Introducing Primer 09
Titled All Being Equal, Primer issue 09 is all about knowing and worshipping God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
You will often hear it said that “Trinity” is not in the Bible. Although the word ‘Trinity’ might not be, the reality it describes plainly is. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel we are sent to make disciples and to baptise in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. One name. A threefold name.
Three in one.
And when we witness Jesus’ own baptism we get a glimpse of how Father, Son, and Spirit relate to one another and their world. In that glorious scene we hear the Father’s delight in his beloved Son who is sent into the world in the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish our salvation.
The Trinity is in the Bible, and yet, as soon as we let that thought sink in, we realise that we are dealing with profound and mysterious things. The Bible clearly speaks of the Trinity, yes, but the reality it describes - one God eternally existing as three persons - is impossible for us to fully comprehend.
The only proper response, therefore, is humility to receive what God has revealed to us. Of course that means we should not seek to penetrate further into divine mysteries than we can. We are finite creatures and that should never be a cause of resentment. But humility before God will also urge us to go as far as God’s revelation allows us to go into these mysteries. To refuse to reflect carefully on what God has said is an act of pride, not humility.
In this task, we can be grateful for the centuries that separate us from Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. As the church developed its careful expression of those truths it became clear that a major task was to establish the boundaries of a safe space in which we speak of the Trinity. To make it clear what cannot be said, and what must be maintained if we are going to respect all that God has revealed about himself.
In part, this clearly has a defensive function. False teaching throughout the history of the church has threatened to distort the doctrine of the Trinity. And with dire consequences. If you make the Son a lesser god, a creature, then his claim to reveal the Father is destroyed. God is hidden away. Or if Father, Son, and Spirit are simply roles the one true God has played in history then all I can ever see are the roles and never the actor. God is hidden away again.
And yet, as you can already glimpse, this task of reflecting on the Trinity is also a matter of worship. To discover that we can genuinely encounter the Father, Son, and Spirit in his word and in our hearts is the height of salvation’s gifts. We learn to see salvation as a work of Father, Son and Spirit in which we are caught up into those very relationships. Sons in the Son. Beloved children indwelt by a Spirit through whom the Father and Son come and make their dwelling in us (John 14:23). Which is to say that, in the end, the Trinity is our safe space. Bounded by Father, Son, and Spirit, baptised in their name, we are saved and we are safe. It is glorious to explore these things.
All Being Equal
And so to introduce Primer issue 09.
First, it is worth remembering that this is the second half of a look at the doctrine of God. In issue 08 we explored God’s attributes and the Creator/creature distinction, developing the ways in which our God is wonderfully unlike us. Now we move to thinking about the way in which God exists as three persons and what that means for us.
In this issue, Carl Trueman kicks things off with an overview of the early centuries of the church, introducing some of the key figures and debates which set the terms for the doctrine of the Trinity.
Then we have two articles which help us understand the way the Son and the Spirit relate to the Father. The first, by Mark Smith, introduces the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son, and the wonderful ways in which that eternal truth relates to the sending of the Son in history. The second article features our historical text by Basil the Great who defended the Holy Spirit’s right to our worship. John James is your guide to Basil, and he helps us ponder what it looks like to honour the Spirit in church life.
In the next article Chris Ansberry asks how we should read the Old Testament in light of the Trinity. Is the Trinity revealed there in clear ways, hinted at, or hidden until the New Testament? It’s a vital question that shapes how we read the Old Testament and how we understand the significance of what God reveals in the ministry of Jesus.
The final two articles dig deeper into the significance of the Trinity for the church’s worship and mission. Matt Merker highlights the Trinitarian nature of Christian worship and asks how we can reflect that in the elements of a church service. And then, finally, Fred Sanders asks how the Trinity relates to evangelism. We often think that the Trinity is a mystery that’s hard to explain in evangelism. Fred flips it round to suggest the Trinity explains the mystery of evangelism. That’s a rather wonderful move and I hope it reinforces a thought that extends across the whole of this issue of Primer: the thought that the Trinity is less of a question and more of an answer. Less of a problem, and more of a solution.
Primer issue 09 – All Being Equal is available from The Good Book Company.