A year ago last Fall, for my Trinitarianism class, I interviewed Jonathan Dodson on how the doctrine of the Trinity works out practically in his own life and ministry. I thought it fitting to repost this discussion, as its topic, the Holy Trinity–changes everything! Tomorrow, I hope to highlight another interview on the Trinity in everyday church. Stay tuned!
Listen in, and join the conversation…
I. Does the doctrine of the Trinity tangibly influence your ministry? If so, how?
Yes, the Trinity influences my devotional life, my leadership, our church vision, and practice of making disciples. I make it a habit to talk to each of the three persons of the Trinity throughout the day. I especially cry out to the Spirit in the morning for filling and leading, trying to practice his presence throughout the day in believing the gospel and following his direction.
Our vision statement includes all three persons, forcing us to address all three persons regularly: ‘Cultivating communities of Spirit-led disciples who redemptively engage peoples and cultures through Christ for the glory of God.’ We are a gospel-centered church, led by the Spirit, for the glory of God.
1. Sermons are Christ-centered but frequently refer to the persons of the Father and the Spirit. Irenaeus’ metaphor of the two hands of the Father regularly to descrbe the activity of God in creation and salvation and mission. We also preach stand alone sermons focused on the Father and the Spirit.
2. Songs that focus on the Trinity, either their perichoretic nature or the individual persons. We have written songs that recover the Spirit, i.e., a Hymn to the Spirit by Luther that we rewrote the music to and added a chorus.
3. Liturgy that is intentionally Trinitarian.
4. We describe our leadership structure in trinitarian terms in our Partners Class:
‘The Trinity is the ultimate authority over Austin City Life, expressed through the Word of the Father, the reign of the Son, and the leading of the Spirit. As a church that looks to God’s Word for authority on matters of faith and practice, we follow the church leadership guidelines given in Titus and Timothy regarding elders and deacons in the local church…‘
It is critical that a church function under the authority of God, with Christ as our Head, not the pastor or leadership team. Thus, the church is called to submit to their leaders as unto the Lord. All partners covenant to give cheerfully of their time, creativity, spiritual gifts, and finances as an act of worship to King Jesus and a witness to the gospel for the good of the church and the city.
5. The staff regularly relies on the Spirit and the Word for decision-making. Influenced by Van Gelder, The Spirit-led Ministry of the Missional Church. Here is an Acts 29 talk I gave on Spirit-led ecclesiology.
II. Have you taught this doctrine? How so?
See above. Also Intro to Doctrine class. I have found that basic Christology and Theology Proper are more common than Pneumatology, so we try to balance this deficiency by regular teaching on the Spirit and his relationship to the Father and Son. Our missional ecclesiology is shaped by the missio Dei, so we describe our mission as participation in the missionary nature of the Trinity. Preached on this last Sunday.
Disciple people like this:
The Holy Spirit is, for Evangelicals, the red-headed step-child of the Trinity. It’s a shame, really shameful. We’ve allowed our fears of charisma to get the best of us, leading to a devaluing of God and a disfigured relationship with him. For those struggling in this area, I strongly recommend that you take your eyes off of charismatic extremes and place them back on the Spirit. Begin talking to Him, know him through study, and consider all the commands to ‘pray in the Spirit’ and begin talking to the Spirit in prayer. One reason we are weak on the Spirit is because we are weak on prayer. It is the Spirit who knows the depths of God and freely discloses the understanding of God’s will and Word (1 Cor 2). Therefore, to cut Him off is to diminish our understanding (and enjoyment) of God. It stifles the advance of the Gospel.
Here are some practical steps:
1. Repent for diminishing and ignoring the third Person of the Trinity. Repent for sinful self-reliance and fear-motivated neglect of the Holy Spirit. Mortify the sin that has been an obstacle to your knowing and walking with the Spirit. Receive God’s gracious forgiveness in Jesus and rejoice that the Spirit is in you!
2. Begin addressing the Holy Spirit in prayer every day. Talk to him as a Person; don’t ignore him as an energy force. Ask him for filling and direction for your entire day. Ask him to guide your decision-making, to direct your thoughts, and to fill your heart with affection for Jesus.
