The following is a preview of my latest book, We Belong: Trinitarian Good News! This includes the introduction and some of the first chapter. Click here for more about the book. Enjoy!
This book is the product of a personal “grace-reformation” that has taken place over the last four or five years, altering fundamentally how I think, and live. This message has changed me. This is a book reflecting upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and wrestling with what I thought I knew so well, only to find how wrong I was. For me this was primarily a theological shift, although it didn’t start that way. Initially, and through personal frustration, this was a re-examination of the Christian faith. Having grown up in church I felt as if I had a firm grip on the “basics” of the gospel, but as I began to study things more for myself and to think critically about ideas I’ve always believed, the more I began to see differently. I’ve had moments where everything I thought I once knew blew up in my face upon a new revelation or critique. This process led to what you have before you today: not a perfect book, but an honest one. A book that hopefully can help you along your journey as much as the ideas in it have helped me along mine. I hope this book challenges you, therefore, in one sense, but in another way I hope it is easy for you. I hope that you can grasp the simplicity if it all, while remaining challenged by the depth of it all.
This book is divided into four sections. First on God and man, second on the incarnation of Jesus Christ, third on the atonement, and fourth on the Perichoresis (or dance) of God (and our participation in it). In each section there is a mixture of theologically intensive chapters and then the practical implications of that theology. The most theologically intense chapters are chapters one, two, seven, nine, and fourteen. In these chapters you may feel challenged, but I always wanted to make it practical after the heavy thinking is done. Section three specifically might be challenging, and if it gets to be too much for you feel free to skip ahead and come back to it later on. In some places I’m arguing a specific theological position to which you may not even be aware of the opposed position. No worries. Grasp what you can, and don’t stress about the rest. I’ve written this book from a theological standpoint because that’s how I think. I love theology, and I find it highly practical. However, I also see how it is important to, at times, spell out the clear practicalities in theology. I hoped to do both in this book.
My ultimate prayer, however, is that you would come to see the Gospel as truly good news. My life has been radically changed as I began this journey of rediscovering the Gospel that I thought I knew so well. I hope that this book can either be a beginning or a continuation of your journey into the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May you stand astonished in awe-struck wonder at the man Jesus Christ and the good news of His life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
S. D. Morrison
1: BEFORE THE BEGINNING
“God does not need man, yet He wills not to be without him, to interest Himself in Him.”
– Karl Barth
“…God is love.”
– 1 John 4:8
If God is love, then God cannot be a singular person or a solitary deity. To love implies an object and a subject, a lover and a beloved. Love by nature necessitates many persons. When the scriptures say that God is love, they are at once saying that God is a Trinity. For this reason the scriptures speak of God as love (in being), not merely as one who loves (in action). God is love because the act and being of God are one and the same. God’s being is His being-in-act, and God’s act is His act-in-being. In Himself from before all time God is love because the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in a mutual fellowship of self-giving, other-centered service and love. God is therefore one Being, three Persons. God is at once three distinct persons who exist with and in and for one another, and also one God united in the love they share for each other. To speak of God, therefore, as a God of love, as a God who is love, is to speak of the Trinity.
Christian theology dares to do this: to speak of God. This is our task. This daring task to speak of God—of God!—is not to be taken lightly. Theology is serious, yet in it’s seriousness there is at once the most profound joy. Jesus Christ is the self-revelation of God, the Word that became flesh, giving us grounds to speak of God and a basis to work out ideas about who God is. So while this book is mostly about the Gospel, it is also about the God of the Gospel. As you’ll come to see, the Gospel and the God of the Gospel are inseparably joined together. We cannot speak of one without speaking of the other. Who God is for us is who God is inherently in Himself. The Gospel is not a tool God used to fix mankind, it is the outworking of who God is eternally in Himself as love. The economic Trinity (the saving work of God: God for us) is inseparable from the ontological Trinity (the Being of God: God in Himself).1 But all this will become more apparent as we continue throughout this book.
What I am struggling to describe here is at once the doctrine of God (who God is) and the doctrine of election (God’s choice about mankind). These two doctrines go together, and cannot be set apart from or against the other. Far from an exhaustive study, this chapter serves as an introduction to what will echo throughout the rest of this book. Volumes more could be said about what will be introduced here, but that’s not what I’m going for. We are after the Gospel, but not just for the sake of good theology. We are after astonishment, wonder, joy, and a deep understanding of what makes the Good News so wildly good.
The first lesson then is to see that the Trinity is essential to the Good News. Far from being an abstract theological principle, the Trinity is utterly important when discussing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The God of the Gospel is the God who freely loves mankind because He is in Himself love from before all time. To begin anywhere else, I believe, would be to error gravely.
With hopes of making the Gospel once again astonishingly good news, we must begin here by discussing each of these doctrines separately. Though I hope you see the inherent connection between them. First we will discuss the basic nature of the Trinity, along with several helpful ways of thinking about this doctrine especially in regards to what we’re trying to do here. After this we will discuss what Karl Barth has called “the sum of the Gospel”, that is, the doctrine of election: God’s choice regarding mankind.
