The Gospel Story in a Postmodern World

This past semester I was required to watch a Czechoslovakian short film called “Most” (translated “The Bridge” in English) as part of a class. This film was nominated for an Academy Award back in 2004 for best short film. As a lover of film and photography, I was excited to watch this film and it was simply amazing. The writing is captivating, the cinematography is brilliant (and regardless of whether you watch this film for what I have to say below, just watch it for the brilliance that is displayed), and the music is wonderful.

What made this film more interesting for me is that it was part of a soteriology class (a class on salvation). The professor does a wonderful job at stressing to the students the importance of being culturally relevant. That is, he wants the students to be theologically sound, hear what culture is saying and yearning for,  but also identify ways of connecting with culture and how to share the gospel message through a variety of ways.  What is the message that a person, group, or community is saying. What is that culture or person worshipping? What are the themes or narratives of the story? What is the story and how does one relate to it? Throughout this class, we have listened to songs from mainstream artists to Christian artists to those who were once Christian artists and now are not. Obviously, music and film is a huge factor in society.

In today’s day and age, connecting with the audience through storytelling is vitally important. Typically, being in a postmodern world, connecting with people is all about the story. If we think about how the Gospel message was shared during the Modern era, it is drastically different, not better or worse, just different. Change has brought adaptation. It is a different era. People of today tend to connect through stories. A more recent example is to think back to 20 – 30 years ago and the widespread use of tracts that the church community would use to share the gospel with a non-believer. While those still exist as well as other “older” and different techniques, in dealing with an ever changing world that is always connected and loves their social media, Christians have adapted and tried to venture into different avenues of telling the Gospel story.

The Bridge is a film that really stuck with me. It captivated me and engrossed me into the story. I went in not knowing what it was about or the outcome, but left with an appreciation for what the filmmakers did. The Bridge is an example of talented people sharing the Gospel message through film. It is an example of how we as Christians can show/tell the beauty and majesty of Christ and His work to a generation or population that connects with stories and film.

As a person who adheres, follows, and believes in a literal hermeneutic, there will be many that watch this who say that is not “really” the gospel message. There were many in my class who said or thought the same thing. The reason is the story does not tell the whole story of the gospel. It does not give the viewer insight into the Trinitarian relationship of the Father and the Son and how they put a plan into place for the redemption of the world. It does not show Jesus making a choice. Instead, it shows a split second decision of the father (which is far different from the All-Knowing and wonderful Father).

I say this with caution, watch the film and remember the various parts of the gospel. The cautionary part is to just watch, not through the literal lens of all the film didn’t cover, but through the lens of reflection and contemplation.  Through the lens of a father that made a choice. A choice that was not easy. You may have to put your allegorical hat on. You could also call it a modern parable if you wanted. It is a parable that tells and conveys a message of sacrifice, redemption, and hope.

Some will say, “Well, there is no resurrection.” That is a valid point. There is not a true resurrection of the boy. However, at the end of the film, you are left with a boy that looks very much like the son that died and a father that was sad at how much he lost. Upon seeing the boy, the joy returns with the father raising his arms, essentially seeing the sacrifice was worth it.

The message will focus on the sacrifice and decision of the father. It will show the lengths the father goes to in order to save all those passengers who were doomed and never knew it. There are many today that are walking around searching for answers. There are many who are broken and lost, who have turned to addictions to ease the pain. Many seek to fill the void with things (or “broken cisterns”) that will never leave them satisfied. We have tried to fill this emptiness left by sin with counterfeit gods that only leave us worse off and dissatisfied. Our lives yearn to have that fellowship with our Father that was lost. We long for the Garden.

There is hope though. That fellowship is repaired through Christ. Many have heard or seen the illustration that between God and man there is this canyon or valley that exists because of sin. Christ came, died, rose from the grave, ascended into heaven and will come back. The Cross and Christ essentially bridges the gap between Holy God and sinful man.

The topic of culturally relevant theology is a discussion for another post, but after seeing this amazing film I wanted to share it with you. Many have probably seen it, but think about the title. Think about where this happens. The analogy of the father making a decision by sacrificing his son to save the many has been used in several evangelism models. It is popular enough that you may have even used once before. This brings that analogy to life. The anguish, the hurt, the reluctance, the death, the sorrow, the pain, and the decision all come to life in this beautiful story.

