Results tagged “Trinity” from Reformation21 Blog

"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." 2 Corinthians 13.14

B. B. Warfield long ago observed that the apostolic writings do not develop but rather presuppose the doctrine of the Trinity. The New Testament is not evidence of a transitional stage in the evolution of a trinitarian faith that is only conceptualized and codified in later centuries. The New Testament exhibits the presence within the apostolic church of a deeply ingrained trinitarian faith that, almost effortlessly, articulates itself in trinitarian summaries of the gospel events (e.g., Gal 4.4-7), trinitarian formulations of sacramental practice (e.g., Matt 28.19), trinitarian outbursts of praise (e.g., Eph 1.3-14), and trinitarian benedictions, such as we have in 2 Corinthians 13.14. 

This little verse is a trinitarian theology of salvation in miniature. As the God in whose name it blesses is one and three, so too is the salvation it commends. 

Second Corinthians 13.14 coordinates each phase of God's saving work--from its conception to its accomplishment to its effect--to a different person of the Trinity. Thus "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" coordinates the accomplishment God's saving work to the Son: our Lord and elder brother who graciously humbled himself to bear our curse and who was gloriously exalted to bestow his Father's blessing (2 Cor 8.9). "The love of God" coordinates the conception of God's saving work to the Father: whose love initiated the sacrifice of his beloved Son (John 3.16) and whose love intended our adoption as that sacrifice's gracious consequence (Eph 1.4-5). "The fellowship of the Holy Spirit" coordinates the effect of God's saving work to the Spirit: who brings us into adoptive fellowship with the Father (Gal 4.5-6), through mystical fellowship with the Son (Eph 1.3), in and by the corporate fellowship of the local church (1 Cor 12). 

The text does not coordinate the three persons of the Trinity to the three phases of salvation because all three persons are not united in all three phases of God's saving work (the external works of God, after all, are undivided) but in order to highlight the distinctive glory of each particular person in each particular phase of salvation. Consequently, as the Father's distinctive personal character lies in begetting the Son and breathing the Spirit, so too does his distinctive personal character shine with particular brilliance in conceiving the plan of salvation in love. As the Son's distinctive personal character lies in being begotten of the Father and breathing the Spirit, so too does his distinctive personal character shine with particular brilliance in accomplishing the gracious plan that brings many sons to glory. As the Spirit's distinctive personal character lies in being breathed forth by the Father and the Son in their mutual fellowship and love, so too does his distinctive personal character shine with particular brilliance in welcoming us into the fruit or effect of God's gracious plan of salvation: the fellowship of the Spirit.

Two quick observations follow from the preceding discussion. 

First, contrary to Warfield's reading, this verse does not contradict the principle that an ordered procession of persons exists within the Trinity; it rather confirms it. Though syntactically the Son precedes the Father and the Spirit in this verse, his position in the work of salvation corresponds to his personal order within the Trinity, as we saw above. The significance of 2 Corinthians 13.14 for trinitarian theology, we might say, lies not in syntax but in semantics. 2 Corinthians 13.14 presents to us a salvation initiated by the first person, accomplished by the second person, and perfected by the third person in correspondence with their eternal relations.

Second, as with the persons themselves, the phases of God's work of salvation may be distinguished. However, as with the persons, God's work of salvation cannot be divided. God's salvation, like God himself is one. No conception of salvation without salvation's accomplishment. No accomplishment of salvation without salvation's effect. 

This observation, it seems to me, holds powerful implications for how we think about the place of the local church within God's saving purpose. If it is indeed true that the fellowship of the Spirit (with the Father, through the Son, in the local church) is inseparable from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father, then we cannot expect to enjoy the grace of the Lord Jesus or the love of the Father apart from the church, the community within which the fellowship of the Spirit flourishes. Accordingly, to the extent that we would lean into the love of the Father and into the grace of the Lord Jesus, we must lean into the fellowship of the Spirit in the place where he pours forth the realities of that fellowship, in the local church.

And this also seems to be why Paul concludes a series of exhortations toward restoration, mutual comfort, agreement, and peace (see 2 Cor 13.11) with a trinitarian benediction: because the triune God of love, grace, and fellowship is the one whose blessing and presence is absolutely essential in forming a community characterized by restoration, mutual comfort, agreement, and peace.
Augustine's second homily on the Gospel of John offers one of the richest commentaries on John 1.12 that I have read. His explanation of what it means for God to give us "the right to become children of God" is worth quoting in full:

What did he bestow on them? Great kindness; great mercy. Singly born, he did not wish to remain one and only. Many couples who have had no children adopt some when advanced in years and realize by choice what nature was unable to provide; that is what human beings do. But someone who has an only son rejoices in him all the more, because he alone will take possession of the whole inheritance and not have anyone else to divide it with and thus turn out the poorer. Not so God; he sent the very same one and only Son he had begotten, through whom he had created everything, into this world so that he should not be alone but should have adopted brothers and sisters. You see, we were not born of God in the same way as the only-begotten Son of his, but we were adopted through the Son's grace. For the only-begotten Son came to forgive sins, those sins which had us so tied up that they were an impediment to his adopting us; he forgave those he wished to make his brothers and sisters and made them co-heirs... No, he was not afraid of having co-heirs, because his inheritance is not whittled down if many possess it. They themselves, in fact, become the inheritance which he possesses, and he in turn becomes their inheritance (Homilies on the Gospel of John [New City Press, 2009], pp. 64-65).

