Almost ten years ago Jesus called me, and the two churches I
serve, to a profound awakening in our understanding of the gospel. This article
is a brief description of what we have learned in that journey.
After several years of reading the New Testament, praying,
and being mentored by such Christian writers as Athanasius, T.F. and J.B.
Torrance, Mike Feazell and C. Baxter Kruger, I had come to see that the Trinity
is not just “a” doctrine. It is “the” doctrine of the gospel. The gospel is
about nothing less than human participation in the eternal communion of the
Father, Son and Spirit.
The triune God created humanity to participate through the
Holy Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father. As Paul wrote to
the church in Ephesus, “In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship
through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Ephesians
James B. Torrance put it this way:
He who was the eternal Son of God by nature, enjoying eternal communion
with the Father, became the Son of Man that we ‘sons and daughters of men’
might become ‘sons and daughters of God’ by grace and be drawn into the Son’s
communion with the Father, that through the Spirit we too might call God “Father”
(Worship, Community and the Triune God of
Grace, p. 82, InterVarsity Press,
As I began to take seriously the statements in the Bible
that speak of “all” being included in Christ, it became clear to me that the
Father didn’t create some people for adoption and some for destruction. In
Christ he has adopted everyone and delivered everyone from sin and death. Paul
wrote in Colossians 1:19-20, “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in
him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on
earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the
cross.” Jesus said in John 12:32, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will
draw all people to myself.”
A plan for all people
Beginning in September 2006, I began to make the Trinity
foundational in my preaching to my congregations. I made it clear from the
Bible that the Father’s plan is humanity’s adoption as his own beloved children
in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. And I made it clear that
in Jesus God has delivered all of humanity from bondage to sin and death.
The reaction in my congregations ranged from cautious
optimism to electric excitement. Jan Taylor remembers, “I felt uncertainty; I
thought we were headed down a trail away from orthodoxy. Thankfully it didn’t
take long to recognize that just the opposite was true. It helped so much to
see we were following the teachings of the early church as well as the
teachings of renowned contemporary theologians.”
|I am one hundred percent convinced that God loves me no matter what I do.
|There is freedom in knowing that we are in Jesus no matter what we are doing.
|Be willing to be a learner and empower your people to learn by giving them the tools and resources to discover the truth of the trinity with you.
|We should have an openness to God.
|Now I understand that everyone is included whether they know it or not.
—Mary Jo Leaver
Over the last five years our vision of the triune life of
God and our understanding of grace has been broadened and deepened in ways we
Judy Pass says, “Five years ago I didn’t understand the
importance of the doctrine of the Trinity and how it is the framework by which
we understand who Jesus is and what he’s done for us.” Bert Caruthers agrees: “The
Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit finally make sense to me.”
Maria Olson looks at it from the perspective of someone who
didn’t grow up in the church: “Five years ago I still had that mentality of ‘I
have to do good in order for God to love me.’ Now I am one hundred percent
convinced that God loves me no matter what I do, that I have been included and
that there is nothing I or anyone can do that will ever change that.”
For many of us, the change has been in how we view other
people. Mary Jo Leaver says, “Now I understand everyone is included whether
they know it or not. God’s love in me overflows to everybody I meet: believer,
nonbeliever, atheist, Buddhist, Muslim—everybody. I am free to love others
without an agenda.”
Suggestions for others
Based on what we have experienced, I would make three
suggestions to any pastor or congregation embarking on this process:
- Find a mentor in the gospel. Tim Brassell has been my mentor and he
helps me, on a weekly basis, to shape my thinking, speaking, and doing in the
light of the gospel.
- Soak your mind in books, articles, and blogs that focus on the reality
of who Jesus is for us and who we are in him, and you will find that the what
of ministry begins to flow much more naturally.
- Be bold. Those you are ministering to are the Father’s adopted, forgiven
children in Jesus whether they know it or not. In the Holy Spirit you can
confidently, with wisdom and gentleness, proclaim this truth to them, and the
Spirit will back you up.
Judy Pass says that “having a small group where you can
discuss what you’re learning, ask questions of others and listen to others
helps a lot.” Mike Gass recommends having an “openness to God.” Bert Caruthers
points out that it needs to be a journey we take together. She says, “Be
willing to be a learner and empower your people to learn by giving them the
tools and resources to discover the truth of the Trinity with you.”
More than one person mentioned the helpfulness of such
resources as The Great Dance by C. Baxter Kruger, The Shack by
William P. Young, and the You’re Included interview series at www.youreincluded.org.
This growth in our understanding of the gospel is changing
the way we do ministry. Jan Taylor says, “Every ministry is done in a
relational context, and we no longer view the world as separated into ‘sacred’
and ‘secular.’ There is freedom in knowing that we are in Jesus no matter what
we are doing. We don’t have to be doing something church related in order for
it to be ministry.”
And always remember, Lloyd Briggie says, “Keep an open
mind—don’t put limits on God’s love!”
According to the New Testament, that life of communion with the Father did
not begin at Bethlehem. He who was the eternal Son of God by nature, enjoying
eternal communion with the Father, became the Son of Man that we “sons and daughters
of men” might become “sons and daughter of God” by grace and be drawn into the
Son’s communion with the Father, that through the Spirit we too might call God “Father.”
The eternal Word who was with God and who was God, the only begotten Son of the
Father, who created all things, took our humanity and “tabernacled” among us,
that we might see the glory of the Father, and ourselves become sons and
daughters of God (Jn 1:11-14). —James B. Torrance, p. 82.
Author: Jonathan Stepp