The Difference a Trinity Can Make

I grew up in an evangelical, Protestant church, which meant that much of the focus of my Christian upbringing was on the importance and study of scripture.  I am very thankful for this background.  It has given me a great appreciation for the accessibility of scripture and fed my thirst for knowledge.  But there was one thing that was hardly ever mentioned, the Trinity.  Of course the belief in the Trinity was affirmed, but you would be hard pressed to find one sermon or class on it.  So in honor of Trinity Sunday, I thought I would write a short reflection on what a robust Trinitarian theology can do for our everyday spiritual formation.  This is something I have come to appreciate more recently due, ironically, to some very Catholic–leaning Protestants that have helped widen my perspective.

Before I move into the specifics, I want to add that my increasing study of the Trinity came alongside with an increasing study of church history.  The glaring gap in the Protestant church today is our lack of understanding of the Church Fathers before the Reformers.  I believe this gap will continue to be detrimental to the continued survival of Protestantism.  If it does survive in a post-Christian America, it will be severely weakened because it has denied itself of a primary source of nourishment.  We do ourselves a disservice to no longer know the works of Athanasius, Irenaeus, and so many others.  Our faith is not something we have made up.  It is an inheritance that has been passed down to us, protected and articulated again and again by each generation.  It is these early Church Fathers who gave us the language of Trinity, and hence why most Protestants hardly ever talk about it or even know how to explain it apart from analogy.

So why does the Trinity matter?  Isn’t it just a product of the philosophy of the day and nothing more?

Here is what I have come to learn and appreciate through study and contemplation on the Trinity.

1. A deeper understanding of salvation.

Salvation has always been explained to me very simply as “justification by faith.”  I was a sinner, I couldn’t pay the necessary price, but God paid it for me by sending his son to die for me.  Salvation was described as a legal action with God as my judge.  This is not to say that God is not a judge or that justification is not used as an image for salvation.  But it is not the only image used and God is more often referred to as my Father than my judge.  The image of the Trinity is one where  the Father and Son are eternally passing back and forth a love that spills over into creation.  All life and existence are possible only because of their connection to the source of existence.  This means that salvation, and the only possibility for life and existence, is to be drawn into the source, which happens to be an eternal relationship characterized by love.  It is not just the cross that makes this possible, salvation begins at the incarnation.  Jesus is sent not just to die, but to share what is his: sonship and knowledge of the Father.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that salvation is to know the Father.  This sounds very different from the justification analogy or the Roman road.  It also reveals that salvation is a process of continued and deepening knowledge of God.  I think more Christians can relate to salvation as a process than a “Damascus road” experience.  This creates both humility and excitement, for we learn that we will never be able to know all there is to know, at least not this side of eternity.

2. A greater appreciation of the Holy Spirit

My evangelical background was very Jesus–focused.  Again, that is not a bad thing, but it left out a pretty key player, the Spirit.  The more I learned about the Trinity, the more I realized that my liturgy and prayers essentially had only been addressing Jesus.  Once I started paying more attention to the Spirit, I started to learn about its crucial role in new creation and my own spiritual journey.  I knew those things before, but I started to address the Spirit directly.  Our actions matter, even the small adjustment of closing my prayer with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It helps me keep all three persons on the forefront of my mind.

3. A healthier view of the Bible

Many Christians in my context growing up came dangerously close to replacing the third person of the Trinity, the Spirit, with the Bible.  I believe Cessationists actually do this when they say that the gifts of the Spirit are no longer available post-canon.  The Bible is given a god-like status to the point where even the Bible has become an idol.  Yes, even the Bible can become an idol, in fact Bibliolatry is characteristic of many of our “Bible wars.”  I always grew up learning that the Bible was my foundation.  Again, I have a very high view of scripture, but the Bible cannot be my foundation.  The Bible is ultimately a revelatory tool that is used by the Spirit to form us.  But our foundation must be the Father, Son and Spirit, any other foundation is idolatry. (I can already anticipate the angry comments to follow that statement).  Again, let me clarify, I believe that the Bible is inspired by the Spirit and is vitally important for figuring out who God is, but the Bible is not God.

So it turns out the a deeper look into the Trinity has changed quite a lot in my own spiritual journey.

What are some other areas you can think of that are impacted by a robust view of the Trinity?

 

 

2013-14: A Reflection on Teaching Bible to Seniors

I have just turned in my final set of grades for the year.  I teach seniors, which means I am usually done a week earlier than the rest of the school.  This has been my second year teaching seniors and it was a completely different experience from last year.  If anyone tells you that all teenagers are virtually the same, call them out as a liar right there.  I thought I could easily connect with high school students based on my seniors last year.  This year I’m starting to question if teenagers might secretly be aliens from a distant planet.  I still haven’t figured out why I was not as successful in connecting with this years group of seniors and I am going to use this blog post to figure it out.

1. The first challenge I face is that I am teaching Biblical doctrine to a spiritually diverse group of students.  Our school does not force you to be a Christian in order to attend, which I think is a very good thing.  However, we require those same students to attend chapel and go through four years of Bible.  This puts both the chaplains and Bible teachers in a very interesting position.  We are trying to engage students who want to go deeper in their faith along with students who have no interest in learning the basics.  I wholeheartedly believe that the gospel and the Christian story are compelling in and of themselves.  This has meant that for me, what I teach does not change based on who is in the classroom.  I think Christians and non-Christians alike will find the story of Jesus compelling and challenging.  This strategy worked last year, it did not work this year.

