Graduate Christian Fellowship has been continuing our study of Christian essential doctrines using the InterVarsity Doctrinal Basis. Last night I led a discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity using John 14 as our chief text. It was a really good discussion, which I enjoyed being a part of–actually, I loved it!
The goal was allow some intentional time to deliberately engage with a long text of Scripture in order to tease out what it teaches about the nature of the Godhead. We didn’t stop there, we took the conclusions we reached about the Holy Trinity and began to explore together the ways in which our belief in God, three in one, informs and shapes our practice of the Christian faith–our discipleship. It was a blast and we left much unsaid, to be sure.
Undergirding our discussion was a sentiment captured well by Gerald Bray in his essay “Out of the Box: the Christian Experience of God in Trinity” in God the Holy Trinity: Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice (p. 55),
…The Christian doctrine of the Trinity did not emerge from some kind of philosophical speculation about God, but from the realities of the Christian spiritual experience of him. From the beginning, that experience was definitive for the new faith, and so it has remained ever since. To confess God as Trinity is to worship him in our hearts, as those hearts are stirred by the Spirit of the Son, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’
This quote (and much of what Gerald has written elsewhere) has been formative for the way I think about theology and the teaching of theology. At it’s basic level, theology is how we make sense of our experience of life as followers of Jesus Christ in light of what God has revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures. Theology is a conversation between experience and Scripture where the latter is our standard and our guide.
Two parts of our textual discussion stood out to me. The first was our discussion of the roles of the persons of the Trinity outlined in John 14. Focusing specifically on the Father and the Son, it’s obvious that the Holy Trinity is a “sweet communion” dedicated to a common mission that flows from the Father’s command. Jesus repeatedly refers to his role within the life of the Trinity being: glorifying the Father; revealing the Father; mediating a way to the Father; carrying out the Father’s works. Likewise, the Father himself is described as being the object of the Son’s obedience and of his glory. Moreover, the Father is the source of the Son’s mission, and is described as “greater.”
Our discussion of the meaning of “The Father is greater than I” was especially gratifying. We were able to talk through some places where folk had received inadequate instruction about the ontological equality of the persons of the Trinity–not intentional heresy, but rather fuzzy wording and fuzzy thinking. By God’s grace, we moved into greater clarity on this. (E.g., what does it mean that the Son was begotten not created?)
Another point of interest was discussing how the doctrine of the Trinity informs our devotional life, our practice of the Christian faith.
We explored how the act of prayer is really our active participation in the life of the Trinity. As we pray, we pray to the Father. We are brought into relationship with the Father through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord who secured victory over sin and in whom we have forgiveness of sins. On the basis of our Lord’s ascension we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, who enlivens our hearts and connects us to God. As we pray we experience the work of the Holy Trinity in a profoundly personal way.
I’ve noticed that theological instruction is very often thin in churches. Often where it is present, it is academic or purely intellectual. Our goal has been to give students language to both describe their experience of God and a standard or guide by which to understand their experience. Theology is not only the queen of the sciences, but the most practical.
I’d appreciate your prayers for our time together. Our next subject is “Who is Jesus?”