Categories
Theology

Resources on the Trinity

Last night, at our weekly Cru Live meeting on campus, we had a discussion on the Trinity. Here are several resources to help you dig deeper.

Thinking About the Trinity

Check out two brief articles to begin. First, Can You Explain the Trinity? from EveryStudent.com. Then, Why Must God Be a Trinity?, a post I wrote a few years back on this site.

Why is the Trinity not polytheism? Consider the answers from GotQuestions.com and CARM.org. The last paragraph from GotQuestions will rack your brain, but it’s worth pondering. Here’s a snippet: “Essentially, God has three centers of self-consciousness. Yet this one Being (the triune God of Scripture) possesses one indivisible essence.” Deep stuff.

The Trinity in Church History

Take a few minutes to read two historic creeds from around 1600-1700 years ago. Why is it worth your time? To remind you that you aren’t the first person to grapple with the mystery of the three-in-one, one-in-three God.

Read the The Athanasian Creed (composed fifth to early sixth century AD), which states, “That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons nor dividing their essence. For the person of the Father is a distinct person, the person of the Son is another, and that of the Holy Spirit still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.”

Read the Nicene Creed (adopted at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325), which, as you’ll notice, is Trinitarian in its very structure. It clearly states that each person in the Trinity is God and, yet, as it explains, each person is distinct and has a different function in the godhead.

False Teachings About the Trinity

Here’s a very brief summary of the primary false teachings (i.e. heresies) on the Trinity you need to be aware of. Every Christian cult will adopt one of these positions.

You made it this far. Now for a little satirical humor. If you’ve read the link above about Trinitarian heresies, you’ll appreciate this video. If nothing else, the words, “Come on, Patrick!” with an Irish accent will be (happily) embedded into your brain.

Before watching the video, however, let me speak up for my brother Patrick. Legend has it that Patrick used various illustrations to describe the Trinity. The point of the video is to show how illustrations actually teach heresy. The truth is, Patrick was actually a good missionary and we have no evidence that he used the illustrations in the video. Still, the video is hilarious and makes the point: you can’t use finite illustrations to explain an infinite God.

Categories
Ministry

How Should I Respond to My “Fact-Based” Friends?

It’s fairly common to talk with non-Christian friends who may, even in passing, say they struggle to believe any religion because they’re “fact-based” people (or something to that effect). Our friends may add that they “believe in” science or math because those disciplines are “fact-based.”

It puts us in a tough spot. Maybe your friend is being genuine. Maybe they are trying to push your buttons. What if they give you a chance to respond? We can’t just say, “Well, I just believe the Bible. That’s why it’s called faith, man!” That’s off-putting. It’s not compassionate. It’s also flat wrong.

So what can we say? It’s not as intimating as it seems. Start simple:

I totally agree with you! I want to—and do—believe in facts, too. 

That’s starts off the response with the right tone. If our friends already know we follow Jesus, chances are they’ll be blown away by that. But can we say more—something with depth that will get them thinking? Here’s a stab at it and something you might find helpful:

You know that I follow Jesus. But my belief in him is not based on blind faith. In fact, quite the opposite. Everything we know about Jesus happened in real time and real space, witnessed by hundreds and even thousands of people. In other words, Christianity is fact-based. Blind faith says, “Believe it because someone (maybe even God) says so.” But it doesn’t seem to me that God wants us to operate like that. Why? Because what we know about Jesus is recorded in the Bible, which is the most historically reliable ancient document in the entire world. The Bible itself, many, many times, points to the fact that it’s because of eyewitness testimony that we can believe Jesus is the God-Man, who came from outside our world to live, die, and rise again.

I’d encourage you to do some research—and I’d be happy to research with you—on every other religion out there. I’ve found that every other religion is actually not based in historical facts and events that happened in real time and space. Instead, they are products of a private vision or dream or a system created in someone’s own mind. It’s pretty amazing how consistently this is the case as we look at their origins. Yet, standing on the other side of every other religious system, is Jesus, the one who had flesh, blood, and bones; ate and drank; healed the sick; raised the dead; and died on a cross and rose from the dead. And it was all accomplished in public and written down for us. What I believe is totally fact-based. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I completely agree with you.

