Monday, August 2, 2010

The Doctrine of the Trinity for Non-Theologians, pt 3

(The following is the conclusion of the previous two posts.)

Jesus Our Judge

It should fill us with great joy and assurance to know that this same compassionate Savior, the one whose mercy never fails, even in the face of utter brutality, will be our Judge on the last day. Our loving Father has entrusted his Son with our eternal destinies by turning all judgment and authority over to Jesus himself. According to both scriptural and creedal teaching, none other than Jesus Christ, the friend of sinners who freely offered himself for the sins of the world, will return to judge the living and the dead. As incredible as it may seem, the very one who hung on the cross and prayed, "Father forgive them," is the one who will judge us at the end of our lives, for Jesus tells us that all judgment has been given to him (John 5:22; 3:35; Matt 28:18). In the trenchant words of T. F. Torrance, "The voice of divine forgiveness and the voice of divine judgment are one and the same."(2)

To understand that our Judge is the one who poured out his blood for the sins of all humanity should profoundly move us at the deepest levels of our souls, freeing us from the fear, dread, and anxiety that too often have been heaped wrongfully upon Christians in the name of Christ. We may rest in the assurance that "God does not and will not act toward any one in life or death in any other way than he has done, does do, and will do in Jesus."(3) None other than our loving, compassionate Savior is our Judge. There is no God hidden behind the back of Jesus before whom we, in our guilty consciences, must shake with dread and terror. When Jesus tells us that he who has seen him has seen the Father, he leaves no room for fear and dread, for the hearts of the Father and Son are one. Our lives, our deaths, our final destinies are in the hands of God, and the hands of God and the hands of Jesus are the same. (4)

The Judge Judged in Our Place

Moreover, at the cross God not only judges our sins; he takes upon himself the verdict and judgment that should have been ours. As such, to borrow another phrase from the great Karl Barth, he is "the Judge judged in our place."(5) As shocking as it may seem, we human beings no longer occupy the place of sinners in the sight of God. Jesus himself has stood in our place and made our just punishment his own. The Bible says that "God made him who knew no sin to become sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God" (2Cor 5:21). "The verdict that ought to have been ours was pronounced and executed on him, so that an end was made with us as sinners so that as such we have no more future. We are no longer in the place we occupied when we were sinners. This place is now occupied by him."(6) In short, Jesus Christ has taken away the sin of the world, long before you or I made a decision to believe and recited the sinner's prayer. Thus when we stand before the judgment seat of God, we no longer stand before him as condemned sinners, for our sin is no longer or own; it is his, for Jesus has made it his own.(7) He has borne our judgment upon the cross and has taken our sin upon himself (2Cor 5:21).

I do not believe that the primary purpose of the cross is the punishment of sin or even the forgiveness of sin. I think what Jesus has done on the cross is far more basic and fundamental than merely taking upon himself the punishment that might have been ours. What Jesus has done at the cross is to overcome human sin by finally laying Adam to rest so that the human race no longer stands condemned under Adam, but stands as pardoned, redeemed and reconciled under Jesus. The Bible tells us that as in Adam all die, in Jesus all are made alive (1Cor 15:22). If you look at Romans 5:12ff, you will see an ongoing contrast between Adam and Jesus. Scripture portrays Adam as somehow representing all humanity. There are different theories as to how we are all implicated in Adam's act, yet the theories assert that we are all connected to Adam in a very real way. The disobedience, condemnation and death that came as a result of Adam's sin have fallen upon us all. Because we are all somehow implicated in the sin of Adam, we are all subject to death as a result of that one primordial sin. At the same time, just as all are implicated in the disobedience of Adam, so all are implicated in the obedience, justification and life that are brought by Jesus. To be sure, Jesus is greater than Adam. All that was lost in Adam has been restored in Jesus―and more!

How is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross related to Adam? In his unbounding love for humanity, the Word of God takes on human flesh at Bethlehem (John 1:14). Jesus takes on real flesh, not some pristine immaculately conceived flesh. Jesus becomes a human being in every way that we are human. In more technical terms, he assumes fallen Adamic flesh. Then on behalf of all humanity, Jesus lives the life of perfect faith and obedience that you and I have failed to live. He does for us all the things we have failed to do, and he refuses to do the sinful things we have done. In his life of unrelenting obedience to the Father, Jesus lives vicariously for us in the sinful flesh of Adam, converting our rebellious hearts and minds and bending our twisted sinful flesh back to the Father. When Jesus dies on the cross, he puts the flesh of Adam to death; Adam is finally laid to rest and buried. Then Jesus rises from the dead as the new Adam. Now Jesus, not the old Adam, is the head of the human race. In the same way that all humanity was implicated in the sin and disobedience of the first Adam, now all humanity is implicated in the obedience and life of the second Adam. Just as all die in the first Adam, all are made alive in him (Rom 5:12-20). In Christ, God has reconciled the world to himself (2Cor 5:19).