I love the Gospel and love the Gospel story. I am not advocating changing the story or conforming it to “trick” someone into believing. As Christians we are to be strong and faithful to the true and accurate faith in Christ. Yes, I know there are many other stories/films/songs that show the gospel either overtly or covertly, but what I love about this film is how the Gospel story is being shown in a way that relates to this postmodern world. It meets those that are broken in hurting and shows how hard it was for the Almighty Father to sacrifice His only Son. As popular songs and movies play, they show the great need for a Savior and how culture looks for a Savior in all the wrong places. This movie meets the people where they are at with a story of brokenness and redemption. It leaves the viewer with gratitude, thanksgiving and hope.

A whole series and book could be produced on what stands out and touches each of us as we watch the film. What may have been impactful to us once, may be different the next time. Meaning, not just with this film but with songs or other films, a certain portion may stand out to us based on our life circumstances at the moment. If we were to listen or watch it again during a different life stage, something else may stand out. Film offers a wonderful way to share the Gospel. This film stirs inside questions and emotions and thanksgivings for what our Father did, and what our Savior did and endured. It shows that no matter how lost or broken or downtrodden a person may be, God can redeem, bring healing, and restoration.

I ask that you would spend the 30 minutes to watch the film. I gain nothing from it and in no way have any ties to it, nor do I get any monetary benefits. I love this film. Just watch. If nothing else moves you, look for the scene where the snow is falling in front of the camera and see the beauty of the snowflakes. See what comes out of pain. Place yourself in the fathers shoes, what decision would you make? What are ways we can relate the gospel to modern culture that we possibly have not done before?

Delighting in Trinitarian Prayer – A Personal Application

Before moving away from this topic of prayer, I want to take a moment to recognize how this has impacted me and what I need to do to personally apply this. It is one thing to talk about it, but another to live it out and apply it. Now, from all the learning and studying on this topic, I must put this into practice. It is not enough to say or write these things, they must be applied. They must be lived out. A wise man told me when you are going through seminary or any type of deep spiritual journey there are two things that must be focused on. One is to make sure that the material is grasped and learned. If not, your theology may be off. We must keep studying the unlimited well that is the Father, Son, and Spirit. Two, we must ask, “How does this apply to me?” What am I to grasp from all this knowledge and how do I apply it. Another way to say this is: “With this knowledge, how do I live it out to glorify the Father?”

What lays ahead in the next two posts is a personal reflection that I don’t normally share  but one that I will. It is a moment to show you my own struggles with this Christian life and I need so much help and prayer. I hope and pray that we all do better about spending time with our Lord. May we all thirst for more of Him and delight in Him.


 

Christian prayer is offered under this basis: “Not by my authority or according to my fitness or anything I have done to be deserving, but on the pure basis of the finished work of Christ am I able to even approach God. Even when I pray to Jesus, I am still approaching God the Son on that same basis: not by my own authority but on the basis of the finished work of Christ.[1]

In applying what mature Christian prayer is to look like, the application is that when I address the Son, it is to include thanksgiving for what He has done (Rev 5:11-14). I can thank Him for interceding for me and praise Him for His return and what that will mean. In doing so, He will be honored by paying him homage as Lord of all. In addressing the Spirit, it is to offer Him praise and thanksgiving. While I may petition Him to work in me and areas of this world, I will need to do better by properly petitioning the Father to send the Holy Spirit to engage in such work.[2]

Petitioning the correct Person of the Trinity has been difficult for me until I was able to understand more about the separate roles. Following the principles laid out in this writing, I should direct to Jesus request that pertain to His ongoing work. I may request Him to be my advocate in a situation, or groan for His return. However, I need to cultivate the practice of directing my petitions to the Father who is the source of “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17), just as Jesus Himself instructed us in the Lord’s Prayer.

There will be times in my hurriedness or busyness that I will pray to wrong member something that is not part of their distinct function, and while that is not a damnable sin and may not even be sin at all, through this exercise I believe it is about creating a proper understanding in my prayer life. This exercise has helped me understand each Persons different functions and roles specifically in my prayer life, but also how I should properly worship and praise them. In living life, we are to display Christ and His love to all, live for the glory of the Father all made possible by the power and strength of the Holy Spirit in dependence upon Him.


 

[1] Ibid, 213.

[2] Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 75.

Summary of Praying to the Father Through the Son in the Spirit

In an effort to recap what has been talked about over the last few posts, I want to provide a summary of what it looks like for praying to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Also, we will bring our discussion about prayer, its benefits, the reasons to pray, and what prayer looks like following the instructions of Christ.

