Every divine work reflects God's Triunity. This means that if we want to understand what God is doing in our lives we must begin with who God is. The Father always acts through his Son and by his Spirit. We come to the Father, by the Spirit, through the Son (Eph. 2:18). Preaching in relation to other biblical topics is like the relationship of countries to continents and continents to the world. Preaching must fit into the broader picture of the plan and work of the triune God.
John 4:21-24 gives us insight into the theological world in which preaching is found by describing the goal of evangelism. There we find Jesus telling the woman at the well, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:21-24). Since the Father is seeking people to worship him in Spirit and in Truth, preaching should aim to produce people who worship the Father by the Spirit through the Son. Relating preaching to the work of the Trinity is important because it ties together what preaching is, its necessity, its manner, and its aims in light of the doctrine of God, which is the center of the theological universe of Scripture.
First, the Father is seeking worshipers (v. 23). Worship is the primary purpose of life and worship is the primary context of this passage. Jews and Samaritans had no dealings with one another (v. 9) because they disagreed sharply over how to worship God. Jesus promised to give the woman of Samaria living water that would satisfy her thirsty soul, giving her eternal life (v. 10-14). When she wanted this water, Jesus confronted her with the fact that she had had five husbands (v. 15-18). By this, the woman knew that Jesus was a prophet (v. 19). As such, he was suited to teach her how to worship the Father. As they stood at the foot of the place of Samaritan worship, which embodied the Jewish/Samaritan division, she went to the heart of the matter by asking Jesus where the proper place of worship was (v. 20). She was not changing the subject. Jesus responded that her question would become irrelevant because all people would soon worship the Father in every place rather than on one mountain (v. 21). The second thing that he said was that Jewish worship was right and Samaritan worship was wrong (v. 22). Worship belonged to the Jews because salvation belonged to the Jews. To them were committed "the oracles of God" (Rom. 3:2). In God's light we see light (Ps. 36:9), but worship that is not informed by Scripture lies under the darkness of ignorance. The Father is seeking worshipers. Salvation is the means to this end. Preaching must match the Father's missionary aim.
Second, the Father is seeking worshipers in Spirit. Because "God is Spirit" (v. 24), he is not confined to temples (1 Kings 8:21; 2 Chron. 2:6; 6:18). Since he gives life and breath to all things, he cannot be served with the works of men's hands (Acts 17:25). God's spiritual essence extends beyond Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Old Testament movement in toward Jerusalem has become a movement out from Jerusalem, bringing the gospel to the rest of the world. The God who is Spirit seeks worshipers through the person and work of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 4:23-24). We must worship the Father in the Spirit, both because we must be born of water and Spirit if we would see the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:5), and because the Spirit takes what belongs to Christ and reveals it to us (Jn. 14:15). As the Son does what he sees the Father do, and the Father reveals all that he has to the Son, so the Father gives sinners life through the Son and has committed all judgment to the Son (Jn. 5:19-23). The Holy Spirit regenerates us so that we can believe in Christ and worship the Father with sincere hearts and unhypocritical faith. Preaching in the Spirit's power aims to produce worshipers in Spirit.
Third, the Father is seeking worshipers in Truth (Jn. 4:23-24). This means that we must worship the Father in and through Christ. The law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:17). No one has seen God at any time, but Christ, who is the only begotten Son dwelling in the bosom of the Father, reveals the Father to us (Jn. 1:18). Christ teaches the truth that sets people free from slavery to sin (Jn. 8:32). Christ is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through him (Jn. 14:6). Christ would send the Spirit to lead his followers into all truth (Jn. 16:13). He would do so by glorifying Christ (v. 14). Christ's continues to do these things in the church today through his Word and Spirit (Is. 59:20-21). Preaching should always reflect that fact that the Father seeks worshipers through his Son.
