I was at a pastor’s conference among conservative evangelicals in Southeast Asia and the question was asked, “Do we really need to teach our people about the Trinity?” There was an assumption by this gentleman that there were aspects of Scripture (even revelation about God himself) that were not applicable to his daily life and the life of his people. This brother is not unique in this thinking. It is quite a common temptation for us to see certain doctrines and sections of Scripture as less than practical for us today. Often in our We read the slaughtering of the Canaanites or the extended arguments of the apostle Paul regarding meat sacrificed to idols and we wonder whether or not any of this has to do with my life in the 21st Century. In church we hear from the catechism that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are same in “substance” and our minds begin to drift toward something we can more easily put our mind around. My encouragement for you is to remember that theology is most relevant and practical for your daily life.
If I could have an opportunity to answer this pastor’s question this would be my response: Why do you think Jesus, on the eve of his death, chose to speak with his disciples of the relationship that his has with his Father and with the Spirit? Generally we put great stock in a dying man’s final words. Here Jesus in meets with his disciples in the upper room and from John 13-17 we get a peek into Jesus final instructions to his disciples. Can you imagine all the incredible practical things that needed to be talked about? His disciples were about to lose their leader momentarily and face persecution themselves. If I were Jesus I would have called for a huddle, wrote down the game plan giving them the exact words to say and what do when the hostility came in full force. Surely he would assure But what is his primary strategy in preparing them for this battle? A lesson on the Trinity.
For example Jesus asks: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:10) Why would this theological idea be so important at a time like this? As he, their leader, was taken from him they needed to understand they had beheld the Father in the face of the Son. If they firmly believed Jesus was one with the Father then they would have the faith to believe that Jesus indeed would rise from the dead. In the face of persecution they needed to understand he loved them, that their Father would answer them on account of his name and that he would ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit to comfort and empower them.
Jesus in describing his relationship within the Trinity is laying a foundation of trust. As a father who unmistakably speaks and demonstrates his devotion to his wife in front of his children so too Jesus shows us where his affection lies supremely, with his Father. And it is precisely this understanding of his relationship with his Father that will one day grant his disciples courage as walk faithfully among their enemies (Peter in Acts 3:12-15). Christian theology produces doxology. J.I. Packer has said “theologies that cannot be sung (or prayed for that matter) are certainly wrong at a deep level.”
Christian theology is relevant and you must learn to see it as so. As you hear big theological words in church, theology books or even odd stories in the Bible that seem culturally distant, don’t be so quick to dismiss them as irrelevant for your life. Much of our Christian life is learning a new language and culture, a heavenly one, that should profoundly shape the way you think, feel and act in the world.
Visit the resource center and consider checking out a book from the theology section to stimulate the mind and heart through the upcoming winter. I would also recommend “A Heart for God” by Sinclair Ferguson from the resource center as he models how theology is devotional. Ask God to ignite your soul as you study who he is and seek to understand the impact for you life. Consider attending the upcoming Sunday school class in November and December entitled “On the Shoulders of Giants” to see the relevance of theology through a look at Christian thinkers from previous generations and their impact in the church and the world.