Summary of Praying to the Father Through the Son in the Spirit

By borrowing the sonhood of the true Son, the believer can approach the throne of grace and call on God as Father, who will receive them because they pray in the style that was taught by the Jesus, the Son of God: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9).[1] Jesus and the Spirit are divine Persons who occupy the offices of intercessor and mediator to bring us before the Father. There are few prayers to Jesus in the New Testament and no recorded prayers to the Spirit.[2] “As John 14 makes clear, the closer we come to understanding the threeness of God, the more we are summoned to fully Christian prayer.”[3] “The Holy Spirit may be prayed to. He is God. But the Holy Spirit is not to be prayed to in such a way as to mask the mediatorship of Christ and our location in Christ as members of his body.”[4] Christian prayer has double intercession, the Son and the Spirit, built into it. “The Father not only welcomes prayers, but he has provided mediation and perhaps even mediation of the mediation. Your prayer life is secure in the two hands of the Father. That built-in logic of mediation is the grain of prayer.”[5]

Conclusion

“One’s understanding of prayer is indeed correlative with one’s doctrine of God.”[6] Prayer is an act of worship, in that it is an act of worshipping the Persons of the Godhead in a dependent and powerful way by seeking the kingdom of God, praising His name, and being still in awe of the glorious God that has called us His children by the work and authority of Christ. To pray in a Trinitarian way is to remember that the doctrine of the Trinity is vitally important. The doctrine of the Trinity helps us know and understand more about this unfathomable, incomprehensible, and infinite God. We should allow this doctrine to deepen our love and appreciation for God. We exist to worship God and He wants us to worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Christians must always seek to go deeper in their worship of God. One of the greatest writings on Trinitarian prayer comes from C.S. Lewis in his acclaimed Mere Christianity where he discusses God as the goal of an ordinary man being caught up in something extraordinary:

An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God—that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to which he is praying—the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on—the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers. The man is being caught up into the higher kinds of life…he is being pulled into God, by God, while still remaining himself.[7]

 The goodness of the Father is shown in that He loves, hears and honors our prayers even when they are not addressed correctly. The Triune God invites us into fellowship with Him and has provided a way for us to talk with Him. The amazing part of it all is that the Creator God wants to talk with us. He eagerly awaits our conversation. But in the fast paced world of today, one of the most important tools we have to fight evil, face the daily battles, and be strengthened for each day is prayer. Many take this wonderful opportunity for granted and do not seek out the help and strength of the Triune God. But, as Christians we find an infinite well of courage, faith, strength and help in a prayerful conversation with God. “If we are truly speaking of the true God, then the truest form of that speech can never be abstract discussion about God.  It must be speech addressed to God. It must be worship. It must be prayer.”[8] It can be daunting and difficult to think of a finite being reaching out to an infinite and holy God. When one truly thinks about the distance and dissimilarity between us and God, it is easy to wonder whether we have the ability to pray and whether coming into God’s presence is a good idea anyway.[9] Our fellowship with God should only be enhanced by consciously knowing that we are relating to and seeking a tri-personal God. We must echo what St. Anselm said, “Let me seek Thee in longing, let me long for Thee in seeking; let me find Thee in love, and love Thee in finding.”[10]

We have an opportunity to bring our experience and our awareness into alignment with the structure of the economy of salvation. As the economy of salvation has revealed God’s tri-unity, we come before God the Father in a way that retraces the path of His sending the Son and Spirit to reveal Himself and redeem us.[11] God is inviting us into a conversation that is occurring between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When we pray, we are joining that conversation. An advantage of Trinitarian prayer “is that it aligns your prayer life in particular with your spiritual life in general.”[12]


[1] Sanders, The Deep Things of God, 217.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Tom Wright, The Prayer of the Trinity, Internet, accessed 1 December 2014, http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Prayer_Trinity.htm.

[4] Graham Cole, Engaging with the Holy Spirit, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 64.

[5] Sanders, The Deep Things of God, 213.

[6] Friedrich Heiler, Prayer, trans. and ed. Samuel McComb and J. Edgar Park, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958), 353.

[7] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001), 163.

[8] Wright, The Prayer of the Trinity.

[9] Sanders, The Deep Things of God, 212-13.

[10] Anselm, Proslogium, (LaSalle, Ill: Open Court Publishing, 1903), 6.

[11] Sanders, The Deep Things of God, 215.

[12] Ibid.

Trinitarian Prayer – Praying to the Father

This post will look at what it means to pray to the Father following a Trinitarian model. Depending on our past and our experiences, seeing God as Father can be tough and extremely difficult. What is amazing is that the Father invites us before Him to truly have a conversation with us. He knows our requests, yet He still wants to talk with us. He truly is our Source and Sustainer, yet all too often we look to ourselves, others, or things to provide for us or comfort us. Today, we all need to turn to our wonderful Father, myself included and more than anyone. He is listening and there to help us in our struggles, battles, and the daily grind.