The missions of the divine persons remind us that preaching must be God-centered. All evangelism should be doxological and all doxology should be evangelistic. Like the Psalmist, our souls should boast in the Lord and we should call others to magnify the Lord with us (Ps. 34:2-3). Preaching must respect the processions and missions of the divine persons. The gospel is trinitarian because what God does reflects who God is (Eph. 1:3-14). Preaching must reflect the missionary goal of the Father. Do we seek worshipers through preaching sermons and do we seek to worship when hearing them? Preaching must promote dependence on the Spirit to produce sincere worshipers. Do we acknowledge the necessity of the Spirit's inward work in us in preaching and hearing sermons? Preaching must aim to bring people to worship the Father through Christ, who reveals himself in Scripture. Do we preach Christ from Scripture and worship God in light of Scripture? Do we come to sermons expecting to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth? Such questions should shape how we hear sermons and how ministers preach them. The purposes of worship and of preaching are to honor the Father and then our edification. Sermons are for God more than they are for us, and the Triune God works through sermons to put God in his proper place and us in ours.
*You can find the first four posts in this series on preaching here.
"God, then, occupies the first place: Christ holds the second place. How so? Inasmuch as he has in our flesh made himself subject to the Father, for, apart from this, being of one essence with the Father, he is his equal. Let us, therefore, bear it in mind, that this is spoken of Christ as mediator. He is, I say, inferior to the Father, inasmuch as he assumed our nature, that he might be the first-born among many brethren."1The question of whether a relation of authority and submission obtains between Father and Son in the eternal life of the Trinity is an important one, as our answer to it will frame our understanding of the work of the Son in the divine economy. Such an emphasis upon the oneness and unity of the divine will and authority protects us from the danger of slipping into conceiving of Christ principally as an obedient functionary of the divine will and authority, both of which are associated primarily with the Father. As a man, Christ stands on the human side of the Creator-creature relation, obedient to the will and subject to the authority of God. However, as divine, the will and authority of God is Christ's will and authority. In Jesus of Nazareth, we meet the authoritative God who wills to save. A robust doctrine of the Trinity allows us to retain the strength of this crucial emphasis. This does not mean no economic differentiation between the persons can be spoken of here. As John Webster writes:
"Indivisibility does not disqualify personal differentiation or restrict it simply to the opera internae. It indicates that economic differentiation is modal, not real, and reinforces the importance of prepositional rather than substantive differentiation ('from' the Father, 'through' the Son, 'in' the Spirit). Modal differentiation does not deny personal agency, however; it simply specifies how the divine persons act. '[T]he several persons', Owen notes, 'are undivided in their operations, acting all by the same will, the same wisdom, the same power. Every person, therefore, is the author of every work of God, because each person is God, and the divine nature is the same undivided principle of all divine operations; and this ariseth from the unity of the person in the same essence.'"Relating this to divine authority, we could speak of the Father as the source of authority and the authorizing One--authority comes from him. The Son is the entirely authorized One and the One through whom God's authority is exhaustively effected. The Spirit is the One in whom authority is given, enjoyed, and perfected. Authority thus understood is singular, eminently assigned to the Father, yet the inseparable possession and work of the undivided Godhead. This in turn can serve to clarify our understanding of the incarnate Christ's mission. Rather than understanding the Son's relation to the Father in terms of a framework of authority and submission, this suggests that we should think in terms of different modes of a single, undivided divine authority. It is through the divine Son that the one authority of God is effected. The manner in which the Son brings about the authority of God in history is through the path of human obedience. As a man with a human nature and will Christ submits to and is obedient to the will of God. However, this obedience can only truly be perceived for what it is when it is seen against the background of the fact that he is the authoritative divine Son. He is the one who can forgive sins. He is the one who can command the elements, cast out demons, and heal the sick, exercising the authority of God as his own. He is the one who receives the Spirit without measure and the radiant and glorious theophanic revelation of God on the Mount of Transfiguration. We are left in no doubt of the divine authority of Christ. The obedience and humiliation of Christ is the (paradoxically) authoritative work by which he overcomes human rebellion, reconciles humanity to God, and defeats Satan. As we recognize this, it is possible to appreciate the work of Christ as revelatory of and congruent with the eternal relation between the Father and Son, without collapsing the necessary distinctions between the