Free to Forgive

What would happen if we could truly and fully realize that all humanity is included in the loving embrace of the Triune God? To bring it closer to home, what would happen if each one of us could truly believe that we no longer stand as sinners in the sight of God? We have all made Adam greater than Jesus. We have been unwilling to take seriously the biblical truth that Jesus, the Lamb of God, has taken away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Therefore, for centuries, the free salvation garnered us by the incarnate Son who died and the loving Father who gave him up for us in the Spirit has been buried under human-imposed conditions for salvation, so that we are heavily laden with rules, regulations, and other requirements for entrance through the gates of heaven. Furthermore, we have been willingly complicit, for, like the laborers in the field (Matt 20:1-16), we are offended by the sheer gratuitousness of grace. Apparently many think God's gift of salvation should be offered only to those who conform and comply with the rules, however they may be variously defined. Thus, we have burdened ourselves and our fellows with ethical prescriptions, rules, and regulations designed to set us apart and mark us as the chosen.

It is, therefore, precisely because we do not realize we no longer occupy the place of sinners in the sight of God that we expend so much energy trying to improve our standing before our heavenly Father. Our failure to realize we are forgiven compels us to perform to gain God's approval and is at the root of the "works" mentality of legalism that drives not only many individuals, but whole churches and denominations. Failing to realize we know longer stand before God as sinners, we are unable to enjoy the peace that transcends all understanding (Phil 4:7), choosing instead to pursue the frenetic path of performance in hopes of pleasing God.

Yet, paradoxically, as soon as we accept God's forgiveness and realize we no longer stand before God as sinners, we are free to accept ourselves as the sinners we are. When we understand that God has, in fact, confronted, named, and judged our sin on our behalf at the cross, we are free to stop denying and repressing our sin, to drop our masks (especially our smiley church faces), and to walk in the immeasurable freedom of the forgiveness provided us nearly two thousand years ago. When we realize that God accepts us as we are, we are free to accept ourselves as we are.

In addition, when we realize that we no longer stand as sinners in God's sight, we are free to step down from the judgment seat that rightfully belongs only to Jesus and to accept others as the sinners they are. Because we have not seen that we no longer occupy the place of sinners, we too readily judge those who values and lifestyles fail to meet our approval. Nonetheless, while it may be shocking to realize that we Christians no longer occupy the place of sinners, it is even more shocking, perhaps intolerable for many, to realize that all the "worldly" people around us also no longer stand before God as sinners. The Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world―even the sins we do not approve.

Our job, as Christians, is to announce the Good News that "in Christ, God has reconciled all things to himself." That is the passionate assertion that empowered the early Church and enabled them to spread the Good News about Jesus all over the known world.

That brings us to the important matter of our "witness" for Christ. How does it affect our witness to know that all those "worldly" people out there no longer occupy the place of sinners in the sight of God? How does it affect our witness to know that we will never meet another human being who is not already reconciled to God in Christ? Surely it will allow us to throw away all our "repent or burn" tracts because we no longer feel compelled to proclaim a "bad news" gospel that God is outraged at the world and is looking for every chance to throw as many as possible into hell unless we repent and behave.

Yet to know that in Christ God has reconciled all things to himself does not free us from the responsibility as the Church to proclaim the Good News of universal reconciliation in Christ, for though all are reconciled in Christ, not all live reconciled lives. Many continue to live un-reconciled lives; they live in darkness and confusion, not knowing they are embraced by the Father; thus, they suffer all the heartache and pain that living an un-reconciled life brings. Our job as the Church is to proclaim to everyone that they are free in Christ, so act like it!

