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I remember a friend asking me what I thought God was doing before the creation of the world.  I answered "They were enjoying one another."  He looked very quizzical and then said, "....Oh! You mean the Trinity!" I remember thinking "Well yes, what god were you thinking of?"

Yet many will think of God in ways that are divorced from the lively interaction of Father, Son and Spirit.  What about you?  How do you think of God's pre-creation life?  His OT activity?  His work in providence?  His divine attributes?  Do you naturally and enthusiastically conceive of these as the out-flow of the mutual relations of Persons?  Is your account of these shaped by triniarian inter-play?  Or do you try to conceive of these as, to all intents and purposes, unitarian activities to which we add trinitarian nuances (when we discuss salvation).   

Another way of asking this is - how do you think about the relation of Oneness and Threeness in God. 

Is it like this?  (Forgive the very amateur graphics/formatting)

Oneness and Threeness 1 

Here, Oneness is defined as the substrata - the substance of God underlying the Persons.  The fundamental truths about God are cast in unitarian terms.  To this is added multi-Personal considerations.  Is this how you consider the interplay of Oneness and Threeness?

Or what about this view:

Oneness and Threeness 2

Here Oneness and Threeness are laid side by side.  We consider 'De Deo Uno' and De Deo Trino' but separately.  We can even subscribe to phrases like "the equal ultimacy of the One and the Three."  Yet what we mean by this is a commitment to hold two fundamentally incommensurate doctrines of God together.  It can even foster a refusal to let the Threeness of God define the Oneness.  Here the One God is not constituted by the relations of the Three - Oneness is something else (divine simplicity, aseity etc etc).  And the Three do not find their particular identities in the Oneness communion.  No.  Instead Oneness and Threeness remain unco-ordinated.  It's a tri-unity by forcing One and Three together not because the 'tri' and the 'unity' mutually inform one another. 

But what about if we saw things like this...

Oneness Threeness 3b 

Here the Oneness is precisely the mutual relations of the particular Persons.  And these particular Persons find their identity in the communion that is God's Oneness.  "God's being is in His communion" (John Zizioulas).  The Three are three in their Oneness (not considered apart from it).  The One is one in the Threeness (not considered apart from it).

This is truly a trinity.  Here the 'tri' and the 'unity' are maintained from precisely the same perspective.  Here is a real 'equal ultimacy of the One and the Three.'

 The benefits of such a perspective?  Many - I hope to blog on many more in the fulness of time.  But for now (since we're in the middle of a series on mission) - we see that our doctrine of God, whether considering 'De Deo Uno' or 'De Deo Trino' is always a doctrine of the interplay of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is always an investigation of the economy of salvation in which the Three are disclosed.  It is always 'Gospel' theology.  The God of missions is a Gospel-alone God who is served in the world by a Gospel-alone mission.

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This, together with my next post on One-ness and Three-ness, is a detour from my series on mission, evangelism and social action. 

The point I'm seeking to secure in this detour is that God is known only in the Gospel.  He is a Gospel-Alone God and thus His church has a Gospel-Alone mission.  There is not a God to be known apart from Jesus - not "God the Creator", not "The one God",  not "The Unmoved Mover", not "The First Cause" - if we do not know the Father in the Son and by the Spirit we do not know God full-stop.  (This being the case it makes no sense to honour "God" apart from the Gospel - that is to take upon ourselves a mission that is not itself the gospel).

Now very quickly the question will come: Isn't the Old Testament just such a revelation?  That is, don't the Law, Prophets and Writings reveal the living God yet not in this trinitarian (gospel) way?  My answer is no.  The Hebrew Scriptures do reveal the very deepest things of God because they are themselves a trinitarian revelation of the trinitarian God.

In asserting this people may accuse me of being driven simply by systematic (christocentric) concerns.  These are strongly present I cannot deny it.  But my purpose in this post is to show that the Hebrew Scriptures on their own terms and in their own context must be understood from a trinitarian framework.

My point is not that the OT betrays hints, shapes and shadows of triune structure

My point is not that NT eyes can see trinitarian themes in the OT

My point is not that we go back as Christians and now retrospectively read the trinity into the OT

My point is not that the OT gives us partial suggestions of trinitarian life that are then developed by NT fulfillment

My point is that these texts read on their own terms and in their own context (as the Jewish, Hebrew Scriptures that they are) demand to be understood as the revelation of a multi-Personal God.  The only proper way to understand these texts is as trinitarian revelation.  These texts are either to be understood triunely or they are mis-understood - on their own terms or any others!  What I am setting out to do is to simply open up the OT and show what is actually there.  I have already acknowledged that I have a dogmatic commitment to christocentric revelation, but I hope to show that the OT texts themselves bear this out.

