a trinitarian ecclesiology

October 9, 2007 | 10 Comments

Much of the dialogue I have been around in recent years about the church carries an emphasis to return to the teachings of Jesus. Many have described how the church has tended to overemphasize the epistles of Paul in recent decades, and there is a definite push to spend more time with the Gospels. After all, if the term Christian means to follow Jesus, it would make sense that we spend a lot of time studying and meditating on what Jesus did in his time on earth, and how we continue that work today. By way of illustration, though their views might be very different on many things, including some of Jesus’ teachings, both Driscoll (Vintage Jesus) and McLaren (The Secret Message of Jesus) apparently agree on the need to restore an accurate picture of the work of Jesus in his time on earth.

A few years ago, in The Shaping of Things to Come I was first introduced to the idea that our understanding of Christ (Christology) must shape our mission (missiology), and that understanding of mission must then shape what it means to be the church (ecclesiology). I have spent a lot of time with that idea in recent years, and have found it a helpful way to think about what it means to truly be the church in any context.

But this morning, I find myself struggling with that idea a bit. If Jesus is only an equal third of the trinity, does the above thinking too strongly emphasize Jesus in the work and mission of the church? Is it possible to overemphasize Jesus at the expense of the other two thirds of the Trinity (even in typing that, I find great discomfort in suggesting that one might possibly overemphasize Jesus)? What does it look like to live out faith in a way that equally emphasizes the whole of the trinity? What does a trinitarian-informed ecclesiology look like?

  • You raise some very interesting (and certainly thought provoking) questions. Building, understanding, applying, and maintaining a holistic, biblical framework to all areas of our lives is a difficult but vital element to our walk with God and interaction within the Church (as well as the world at large).

    An overwhelming element of human nature is our tendency to go from one extreme to another–emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, etc. It seems as though many if not most of today’s “postmodern” theology, writing, and even music seem to be a (extreme) REACTION against modernity, which in a sense embodied reason, isolation, science, fragmentation (hello 18th century Enlightenment, Darwin, Picasso, Nietzsche, and stale hymns). On that note, I am somewhat skeptical of “emergent”/postmodern theology because it seems to overemphasize what was previously put on the back burner. [I do realize that those last 2 sentences are pretty blanket statements . . . and I promise that all of this relates to your original questions.] What I am getting at is the importance of weighing out what we read, hear, and ingest against the Bible. Yes, yes, I know, easier said than done . . . but that is exactly the point. Our faith SHOULD be a constant, and usually painful, journey. And I think that asking and struggling with difficult questions are more important than arriving at specific answers.

    Thanks for making me think, John!

  • Well, there’s a modern framing of the question if I ever heard one. “God deserves 33.3%, Jesus deserves 33.3%, and the HS 33.3%?” 😉 Jesus isn’t an “equal third”, dude, he’s an “equal whole”. Might as well try to give the engine, brakes, and steering wheel in your car equal thirds of your driving.

  • Good thoughts John. It’s so easy to focus on the red letters of the gospels to the neglect of a fully Trinitarian approach. This is further complicated in denominations/expressions that are fearfully reactionary against some of the pentecostal extremes (holy laughter, barking for Jesus, etc) – they tend not to trust the Holy Spirit, so focus all the more on Jesus. Not sure I can articulate what a Trinitarian ecclesiology might look like, but I’d be interested in exploring that in dialogue with others.

  • Ha Bob…fair enough. I acknowledge your critique of the question — “equal third” might not be the best choice of language. I guess I can’t so easily dismiss the nature of the question though. It seems as if you would imply that in Jesus we experience all we need to know about the trinity.

  • jamie

    It seems to me (I am certainly no expert) that God emphasized Jesus by sending Him here, saying “Here is My Son–watch how He does this human thing.” And then Jesus emphasized the Spirit saying, “Hey the Spirit is going to help you do this human thing.”
    That’s my thoughts.

  • gary

    In my class we’re discussing Karl Barth’s theology, and for him, everything centers around our Christology. He is God’s fullest revelation, so if you want to know God, you have to start and end with Jesus. If you seek God outside of how He has revealed Himself you end up discovering something that is not God.

  • Good discussion. I loved “Shaping” and “Forgotten Ways” and appreciate Frost/Hirsch’s emphasis on allowing our Christology to determine or influence our Missiology which determines/influeneces our Ecclesiology.

    Especially in church planting circles we get it backwards and wrongly start with a model or approach (ecclesiology) and that sets the course for our missiology and even though we don’t mean for this to happen, our Christology. However I think I have grown more comfortable with Guder’s perspective that we much start with the Triune nature of God (theology) and let that determine or create a missional ecclesiology.

  • Christ states that those who wish to know the Father need to get to know Him, because they are the same.

    In Genesis, God says “Let us…” pretty much everything.

    The Trinity is one of the great mysteries of our existence, and it’s what broke the Eastern and Western churches way back when, and, realisitically, isn’t something that we should really epect to fully understand.

    What we do know is that although there is one God, God also has three parts, but that doesn’t help us very much, since there’s nothing else like God in the universe to compare God to.

    Thus, if we’re really going to be focusing on what Christ said about the whole matter, we’re probably better off going with His recommendation…get to know Him, and you’ll be getting to know God.

    The Spirit is not presented in a manner in which there is definitive character in the bible. This isn’t to say that the Spirit doesn’t have personality, but most often, the Spirit acts as a facilitator between us and the Word, and the Word acts as an intercessor between us and the Father. But it’s all relational, anyway. *grin*

  • When we look at Jesus, we are looking at the whole of the Trinity. When we look at the Father, the same; and the Spirit is all three as well. There may be times in life where one is more present or real in our lives… But they are all, all three equally and at the same time… there. We see glimpses of each characteristic of God, in each person of God… all at the same time.

    If we “over-emphasize” one “person” of God, I think what we are really doing is appreciating that aspect of God for that season. Even when you get into denominational differences, where one aspect of God is favored more highly than another… I still think it is a season, if we look at the broader picture. Eventually, there will be a need in each person’s life… for the other aspects of God, and if we choose to go there, we will begin to grow and know Him more fully.

  • Dave Emme

    As a late comer in googling Trinitarian Ecclesiology, I do not think it is so much emphasizing Jesus is never a bad thing. The bad ideas come when taking one word of Christ and then emphasizing it over the other words of Christ which tends to corrupt the message. I wander what emergents do with the words of Christ in John 3 about eternal life as well as John 10 and in many instances Christ’s claims of being truth as the scriptures are judged to teach truth in John 17. The exclusive claims of Christ as the only way to be saved, his teachings of marriage between a man and a woman, or perhaps the perversion of the world to mean creation in John 3:16.

    In the context(often bragged of contextualising the scriptures while ignoring the context in scriptures) when Christ shows from verse 17 to 21 that he is clearly speaking about people in verse 16 as the “world”. On the other hand, when Christ told Niccodemus in the context of being born again is certainly not dealing with earthly things but rather heavenly things.

    When I think how cultists approach the scriptures, Mormons, JW’s and other cults would be proud how the emergent church approaches the scriptures. For me in all my experiances-if someone approaches the scriptures the way the emergent church does-I honestly think Christ would be overtiurning the money tables of emergent church in all reality-Emergent consumerism is no different from Christian consumerism.