schaeffer, Lee Strobel and Rob Bell respectively to challenge each of these common world views.

The 3friends approach is a response to these three world views, establishing a framework with which to faith-mentor children.

Although the 3friend approach is undergirded by these observations and the thinking is here in this section to read, it will largely be transparent to the participants in sharing the adventures of the Arthur, Peta & Chloe.

Engaging the antagonistic atheist …

who is convinced: science yields the only sure knowledge; much of what we think is conditioned; thinks belief in God is a way of fulfilling wishes; no evidence to support such beliefs; natural processes explain everything and must explain human behaviour; natural laws make miracles impossible; Bible implausible – a product of a naive and unscientific age … especially creation myth and resurrection of Jesus; science is about facts and the Bible is about faith; The Word of God is unbelievable and can’t make sense of the world. [Benson p.4]

Engaging the untrusting sceptic …

who has too many unanswered questions; unwilling to believes something just to make you feel better; difficult to believe; hard to trust any of what Christianity claims is true; sees the Bible’s morality as restrictive and some Christians judgemental; doesn’t understand how it all works – how can the death of one man counteract the sins of billions??; doesn’t know how we can believe Jesus really did live and rise from the dead; did those things really happen; is the Bible real; is it made up or and evil joke; the Bible is in-credible and can’t see the evidence. [Benson p.4]

Engaging the confused seeker …

who wonders, “Who cares?”; sees the proliferation of religions and denominations as undermining that any one option is right; lacks confidence that God could exist let alone be right; feels desperately alone and afraid in the world; not wanting to believe out of desperation in case it’s a lie and doesn’t work’; want to believe, to feel peace, hope and love but sees Christianity as a blind faith – trusting in and old book; looking for a foundation to justify taking a leap of faith to believe in something real that works. [Benson p.5]

Who are/were you most like? Who is/was your child most like?

Considering the mid to upper primary aged group of children you know, can you see the seeds of any of these stances developing?

Response

According to Benson, the three authors addresses the fundamental issues of their respective audiences in the following ways.

The response to the antagonist atheist …

Francis Shaeffer addresses the illogicality and un-livability of a naturalistic and impersonal secularistic world view. The Christian world view answers our questions of relational morality, personal meaning and purpose and hope for the world in a coherent manner, verified by what we know of the universe and our human nature. By firstly challenging an antagonistic atheist’s confidence in their world view, the hope is they are open to considering the Bible as a plausible system in answer to the big questions with which they grapple. [Benson p.10]

The response to the untrusting skeptic …

Lee Strobel explores Jesus’ existence and claims and the reliability of the Bible as not a corrupted collection of fables by advancing reasoned arguments. By providing information demonstrating reliability and credibility demonstrates the Bible can withstand scrutiny thereby demonstrating its historical and moral veracity. The hope here is that by providing novel evidence in this way may encourage and exploration and engagement of the Bible story for themselves. [Benson p.12]

The response to the confused seeker …

Rob Bell employs an approach that engages nominal Christians and New Agers who are open to truths and insights irrespective of source. He uses a variety of approaches that excite imagination, enthrall emotions, encourage a pursuit of truth, make sense of their stories within the bigger story of the Bible. The approach is an invitation to experience life the Jesus’ Way; to exploring Bible stories in a non-coercive way; to discovering the truth, goodness and beauty of the Bible; , drawing on all this to construct a meaningful life thus fulfilling some innate desire for ‘something more’. [Benson p.14]

Approach

The approach of Arthur, Peta and Chloe will be a simple version of the approach of each of the authors to their three respective audiences summarised below.

The goal of the 3friends is to challenge the mind, heart, and spirit of the readers using simple but pertinent questions and comments. If the readers are not yet sensing these issues as they are raised, it will be a moot point. Continue on. If engaging the approach of any one or more of the 3 friends does cause comment or question in response, it may provide a clue as to what a young person is experience is. Allow time to explore.

The approach to the antagonistic atheist will be to …

Open the ears of listeners by challenging secularism; addressing the plausibility of the Christian world view; providing answers to the big questions.

Key question answered …

Does this make sense? How can I make sense if the world that’s not right and what is God doing to fix it? Can a person matter to God even if that person doesn’t even believe God is true?

The approach to the untrusting skeptic will be through …

Establishing trust through advancing creditable truths; addressing the reliability of the claims of the Bible and Jesus.

Key question answered …

Is it true? How can I know what is true about what happened so long ago? Is the Bible reliable?

The approach to the confused seeker will be through …

Arousing interest by engaging experience; addressing the relevance of the Christian message in living meaningfully in today’s world.

Key question answered …

Does it work? How does it all help me live my life? What difference does it make in my life and in the world?

Typical faith stance

Arthur, Peta & Chloe will each express a typical faith stance in relation to the audience they are addressing. It doesn’t mean they hold this faith stance exclusively. In fact, they will often be seen to be expressing confidence in, and thankfulness for the faith expressed in different ways by their other two friends.

Faith is saying, “YES!” to God … “YES” to living life God’s way as shown to us through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Believing this, saying it is true and living it in all our relationships are each ways of saying, “YES!” to God.

For Arthur, Peta and Chloe, it doesn’t mean saying, “YES!” without asking all sorts of questions sometimes. Together they will puzzle through some of the hard bits and be honest about some of the things we can’t possible find out about God and Jesus.

Arthur, Peta, and Chloe will say the following sorts of things in answer to the antagonistic atheist, the untrusting skeptic, and the confused seeker respectively.

Faith expressed partly as …

The Bible is God’s Big Story of how God has helped people learn and grow in their experience of God. Faith is saying, “YES!” to God in the ways we live our lives. This way of living life the best shown by Jesus. Jesus’ way, answers all the big questions like “Why am I here?”. It basically tells me what’s going on in relationships; what’s broken and how to fix it. God loves JustRight relationships with God, one’s self and others.

p>Faith expressed partly as …

Jesus really lived and the stories in the Bible about Jesus show us what God is like. Asking questions about Jesus is ok … just like people did in Jesus’ day. Everyone has differeome people hated Jesus and had him killed. Other people believed what he said about himself, saw what he did and wanted to follow his example of how to live. I’ve checked out Jesus for myself: there were lots of witnesses who saw him after he rose from the dead; the authors who wrote about him talked with people who knew Jesus first hand. I want to find out more about how to be a friend and follower of Jesus for myself.”

“The story of God gives me a way to understand the struggles and hopes and experiences of living in this world generally and my life specifically. In it I hear a call to an alternative path that is appealing, inviting NOT coercive or dogmatic. The failures of so many people in the Bible reassure me that “I’m not alone in my anxiety and doubts … or my mistakes. Jesus’ invitation to have ‘life to the full’ seems too good to be true. But his resurrection life confirms that this new life that he is offering is real. I want to find out how to have Jesus’ new life for myself.”

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