Our Response

Let's end now on a more personal note. God's gracious condescension to humble himself, to bear scorn and humiliation for us at the cross, demands a response on our part. We are summoned to a life of faith in Jesus Christ. Yet our faith is not a precondition for our reconciliation with the Father; our faith is the conscious, joyful acceptance of our reconciliation.(9) We respond to God's immeasurable graciousness on our behalf, when in humble gratitude we place our faith in our Savior, bow to his Lordship, and live according to his commandment of love. Our repentance, faith and obedience, however, are never conditions for our forgiveness; our repentance, faith and obedience are the consequence of our forgiveness. In short, we do not obey to be saved; we obey because we are saved! What more sane response could there be to the salvation that is already ours than a humble willingness to obey our Lord, not out of fear of punishment nor dread of awful judgment, but from a heart filled with gratitude for the immeasurable self-giving of God for all humanity.

At the cross we see God's righteous "No" to sin and God's gracious "Yes" to us, for real judgment is rendered at the cross, and real pardon is rendered to us. In his unfailing love for humanity, God has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. In the determined love wherein he wills to share his Triune life with us, the Father sent his Son to bring us home in the Spirit. In the words of the Apostle Paul, "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Rom 8:31, 32).

References

1. T. F. Torrance, A Passion for Christ: The Vision That Ignites Ministry (Edinburgh: Handel Press, 1999), p. 14.

2. Ibid., p. 15.

3. Ibid., p. 16.

4. Ibid., p. 17.

5. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, translation edited by G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1957-75), 4/1, pp. 211ff.

6. Eberhard Busch, The Great Passion: An Introduction to Karl Barth's Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), p. 208.

7. Barth, p. 238.

8. Busch, p. 207.

9. Ibid., p. 216.

The Doctrine of the Trinity for Non-Theologians, pt 2

(The following is a continuation of the previous post.)

A Window into the Heart of God

As with all the acts of Jesus, the cross must be considered in terms of the oneness in being and agency of the Father and Son. We cannot understand what is happening at the cross if we fail to understand that the Father and Son are united in intent, purpose and will. In reflecting upon the meaning of the cross, we must always bear in mind that the heart of the Father is not different from the heart of the Son.

The cross of Christ is the ultimate demonstration of God's unfailing love for humanity. To know that God is love, we need only look at Jesus on the cross, for in that act, Jesus, who is of one being with the Father, reveals the heart of God. According to the great theologian, T. F. Torrance, the cross is a window into the innermost heart of God, wherein we see the exact nature of God's love for the whole world. In giving himself for us at the cross, God proves that he loves us more than he loves himself (1).

The Friend of Sinners

In order to understand that the cross is a window into the heart of God, we need only take a moment to picture what happened at Golgotha, the place of crucifixion. Jesus hung on a cruel, rough Roman cross, his hands and feet pierced with heavy spikes. His open wounds burned as stinging salty sweat poured into the raw gashes across his back. Only minutes before he had been brutalized at the hands of a garrison of soldiers who stripped him naked, beat him without mercy, and mocked him with a crown of thorns. As he hung on the cross, his lips parched with thirst, leering onlookers jeered him, mocking him to free himself from his horrible impalement. So obscene was his mistreatment that even the heavens revolted and the earth shuddered in revulsion (Matt 27:45, 51). As his blood oozed from his wounds, flowing downward toward the battle-hardened soldiers casting lots for his garments, he looked upon the taunting crowd. Yet his heart was not filled with hatred or righteous anger or thirst for revenge. Neither was he moved to avenge himself and execute terrible wrath upon those who had brutalized him. Rather, he looked upon his cruel tormentors with incomprehensible care, compassion, and love. While he could have called down heavenly legions to avenge him, instead, with unfathomable love for humanity, he prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).

Jesus has encountered humanity at its worst, yet he prays for forgiveness of the very ones who have brutalized and abused him. Perhaps we should not be surprised by Jesus unfailing compassion, for his care for sinners did not emerge only at the cross. Jesus' prayer for forgiveness springs from the compassionate heart that, even now, continually goes out to sinners (Heb 7:25). To be sure, the religious elite impugned Jesus because they knew that he was, indeed, the friend of sinners (Luke 7:34). Jesus constantly aroused the ire of the religious leaders because he frequently sat at table fellowship with unsavory characters like tax collectors and others who failed to adhere to the burdensome rules and regulations heaped upon them by the religious authorities (Matt 9:10-12). Moreover, while at table with a prominent Pharisee, Jesus allowed a woman of ill repute to wash his feet with her hair (Luke 7:36ff). When he was alone and thirsty, he defied tradition by stopping at a well to converse with a woman of mixed race, a Samaritan whom most Jews would have regarded as worse than a dog, and even more so because she had been married five times and was presently living with yet another man (John 4:4ff).