Praying to the Father

So why should we not just pray to God or the Father? The Triune God has chosen to relate to humankind in different ways. If we were to pray just to God the Father, we might lapse into a patriarchal monotheism. In the same way, if we just prayed to Jesus, we may not see Him as Lord or would possibly follow egalitarianism.[1] The doctrine of the Trinity reminds us that the Father is the Source and foundation of all things, both of creation and salvation. Consequently, prayer is properly addressed to the Father as this glorious basis and source (Rev 4:8-11). “For this reason, in prayer, we come before the Father. We praise him for who he is, thank him for what he has done, and petition him in the face of need, because he is the good and wise supplier of all that we lack.”[2] “The Father, then, as supreme authority over even His own Son and the Spirit, is the One to who we gladly, but humbly address our prayers.”[3] A final reason to approach the Father is to confess our sins since it is always against God the Father. Sin destroys the fellowship that the Christian enjoys with the Father, and the Father is the One that forgives, we are to confess our sins to Him.[4]

[1] Ibid.

[2] Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 75.

[3] Ware, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, 151-52.

[4] Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 356.

Praying as Jesus Prayed

Continuing our series on prayer and how to delight in it and God, today we look at the model that Christ laid forth. Next time, we will look a little closer at the how He prayed. Then look at how that relates to the believer of praying to the Father and what it means to pray in the Spirit.


 

As Jesus instructed the disciple to address the Father in prayer, “Our heavenly Father,” (Matt 6:9-15) so we should do the same.[1] In Jesus, we see an example of a prosperous prayer life, but also how we should pray to the Father. The examples of Jesus’ prayers in the Bible display a deep love that the Son has for His Father, the importance, benefit and necessity of prayer, and the distinct Personhood of the Father and Son. While some object to Jesus’ prayers and say He was praying to Himself, it is in fact through His dialogue with the Father (Matt 3:17; 17:5; John 5:19; 11:41–42; 17:1ff) that we see the best evidence that they are separate individuals with distinct “centers of consciousness.”[2]

“Every situation, every petition always brought Jesus back to the object of his mission, the divine will, the work his Father had entrusted to him. Jesus desired nothing else. Prayer enabled him to discern and bless the plan of his Father whom he had come to serve.”[3] Everything Jesus did was motivated by His submission and trust of the Father. Jesus knew the importance of talking with His Father in prayer. He is repeatedly pictured as withdrawing from the crowds and ministering to the people in order that he might be refreshed through a period of solitude and prayer.[4] In Jesus, who was given by the Father to this world as an inexpressible gift (John 3:16, 2 Cor 9:15) and has revealed the Father to us (Matt 11:27), Christians are the beneficiaries of the great honor to call God, “Father.” Because Jesus has come and taken our place, we can dare to come before God the Father as His children and address Him as “Father” in the same way that Jesus, the true Son of God, called Him “Father”.


 

[1] Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 75.

[2] Matt Perman, “What is the Doctrine of the Trinity?” Desiring God, 2014, accessed 30 November 2014, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-the-doctrine-of-the-trinity.

[3] Gauthier Adalbert Hamman, Prayer – The New Testament, (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1971), 182.

[4] Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 276.

What does Trinitarian Prayer look like?

In continuing our series on Delighting in the Trinity: A Look at Trinitarian Prayer, today we focus on what is a Trinitarian prayer, what does it look like and start laying the groundwork for how to do it.

Trinitarian Prayer

A solid prayer life is instrumental in the life of a thriving Christian. As believers submit to God and bring their requests, petitions, concerns and thanksgivings to the Father, they notice that the fellowship and intimacy with the Triune God grows exponentially. They desire to talk with the Father, Son, and Spirit in all things about every aspect of their life. With the background on prayer and why it is good to pray, a Trinitarian model of prayer is to be presented. That is, a model of prayer that identifies and understands the distinct characteristics of each member of the Trinity and prays accordingly to each following the example of Christ.

The traditional theologically correct way of Trinitarian prayer is to pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, through the power of the Holy Spirit. This answers the question, “Who should I pray to?” As a piece of wood or slab of meat that has a distinct grain to it, so does prayer. “Praying to the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit is not just the ‘theologically correct’ way to pray but a way of praying that draws real spiritual power from being aligned with reality. The reality is that Christian prayer is already tacitly Trinitarian, whether we recognize it or not. Aligning with it means praying with the grain instead of against it.”[1] The “grain” that Sanders mentions runs from the Spirit through the Son to the Father. Prayer designed by God has the built-in structure of mediation and directionality that has been there and more than likely we have been missing.

