Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Friday is for Friends

We’re back with Jon Wilson’s fine book, Why Church Matters: Worship, Ministry, and Mission in Practice — and this week we look at another chp on worship and it is about the significance of the Trinity for worship. Good topic.
Does the Trinity really matter to your church? to you? Is this something we confess but not something that really does make a difference? Many theologians today would say most Christians are either functional deists — God is out there somewhere and we hope he shows up — or functional tri-theists — there are really three gods: Father, Son, and Spirit. Have we thought about this sufficiently? Jon Wilson points us to Roger Olson, Chris Hall, The Trinity. I’ve not seen the book; I shall.
Wilson’s focus in this chp is to delineate the two primary traditions about the Trinity — the Western and the Eastern. Good. And to show how each shapes worship. Better.
And the Western tradition, ever following the trails charted by Augustine, has focused on the oneness-in-the-threeness. This “rule of oneness” puts to shame our tendency to see the majesty in the Father, the friendliness in the Son, and the emotional in the Spirit. God is not divided against Godself (this expression avoids the “him” in “himself”). This division of labor approach to the Trinity is called the “economical” Trinity.
So, what about worship? He makes two points: first, Father, Son and Spirit are Trinitarian language. To convert this to Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier divides the persons of the Trinity against the Godself and turns the Trinity into a discrete and divisive division of labor within God.
The Eastern tradition, ever following the early lead of John of Damascus, has focused on the threeness-in-the-oneness. So, the focus is on the “social” Trinity (vs. the economical Trinity). God is a family or a communion of persons in the Eastern tradition — where there is a dynamic life of mutual glorification and mutual love of one another.
So, what about worship? If God is glorifying within the Godself, then worship is participation in the Father’s, Son’s, and Spirit’s worship or it is not good worship at all. And, if God is ushering us into that very presence of threeness-in-oneness of never ending glorifying and loving, is not simply what we offer to God but what God is offering to the Godself!
Think about it — we are summoned into the glorious praise and intimate love of God. Now, that ought to get our weekend off on a right note!

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Dan Brennan

posted June 29, 2007 at 5:49 am

Thanks for the review of Wilson’s book. I too, enjoyed reading it. I liked is overview and analysis of the Trinity.
My relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has changed since I have discovered the richness of the “social” Trinity in recent years. My prayer life or prayer intimacy used to be so focused on parsing out the economic Trinity. And in praying with and for others, there is a richness of delighting in the presence of interpersonal Love.

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John Frye

posted June 29, 2007 at 5:57 am

My theological training and mindset have been shaped by the Western, economical Trinity. The division of labor was presented as the Father PLANS salvation, the Son PURCHASES salvation, the Spirit PRODUCES salvation. Neat, but too Protestant work-ethic-ish. I am now beginning to appreciate the social Trinity and how the Eastern view recasts much of our theology in a new light—a joyful relational, loving light!

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posted June 29, 2007 at 6:19 am

This look at the language of Trinity and how it really matters when we change the words Father, Son and Holy Spirit into functional divisions of labor such as Creator and Redeemer is terrific. It’s selling me on reading this book.
I’ve always divided the Trinity functionally too and this is giving me a new way of thinking. When we turn God into a Godself that isn’t divided against itself, that gives us a model for marriage that doesn’t divide the “one flesh” into limited roles or functions.

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posted June 29, 2007 at 7:50 am

Interesting…I’m not sure I fully get the Creator (Father) and Redeemer (Jesus) demarcation.
We are told in John 1 and clearly in Colossians 1:16 that Jesus was not only present in creation, but an active participant.
And the Old Testament, starting with Job’s amazing statement, “I know my Redeemer lives…” continuing through the Psalms and Isaiah and Jeremiah, the pre-incarnate God is called Redeemer.
Maybe I’m being nit-picky, but Father and Son and Spirit, in the clear Biblical sense, continues to create in me an awe-inspiring spirit of worship as I meditate on their unity and on their diverse modes in that unity.
I also realize, Scot, that your brief synopsis here is unable to capture the in-depth explanations that Jon Wilson gives. Perhaps I should read the book. (I have a list of “want to read” books that is growing longer!)
Presently, I am being stretched by Bill Johnson’s “When Heaven Invades Earth.”
I just finished Gregory A. Boyd’s “The Myth of a Christian Nation.”

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posted June 29, 2007 at 8:58 am

Thanks for the great summary, Scot. I, too, found Wilson’s expanation – one I had never heard before – of the Eastern view of the Trinity very exciting. I’ve also found that reading this book along with Goldingay’s OT Thology AND Volf’s Exclusion & Embrace a wonderful combination. :)

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posted June 29, 2007 at 11:06 am

I’m a member of a PC(USA) congregation, and as some may know, the Trinity has been quite the hot-button issue with us. Though the official position coming from the General Assembly last summer was fairly orthodox, there’s indeed a strong movement to switch over to “Mother-Womb-Empowerer” or something like that. I was never comfortable with this new feminist suggestion. In response to the movement, my pastor uses every chance she gets to lead our congregation in specifically worshiping our Father, his Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Thanks for your review; it brings out what is probably the book’s greatest point– that a “division of labor” description of God simply falls short. (I know it sure doesn’t inspire my worship…)