two and reading back Christ's human obedience and submission into the being of God. This obedience and submission exists on account of the revelation of the Father-Son relation within the framework of the Creator-creature divide. However, when we look closer, what is seen is not just the Son's self-rendering in obedience to the Father, but also the Father's exhaustive donation of authority to his Son. This undoes any simplistic authority-submission polarity. God cannot be alienated from his authority nor give his glory to another. Yet God's authority and glory are found precisely in Christ, the Son who bears the divine name (cf. John 8:58; Philippians 2:9). The Father and the Son are mutually defining (as the names 'Father' and 'Son' suggest). The Father is glorified as the authority of his Son is confessed, as the Father is who he is only in relation to his Son (Philippians 2:11). The Son is the one through whom the Father's authority is effected; the Father is the one from whom the Son's authority comes: the authority of Father and Son is the one indivisible divine authority. A further important passage for the ESS position is found in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, which speaks of the Son delivering up the kingdom to the Father in the end, and being subject to him. Once again, it is important to bear in mind that this reveals Triune relations in terms of the Creator-creature framework. This passage refers, not to the eternal relation between Father and Son, but to the culminating moment in the great drama of redemption, the moment when the submission of the Son arrives at its perfect completion. The submission of the Son in these verses is not a reference to the eternal unbroken relation between Father and Son in the Godhead, but to the climax of the work of the incarnate Son, when his mission arrives at its final telos, the reality of his authoritative obedience has been utterly fulfilled, and the complete divine authority he has effected is exhaustively related back to the Father as its source. A closer look at this passage reveals the mutually defining relation between Father and Son. All divine authority in the world is effected through the Son and without him no divine authority is effected--all things are put under him. Indeed, the Son's effecting of the divine authority is the precondition for the Father's being all in all. On the other hand, it is the Father who exhaustively authorizes the Son. The Father places all things under his Son; the Son renders all things up to the Father. Once again, the differentiation between the persons is, as Webster observed above, a modal or prepositional differentiation of a single divine property--the one divine authority and will. Getting these points correct is very important, not simply for orthodox conformity to Trinitarian creeds, but for a clear understanding of the shape of the biblical narrative, and of the authoritative Saviour that we have in Jesus Christ. The creeds exist to serve and advance this clarity. Within my next post, I will offer some concluding reflections that we can take forward from these debates.
"There is no permanent distinction of one from the other in terms of origination. While the Father may be the cause of the existence of the Son and the Spirit, they are also mutually the cause of his existence and the existence of one another. There is an eternal symmetry of all three persons" (The Trinity & Subordinationism, 103).It should be borne in mind that it is not only complementarians who are at risk of reading their ideals of community and relations into and out from the Triune life of God.Within my next post I will outline what I believe to be some of the principal questions that need to be addressed in the current debate.
Before we jettison the classical, catholic, orthodox and reformed understanding of God as He is we need to carefully weigh what is at stake - our own and our hearers' eternal destiny.
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world (Hebrews 1:1-2).
Yet we do not suggest that God was ever inimical or angry toward him. How could he be angry toward his beloved Son, "in whom his heart reposed" [cf. Matthew 3:17]? How could Christ by his intercession appease the Father toward others, if he were himself hateful to God? This is what we are saying: he bore the weight of divine severity, since he was "stricken and afflicted" [cf. Isaiah 53:5] by God's hand, and experienced all the signs of a wrathful and avenging God (Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.xvi.11)
The question of religious or spiritual unity between Christians and Muslims has come up in recent days, largely in response to political debate over the danger of admitting Muslims into our country. On one extreme was the purported statement by Liberty University President Jerry Fallwell, Jr. that Christians should carry guns so as to kill Muslims. In response, Wheaton College students wrote of Christians' obligation to pursue unity and solidarity with Muslims based on our shared human dignity. Larycia Hawkins, an associate professor at Wheaton, , has gone further by donning a Muslim headscarf and declaring not only her human solidarity but her theological solidarity with Muslims. She validated the proposition that "Muslims and Christians worship the same God." Reacting to this statement, Wheaton College has suspended Hawkins pending an inquiry into her violation of the college's doctrinal statement. Wheaton should be commended for acting clearly but also deliberately and fairly in this matter.