Just before we dive into the texts I would simply ask the reader to question their own dogmatic commitments.  I may be expecting to see a multi-Personal God in the OT, but I assure you - you are expecting to see a certain kind of God also.  What is it?  Are you expecting to see a revelation of the one God?  A uni-Personal God?  Are you accustomed to thinking of the OT God as equivalent to the God of the modern Jew?  Unitarian?  Perhaps not, perhaps you recoil at the idea (I hope so).  But it's worth all of us asking ourselves 'What are our pre-suppositions?' as we read 'In the Beginning.'  The "God" of Genesis 1:1 is a certain kind of God.  What do we assume about His being?  What will we allow Him to be, do and say as we read chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3...?  Do we think it's "obvious" that the God of Genesis 1 is the uncreated Creator?  Do we assume that the God being revealed by Moses is basically the God of the modern Jew?  The philosophical theist?  Something like the Muslim 'God'?  Perhaps we think (as so many Christians do) that "the One God" is a foundational doctrine to which trinitarian concepts are added? Perhaps then we see the OT as portraying this basic 'God' before trinitarian nuances are added? 

I have often had the experience of being criticised for bringing trinitarian assumptions to the OT text when, at the same time, my Christian friend was bringing equally strong and equally controlling assumptions to bear themselves - assumptions that God (or His revelation) must progress from primitive unitarianism to developed trinitarianism.  Pre-suppositions are inevitable.  The issue is not 'Who has purged themselves of all dogmatic bias and is a pure biblical scholar!'  The issue is 'Which pre-suppositions can actually handle what's on the page and which do damage to the text?'  My contention is that the trinitarian pre-supposition is the only one that makes sense of the OT data.

Ok.  Here we go - 24 Scriptures to consider:

  • Genesis 1.   Verse 1: "In the beginning Elohiym... " Here is the God to Whom we're introduced.  A plural noun!  One that takes a singular verb.  The grammatical oddity is meant to make us sit up and take notice. Our plural God acts as one.    And His plural counsel (v26) "Let us..."  gives rise to a united creation of a plural humanity - male and female to image His own life.
  • Genesis 3.  The Voice of the LORD God (v8) who comes to walk with Adam and Eve is also the LORD God (v9)
  • Genesis 16.  The Angel of the LORD (v9) is also LORD and God (v13)
  • Genesis 18&19.  The LORD who appears to Abraham (18:1) is Judge of all the earth (18:25), yet He excercises His divine prerogative in union with "the LORD out of the heavens." (19:24)
  • Genesis 32.  Jacob wrestles with the Man (v24) who is the Angel (Hosea 12:4) who is God (Gen 32:28,30)
  • Genesis 48.  The God who is God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who is Shepherd and the source of blessing (v15) is the Angel of God (v16).
  • Exodus 3.  The God of the burning bush is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (v6) and the great I AM (v14).  He is also the Angel of the LORD (v2) and will bring the people to worship God on the mountain (v12).
  • Exodus 19.  The LORD on the mountain (v10) warns Moses that in three days the LORD will come to the mountain (v11) and things will be very different then.  Sure enough, three days later, the LORD descends on the mountain (v18) and then the LORD descends on the mountain (v20)!
  • Exodus 33.  Moses meets face to face with the LORD in the tent of meeting (v11) but the LORD on the top of the mountain he must never see (v20-22).
  • Joshua 5&6.  The Commander of the LORD's army (5:14) who fights for Israel to deliver her is also the LORD who is worthy of worship (5:15; 6:2)
  • Judges 2.   The Angel of the LORD brought them out of Egypt and established His covenant with them. (v1-4)
  • Judges 6. The Angel of the LORD (v11-12) brings the LORD's blessing (one who is Sovereign LORD, v22).  Yet the Angel, as another Person is Himself the LORD (v14) with the same divine majesty (v22-24).
  • Judges 13.  God sends the Angel of the LORD (e.g. v9) who is Himself God (e.g. v22). And the Spirit fills Samson (v25)
  • Psalm 2.  The Son Whom we are to kiss and find refuge in (v12) is the Anointed Son of the Father through Whom is exercised all divine rule and authority.
  • Psalm 45.  The most excellent of men who rules the nations as Champion and King is called 'Lord' by His bride and 'God' by His God. (v6,7)
  • Psalm 110.  David knows two Lords who converse in their rule of the nations.  There is the LORD and there is the Kingly Priest who is David's Lord.
  • Proverbs.  The Wisdom of God who creates (8:30) and gives new life (8:35) through granting the Spirit (1:23) is also possessed by the LORD (8:22)
  • Isaiah 9.  The government of God's righteous kingdom will be on the shoulders of the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (v6).  Yet He is One who is born and through Whom the zeal of the LORD will accomplish His work (v7)
  • Isaiah 48. The great I AM, the first and the last who created the heavens and the earth and who called Israel (v12,13) is One who is sent from the Lord GOD along with His Spirit (v16)
  • Isaiah 63.  The Saviour sends the Angel to save, yet they grieve His Holy Spirit (v9-10)
  • Ezekiel 34.  The Shepherd of Ezekiel's prophesy will be the LORD Himself (v12-22), yet this loving, kingly rule is exercised through the Prince, His Servant David (v23-24) who does all that the LORD is said to do as Shepherd and who rules for the LORD. 
  • Daniel 7.  The Possessor and rightful Ruler of the Kingdom that shall never pass away is the Son of Man (v13,14) who inherits the kingdom from the Ancient of Days (v9-12).
  • Micah 2.  The Shepherd who will gather the remnant of Israel is the LORD (v12) who will set at their head a King who is also called 'LORD' (v13)
  • Zechariah 2.  The One Sent from the LORD Almighty (v7,9,11) is the LORD Himself to live among the Israelites as the gentle, righteous, saving King of 9:9 (compare with 2:10)!