On one memorable occasion, the religious authorities brought a woman caught in adultery before Jesus for judgment. Yet not only did he refuse to stone her as the law required, but also he refused to condemn her. Instead, he told her to leave her life of sin (John 8:11). Yet, what would have happened had that same woman been brought before Jesus the next day, caught yet again in the act of adultery? The answer is not difficult. Jesus told his followers that if anyone sinned against them, they were to forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven times (Matt 18:21-22). Dare we think that Jesus offers any less forgiveness than he commands his disciples to render? Dare we think that the Father, whose heart is as equally compassionate as that of the Son, will do any less?

Often, however, we are unsure of the Father's intentions towards us, because we have failed to allow the Son to reveal the Father. Despite the apostle John's assertion that the Son has made the Father known (John 1:18), much "Christian" preaching and teaching splits apart the unity of God by pitting the merciful, compassionate Son against the bloodthirsty, vengeful Father, whose apparent sole delight is to dangle sinners over the mouth of hell, even in the face of Jesus' pleading on our behalf. How did this come about? Where did we get this split view of God that pits a loving Jesus against a bloodthirsty Father?

Sometime around 1,000 years after the time of Christ, theologians began to speak about the cross as something that was needed to "satisfy" God. They portrayed the Father as a "feudal Lord" or majestic King whose honor had been offended by the human race. These theologians argued that God's honor needed to be "satisfied." A few centuries later, during the Protestant Reformation, a slightly different spin was added to that view of the cross. The Reformers began to talk about the cross in terms of the payment of a penalty. Humanity has sinned and someone has to pay. The Father is angry; he is livid with rage, spitting nails in fury; he cannot stand the sight of sinful humanity; he's out for blood. According to this theory, Jesus the meek and mild Lamb of God enters the picture and volunteers to take our punishment upon himself. As Dr. Baxter Kruger says, Jesus comes in order to "take a whippin'" from the Father. This is the view that is commonly held by most conservative and fundamentalists Christians. This is the view that I held for many years. But no longer.

This wrong-headed view of the Father as vengeful Judge is contrary to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. It creates a split or divide in the Godhead itself by pitting the compassionate Son against the vengeful Father. Yet Scripture tells us that Jesus came to do the works of the Father (John 5:19, 20). Jesus does nothing of his own; he does only what the Father wills. Therefore, there is no division between the will of the Father and the Son. Jesus came to show us that his own compassionate heart is the perfect reflection of the compassionate heart of the loving Father (cf. Luke 15:11ff). The hearts of the Father and Son are united in loving care for all humanity (cf. John 3:16; 17). We must not create a split in the heart of God by talking about a compassionate Jesus while, at the same time, talking about an angry vengeful Father. The Church's early assertion that Jesus and the Father are one in being will not allow us to do that. The Father and Son (and Spirit) are united in their loving purpose for humanity. To borrow a phrase from T.F. Torrance, there is no unknown God hidden behind the back of Jesus, for Jesus is the revelation of God. If you want to know the Father's heart, look at the heart of his Son, for the two hearts beat as one. This means that Jesus Christ, the Godman who walked this earth on two sandaled feet 2,000 years ago allows us to see into the very Being or nature of the eternal God. If we want to know what God is like, we must look at Jesus.

Pappa

When we finally understand that the heart of the Father is not different from the heart of the Son, perhaps we can begin to think of the Father as Jesus did. Jesus called the Father "Abba," a term of endearment that means something like "daddy" or "papa," as used so effectively by Paul Young in his book, The Shack. One of my favorite analogies of the "papa-hood" of God comes from the Kennedy White House. The JFK presidency marked the first time in many decades that small children had lived in the White House. When President Kennedy, the most powerful man in the world, was meeting with heads of state in the Oval Office, he had a standing rule that his children were allowed to enter at any time. Often, during an important political discussion, President Kennedy's children would dash into the Oval Office and jump into their father's lap, climbing all over him and his great presidential chair. Nothing in world politics was so important that the Kennedy children were prevented from visiting their father. That is a great image of our heavenly Father. Papa's door is always open to us and he is never too busy to welcome his children who long to dash into the heavenly Oval Office in order to be embraced by their loving Father.

As we continue to think about Jesus and his oneness in being and agency with the Father, let us allow all images of a harsh, vengeful God to fall away, so that we may rest in the arms of "Pappa."