Categories
Commentary

What Is Evangelism, Anyway?

Almost half of millennials who say they follow Jesus believe it’s wrong to evangelize. That is, they believe it’s wrong to tell other people who do not follow Jesus about the Jesus they follow.

This is according to a new study released by Barna, Christianity Today reported last week. Barna found that 47% of practicing Christian millennials agreed that “it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.” Not scary or difficult or intimidating.

Wrong.

Compare this to 22% of Gen X, 19% of Boomers, and 20% of Elders. It’s a significant enough of a percent to take note. And it begs, well, lots of questions. Here’s two. First, do these millennials really know the real Jesus? Second, how do these millennials define evangelism, anyway?

Do these millennials really know the real Jesus? We speak the gospel because the Jesus we meet in Scripture spoke. He is, after all, the Word made flesh. 

We don’t have to pit speaking about Jesus against doing loving deeds in the name of Jesus. That’s a false dichotomy. We don’t have to pick. We do both. If any self-proclaimed practicing Christian—myself included—begins to think it’s wrong to share Jesus with someone, then it may well be the case that we do not really know the real Jesus. Or perhaps we simply need some serious recalibration and repentance.

The real Jesus tells his disciples to go proclaim the kingdom with their words (Matt. 10). The real Jesus tells his disciples they will be his witnesses (read: “testifiers”) to the ends of the earth (Acts 1). The real Jesus sends his disciples as he has been sent (and Jesus did his fair share of speaking) (John 21). The real Jesus employs his disciples as ambassadors who represent him to the world and “speak in Christ” (2 Cor. 2). We could go on and on.

Now, what is evangelism, anyway? Many millennials may indeed agree that Jesus speaks good news and sends out his disciples to do the same. But perhaps the way Christians have sometimes (though not always) been taught to evangelize for the past several decades has left a nasty taste in their mouths. It’s hard to know. It makes me wonder: do millennials believe particular methods of evangelism are wrong? The study doesn’t go there.

So let’s ask the question here: what is evangelism, anyway? If evangelism is arming yourself with intellectual ammunition in order to prove someone wrong. You know, really stick it to ’em, for God’s glory, of course. Then, yes, that’s wrong. No Christian should do that. (I’ll be the first to say I have.)

But what if evangelism–sharing Jesus–was just that, sharing Jesus? I often tell our students in Cru, evangelism is not providing information, it’s presenting a Person. Or I’ll say it this way: Evangelism is not a sales pitch, it’s seeking people.

Evangelism is not sharing theological propositions. It is not arguing doctrinal points. It is not debating philosophical positions. It is not forcing people to download information about God.

When you evangelize, you are offering a gift that you have received. It’s offering the person of Jesus to another person in a way that they can understand and embrace. We are presenting God to people, seeking to find those people whom God is drawing to himself. And usually, we’re doing this with friends in the midst of everyday life.

Do you see how this shifts the conversation entirely? When he was on earth, Jesus was on a mission to find people and give himself to them. Nathaniel. Levi. Zacchaeus. The Samaritan woman. Nicodemus. Jairus. The Syrophoenecian woman. When this sinks in, it will radically change our methods to be more like the Master’s.

Barna’s study shows me that there’s work to be done among believers. There’s encouragement to give. There’s repentance needed. There’s modeling and training to begin and continue.

All the while, there’s a dark and lost and broken world in desperate need of redemption. They are waiting.

And all we need to do is share the Redeemer we have with them. That is evangelism.


Categories
Theology

Neither Rosy Optimists nor Despairing Pessimists

George Eldon Ladd, in The Gospel of the Kingdom, writes about the proper Christian attitude as the world continues toward its end. He says that Christians should have a healthy “biblical realism” rather than dogged optimism or pessimism.

We are not rosy optimists, expecting the gospel to conquer the world and establish the Kingdom of God. Neither are we to be despairing pessimists who feel that our task is hopeless in the face of the evil of This Age. We are realists—biblical realists. While we recognize the terrible power of evil, we also continue in the mission of worldwide evangelization. As we continue that mission, we should expect to see victories revealing God’s Kingdom. But when Christ returns in glory he will accomplish the last and greatest victory.