In all this my argument is not that these are hints of trinity but that they are texts that can only ever be understood from the perspective of a multi-Personal God.  When two Persons called LORD are interacting in the text (when we see plainly "true God from true God") then an understanding of God as uni-Personal is just dead wrong.  It must always have been dead wrong for it could never account for the Hebrew Scriptures as written.

The only God there is is trinitarian and His revelation has always been such.

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I tried to argue in the last post that neither soteriology nor ecclesiology nor eschatology should define our priorities in mission.  Rather, it's our doctrine of God that must be our first point of call.  It is the God whose being is in the Father's sending (missio) of the Son who is the proper foundation for missiology.  If that's true then it follows...

  

4)    A deficient doctrine of God will lead to a deficient missiology

5)    The divorce of 'God the Creator' from 'God the Redeemer' is one of the chief errors in doctrine of God and, consequently, missiology. 

John Stott has been a vocal proponent of “evangelism + social action = mission.”  The links with his doctrine of God are exposed in quotes like this: 

"[There are two freedoms and two unities for which Jesus Christ is concerned] On the one hand there is socio-political liberation and the unity of all mankind, for these things are the good will of God the Creator, while on the other there is the redemptive work of Christ who sets his people free from sin and guilt, and unites them in his new community.  To muddle these two things (creation and redemption, common grace and saving grace, liberation and salvation, justice and justification) is to plunge oneself into all kinds of confusion." (From a sermon quoted in Timothy Dudley Smith, John Stott: A Global Ministry, IVP, 2001, p204). 

Here we see God the Creator and God the Redeemer laid side by side.  The concerns of creation and redemption are, in this way of thinking, separately addressed by the Living God. 

Now of course the Father is very interested in the whole spectrum of these activities above.  Yet He accomplishes them through the one Gospel. 

As Athanasius was so keen to stress:

“The first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word who made it in the beginning.” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation #1)

The Word became flesh – there are no purposes of God that are not bound up in the exaltation of His Son, in Him creation and redemption are inseparably bound.

 6)    God’s mission is a Gospel mission 

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The purposes of the Father from all ages have been exclusively focussed on His Son (Psalm 2:1-12; Psalm 110:1; Daniel 7:13,14; Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:15f).

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In the power of the Spirit, His word has been the agent for all divine activity in creation and redemption.( 2 Peter 3:5-7; Hebrews 1:3; 1 Peter 1:23; John 1:1-3; 5:24; 6:63,68) 

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In the Incarnation of the Word, the Father gives to Jesus His word (John 8:55; 14:24), which accomplished all that Jesus does (John 14:10; Mark 4:41; Luke 4:43; John 5:24; 12:48; 17:17).

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It is this word that Jesus entrusts to his followers (John 15:20; 17:6,14,20). 

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The Church has inherited a Gospel mission for the world, i.e. the Father’s mission to the exalt His Son in His Spirit-empowered word.

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God is exclusively concerned for the exaltation of His Son.  All other interests (in justice, liberation, common grace etc) find their place under this one agenda.  And the Father has committed all His omnipotent power to Christ (Matt 28:18) who in turn grants it to the Church (Matt 28:19-20; Eph 1:22-23).  The Living God has unreservedly committed Himself to the Gospel mission of the Church.

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Barth saw these things so clearly.  In 1934 the pressure for the Confessing Church to have another agenda was immense.  Yet even (and especially) here Barth is adamant that the mission of the Church is the proclamation of Christ: 

‘The Church's commission, which is the foundation of its freedom, consists in this: in Christ's stead, and so in the service of his own Word and work, to deliver to all people, through preaching and sacrament, the message of the free grace of God.’ (Barmen Declaration, article 6)

 Or as he says in IV/3: 

“The first if not the only thing in its witness is the ministry of the viva vox Evangelii to be discharged voce humana in human words.  It is its declaration, explanation and evangelical address with the lips.”  (IV/3, p864.) 