The beauty of Augustine's description of adoption speaks for itself. A few observations are nevertheless worth making.

(1) Augustine's homily is a helpful reminder that faithful biblical exposition did not begin in the modern era. Patristic sermons and biblical commentaries will inevitably strike evangelicals as strange territory. Nonetheless, it is territory that repays patient exploration.  

(2) Much of the power of the doctrine of adoption lies in the disanalogy that obtains between human adoption and divine adoption. Human couples often adopt because they lack natural offspring. Human couples with an only child (at least in Augustine's day) often rejoice in the fact that their offspring can be the sole heir of their inheritance (and thus can avoid the poverty that might accompany dividing their inheritance). "Not so God": He sacrificed what he had--his eternally begotten, eternally beloved Son--to enrich his enemies by making them joint-heirs with Christ. 

(3) We cannot appreciate the full depths of the gospel apart from the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us about the kind of love that is on display in the gospel. The Father eternally loves the Son, and this love is the measure of what the gospel cost: the Father loved us by sacrificing his beloved Son to forgive those sins that "were an impediment to his adopting us." Moreover, the Father's love for the Son is the measure of what the gospel bought: the Father loved us by bequeathing to us an inexhaustible inheritance, which is nothing other than the right to become an heir of the Father's love in and with Jesus Christ, his beloved Son. Truly this is "great kindness; great mercy."

I Worshipped "Allah" Last Sunday

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Never have I so carefully typed quotation marks. Those tiny dashes keep intact both my ordination vows and my soul. They also refer to my enjoyable experience last Sunday attending an international service organized by the Gereformeerde Kerken in IJsselmuiden, Netherlands. Gathered there was a small group of immigrants and refugees from around the world, including not a few from the Middle East. The sermon was in Dutch, but it was immediately translated, phrase by phrase, into French, Russian, English, and Arabic . . . all at the same time. By accident I sat in the Arabic section, but I could still hear the English translator parked on the other side of the room. 

The kaleidoscope of languages spoken all at once pushed the limits of my sensibilities for "decency and order," but it also made the service unforgettable. I was particularly struck by how the content of a single sermon--fittingly, on Pentecost--appeared to resonate with all of the congregants, each in his own tongue. Through both ears, I heard that all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of "Allah." Of course, in this case, "Allah" unequivocally meant the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

How different was the carefully choreographed prayer service hosted last week by Pope Francis with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas. The well-intentioned event enjoyed pre-approval by the modern Catholic Church's declaration that, with the Church, "Moselms . . . adore the one God." Similar confusion between the "Allah" of Islam and the, well, quite different "Allah" of Christian (triune) theism now swirls at the doorstep of our theological homes. What will we do?

At the close of my own international assembly, the congregation sang "Great is Thy Faithfulness," dividing the stanzas into the languages represented there. Such unity in diversity offered a faint analogy of the glory of the triune God. Discerning when that glory gets diminished in the name of well-intended desires to reach and respect foreign cultures requires the wisdom of God. Thankfully, as I heard last Sunday, that is just what our faithful God has promised to give his sons in the Spirit.

The Triune God

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Our latest book, The Triune God, has recently been published in partnership with P&R Publishing. It is high testament to the blessings of God upon some very hard work as it's the culmination of many years of steady and faithful labor by one pastor and one church family. 

Rev. Ron Kohl is the senior pastor of Grace Bible Fellowship Church (a supporting Alliance Member Church) in Quakertown PA. Yes, that Quakertown, of our Quakertown Regional Conference on Reformed Theology. After several years of an encouraging and edifying event, this volume is evidence of the faithful teaching and ministry that has happened there.

In the latest Alliance Re:port Ron tells of the conference and makes a case for Alliance events in a piece titled "Mary Moments in a Martha World." If you have not read it, you ought. And if you need a copy our Alliance Re:port, wish to learn more about Alliance Member Churches, or to order a copy of The Triune God, please call us (215-546-3696) as we would be happy to mail you one.

