The Trinity as Divine Team

Some theologians have rejected entirely the notion that there is any practical application between the Trinitarian union and human relationships, no connection between the divine perichoresis and human koinonia. For some, the doctrine of the Trinity seems far too transcendent to ever afford any practical application in the life of the believer or in the workings of the Church. For instance,

We may . . . note two objections that have been raised to the idea of the practical significance of the doctrine. One was posited by the philosopher Immanuel Kant. His objection was on the basis of principle, the idea that a doctrine like this could not make any difference in practice. He said, "From the doctrine of the Trinity, taken literally, nothing whatsoever can be gained for practical purposes, even if one believes that one comprehended it—and less still if one is conscious that it surpasses all our concepts. It makes no difference," said Kant, "whether we worship three gods or ten, because it is impossible to extract from this difference any different rules for practical living." The other is from the twentieth-century Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner . . . He says, "We must be willing to admit that, should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature could well remain virtually unchanged." (Millard J. Erickson, Making Sense of the Trinity, 69-70)

The question remains, have the implications of Trinitarian example been under-considered theologically? Augustine wrote an extensive treatise on the Triune God and Jonathan Edwards was fascinated by the implications.

The essential question that must be considered, however, is not whether the doctrine of the Trinity is relevant to man or to the Church; rather, it is this: Are man and the Church relevant to the Trinity and to this doctrine? Stated differently, the most important consideration is not what will this doctrine do for any individual Christian or particular local church, but, rather, in light of this revelation, how should we conduct ourselves as Christians, as church leaders, and as collaborative teams in ministry? (Erickson, 72). A theatrical metaphor proves helpful in this consideration of the Trinitarian example.

Can you picture God holding a spotlight? If so, on whom does it shine?

At the baptism of Christ, for instance, the heavens opened and God turned the spotlight bright upon his Son. When Jesus was baptized, the Gospel account says he immediately came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him. A voice from heaven said, "This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him" (Mt. 16:16-17, CEB).

In this moment, God the Father was honoring God the Son. It was a joyful moment and a peek into the interrelation of the Trinity, the ultimate honoring circle, if you will . . . The Divine Team. There are a few other privileged moments.

In a similar manner, and on another occasion, the subject arose about the good works that Jesus had been able to accomplish. As soon as they were mentioned, however, he took out another spotlight and shone it on someone else. See if you can spot it:

Jesus responded to the Jewish leaders, "I assure you that the Son can't do anything by himself except what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he does. He will show him greater works than these so that you will marvel" (Jn. 5:19-23 CEB).

In this instance of affirmation, Jesus immediately defers the honor to his Father; he shines the spotlight straightly and swiftly upon him. "I assure you that the Son can't do anything by himself except what he sees the Father doing." Once again, Jesus turns to the team, the Divine Team, and shares the glory.

Perhaps most fascinating of what I call the Spotlight Scriptures is the time shortly before Jesus' arrest and crucifixion when he is preparing his disciples for the coming great changes. He informs them that he is going to be leaving, but that another member of the Divine Team will be coming and filling in for him:

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can't receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you (Jn. 14:15-17 CEB).

True to form, Jesus is introducing another member of the Divine Team who will be coming to fill in while he is gone. He shines the light on the Spirit of God, honoring the person and relational role ("Companion") that he will fill in the lives of the disciples.

But he does something more, perhaps something that even more so reveals how much value honoring is within the Godhead. Look at how Jesus describes the Holy Spirit, how he helps the disciples to know it is him when he appears:

10/11/2012 4:00:00 AM
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  • Robert Crosby
    About Robert Crosby
    Robert Crosby is an author and Professor of Practical Theology at Southeastern University. Read his interview with Bobby Gruenewald, the Founder of (the Bible App) and related articles at Christianity Today, The New Engagers and The Social Network Gospel. Robert Crosby is the author of the new book, The Teaming Church: Ministry in the Age of Collaboration (Abingdon Press).