The Trinity: Lover, Beloved, Love
The basic formula for the doctrine of the Trinity is that God is one Being, three Persons. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, but the Father is not the Son or the Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father or the Son. Yet, the Trinitarian persons of God are inseparably united in one Being.
The mystery of this reality is far beyond our comprehension. In the fourth century work by St. Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, we discover the truth that, “His is a greatness too vast for our comprehension, but not for our faith.”2 While we may be able to understand basic formulas about the Trinity, to comprehend the full weight of God is beyond us. It therefore remains a mystery tapped into only by faith. It is “with the will to believe [that] comes the power to understand”.3 The mystery of the Trinity is essential to the doctrine of the Trinity. If our God is a God we can fully comprehend, we can know with certainty that He is a God we have fashioned in our own image. “Concepts create idols, only wonder understands” said St. Gregory of Nyssa. Since we are after the true and living God, we must be okay with mystery and difficultly. A God we can control, even intellectually, is no God at all.
In chapter three I will present a biblical basis for the doctrine of the Trinity. In the meantime this is the appeal I make: however odd the Trinity may seem, trust that it is so, despite its difficultly, and understanding will come. And even more importantly, worship will come. For “the truth of the Trinity is more to be adored than expressed.”4 In our striving to understand the doctrine of God and of the Gospel it’s important never to loose sight of that fact. Theology is doxology; what we seek to learn about God is only ever another effort to worship Him more.
With that said, there are some helpful ways of thinking about the Trinity that I believe will benefit our discussions throughout this book. There are two analogies that will be used here to speak of the nature of God.
The first is as The Great Dance. The movement of God in Himself is sort of like a dance. Each Trinitarian Person exists for the sake of another, and in fact does not exist apart from the other. The early church therefore adopted the Greek word perichoresis. This implies a mutual interpenetration and indwelling of each Person in the other. The Father exist in and for the sake of the Son and the Spirit, the Son exists in and for the sake of the Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit exists in and for the sake of the Father and the Son. The mutual oneness of God is a fluid movement, much like a dance. Father, Son, and Spirit ebb and flow, through and around, existing in and for one another in a Great Dance of love, life, light, and freedom. As C. S. Lewis describes it: “In Christianity God is not a static thing–not even a person–but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irrelevant, a kind of dance.” 5 God is a movement in Himself, He is a dynamic relationship. The poetic use of a dance in this sense is useful when trying to understand the nature of the Triune God.
The second analogy is one that helps clarify the specific relationships that exist between each Person of the Trinity. This second way of speaking of the Trinity is to name the Father, Son, and Spirt by their actions within the Trinity, after the biblical notion that God is love. In the light of that fact, we can say that the Triune God is the Lover, Beloved, and Love. St. Bernard of Clairvaux clarifies this writing that, “surely if the Father kisses and the Son receives the kiss, it is appropriate to think of the Holy Spirit as the kiss for His is the imperturbable peace of the Father and the Son, their secure bond, their undivided love, their indivisible unity.”6 This image helps clarify the specific way in which God exists in Himself. While again, this can in no way exhaustively express who God is inherently, it is helpful to think of God in this way. God is love: the Father loves the Son, the Son is loved by the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the Love that exists between them. God as love, God as a Trinity, is God as the Lover, Beloved, and the Love: the grand Love Affair of God almighty. This fact also shows that fundamentally when we speak of God we are speaking of a relationship.
Now, of course, we must avoid speaking too literally about God. All our speech of God is at best only an indication of who He is in Himself. While in Jesus Christ it is true that God has revealed Himself to us, He remains hidden in mystery. The vastness of Gods nature is incomprehensible, and therefore all speech we make of God is merely an indication of who God is and not a literal representation. We cannot comprehend God fully, but in grace He has given us knowledge of Himself through His Son.
This is helpful whenever we consider difficult problems. For example, if we were to wonder about the gender of God. It is a serious error to take the words “Father” and “Son” and re-interpret them in the light of our understanding of what a father and son is. To read back into the Godhead our human understanding of Father and Son is to error gravely. God has no grandfather, as the term might imply, nor was the Son born of the Father, He was eternally begotten. These terms are only indications of who God is in Himself, and they serve to re-define our terms, not the other way around.7 We cannot read back into God human definitions, including the male gender that often goes along with Father and Son. Simply then, God is not a male just because He is called “Father” and “Son”, but God is transcendent and other than mankind and our ways of understanding existence.
So in summary, who is God? God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—one Being, three Persons. God is the Great Dance. God is the Lover, the Beloved, and the Love. God is a relationship. God is love.
(also available on Amazon.com)
1 See T.F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God (T&T Clark, 1996)
2 Book I.8
3 Hilary, On the Trinity Book I.12
4 T.F. Torrance The Christian Doctrine of God P. Ix (T&T Clark, 1996)
5 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity P. 152 (Macmillan, 1952)
6 Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works, P. 237
7 More on this in chapter three.