Category: Trinity


Experiencing the Trinity

Is there a case for suggesting that evangelical Christians have forgotten the Trinity? Some have lamented the neglect of this important doctrine in the church. Others have criticized the posturing of gender biased leadership on the basis of the “eternal subordination” of the Son and the Spirit to the Father. The early church fathers debated, discussed and finally determined that a credal statement of faith on the Trinity was vital to the church universal. Hence, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381AD.

The mystery of the Trinity relates to the Christian life in matters of prayer, worship, mission and discipleship. We recognize the crucial importance of a Trinitarian Faith for spiritual formation and congregational life. The faith passed down through the centuries by the apostles and prophets has clearly celebrated the glory of the Trinity. We worship, love and serve the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our faith is Trinitarian. Anything less is unbiblical and heretical.

We are drawn closer to the Triune God by the Father’s eternal love through the Son and by the Spirit. Being made in the image of God, we bear the likeness of the Triune God as persons in relation. The eternal relation of the Three Persons indwell and interpenetrate in perfect community of the One God. Therefore, we are adopted by the Father into His family, transformed by Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our identity in Christ is essentially defined by our relationship to the Father as sons and daughters, confirmed and sustained by the Spirit dwelling within us so that we can call God, Abba Father. Consequently, our experience of the Trinity is manifest within the community of faith in terms of loving, grace-filled relationships energized by the Spirit.

There are some valuable resources available for further reading and reflection on the Trinity. Here are my recommendations:

Brian Edgar, The Message of the Trinity (2004 IVP)

Millard J. Erickson, Making Sense of the Trinity (2000 Baker)

Millard J. Erickson, God in Three Persons – A Contemporary Interpretation of the Trinity (1995 Baker)

Darrell W. Johnson, Experiencing the Trinity (2002 Regent College Publishing)

Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity – In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (2004 P&R Publishing)

Thomas F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith (1988 T&T Clark)

Thomas F. Torrance, Trinitarian Perspectives – Toward Doctrinal Agreement (1994 T&T Clark)

In addition, please consult the classics written by the Church Fathers – Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Hilary of Poitiers, and John Calvin.

Two dominant issues raised during the Reformation centered on the Gospel promise of grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ – “What can I do to be saved?” “Where can I find the true church?”  Luther and Calvin along with other Reformers sought to answer these questions. Greater attention was given to the authority of Scripture and to the centrality of Christ than to the mystery of the Trinity. Unlike the early Church Fathers who approached their theological thinking about God and the Gospel message from a trinitarian perspective, the scholars and theologians from the 17th century onwards developed a rationalistic and logical framework for doctrines. The question “What is God like?” generated much discussion and debate on the philosophical basis for talking about God in a rational, coherent and systematic manner. As a result, the significance of the Trinity was marginalized or reduced to an appendix in theological writings.

By contrast, the Eastern Orthodox theologians maintained a strong alignment with the early Church Fathers in their conception and description of the Trinity as both a mystery and a relational unity. They were deeply interested in answering the question: “Who is God?” The Cappadocian theologians, namely Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus, expressed a profound understanding of the Trinity as the coinherence of the three divine persons in the Godhead. The key word in Greek was “perichoresis” which served to express the dynamic relations between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as a mutual indwelling and interaction of the three persons of the Trinity without diminishing the particular and unique character of each. The Son reveals the Father and the Father loves the Son. The Son obeys the Father and the Spirit empowers the Son to fulfill His mission. The Spirit confirms the actions and message of the Son by directing our attention to the Son who in turn focuses our worship and prayer to the Father in heaven. The activity of the Triune God as revealed in Jesus the Son demonstrates the Father’s love and manifests the Spirit’s power. A prime witness to this reality is recorded for us in the Gospel account of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:9-11; Matthew 3:16-17; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34)

The Scriptures declare a corporate faith in the One God who reveals Himself through Jesus Christ. As the early Christians came to a formative understanding of Jesus as Lord, Creator and Redeemer, they worshipped Him as the Son of God. Thus, God was deeply revered and loved as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, their experience of the indwelling Christ through the Holy Spirit heightened their awareness of God’s presence and power. The blessed Trinity informs, inspires and instructs our life as the People of God. A trinitarian faith shapes our prayer life, our corporate worship as well as our mission in the world today. We need a lively and engaging encounter with the Holy Trinity in the church. Who God is matters as much as what God says. The way we think and talk about God will influence the way we live the Christian life. Ultimately, the doctrine of the Trinity is not a theory about God but a foundation for our faith and for our relationship with God. We are baptized and blessed in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we are the People of God who bear the name of the Trinity.

For the people of God, true worship is established on who God is and what He has done in the world for our sakes. The Father has sent his Son to redeem us and to make us His sons and daughters. Through Jesus the Son, the grace, mercy and forgiving love of the Father has been mediated to us. By the work of the Holy Spirit, we have been adopted as children of God, clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and presented as holy in the Father’s presence. The basic premise of the Gospel as outlined by Paul in Galatians 4:4-7 affirms God’s actions as from the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit.

The Scriptures describe the drama of salvation as a movement of God’s People responding to the saving actions of the Trinity. Therefore, our relationship to God is seen as by the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ to the Father. This encompasses the entire response of faith in all dimensions of human life before God, from worship to the whole range of human experience. In Ephesians 2:18, Paul asserts: “Through Him (Christ) we both have access by the Holy Spirit to the Father.”

In the Gospel of John, we learn that true worship is directed to the Father through Jesus by the Holy Spirit (see John 4). The NT apostles insist that worship is Trinitarian in nature. We worship the Father in the Spirit through the Son. Gregory of Nazianzen summarized this perspective with the following comments: “This, then, is my position . . . to worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, three persons, one Godhead, undivided in honour and glory and substance and kingdom.” (Oration 31:28)

We might be inclined to view worship from our human point of view as something we do. In reality, it is first and foremost something the Triune God does which prompts our participation and response. The worship of the church is the communion of the Holy Trinity with His People. Our focus is God-ward, centered on the Triune God, Father, Son and Spirit.

Therefore, since Christian worship is determined, defined by, and directed to, the Holy Trinity, we worship the Triune God with one undivided act of adoration. Gregory of Nazianzen provides a vital principle: “No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the splendour of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the One.” (Oration 41)

In the divine economy, only the Father sent the Son into the world. Only the Son became incarnate, not the Father or the Spirit. At Pentecost, only the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, not the Father or the Son. The Triune God is eternally One but subsists as three persons. The mystery of the Trinity attests to the unique yet distinct being of God the Father, Son and Spirit. There is no confusion, no subordination and no division.

We are thereby called to worship and to love the Trinity. Our response in worship is shaped by the reality of the one we worship. A living relationship with the Triune God requires that each of the persons be honoured and adored in the context of their revealed relations with each other. At the same time, we must give full attention to the reality that God is one, indivisible and incomprehensible. The three persons of the Trinity are mutually coinherent and share equally in true communion as One.

There is the danger for our theology and worship to be conditioned by human expectations of what God should do for us simply because He loves us. Out of gratitude and humble submission, we need to relearn how worship is essentially a response to the revelation, redemption and renewal which the Triune God has made possible for us. Our response by faith is to know Him, to love Him and to render all praise and honour to God the Father, the Son and the Spirit. Amen.