Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | October 3, 2008

The Simplicity of the Good News

Is the Trinity too complex to include in evangelism? I would say it is not only simple, it is vital and necessary.

First the question of necessity: many Christians seem to have the idea that the Trinity is an esoteric and difficult to understand doctrine that is best left to advanced discipleship. My question, then, is this: how do you explain what it means to say “Jesus is the Son of God.”?

Jesus is the Son of God because he is the second person of the Trintiy, God the Son, in the flesh. If you don’t explain the Trinity then you aren’t correctly explaining who Jesus is. This is what the Christians who assembled the Bible believed (i.e. the Church Fathers) and what the early heroes of evangelism practiced (see my post on St. Patrick).

This leads to the question of complexity. I’ve recently been in an email dialogue with some good friends, one of whom suggested that explaining the gospel purely from an “atonement” perspective is easier and simpler than explaining it from a Trinitarian perspective.

But I had to disagree. I admit that when I first began to see the gospel in a fully Trinitarian way I found it difficult to explain – but I now realize that was because of my own habits of mind, not because of any inherent complexity in the good news of humanity’s adoption into the life of the Trinity.

Here’s an example: a traditional “atonement based” presentation of the gospel would go something like this: God is holy and good. He created humanity to be holy and good but we sinned. Because God is holy he has to punish sin by killing us, but he doesn’t want to do that. So, he punished his Son Jesus instead, by killing him. Now, if you will believe that Jesus died for your sins then you will be forgiven and God will accept you as his child.

That’s pretty simple. But so, I would argue, is a Trinitarian presentation of the gospel:

God is loving relationship, he exists as Father, Son, and Spirit. The Father created us so that he could adopt us into that loving relationship as his children. His plan of adoption was accomplished by the Son becoming a human being just like us. When he became a man he made all of us children of the Father and revealed the Father’s forgiveness to us. Now the Holy Spirit is at work in all our lives to help us understand that we are children of the Father, liked, loved, and included in God’s life forever.

What makes the Trinitarian presentation complex to us is that we are used to thinking of God in unitarian ways and in categories of law and sin, righeousness and judgment, instead of thinking of God in relational terms like Father, Son, and Spirit, and as our Father in heaven who makes us his children in and through Jesus.

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Responses

  1. Great contrast between the atonement and Trinitarian presentations of the gospel. The Trinitarian presentation is REALLY GOOD news and points to a BIG God. The atonement model is an “IF” gospel, which depends as much on us as God – God is our “copilot” in that model. Because God is Trinity, it is easy to understand His love – it is relational – and that is how humans understand love – within relationships. The atonement model, which is unitarian in practice (not relational) posits a “love” out of nowhere that includes, in many minds, eternal punishing by a “holy” God whose judgement is at the very core of his being, and therefore at the core of his love. This kind of love is incomprehensible and fearful to humans. Thank You, Holy Spirit for opening minds and revealing the Son and Father’s heart!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Jerome! I started to include some similar thoughts in my original post, but decided not to for the sake of keeping the post simple – thanks for bringing this issue up!

    Not only is the fully Trinitarian approach just as simple, it also has the advantage of being truly Christ-centered, Biblical, and really being good news!


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