Prayer follows a standard that reflects the order of the Trinity.[2] It is important to know what those roles are and how the roles of each Person of the Trinity are distinguished. We pray to the Father because He has absolute and uncontested supremacy, including authority over the Son and the Spirit. Yet, as finite creatures, the only way we can come to the Father is on the basis of Christ, who alone is the Mediator between God and men. We come in His name by His authority because of His grace. The words “In Jesus’ name, Amen,” are not empty words we tack on at the end of prayer, but are the difference between a prayer that reaches the Father and just mere words. The only way we come to the Father, in the name of Jesus, is by the power of the Spirit inside of us conforming us into the likeness of Christ helping us honor Christ by praying the will of Christ for His kingdom.[3] That is why we must pray at all times “in the Spirit.” Thus, Christian prayer recognizes the eternal order reflected in the Trinitarian relations among the Persons of the Godhead.[4]

[1] Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 212.

[2] Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles & Relevance, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 153.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Delighting in Trinitarian Prayer

Throughout these past few months, we have looked at various terms and definitions that are pertinent to knowing about the Trinity, its development through the years, the trustworthiness, and its foundation to faith. Over the next few posts, all these things will come together as we look at what it means to delight in the Trinity and what Trinitarian prayer looks like. Many times, our prayers may not reflect a Trinitarian model.

So what to expect? More information will be put forth on each member of the Trinity taking many of the terms we looked at and putting it all together. After that, a model of prayer will be set forth that will hopefully be helpful for all of us in talking to the Triune God. Finally, I will show how this relates to my own life and how I intend to apply it.

Delighting in Trinitarian Prayer

The path into the kingdom is open. All the barriers have been removed and the King himself eagerly awaits your presence. He knows that you have something to say. He has heard your cries and wants to hear your petitions. Then you realize how inadequate you are and think, “Who am I to talk to the King?” How does one even begin to talk to the powerful King about requests that are important to a few, but are very small when compared to the business of the kingdom? Do you talk directly to Him? Are you supposed to talk to the royal publicist who will then talk to the King? Are you to talk at all? You then realize that you are before the great throne of the King and have no idea what to do with this honor.

In many cases, Christians will take the great honor of praying to the Almighty Father and truly not know or understand how to pray to the Triune God. How are Christians to pray? Do we talk directly to the Father? Or do we pray to the Son, Jesus Christ? What about the Holy Spirit? Do we pray to Him? Is it wrong to pray to the Spirit? For many, including myself, the privilege of praying to God is often taken for granted; and many times, our prayers to God do not follow a Trinitarian model. We will pray to the Father thanking Him for dying on a cross, or we pray to Jesus calling Him “Abba.” The writer intends to answer these questions and provide the reader with a model of Trinitarian prayer. Prayer is to step into the great throne room of the King of kings, who eagerly desires to have a conversation with all of us, and for us to humbly kneel in awe of the Triune God and talk to our heavenly Father through the Son and in the Spirit.

Glossary of Trinitarian Terms: A Conclusion

This marks the last post on the important terms that are related to the Trinity. But also, these terms are important to know in our daily Christian lives as they help us to know more about God. As we understand these terms more, they can help us have a deeper appreciation for each Person of the Trinity. They help us know more about each Person, how they relate to us, and can be useful in relating to them.

Procession: (Gk. ekporeuomai, Jn 15:26; Lat. processio, “to emanate from another”) In Trinitarian theology, as the Son is eternally generated from the Father, so the Holy Spirit eternally comes forth (proceeds) from the Father—“and [in Western theology] the Son” (Lat. filioque). The procession of the Spirit (or in the West the double procession) has traditionally distinguished the eternal relations of the Spirit within the Godhead. See Filioque.

Psychological Model of Trinity: Articulated by Augustine, this perspective suggests that since the human being is created in the imago dei and since God is Trinity, then human nature (expressed in activity) will reflect a threefoldness, e.g. in mind, knowledge, love of self; etc. Until recently, the West has preferred emphasizing the personal unity of God in the three “subsistencies” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. See Social Model of Trinity.

Sabellianism: A 3rd century form of Modalism popularized by Sabellius, the teaching denied three distinct persons of the Trinity and, some surmise, posited three successive modes of divine manifestation from the Father of the OT, to the Son of the Gospels, to the Holy Spirit of Acts and the present age; deemed heretical. See Modalism, Monarchianism.

