Pursuing Beauty: Study & Worship the Trinity

The first order of application for most of us is this–to make contemplation of the Trinity a part of our spiritual lives. Many of us affirm the existence of the Trinity but go for years without studying it. Many of our churches, unfortunately, do little to help us in this area. We will never fully understand it, of course. but merely beginning to study it will greatly help us to comprehend the magnificence and multifaceted beauty of the Godhead. Many of us are captivated by paltry, shallow things because we have been fed a diet of fluffy media and airy preaching and spend very little time and energy looking into transcendent realities. Yet if we will allow it to do so, the Trinity as laid out in Scripture will blow our socks off. Let us work to address and changes this situation and study the doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible. Books like Bruce Ware’s Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and Robert Letham’s The Holy Trinity will help us to do so and to worship the Trinity with knowledge and insight.

From Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney’s Jonathan Edwards on Beauty (The Essential Edwards Collection, 2nd of 5).

(Stay tuned, as I hope to review this excellent set of primers to Jonathan Edwards’s life and thought in the coming months!)

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Trinity in Everyday Church w/ Derek Hiebert

A year ago last Fall, for my Trinitarianism class, I interviewed Derek Hiebert on how the doctrine of the Trinity works out practically in everyday church. Derek is a missional community leader at Soma Communities in Tacoma, Washington. He regularly engages in discussion through the GCM Collective Community that exists to promote, create and equip gospel communities on mission.

Join in fruitful discussion there and here:

1. Does the doctrine of the Trinity tangibly influence your ministry? If so, how?

Yes. Here are some examples:

  • Eldership. Just as the Trinity is one God with three persons co-equal, co-existing, yet with different roles, we believe that churches are led by a team of elders who lead the church and submit to each other according to role. Those roles are determined by gifts from Jesus to the church in Eph. 4 as well as a tri-perspectival view of leadership and ministry: Prophet, Priest, King, which of course are offices that Jesus perfectly fulfills. We believe everyone in some way lives out these roles, but not perfectly, and that believers, especially leaders, are gifted and shaped in one or two of these offices more than others. E.g. An elder who is primarily priestly in make-up and leading might submit to one who is prophetic when it comes to preparing a sermon or working through a difficult situation, etc. So, our eldership is influenced by the nature and work of the Trinity.
  • Image of God Identity. From Gen. 2 we see that being made in God’s image is directly influenced by the Trinity. Male and female are distinct genders with different roles just like the Trinity. As such, heterosexual monogamous marriage is the only way to best display the triune God, because now man and woman are one flesh, yet two distinct persons, co-equal but with distinct roles. Men lead in various ways; women lead in various ways. The third Person of the marriage, of course, is Christ.
  • Women in Ministry. Because of image of God identity above, we believe that only men are given the role to lead in church and family. Women submit to men according to role; yet men may also submit to women according to the roles God has given them.

If the triune God is a communal, relational being, we too, as his people ought to display this in our lives as a community.

2. Have you taught this doctrine? How so?

One way I have recently taught it with our core group is on the issue of homosexuality as sin and how we should respond in the gospel. See my article, IMAGO DEI – GOSPEL – HOMOSEXUALITY.

3. How does this doctrine influence your personal life?

  • In Marriage and Parenting. My wife often helps me and coaches me on parenting our daughters, speaking to them gently and kindly vs. anger and frustration. This is a way that I submit to her role and gifting in this as a mother, who displays aspects of God and is one flesh with me, yet distinct in personhood and role.
  • Leading our Core Group and Mission. I look for the ways God has gifted and uniquely shaped people according to roles and equip and encourage them as such, then release and send them for works of service, knowing that I am only one person with a few roles and gifts.
  • In Personal Discipleship. Often there is the tendency to meditate, worship, pray and seek only the Son and Father. However, based on Jesus’ teaching in John 14-17, and his actions at the end of John, beginning of Acts, the Holy Spirit is primarily the one I should be learning from, listening to, seeking after, being filled by and such. In many ways, as ‘another Counselor’, the Holy Spirit is like Jesus to me/us here and now. I know this isn’t directly influenced by the Trinity, but I think there has often been an under or over-emphasis on the Holy Spirit in the life and work of the church, and I want to live my biblical trinitarian theology.

4. If there is a lack of Trinitarian theology and practice in your church, why might that be?

I think that any lacking would be due to a number of factors:

  • Our Western Individual Mindset. Not enough attention and teaching are given to the Trinity. We are individual people, so we naturally gravitate towards an individual God, not One who is three Persons.
  • Prior Church Tradition. Our inherited tradition emphasizes the Father and the Son, but not the Holy Spirit. In essence, the Trinity is denied in much of the church life, structure and mission.
  • Denial of the Gospel in Our Living and Discipleship. The triune God was very much active in the whole gospel of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, especially the Holy Spirit who led and filled Jesus as part of his perfect righteous life lived on our behalf. Any part of our lives that we’re trusting in our own righteousness to save or satisfy us, we are denying the Spirit-filled righteousness of the Son as our justification before the Father.