2. The second challenge I face is the kind of Christianity that is commonly produced in the “Bible Belt” culture.  What passes for Christianity in the South is usually indistinguishable from simply being a good American or in my case a good Texan. I will be presenting a paper on this topic in a few weeks at the Christian Scholars Conference in Nashville, TN.  So the second strategy I implement in the classroom is to get my students to (as Hauerwas puts it): separate the American “we” from the Christian “we.”  This was moderately successful last year and an utter failure this year.

3. At the beginning of the year I always tell my students that we can disagree with each other and still be brother and sister in Christ.  As long as we can disagree in a civil way, I have no problems with it.  In fact, disagreement is necessary in order to produce a semi-decent discussion.  I seek to emphasize that as Christians we need to be humble and willing to be wrong.  One of the comments that I received a lot last year was that I was willing to listen to a different perspective and that I was challenging but not arrogant.  As you might be able to guess, my group of students this year came to different conclusions =).

I am a social teacher.  This means that a lot of my inspiration is drawn from what takes place in the classroom.  The unfortunate thing about being a social teacher is that you never know what you’re going to get in that classroom.  As I reflect back on this year, I have learned a lot about myself as a teacher and as a follower of Jesus.  I think the best goal to set for myself next year, in light of two very different years I have had, is to do my best to reflect the image of Jesus in the classroom.  At the end of the day I simply want my students to love Jesus more than they did before.

 

(And I guess I still haven’t figured it out even after writing the post….oh well)

Inevitable

As a women who left the Baptist denomination largely for this reason, I hope and pray for change in the hearts of local congregations whom I love and have spent many of my years serving.

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Inevitable

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I was talking with a group of seminary students a few weeks ago about the plight of Baptist women in ministry. One of the students, a female, recounted how a representative from one of the more “moderate” Baptist institutions told her that women in ministry is “inevitable.” He went on to say that, if she really wanted to preach, maybe she should consider church planting rather than pastoral ministry. I suspect the representative meant well, but his comments deeply hurt this young woman. She is a talented preacher. She is an excellent student. She works diligently as an intern at her current church. But she has already faced rejection in Baptist life because of her gender. She was one of two final candidates for a youth ministry position. But the church ultimately rejected her because she is female.

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The New Testament as Midrash

All this talk about the Noah movie and how to interpret/use scripture in art made me think about the following statement by Stanley Hauerwas in, The Peaceable Kingdom.  I think viewing the New Testament as a midrash is particularly interesting.

“The New Testament is in many ways a midrash on the Hebrew Scriptures through which we Christians try to understand better what it means to be a part of God’s people in light of God’s presence to us in Jesus of Nazareth… Indeed, the diversity of Scripture is at the heart of the Christian life insofar as it requires that we be a community, a church, capable of allowing these differing texts to be read amongst us with authority.

We Christians must recognize, by the very fact that we are a people of a book, that we are a community which lives through memory.  We do not seek a philosophical truth separate from the book’s text.  Rather we are a people of the book because we believe that ‘the love that moves the sun and stars’ is known in the people of Israel and the life of a particular man, Jesus… Therefore, Christians claim or attribute authority to Scripture because it is the irreplaceable source of the stories that train us to be a faithful people.  To remember, we require not only historical-critical skills, but examples of people whose lives have been formed by that memory.”[1]

Before the Noah movie I would not have sought to be formed by story of the flood.  This is the gift of a midrash and hence the gift given to us in the film.  It helps us enter the story in a fresh new way.

[1] Stanley Hauerwas. The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics. pp. 70.

Noah and the Violence that Haunts Us All

There has been a lot of negative backlash aimed at the recent Noah movie, with many Christian leaders calling for boycotts.  I went and saw the movie last night and after having a chance to process both the movie and the reactions decided to offer my thoughts for whatever they’re worth.

1) Yes, the movie does not strictly follow the Biblical account.  However, the movie poignantly portrays many key Biblical themes like: the depravity of humans, image of God, and the inherent goodness of creation.  Yes there are weird rock monsters that are fallen angels and some humans have unexplainable magic powers, but if we simply focus on this we truly do miss the beauty and tragedy displayed on screen.

2) In Genesis 6, scripture states that the world was filled with violence.  If I am to imagine a world filled with violence, I need look no further then my own backyard, I live in Houston after all.  But Noah vividly shines a light on humans propensity for violence and wickedness.  In one of Noah’s visions he is confronted with the fact that the violence he sees in the people around him is reflected in his own soul.  The movie does not break down into an us versus them mentality.  Noah has been given the gift/burden of knowledge, and it tears him to shreds.  This is reason enough to go and see the movie.  It is not often that we are given a blockbuster movie that denies us the myth of human progress.

3) A theme that is weaved throughout the movie is the idea that man is made in God’s image, with the underlying question: what does it means to be a man?  This movie serves as a very good critique of the idea that to be made in God’s image means we get to dominate creation.  It is here that Noah gets it very right.  Humanity has been charged to be a caretaker, not a slave master.  Yes, the details are grossly inaccurate, but it has hit the themes head on!  It is through Noah’s torment and obedience that we start to see what it means to be human.

We are all sons of Adam.  This movie serves as an excellent reminder of that fact, and it is precisely during the season of lent that we need this kind of reminder.   In this season we are haunted by the violence within our own hearts, we remember that we are dust, and we wait patiently for a work of new creation.