Social Model of Trinity: Loosely attributed to the Cappadocians but also expressed by Augustine, the Social Model explains the Trinity in terms of human relationships: e.g., Adam, Eve, and Seth (Basil); Lover, Beloved, Love itself (Augustine). Eastern Orthodoxy prioritizes the three persons (hypostases) over singularity of substance, affirms that each person shares the same attributes, locates divine unity in perichoresis, and often attributes ontological priority to the Father as the eternal source (fons totius divinitatis) of the full eternal deity of the Son and the Spirit. See Cappadocians,Perichoresis, Psychological Model.

Subordinationism: A view that holds that the Son or the Holy Spirit are inferior to the Father in nature or are less than co-equal in glory, as such deemed heretical. The term might also be used, not in terms of essential inequality of nature or glory, rather in terms of Trinitarian function, either temporarily in the economies of salvation, or even regarding eternal roles the members of the Godhead, e.g., eternal subordination of the Son to the Father; this latter meaning has been common in the history of both Eastern and Western Christianity.

Substance: (Lat. substantia, “that which stands under”) The Latin term substantia and persona and the Greek terms ousia and hypostasis were deemed equivalent in Triinitarian discussion for the East and West by Pope Damasus (366-84). See Essence, Nature, Ousia, Person.

Theophany: A manifestation of God in audible or usually visible form, conceivably in “heaven” as well as on earth (e.g., Ex 3:2-6; Da 7:9-10; Rev 4:2ff); such appearances are contrasted with the Incarnation which secured permanent union between the eternal Son and a human nature. See Incarnation.

Transcendence: The superiority of God over and apart from his created world; God is uniquely “other” from all created existence. See Immanence.

Trisagion: The Greek term for “thrice holy,” i.e., the ascription to the One on the heavenly throne as “Holy, holy, holy” (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8); also ancient liturgy as the response, “Holy God, holy mighty, holy immortal, have mercy on us.”

Tritheism: (Lat. “three gods”) Heterodox theology in various forms through Christian history that deny the consubstantiality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; unity is sacrificed to affirm divine diversity; deemed heretical. See Consubstantial.

Unitarianism: Variously expressed since the 16th century, the belief that denies the Trinity and deity of Christ, while affirming a single personal God; deemed heretical. See Deism, Monarchianism.

Glossary of Trinitarian Terms, Part 5

We continue our series on important terms to know about regarding different characteristics and attributes about God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A couple of different beliefs that have inaccurately viewed the Trinity are explored today. There are a couple of terms that we explore today that provide us more clarity as we continue building a Trinitarian foundation. Pay special attention to Ousia, perichoresis, and person. Each will help us develop our theology better when trying to put all of this together in the future.

Nestorianism: A Christological view supposedly purported by Nestorius (d. 451) that defended the full humanity and deity of Jesus Christ, but seemed to have so separated the two natures as to lose the single self-consciousness of the Savior; deemed heretical by the West at Chalcedon, Nestorian faith extended into the East and continues today as Assyrian Christianity. See Chalcedonian Definition, Hypostasis.

Nicene Creed (325): The definitive standard of Trinitarian faith set forth at the Nicene (or 1st Ecumenical) Council that declares the consubstantiality (homoousios) of the Son with the Father, while anathematizing the views of Arius. See Arianism, Consubstantial, Homoousios.

Ontology: Literally, the “study of being,” the philosophical investigation of the fundamental properties that constitute the nature of existence; popularly, the ontological Trinity is synonymous with the Immanent Trinity.

Ousia: The Greek word for “being” or “substance,” parallel with the Latin substantia. See Essence, Nature, Substance.

Panentheism: Denoting at least two perspectives, panentheism can mean that (1) God includes the world as part of the divine being, the world being God, yet God exists as more than the world; or (2) combining classical theism with pantheism, the view that God infiltrates all things, but that his Being is more than the universe.

Pantheism: The view that God is everything and everything is God; the pantheist seeks to deny (transcend) individual consciousness so as to obtain oneness with the All-Inclusive. Some forms of pantheism understand the world as illusion, the only reality being God; other forms identify the world (universe) itself as God.

Patripassianism: The belief associated with Modalism that the Father (patri) became incarnate, was born of a virgin, and suffered (passion) and died on a cross; i.e., a denial of the eternal personal distinction between the Father and the Son; deemed heretical. See Modalism, Sabellianism.

Perichoresis: (from Gk. peri “around” + choreuo “dance in chorus”) A doctrine evident in the Cappadocians and developed by John of Damascus, that each member of the Godhead indwells or interpenetrates the other without confusion of personal distinction (Jn 14:9-11; 17:21). See Latin Circumincession and Circuminsession.