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Peg Bowman

posted June 29, 2007 at 11:10 am

The pastor I work for recently joked that her denomination tends to be “bi-nitarian” — that is, the average person in the pew tends to overlook the Holy Spirit completely. Sadly too often true.
I really appreciate the insights on the Trinity. It’s wonderful to find people putting into words thoughts I’ve sort of kind of begun to think. I agree with the others that I’ve been raised to think in Western terms but I’m open to the Eastern and also open to an amalgam of the two.
What I find interesting recently has been as a church musician…. in asking for the Spirit’s indwelling, not in a generic way but quite specifically, as in, “Lord, play through me” — as we bring praise to the Father or the Son through the Spirit…. *in practice* what we’re doing is exactly what the Eastern tradition teaches. You can begin to feel Their love for each other. It’s an amazing thing…. something I’d like to know and experience much more of.

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Scott Watson

posted June 29, 2007 at 11:17 am

This discussion highlihts something very important: the paucity of basic knowledge and interaction with Eastern Christian theolgy.It’s iromic that those who accept the basic creeds,excise them from the womb of their basic drafters and proponents.Augustinian theology is not the gospel;it’s an interpretation of the biblical theology. In fact,one some very important issues,as great as he was as a divine,his theology was sometimes deficient,per the Trinity and Original Sin. Take up and read…the Eastern Fathers!

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Peg Bowman

posted June 29, 2007 at 11:23 am

PS Scot – I don’t know if this thread is the right place for this question, but since discussions on the Trinity bring to mind many great theologians down through history, I’ll toss it out there…..
How would, or how does, one go about teaching church history within the emerging church? How would it be presented, and/or within what contexts would it be addressed? Have there been any good church-history-for-the-layperson books written recently? (Books that include Eastern and Western traditions as well as the Desert Fathers?)
I’m asking as someone with 25+ years experience as an instructor in the business world who sees a real need for *all* churches and faith groups (not just emerging ones) to rediscover the richness of their spiritual heritage…. and am about to head off to seminary to see what I can do to help….

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Scot McKnight

posted June 29, 2007 at 11:58 am

Good one. I use Gonzalez and I think most do today. But, anyone know? (I don’t teach Church history.)

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posted June 29, 2007 at 12:51 pm

I had Roger Olson’s “The Story of Christian Theology” as a course text in my undergrad work. The thickness may be intimidating for what we might call a “lay” book, but I thought it was a very well-written, enlightening, and approachable read.

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posted June 29, 2007 at 3:44 pm

My husband is a church history nut, and he has recomended Mark Noll’s “Turning Points in Church History” and Burce Shelly’s “Church History in Plain Language”.

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posted June 29, 2007 at 10:58 pm

You asked if the Trinity matters? For many church attenders: unlikely. Newbigin put it well: most people hear “God” and think “supreme monad.”
For me, like others above, once you take some time with the doctrine and the data, you don’t have far to go when you find yourself having to decide: if I keep on going with this, then, yeah, God is best rendered as Trinity. If I stop, I’d have to look away at different parts of the Bible and aim for a biblical unitarianism. And those folks are indeed out there… although they might allege that they “kept on going” as well.
And with the “keep on going” part: I found and keep on discovering that the Trinity best makes sense out of the God described in the Bible. That “making sense” is not easy at times, to be sure, but that does mean that somehow I am entitled to a free pass or that God should have to make sense of himself to me just because I am reluctant to do the hard work of worship and understanding. Fortunately, God is remarkably patient with me!

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Peg Bowman

posted June 29, 2007 at 11:13 pm

Many thanks all for the suggestions! Much appreciated.

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dan wilt

posted July 2, 2007 at 6:46 am

I’m appreciating the dialogue above, and the wisdom with which you present the idea, Scot. The book will be on my shelf within a week. I appreciate Wright’s approach to Trinity, if but for a moment, in For All God’s Worth – that the aim of the concept is for God to keep us on our toes, reminding us that He is unfathomable – rather than an idea that is meant to quantify God into three pieces.
It’s important for you to know that I and a handful of contemporary worship songwriters are agressively seeking to more adequately address our need for both contemporary hymns and contemporary song expressions of the Trinity for usage in the Church. The relational quality of the Trinity engendered by the Eastern tradition is, in my estimation, “what the world needs now” and is providing the fuel for my personal writing on some level. It’s a great gift to see the dialogue continue, and your voice spurring us on.
P.S. It has been difficult to get worship leaders/artists in our circles to pursue the kind of education (beyond conferences and short term education) that would naturally spawn off these important kinds of worship tools, but we’re working hard to create optimal spaces for that kind of development. When the worship songwriter is thinking theologically without significant effort and with substantial ideas running through a “thinking heart and feeling mind” (Dr. Peter Fitch, St. Stephen’s University,, then we will begin to see greater substance in contemporary Trinitarian songs with which the Church can worship in theological integrity.

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posted July 2, 2007 at 7:02 am :: Conversations On Emerging Worship

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