There are various issues in this debate that Christians should carefully consider and on which we may legitimately differ. But whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the same God is not one of them. Let me offer three reasons why Christians must steadfastly declare that we do not worship the same God that Muslims do:
1. The Christian Doctrine of the Trinity. The Bible proclaims that there is one God in three distinct persons. Jesus therefore instituted baptism "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 28:19). Muslims vehemently deny and condemn this teaching, seeing it as a fatal compromise of its central tenet of monotheism. This means that Islam denies the deity of Jesus Christ, saying, "the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was nothing more than a messenger of God" (Qur'an, sura 4). This means that Muslims profess belief in a God who is fundamentally different from the God of the Bible in his very nature.
2. God Revealed in Christ vs. Mohammed. In her statement of solidarity with Muslims, Dr. Hawkins stated that Christians and Muslims are both "People of the Book." The question is, of course, which book? While Islam shows a certain measure of respect to the Old Testament, it holds that God's chief revelation came through Mohammed, a man of considerable violence. Christians believe in a God whose chief revelation is through Jesus Christ, God's Son and the world's only Savior, as he is presented by the prophets and apostles in the Bible. To put it mildly, there is a fundamental difference between those who look to Mohammed versus to Jesus for their belief in God.
3. The God of Grace. The God of Islam shows grace only to those who merit his approval by faith and good works. The Christian God distinguishes his grace by bestowing it upon the unworthy and defiled. Paul's teaching that "God justifies the ungodly" (Rom. 4:5) and through Christ's death showed "his love for us while we were still sinners" (Rom. 5:8), is fundamentally at odds with the Muslim belief concerning God. So while Muslims and Christians both use the terminology of grace, Islam denies the grace of God on which Christians rely for their salvation.
However laudible it may be for Christians to express kindness and human solidarity with members of other religions, the one thing we must never do is deny our faith in the Triune God who is revealed through Jesus Christ, God's Son, who alone died to free us from our sins. In denying the exclusivity of our faith, apart from all other religions, Christians are not exhibiting the love of Jesus. At the very heart of our message to the world we must always affirm - all the more so during the Christmas season - that Jesus alone is Savior and Lord. As John declared, "In him was life, and that life was the light of men" (Jn. 1:4).
And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?"Jesus answered and said to them, "Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-13)
28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,  because we are members of his body (Eph. 5:28-30).
1) Jesus must love sinners in order to express his love towards his Father.
2) Jesus will be patient and merciful towards me because of the effect of the Holy Spirit upon him in Heaven.
3) Jesus will love me because he is a good husband, so that by loving me more he is loving himself more.
Indeed so central is Torah, and especially its representation in Deuteronomy to the authors of the New Testament, that we risk simply repeating these Gospels and Epistles when we set out the citations (p. 12).
Although the external works [of the Trinity] are undivided and equally common to the single persons (both on the part of the principle and on the part of the accomplishment), yet they are distinguished by order and by terms. For the order of operating follows the order of subsisting. As therefore the Father is from himself, so he works from himself; as the Son is from the Father, so he works from the Father (here belong the words of Christ, 'the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do,' Jn. 5:19). As the Holy Spirit is from both, so he works from both. They also differ in terms as often as any divine operation is terminated on any person. So the voice heard from heaven is terminated on the Father, incarnation on the Son and the appearance in the form of a dove on the Holy Spirit.
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).
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.