Person: Concepts of person (Gk. prosopon, hypostasis, Lat. persona) have differed from Boethian individual rationality to Buddhist and postmodern visions of a mere knot of social relationships. From a Trinitarian perspective, person is best conceived as a center of self-consciousness existing in relationship to others; this entails (1) full self-consciousness (“I am”), (2) the I-Thou reality of self distinct from other persons (“the Word was with God”); and (3) the capacity of perichoresis (“I am in the Father and the Father in me”). See Hypostasis, Substance.

Platonism: Inspired by Plato in the 4th c. B.C., Platonism’s supreme Idea of the Good, eternal realities above the present world, and the creation of the world were attractive bridges for the Apologists to argue for Christian faith, with sometimes reciprocal influences such as divine impassibility and a Platonic theory of knowledge. See Neo-Platonism.

Pneumatomachians: (Lit. “Spirit-fighters”) Those aligned with Macedonius of Constantinople (also called Macedonians) who affirmed the homoousios of the Father and the Son, but denied the personal deity of the Holy Spirit; deemed heretical. See Binitarianism.

Common Questions Regarding the Trinity and Trinitarian Relationships

In looking at some of the common terms for the Trinity, a number of questions arise. Going with the section of terms that we just reviewed, there are some common questions the we need to look at and try to provide answers. Some may not like these answer, and I will admit not every answer is thorough and detailed. A 15 page paper could probably be written on each topic and that may still not be enough space. This is just an attempt to provide a brief introduction, some clarity and a high-level overview of these questions. I would encourage each reader to look more closely at each topic.

What Are Primary Biblical Evidences for the Doctrine of the Trinity?

  1. God is One. In the OT, evidence that there is no god before or after the true God nor does He give His glory to another. Monotheism is expressly affirmed. We also see that this divine oneness can be understood as inclusive oneness and does not necessarily confine God to a single person. Two frequent names of God (‘Elohim, ‘Adonai), the use of the personal pronouns (“we”, “us”) and a significant number of passages indicate another person or agent whi is also in some sense God (Isa 9:6, Da 7:13).
  2. The Father is God-both John and Jesus introduced the use of “Father” as normative, yet distinguished “my Father” from “your Father”. God is referred to as the Father to Israel (Ex 4:22), Christ, the Son of God (Mt 3:17; 11:27), and to all believers (Ro 8:14-17; Gal 4:4-7). God the Father is the Creator of life, the Sovereign Ruler over all. Every occurrence happens with God’s knowledge and determination, yet He is also personal with His creation, especially humans. He Is the Holy Judge, whose holiness guides His essence and demands payment for sin. He is the Compassionate Reconciler who sent his Son to be our substitute but calls us to salvation, forgives, justifies, adopts and makes sons of the redeemed
  3. Jesus Christ is God-Jesus was revealed as God, “the Son of God”, the “Logos”—simultaneously the same as, but different from God, most noticeable in John. Jesus’ claims included sharing in the glory of the Father before the world began (Jn 17:5), possessing authority to send the Holy Spirit (Jn 15:26) and being destined not only to save the world but to judge it. Jesus is specifically ascribed as “God” (Ac 20:28, Ro 9:5, Tit 1:3) along with other titles of divinity including “Immanuel” (My 1:23), “Mighty God” (Isa 9:6) and Alpha and Omega (Rev 22:13).
  4. The Holy Spirit is God-the Spirit is frequently revealed with the characteristics of a person not only in relationship to belieers but also to God himself. The Holy Spirit is identified as God in specific texts (Ac 5:3-4, 2 Co 3:17-18). As “another Counselor (Jn 14:16), the Spirit stands as one together with the Son. Sent forth by the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit searches out the mind of God (I Co 2:10), speaks to what he hears (Jn 16:13), intercedes to the Father in our behalf (Ro 8:26), glorifies the Son (Jn 16:14) and resides in believers, the temples of God (I Co 2:16, 6:19) and children of God (Ro 8:15). The Holy Spirit is God in the same personal sense as the Son and the Father

Why in the Incarnation Did the Son not Absolutely, Publically Prove He Is God?-Christ’s divine nature was not always suppressed during His public ministry.The Savior’s sonship and innate authority were often the point of His teaching and miracles. His submission to the Father and anointing by the Spirit do not negate the active operation of His divine nature. He sometimes acted as God, even Lord of the Spirit. There is every bit enough evidence to confirm that Jesus is indeed God, yet we are not bludgeoned by the truth. He reveals himself to whom he chooses. Jesus could not only quite ably reveal his deity but he could also conceal it. Philippians 2:5–7 instructs believers to assume the same attitude as Christ who, although he was God did not go about flaunting or “grasping” at his deity. He drew people to himself in such a manner that they began to question the very nature of his being. Jesus Christ’s most forceful witness of his own deity was, remarkably, indirect. If Jesus had loudly, indisputably proved he was God (as skeptics seem to require), could the response have been the heart-changing submission that God desires? on at least four occasions Jesus seems explicitly to state his own deity. In each of the three instances prior to his crucifixion, Jesus attests his deity to those who already angrily rejected him.

