Overqualified! Trinity, Mystery.

Yesterday I quoted Andy Stanley on the tendency we have to qualify statements of God’s grace.  This got me thinking, where else might we offer unhelpful qualification?

My mind jumps to Mike Reeves’ new book, The Good God.  I’ve heard Mike speak about the unhelpful habit we have of referring to the Trinity as a mystery.  Someone in a Bible study group notices a reference to the Father and Son or to the Spirit and the Father and makes a comment about the Trinity.  Worse, someone asks a question about the Trinity.

After a couple of brief comments, the group leader then flees for the hills by pulling out the big M-word.  “But of course, as we know, the Trinity is a mystery…!”  A knowing look, a gentle nod and everyone is supposed to say “aaaah!” and move on.

Mike makes the point that to use that approach with other questions would be bizarre.  “Can you explain how I can be saved?”  “Aaaah, the gospel, now that is a great mystery!”  Bizarre.

A mystery in the New Testament meaning of the word is not an Agatha Christie murder mystery kind of mystery.  It’s not a “keep you guessing until we get to heaven” kind of mystery.  It’s a previously hidden secret that has now been revealed.  Paul uses the term in reference to aspects of the church and the person of Christ, previously unknown, now revealed.

I can’t think of a New Testament use of mystery in reference to the Trinity, but in many ways this is exactly what we have.  Could humanity know God?  What He’s like?  Not unless He revealed Himself to us.  Has he done that yet?  Yes, through the Word inspired by His Spirit that points ultimately to the Word made flesh, His Son.

As preachers do we shy away from talk of the Trinity?  When the passage speaks of some aspect of Trinitarian revelation, do we default to throwing in the unhelpful qualifier “of course, we can’t know God, and the trinity is a mystery, after all.  Next point…”

Let’s stop doing that.  The text just communicated something, and all we’ve done is to communicate to people looking to us for guidance on understanding the Bible that the Bible is not understandable.

Instead of being embarrassed by the doctrine of the Trinity, perhaps we should experiment in our ministries and see how people respond when they taste of the delightfulness of God’s other-centred, graciously-loving, glory-giving, self-sacrificing, outsider-embracing and profoundly relational nature.

Like grace, perhaps we just don’t trust God’s revelation of the Trinity enough?  Like grace, perhaps the danger in preaching what is there in the text is the opposite of what we might expect?  Perhaps clear Trinity talk will wake people up and excite them spiritually, I suppose this also might be dangerous!

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3 thoughts on “Overqualified! Trinity, Mystery.

  1. Great thoughts Peter!!! It is sad that the tendency on the part of some when they encounter the Trinity in scripture is to pull out the mystery card, when it is one of the most important doctrine for understanding all of life. We will not understand God’s call to marriage, family, community and society as a whole without understanding the foundational place that the Trinity has in our own design. What is a mystery to me is that many do not see the Trinity as the foundation for what we are to be about as God’s people who are members of the community of faith. I especially liked this portion in your blog, “instead of being embarrassed by the doctrine of the Trinity, perhaps we should experiment in our ministries and see how people respond when they taste of the delightfulness of God’s other-centred, graciously-loving, glory-giving, self-sacrificing, outsider-embracing and profoundly relational nature.” It is out of an understanding of this Trinitarian God that we then live out our call in the world to have this attitude in ourselves that is seen in Christ in Philippians 2:5-11. May God open the eyes of His people to see that the mystery has been revealed through the coming of Christ and is now to be seen as God’s family lives this out on a daily basis, in their homes, families, work places and in the church.

  2. You’re not actually suggesting we should let the Scriptures explain the Trinity, are you? 🙂 Next thing we know, you’ll be saying that the usual illustrations of a triangle, or an egg, or ice/water/steam, etc, aren’t in Scripture….

    Two statements that are not equal:
    1. There are things in the Scriptures, including statements about God’s nature, that are hard to understand — true
    2. It is impossible to know and understand God — false

    What I really, really appreciate about your post — it turns the focus from academic mental comprehension of the Trinity to the practical spiritual lessons we can learn from it about the relationship God wants to have with us because of His very nature.

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