Monday, May 19, 2008

The Trinitarian Difference

(A Communion Meditation for Trinity Sunday based on 2 Corinthians 13:11-13)

A while back someone asked me, “How would you explain the Trinity to a nine-year-old child?” My initial response was, “I don’t know how I would explain the Trinity to an adult!” And I don’t. There is great mystery here and there should be. We cannot finally comprehend God in all of God’s wonder and majesty. We need to stand humbly before God and confess his inexpressible greatness and our limitations.

The devotional guide that I use has focused this week on the Trinity. I find it interesting that the recommended Psalm for the week has been Psalm 150 which simply but profoundly leads us to praise the Lord:

Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!

We affirm the historic affirmation of the Church that we worship “one God in three persons” and we say, “Praise the Lord!”

Still, God has revealed himself as Trinity. Alistair McGrath has summarized the observation of Karl Barth that “the very fact that we know anything about God rests on divine self-revelation, and the actuality of that revelation is firmly grounded in a trinitarian vision of God” [Alistair E. McGrath, “The Doctrine of the Trinity: An Evangelical Reflection,” in God the Holy Trinity: Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice, ed. Timothy George (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), p. 26]. In other words, we know what we know about God because God has revealed himself to us. What he has revealed to us leads us to conclude that God is Holy Trinity.

What difference does that revelation make? For one thing, our entry point into the fullness of God is the cross of Christ. Ralph Martin said of this benediction in 2 Corinthians 13, “Paul may be placing ‘the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ’ at the opening of the v because it was through the cross (an observable event) that people came to understand the love of God and were thus led to life-in-the-Spirit...” [2 Corinthians, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word, 1986), p. 504]. We first meet God in Jesus Christ his Son who died for us on the cross. Jesus is the full revelation of God and in the death of Jesus we are overwhelmed by the amazing grace of God. We see the essence of God in the crucified Jesus. Then, through that event and through faith, we come to see just how much the Father loves us and we come to experience the direct presence of God in our lives through the Holy Spirit.

For another thing, the revelation of God as Holy Trinity leads us to greater and greater fellowship and community. One thing that God as Trinity surely means is that God is within himself, as a part of God’s nature, characterized by fellowship and community. God is love, the Bible says, and God is also eternal. So if God is eternal love, then God must have always been able to love. The three persons in God provide that eternal opportunity to love.

The Church should more and more reflect the fellowship and community that characterize God. Notice that just before Paul offered this Trinitarian blessing he gave the Corinthians final instructions on building up their community and fellowship. They served and we serve a God whose three persons are united in community and love. We are to accept and to pursue such unity as well. God knows perfect unity. Will we ever know that on this side of heaven? No. But greater and greater fellowship is our goal. And great blessings are found in great God-like fellowship.

In the words of Cornelius Plantinga,

From all eternity inside God, inside the mystery of God, inside God the Holy Trinity—the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit make room for each other, envelop each other, call attention to each other, glorify one another. It is the ceaseless exchange of vitality, the endless expense of spirit upon spirit in eternal triplicate life. The only competition in glory of this kind is to outdo one another in love.
For us, brothers and sisters, this is deep wisdom: we find our flourishing only in causing others to flourish. This is eternal life: to receive this wisdom from God and from Jesus, whom God has sent. How astonishing it is to know that when we help others to thrive, when we encourage them, strengthen them, liberate them, keep our promises to them—how astonishing it is to know that when we do these things, we are like God!
[Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., “Deep Wisdom,” in God the Holy Trinity, p. 155].


We now come to the Table of the Lord. As we do, let us remember that in the cross of Jesus we know the grace of the Lord and in that grace we come to know God in his fullness. Let us remember that our Savior, on the night he was betrayed, prayed that his followers would be one even as he and the Father were one. Let us stand in humble awe of God who is Holy Trinity. And let us earnestly ask God to cause us to know his kind of fellowship and community that we might constantly help and encourage and love one another.


The Beast said...


It seems from your paragraph on the entry point of the cross that you hold to a moral influence view of the atonement. Is that a fair assessment?

Mike Ruffin said...


I'm not sure that I would accept that label, although I see some correctness in the idea that Christ died to show God's love for us and that in seeing that could move one toward repentance and discipleship.

However, the meaning of the atonement is far too diverse to be confined to one "theory." Christ died for our sins and we are saved by grace through faith.

My point in the sermon, though, is simply that it is through the cross of Christ that most people (it seems to me) first realize the extent of the love of God.

The Beast said...

Don't you hate it when people miss the overall point of your post and focus on a single detail that had nothing to do with your comments? :)

Seriously though, the various views of the atonement is a hot topic right now at SBTS and across evangelical lines. I am with you, it seems the cross of Christ is bigger than any one particular view. Having said that, most hardcore Moral Influence guys tend to shun the objective nature of a substitutionary aspect of the atonement which seems to be problematic. I was just curious where you were in that debate. Blessings!

Chris Harbin said...


Gerhard Barth wrote a little book called "He Died For Us", in which he detailed the Biblical basis of 9 different interpretations of the rationale for Jesus' death. While none of them are the exclusive domain of Biblical witness, only the substitutionary is demonstrated as more than inference from Greek theology of the martyr-hero.


I like the Latin term, persona, representing the mask used by an actor to represent a character in a play. One actor in threepersona is the best understanding of Trinity with which I can grapple.

Dim Lamp said...

I noticed on your profile that one of your favourite books was Living by Grace by William Hordern. He was my favourite professor at Lutheran Theological Seminary, a very gifted teacher and one of the best preachers I've been privileged to hear and learn from.

Dim Lamp

Mike Ruffin said...

Dim Lamp,

I read that book as a requirement in a college theology course in 1977. As someone who had been raised in a fairly legalistic church environment, it was an epiphany for me. I'm still grateful. When that copy fell apart, I ordered a new one.