3. Read the Bible with a Holy Spirit lens. Look for him in the Bible and ask yourself: “Who does this text tell me the Spirit is?” Then, refine the way you relate to him. It’s like getting to know your wife, the more you study her the better you can love her.
III. How does this doctrine influence your personal life?
See above. Wonderfully transforming. I have Colin Gunton to thank for that. I recall reading The Triune Creator in seminary, putting the book down, hitting my knees and crying out in repentance for neglecting God-as-Trinity, persons in communion. I take more of a Cappadocian understanding of the Godhead. Since then I have intentionally culitvated communion with God as a community of persons. Richard Lovelace helped me a bit too. For more, see my section on the Spirit in Fight Clubs: Gospel-centered Discipleship.
IV. If there is a lack of Trinitarian theology and practice in your church, why might that be?
Always could be more, but its a process.
— A Follow-up Question: —
Jonathan, In response to your answers to the Trinity interview questions, one common question arose from among several peers in my class; that is, concerning your habit ‘to talk to each of the three persons of the Trinity throughout the day,’ when [the Grader/Teaching Assistant] says, ‘the Scripture teaches us to pray to the Father through the Son by the power of the Spirit.’ I’m curious as to how you might answer that question/concern, as well. (One of the answers I gave, immediately follows Dodson’s).
Dodson: The doctrine of the Trinity isn’t established explicitly in biblical texts either; however, we agree that God is a community of a persons from a biblical and systematic theology of God. The doctrine of the trinity is inferential, so is prayer to the person of the Spirit. The various texts listed below indicate that the Spirit is not only a person to be known, but a Spirit to whom we can communicate (pray with, lie to, and groan with). Therefore, the inference is that we are not to assume the Spirit but know the Spirit, which happens through dependent communication, i.e., prayer.
I see two valid concerns in praying to the Spirit. One, that we end up praying to the Spirit apart from his explicit purpose to glorify Christ. Two, that we end up relating to the Spirit apart from his purpose to draw us into communion with the Father and the Son (see John Owen, Communion with God). It is important that we keep these in mind as we relate to the Holy Spirit.
Caldwell: “Concerning your question of how I or Dodson ‘would rectify the fact that Scripture teaches us to pray to the Father through the Son by the power of the Spirit with Dodson’s comment on praying to each member of the Trinity every day’: (1) I’ll ask Dodson what his response to this question might be; (2) The Scriptures don’t seem to condemn prayer addressed to each (or, every) Person of the Trinity; in fact, I can’t recall that the Scriptures actually address the issue; (3) When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he teaches them to do so, not in the manner that he prays, but how they should pray (as they pray addressing ‘Our Father…’). Indeed, the second person of the Trinity is presently there in bodily form with them. In a sense, they are already praying [to] (i.e., speaking, praising, making requests to) Jesus. In addition, when Jesus says, ‘Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it’ (Jn 14:13-14), did he mean for his statement to be applied merely during his last days on earth to his apostles, or also for ‘those who will believe in [him] through their word’ (Jn 17:20)? If he intended that statement to be applied to ‘those’ as well, then indeed, we also are included as the recipients. This means we also can and must talk to Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, and ‘ask [him] anything in [his] name…’; (4) It would seem quite strange for us to not speak to (or, pray to) the Holy Spirit, as well, especially since he is a Person (equal with the Father and the Son) who is our Helper (Jn 14:26) and who indwells us (Jn 14:17), intercedes for us (Rom 8:26-7), leads us and bears with our spirit (Rom 8:12-17), teaches us (1 Cor 2:6-16), in whom we participate (Phil 2:1), and with whom we have fellowship (2 Cor 13:14). The Holy Spirit is much more than a means or a power. He is a Person who is co-equal with the Father and the Son, equally-deserving of our prayers. Indeed, our prayers have much to do with this third Person of the Triune God!”
Jonathan Dodson serves as lead pastor for preaching and vision at Austin City Life. He is also a part of the church planting networks of PlantR and Acts 29. Check out his recent book, Fight Clubs: Gospel-Centered Discipleship, as well as various resources on the Gospel, the Church, and Culture, and Gospel Communities on Mission.