Now if Barth can say that in the face of the Nazis, can we really countenance a socio-political side-show in our own day?   In my next post I'll tease out some of the implications for the Church's ministry today.

Here are some thoughts on the inter-relation of mission, evangelism and social action. I have written a longer essay on this on my website here.  Here are some abridged thoughts… In part one I will flag up the doctrine of God issues which ought to be the very foundation of our missiology.  But first, a word of warning… 

1)    I lavish exhorbitant amounts of money and time on my own ‘non-spiritual’ blessings 

 

Before we say anything else, let’s admit this.  I will argue strongly that the mission of the church is to proclaim the Gospel and that to add social action as a separate component is confused and confusing.  BUT… before we get into all that let’s come clean: I love myself by spending many resources on my own health, comfort, recreation, food, clothing, shelter etc etc.   If I am to love my neighbour as myself, will I really with-hold such blessings from others – those blessings which I indulge myself with on a daily basis??  If someone refuses to feed and clothe the poor let them never claim justification in an ‘evangelism-only’ missiology.  It is greed pure and simple. 

 

 

2)    Mission is God’s work first, then ours 

“It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world, it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father which includes the church.” (Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution of Messianic Ecclesiology, London: SCM Pr., 1977, p64).

  

3)    Mission is founded in our doctrine of God 

 

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21 

 

“Must not even the most faithful missionary, the most convinced friend of missions, have reason to reflect that the term missio was in the ancient Church an expression of the doctrine of the Trinity—namely the expression of the divine sending forth of self, the sending of the Son and Holy Spirit to the world? Can we indeed claim that we do it any other way?” (Karl Barth, quoted in Norman E. Thomas, ed., Classic Texts in Mission and World Christianity, Orbis, 1995, p105–6.) 

In evangelical circles we are accustomed to thinking through this question from the perspective of certain priorities.  That is, we begin with “We’re on the Titanic!  Get people to the life rafts, don’t re-arrange the deck-chairs!”  The urgency driving such thinking, the priority of the gospel task that this engenders, is completely admirable.  If you’re proclaiming Christ from the roof-tops out of this understanding of mission, I stand with you, shoulder-to-shoulder!  Evangelism is my passion, my gifting and my job!  But is this really where we should begin??  Such a perspective often leads to the following assessments: 

 

 

We highlight the priority of then over now, of soul over body, of heaven over earth, of individual over corporate, of internal mental acts, over external physical acts.   

 

 

If we start here, we’re defeated before we’ve begun.  First of all, so much of this dichotomous thinking is closer to Plato than Scripture.  But more importantly, our first thoughts should be about our God, not our plight.  We must begin with doctrine of God.  We should be asking: “What do we learn from the Father’s sending of the Son? (a mission constitutive of the divine being).  “What is His mission in creation and redemption?” 

 

 

 

As we do so, we will see that there is a tremendous urgency to proclaim the Son, yet it springs from a different well.  More in part two…

The rest of the series:

Part two

Part three

Part four

Part five

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On the Cruciform God thing - here's a brilliant sermon by Darrell Johnson on these same issues.  His text is Phil 2:5-11 and his title: "So that's what it means to be God!"

The real realization is not "Oh, Jesus is the god I'd always believed in!" - how's that for fitting the Saviour onto a Procrustean bed! No, the real realization is "Oh, God is nothing like I'd thought - He's who I see in Jesus!"

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[I've edited this post from it's original form which was a little specialized and 'try-hard'!] 

For a long time I've held a certain verse from John at arm's length:

"The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life." (John 10:17)

I've always held it at arm's length because... well what would it mean to take it with full seriousness??  The Father-Son love in the bond of the Spirit is the divine life.   This love is who God is.  And the Son says it's founded on the cross!

As 1 John 4 says, "this is love" - the love that God is - "the sending of the Son as an atoning sacrifice".  (1 John 4:7-10)   Isn't the logic here inescapable?  Cruciformity (cross-shaped-ness) is the essence of the divine life.  God's very life is laid bare (upheld??) at the cross.  It is God glorified in shame and lifted up in ignominy.  

Now we can try to be poetic about this, but are we forced to speak simply in terms of contradiction?  Is there any way of relating the cry of dereliction (Ps 22:1; Mark 15:34) to the love song of Father-Son communion?  Is it right to say "the cry of dereliction is of the essence of the Father-Son communion"?  Is it possible to say "the cry of dereliction is of the essence of the Father-Son communion" without simply re-stating it in equally paradoxical terms?  Would such a re-statement be, at bottom, a betrayal of the cross?

Probably not your average first post, but there you are.  I'll jump right in.  Who'll join me? 

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