Christ has already conquered through his gospel—and we share in that victory—and he will one day bring final victory when he returns. Nevertheless, in this age creation will groan and evil will wax and wane. I think this is especially important for us Westerners to remember in light of the upcoming election. No matter who is elected, the Kingdom of God will not come with them, nor will a tunnel of blacker darkness.

We serve a sovereign God and we do not secure victories in elections or legislation but through gospel-advancement to the ends of the earth. Therefore, in spite of any prosperity or catastrophe, the Christian never builds false assurances or loses hope in this age because our blessed hope is the return of our dearest Lord Jesus. At that time, and at that time only, will he make all things new and all the sad things untrue.

Categories
Ministry Theology

Some Characteristics of Paul’s Missionary Methods

The apostle Paul is the greatest missionary Christianity has ever known, behind only the Lord Jesus himself. Paul used many missionary methods in his journeys. Of course, all of his methods and strategies were subject to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This may actually be considered the supreme characteristic of Paul’s methods. Aside from this however, Paul’s methods contained a number of others which still inform our missionary efforts today. Here are five, and each of them build upon the previous one.

  1. Paul committed to preaching Christ where he has not already been named. In Romans 15:20, Paul makes clear that this is his intention and goal in his ministry. Paul saw himself as a minister of the gospel who would reach new people and not build on someone else’s foundation (Rom. 15:20; 2 Cor. 10:16). He was not a “pastor” in our modern sense. He was a multi-church planter who constantly moved from one location to another. This does not mean that in our day we should not plant churches in already reached areas; Paul’s time and ministry was unique as the church was in its formative stages. However, the principle still remains: there is great importance for the church to recognize and send those whom God has called to a Pauline-type ministry to spread the gospel among the unreached. This leads to a second characteristic of church planting.
  2. Paul’s missionary ministry focused on church planting. Paul’s goal was not to simply evangelize people in order to gain a host of individual converts. His goal was to evangelize and gather God’s people into local congregations. As mentioned above, Paul was not a planter-pastor who planted a church and stayed there for a long period of time. Once a church was established and functioning, Paul and his team moved on. This informs our missionary efforts today, reminding us that establishing local bodies of worshipers, not simply getting individuals saved, is our main task. This leads to a third characteristic of how converts and congregations were established.
  3. Paul’s preaching centered on the story of Jesus. Paul was less interested in evidential apologetics and philosophical debates and more interested in simply sharing the story of God’s work in the world. His goal was to “preach Christ” (1 Cor. 1:24; cf. Col. 1:28) as the center and climax of God’s unfolding story of redemption. In our day, preaching denominational distinctives or simply external morality should not be the content of missionary preaching. As Paul did, so too we preach Christ and the fact that he is the fulfillment of God’s redemptive drama. This characteristic leads to the next, which answers the question, “What happens after people believe in Jesus?”
  4. Paul desired to develop believers so that they might experience their inheritance in Christ and be ready for his second coming. Paul did not want shallow Christians. His goal was not to gain converts but to make disciples. He wanted mature believers who knew of the incredibly spiritual riches they had in Christ. The letter to the Ephesians, particularly 1:3-14, shows Paul’s heart to develop Christians to, in a sense, become what they already are in Christ. Paul wanted believers to be ready for Christ’s return (1 Thess. 3:13), and he was confident that God would provide everything necessary to make this happen (Phil 1:6; Phil. 2:13). The churches needed godly leadership to accomplish this, which is the last characteristic.
  5. Paul worked to develop local leaders over local congregations. Paul appointed and empowered elders in Ephesus to watch over and care for the flock (Acts 20:28). The pastorals explicitly show Paul’s effort to establish local leadership in churches. This is particularly important for our contemporary situation. Churches may mature and be effective with foreign leadership. However, for local churches to truly thrive and operate optimally there must be godly, indigenous leadership. Only then will the local believers “own” the life and ministry of the church.

These five characteristics are not exhaustive, of course. But they do provide a good “big picture” structure of Paul’s ministry. If you are a missionary, does your work reflect this model? What are some other characteristics of Paul that are essential to biblical missions? Let’s pray that all of our modern missionary efforts to unreached and under-reached people’s reflect God’s work through the apostle Paul!