Is Mary the Mother of God? Why should we not pray to Mary? The term “Mother of God” originated in the 4-5th Century, intended to denote the full deity of Christ. This term was not meant to indicate that Mary was the mother of Christ’s divine nature, but that Jesus was a singular person, “the perfect [pre-] existent God became perfect man, made flesh of the Virgin”. Mary is the physical mother of God, not the source or origin of His deity. There is very little biblical evidence to suggest that Mary herself would have been a deity or someone to be worshipped (she was not free from sin, nor does the Bible indicate her deity). A common criticism is that Mariology is a form of heresy-a rejection of the authority of the Bible for more popular traditions and it is a result of the pervasive influence of Gnosticism. Some more criticisms include Mariology is viewed as Paganism and included the need for the worship of a female god; lastly in anthropocentrism, where the human desire to create our own religion is demonstrated. Praying to Mary detracts from the glory of Christ, substituting the Son of God with others and negating the total sufficiency of Christ’s death on the cross, His role as our Intercessor, and His ability to sustain and provide all of our needs. We have fulfillment in Him and He asks us to talk to the Father in His name.

Description of the IntraTrinitarian Relationships in the NT.

  1. Persons as Distinct Centers of Consciousness-the NT records the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit each speaking as the divine “I” (Mk 1:11; Jn 10:30; Ac 13:2).
  2. Genuinely Personal Relationships-John’s commentary declare that the Son and the Spirit were with God; multiple references display “seeing”, “hearing”, and “being taught” among each member of the Trinity to convey the personeity of each divine member and the intimate relationship each enjoys with the other.
  3. They Know and Testify of Each Other- Interpersonally, the Father knows the Son (Jn 10:15) and the Son knows the Father; the knowledge Jesus has of God is based on relation. The Spirit also profoundly knows the Father and is known by the Father (1 Co 2:11-13, 2 Co 3:3; Ep 2:18) just as the Spirit knows the Son and is known by the Son (Jn 14:26, 15:26, 16:14-15). Because each of the divine persons has eternal, infinitely deep knowledge of the other, the Father testifies of the Son, the Son of the Father and the Spirit of the truth that is in the Father and the Son. As the Spirit alights upon the Son to testify of him at his baptism, so it is the Son who presents the Spirit, testifies of his coming and with the Father sends and gives the Spirit.
  4. Free Personal Choice-John’s Gospel demonstrates that the Father, Son and Spirit can and do operate freely but freely in submission; each is seen as a unique person, yet certain expressions reflect distinct separate consciousness. Every member of the Godhead is seen in free acts of self-giving; the functional order of the Godhead is never violated yet concurrently their relationship is intense and passionate.
  5. The Glory of Self-Rendering Love-John speaks of an innate glory of both the Father and the Son, the lovely reality is that the Father delights in glorifying the Son, the Son delights in glorifying the Father and the Spirit delights in glorifying the Son and thereby the Father. Each member of the Trinity honors each other-the entire Gospel repetitiously shapes and hammers an extraordinary sculpture of the immense love between each member of the Trinity.
  6. Each Mutually Indwells the Other-each member is distinct person that share divine nature as one God (perichoresis), yet they indwell each other. John 14:20 refers to the Father being in the Son and the Son in the Father, and implicitly, the Spirit was in Jesus
  7. The Come Forth from the Father-the Bible displays an eternal order of function within the Trinity. The Father is the fons divinatatis, the divine fountainhead and two of the most repeated phrases in John’s Gospel are that the Son comes/came from the Father and is sent by/from the Father. The Spirit of truth comes (Jn 15:26; 6:7-8, 13) and most significantly is describes as one who “goes forth” or “proceeds” from the Father.

Was the Earliest Church Trinitarian? Why or Why Not?

The greatest difficulty of the early church was to understand the declarations of Jesus’ deity coupled with those of his humanity. If he is God, then in what sense is he human? The early church did not waver from belief that God is one. Yet believers were also experiencing God in a threefold way. The earliest records of the second century reveal an underdeveloped Christology, yet one generally in concurrence with what later was later clarified with the Ecumenical Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon. Docetism, Ebionism, Monarchianism.