The Triune God can be ordered here - http://reformedresources.org/books/the-triune-god/
Alliance Re:port can be viewed here - http://allianceradio.org/1403SpringAllianceReportforweb.pdf
Alliance Member Churches can be found here - http://www.alliancenet.org/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID307086_CHID560230_CIID1423494,00.html

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The winners of Jeremy Walker's book, The New Calvinism Considered: a personal and pastoral assessment, will soon be receiving their copies thanks to EP Books! Thank everyone for signing up, those random selected are:

Joan H, Huron, OH
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Helene B, Luverne MN
Alvin L, Herndon VA
Corey D, Walker MI
Nate B, Paso Robles, CA
DeWayne W, Willingboro NJ
Greg M, Olathe KS
Mark P, Tuscaloosa AL
Charles B, Greenville SC

Hunting with a Lion

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Now that B. B. Warfield's theology is back on the scene with Fred Zaspel's The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway), I thought I'd point out a few comments by the Lion of Princeton in his Collected Works on the faithful and fearless John Calvin. What struck me this week was Warfield's assessment of what made Calvin tick, what drove his most profound theological reflection, what conditioned all of his work at Geneva, and what suffused his every religious impulse with devotional fire.


What was it for Calvin that, according to Warfield, "did not stand for him out of relation to his religious consciousness" but was essentially given "in his experience of salvation itself"? What was that "great and inspiring reality" that situated "his profoundest religious emotions"? Was it the compelling narrative of Scripture? A renewed cosmos to come? Small groups?!? No, for Calvin, it was that vital and mysterious truth that we worship one absolute God in three Persons.


Now I confess, I wouldn't instinctively place the doctrine of the Trinity at the center of a church growth strategy. But Calvin knew something we too often don't remember; namely, that God as Trinity permeates and conditions all that is genuinely Christian, including church worship, prayers, providence, salvation, Scripture, sacraments, preaching, and, indeed, all of life and creation.


So 400 years from now, what would an observer say is the ultimate conviction of your (or your pastor's) ministry? What truth undergirded each sermon, Sunday School lesson, or session meeting? Of course, I'm not advocating tossing out words like "hypostases" or "perichoresis" from the pulpit each week. But let us increasingly yearn to become self-consciously Trinitarian in the deepest fibers of our being in order that we might better know and commune with the only God who is.

Results tagged “Trinity” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 2.3, Part Two

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iii. In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

To limit the Confession's commitment to Trinitarianism to the two sentences that conclude Chapter two would be a serious mistake. Though simplistic revisionists have seen fit to add a chapter on the Holy Spirit, the entire Confession is viewed from a Trinitarian perspective, including the Confession's robust portrayal of the work of the Spirit in the Application of Redemption that comprises the bulk of the central sections of the Confession. 

Of practical import, to neglect the Father will make us soft and lazy, folk of dull consciences inclined to antinomianism and prone to complain at what we view as a lack of parental care for our most urgent needs. Ignoring the Son will lead us to make little of our need for a blood-bought redemption or of giving praise and glory to another, encouraging us in the default of every Adamic heir - a treadmill of works righteousness as we endeavor to make idols of ourselves. Neglecting the Spirit will encourage worldliness of the worst kind, ignoring what he provides in on-going transformational holiness in fruit-bearing, Christ-like lives. 

To get a grasp of how Trinitarianly robust seventeenth century Reformed theology can be, read John Owen's, Of Communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Each Person Distinctly, in Love, Grace, and Consolation; or, The Saint's Fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost Unfolded (1658), otherwise known as Volume 2 of the 16-volumed set of Owen's Works. He will make us appear as theological Lilliputians.

Chapter 2.3

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iii. In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

Richard Muller notes three characteristics of Reformed Orthodoxy's discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity: First, they showed a careful appropriation and development of Patristic vocabulary; second, they demonstrated a clear appreciation of the exegetical ground of the doctrine in Scripture; and third, they struggled to find philosophical categories for the expression of the doctrine given the increasingly problematic conception of the term "substance" in the seventeenth century [Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics 4:58-62].

Given the degree of anti-Trinitarian sentiments in both the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Socinianism in particular)*, and as Trinitarian statements go, the WCF's two sentence, fifty-five word statement is profoundly terse and even simple. We should not conclude, however, that the Divines minimized the doctrine; on the contrary, any form of Unitarian theology was viewed as heresy and, more especially, un-Christian and even anti-Christian. One-in-threeness and Three-in-Oneness constitutes orthodox theology and the Divines bow to Tertullianesque, Niceno-Constantinopolitan creedal justification for the statements they make. There is One God but there is also MORE THAN ONE who is the ONE God. The Father is God. The Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. 

Truth is, God can only exist this way. Truth is, too, that the gospel can only be the way that it is because God is triune, for love - out-going, sacrificial love that we see in Christ's Mediatorship - can only exist because of plurality within the unity of God. Without Trinity there is no possibility of gospel.

[* See, Paul C. H. Lim, The Crisis of the Trinity in Early Modern England (OUP, 2012); Philip Dixon, Nice Hot Disputes: The Doctrine of the Trinity in the Seventeenth Century (T & T Clark, 2006)]