Trinity in Everyday Church w/ Jonathan Dodson

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!
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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.

Practicals:
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!”

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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.

The Trinity and the Church–A Reflection

Seeing more clearly how God is perfectly and happily Triune helps me see in a liberating way why some in the body of Christ are gifted with some gifts and others are gifted with other gifts. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit, each have their role in redemptive history, and in our own communal and personal histories. They happily and lovingly give of each other and serve each other in a different way. So, there is to be a reflection of that in the members of the body of Christ. Though we are many, we are one. Each member of Christ’s body is to be happily content with the gift they’ve received from the Spirit. Instead of being envious of another’s gift, I should seek to serve the body as a whole and each member individually with the gift I’ve received. Indeed, Trinitarian Christianity shows how we who are made in the image of the divine community can and should integrate unity and diversity, not only in the church, but also in our families, ministries, and communities and cultures in general.

The Fear of Man Sets a Snare (8)

Jamie Munson, lead pastor at Mars Hill Church, lays out eight consequences of the fear of man:

1. Idolatry
2. Ineffectiveness
3. Lack of Love
4. Fakeness
5. Apathy
6. Dishonesty
7. Isolation
8. Decision Paralysis

“…but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe” (Prov 29.25). Our almighty Maker and Redeemer is trustworthy and true. Let us go to him in our day of trouble (rightly perceived or not), that he may be glorified in delivering us” (Ps 46.1; 50.15; Heb 4.14-16)!

JE: How to Acquire Christian Knowledge

1. Be assiduous in reading the Holy Scriptures. This is the fountain whence all knowledge in divinity must be derived. Therefore, let not this treasure lie by you neglected. Every person of common understanding who can read, may, if he or she pleases, become well acquainted with the Scriptures. And what an excellent attainment would this be!

2. Content not yourselves with only a cursory reading, without regarding the sense. When you read, observe what you read. Observe how things come in. Take notice of the drift of the discourse, and compare one scripture with another. For the Scripture, by the harmony of its different parts, casts great light upon itself.–We are expressly directed by Christ, to search the Scriptures, which evidently intends something more than a mere cursory reading. And, use means to find out the meaning of the Scripture. When you have it explained in the preaching of the word, take notice of it; and if at any time a scripture that you did not understand be cleared up to your satisfaction, mark it, lay it up, and if possible remember it.

3. Obtain, and diligently use, other books which may help you grow in this knowledge. There are many excellent books available, which might greatly forward you in this knowledge, and afford you a very profitable and pleasant entertainment in your leisure hours.

4. Improve conversation with others to this end. How much might persons promote each other’s knowledge in divine things, if they would improve conversation as they might; if men that are ignorant were not ashamed to show their ignorance, and were willing to learn from others; if those that have knowledge would communicate it, without pride and ostentation; and if all were more disposed to enter on such conversation as would be for their mutual edification and instruction.

5. Seek not to grow in knowledge chiefly for the sake of applause, and to enable you to dispute with others; but seek it for the benefit of your souls, and for the purpose of practice.–If applause be your end, you will not be so likely to be led to the knowledge of the truth, but may justly, as often is the case of those who are proud of their knowledge, be led into error to your own destruction. This being your end, if you should obtain much rational knowledge, it would not be likely to be of any benefit to you, but would puff you up with pride: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1Cor 8.1).

6. Seek God, that he would direct you, and bless you, in this pursuit after knowledge. This is the apostle’s direction, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1.5). God is the fountain of all divine knowledge: “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov 2.6). Labor to be sensible of your own blindness and ignorance, and your need of God’s help, lest you be led into error, instead of true knowledge: “If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise” (1Cor 3.18).

7. Put into practice the knowledge you have acquired. This will be the way to know more. The psalmist warmly recommends this way of seeking knowledge in divine truth, from his own experience: “I understand more than the aged, because I keep your precepts” (Ps 119.100). Christ himself also recommends the same: “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (Jn 7.17).

From Jonathan Edwards’ discourse, entitled

Three Grateful People on Giving Thanks

For your next four days’ enjoyment, here are three articles and an audio message to stimulate one another to love and thanksgiving, as we celebrate God’s goodness toward us in Christ together:

Thankfulness: Even When It Hurts by Sue Lutz

Thankful People by David Powlison

How Not to Commit Idolatry in Giving Thanks by John Piper

Who Should We Invite to Thanksgiving Dinner? by John Piper