(To be continued)

References

1. T. F. Torrance, A Passion for Christ: The Vision That Ignites Ministry (Edinburgh: Handel Press, 1999), p. 14.

The Doctrine of the Trinity for Non-Theologians, pt 1

This month, I want to take a break from high-flying theology and write about our loving God in everyday language. This is the first of three posts on the Trinity, written in non-theological language, so that normal people can enjoy it! These three posts are actually the text of a one hour sermon I was privileged to give at a great little church in east Texas.

If you could describe God in one word, what word would you use? No doubt there may be many one-word descriptions of God; these descriptions vary from denomination to denomination. Some groups say that God is "sovereign"; others insist that God is "holy". But what one word did the Apostle John use to describe God? John said, "God is love" (1John 4:8, 16). Note what John is saying: God is love. Love is not one characteristic among many other characteristics of God; love is not something God does; love is what God is, or better yet, love is who God is. This means that every act of God flows from an unlimited fountain of love, the love that God is by his very nature.

Yet, how does John know that God is love? In his First Epistle John says, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life . . . that which we have seen and heard we declare to you . . ." (1Jn 1:1, 3). Who or what is John talking about? He is talking about Jesus. He wants to declare to us the things he has seen, heard and touched regarding Jesus. John knows that God is love because John knows Jesus! What John has done is to give us an important lesson in epistemology and methodology: If we want to know about the nature of God, we start with Jesus, because Jesus is the self-revelation of God.

But what does it mean to say that Jesus is the self-revelation of God? How does Jesus reveal the Father? How do we get from the rabbi of Galilee to the heart of the Triune Godhead? These questions occupied the minds of the greatest thinkers in the early Church as they contemplated the meaning of the scriptures that pertain to Jesus' relationship to God.

Jesus portrayed his essential relationship with the Father in simple terms: He said, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30), and "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). Moreover, the apostle Paul asserts the oneness of Jesus and God. He writes, "In Christ, all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" (Col 2:9), while the writer of Hebrews assures us that the incarnate Son is the "exact representation" of God's being (Heb 1:3). Finally, the Apostle John writes, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:1, 14). Not only that, John tells us that this Word has made the Father known (v 18).

What was the early Church to make of the scriptural account of Jesus' relationship to God? How could the Church take these varied New Testaments scriptures about Jesus and put them together in a coherent and meaningful way? To make sense of the biblical witness of Christ was something the Church was forced to do because some said Jesus was not fully God. They wanted to say that Jesus was merely an exalted creature, perhaps like a great archangel, but he was not fully divine. Under the leadership of the great Athanasius, the Church was compelled to answer those who would deny the full divinity of Jesus, for as Athanasius understood, if Jesus is not fully God, we are not saved, for only God can save.

In the fourth century, the leaders of the Church gathered together at a little town called Nicaea in order to collectively hammer out a coherent summary of the New Testament witness to the exact relationship between Jesus and God. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they carefully and prayerfully contemplated the biblical witness to Jesus Christ, and collectively realized that the incarnate Son is one in being and identity with the Father. The Church Fathers enshrined their insights into the Nicene Creed, wherein they asserted that Jesus Christ is "God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, Begotten not made, Of one being with the Father."

It's that last phrase that I want to focus on. The early Church said that Jesus is "of one Being with the Father"; that is, Jesus is one in "nature" or "essence" with the Father. Said another way, Jesus is of the same "God stuff" as the Father; he is just as much God as is the Father; he is equal with the Father in every way. At the same time, Jesus is not the Father and the Father is not the Son. While Jesus and the Father are one in Being or nature, they are distinct in personhood.

To say that Jesus is one in being with the Father is also to say that the acts of Jesus are the acts of God. In more precise terms, it is to say that Jesus and the Father are one in being and agency. That means that the Father and the Son (and the Holy Spirit) always act with harmony of intent, purpose and will. We should not be surprised to know that there is complete harmony in the acts of Jesus and the acts of the Father, for Jesus said:

I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. . . (John 5:19, 20a).

Thus, Jesus acts in complete harmony and purpose with the will of the Father. In simpler terms, this means that the compassionate loving acts of Jesus reveal the Father's heart, for to say that Jesus and the Father are one, not only in Being, but in activity as well, is to say that the heart of the Father is not different from the heart of the Son. Thus, in the self-giving loving acts of Jesus, we see the Father's will being done. This means that all the good things we say and believe about Jesus apply just as much to the Father.

Doctrine of the Trinity

To say that Jesus is one in being and agency with the Father as attested by the early Church brings us to the doctrine of the Trinity. In many churches, it is common to hear that the doctrine of the Trinity is the most mind-boggling, incomprehensible subject in all of Christian theology. In fact, there is a standard joke that preachers use on Trinity Sunday that goes like this: The preacher comes to the pulpit and announces that it is Trinity Sunday, and he has a duty to preach on the subject of the Trinity. Then he says, "But the doctrine of the Trinity is so mind-boggling, so incomprehensible, so far beyond human understanding that there will be no sermon today." I am sorry to say that I have told this joke myself when it was my turn to preach on Trinity Sunday.

All of that is simply wrong, however. While it is true that we finite humans are incapable of understanding all there is to know about the infinite God, it is not true that the doctrine of the Trinity is beyond our understanding. The whole point of a doctrine is to put into words, as well as we can, what we do know about God based upon God's self-revelation of himself.

So why is there a doctrine of the Trinity in the first place? Why does the Christian Church speak of God as one Being in three Persons? The reason we speak of God as one being in three persons is because that is how God has revealed himself to us. The doctrine of the Trinity is nothing more than an attempt to make sense of the fact that God has revealed himself in salvation history as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Put yourself in the place of the first Christians. Most of them were Jews. Contrary to all the cultures around them who worshipped many gods, the Jews had always believed in one God. Yet the early Church believed that Jesus Christ is God, as the Scriptures attest. They also believed that the Holy Spirit is God, again as the Scriptures attest. In fact, they worshipped, prayed, and baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I doubt all this was something the first Christians thought much about. In fact, most of them were slaves who were unable to read and write. So I doubt they were overly concerned about how the worship of three Persons fit into their doctrine of one God. The first Christians simply believed that God had come among them in the Person of Jesus Christ and that God continued to be present to them in the Person of the Holy Spirit.

Soon enough, however, the early Church came under attack regarding its doctrine of God. Pagan philosophers began to accuse Christians of worshipping three Gods, not one. They demanded to know how Christians could claim to worship only one God when in fact they prayed and worshipped in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Someone had to answer these questions if the Gospel was to retain its theological and philosophical integrity in the cultural environment in which it was spreading. So theologians of the early Church began to think about and to articulate how God can be one Being in three Persons. It took the early Church more than three hundred years to finally articulate what we know today as the orthodox statement of the Trinity as enshrined in the ancient creeds of our faith.

Now let me tell you what the doctrine of the Trinity does not say. The doctrine of the Trinity does not say, as is often wrongly supposed, that one equals three or three equals one. The doctrine of the Trinity does not say that God is only one Person who wears three different hats. Nor does the doctrine of the Trinity say that there are three gods out there, all going their own separate ways.

The classic statement of the doctrine of the Trinity says that God eternally exists as "one Being in three Persons." Said another way, God is of one essence or nature in three distinct Persons. The doctrine is saying that God is both a unity, that is, God is one, and that God is also a diversity, that is, God is three. To say that God exists in both unity and diversity is not as difficult as it may at first seem. We deal with unity in diversity every day. Look at your hand. There is one hand in five fingers. Unity in diversity. Think about a cluster of grapes. There is one cluster with many grapes. Unity and diversity. Think about all the people in any Sunday morning worship service. There is one congregation with many members. That's unity and diversity. Think about a husband and wife. The Bible tells us that the two shall become one flesh. Again, that's unity and diversity. So unity in diversity is something we are all familiar with. None of these analogies are perfect of course; far from it. I can pluck off a grape from the cluster and eat it. I can lose a finger in an accident. A married couple can get divorced. But the three Persons of the Godhead can never be divided. They exist eternally in union and fellowship without division. Despite the imperfection of analogies, however, they help us to understand how God is both one and three, that is, that God eternally exists in both unity and diversity in a triune fellowship of reciprocal love and delight marked by complete harmony of purpose, will and intent.

Bearing in mind the unity of purpose of the Triune fellowship that we call God, let's consider the oneness in being and agency between the Father and Son in the light of the cross.

(To be continued)

A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 20

Reference Radcliff, A.S. 2016. The Claim of Humanity in Christ: Salvation and Sanctification in the Theology of T.F. and J.B. Torrance . ...