Missions and The Trinity (Part 1)
(The following is an excerpt of an unpublished lecture given at Asia Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary, during its Missions Week, September 17-19, 2019.)
“Missions and The Trinity: A Proposal for a Missiological Practice.” (By: Dr. David W. Clemente)
David J. Bosch summarizes the concept of God’s mission. He states that mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God. “It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church” (Bosch quotes Moltman here.) Bosch cites Aagaard, saying: “Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is a church because there is a mission, not vice versa.” To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love. (See Bosch, David J. Transforming Mission. 1991:390.) God’s mission is in his heart and in the innermost parts of his being, and he calls out to everyone to come to his loving presence.
What is missions then? Let us look at a definition I am proposing here. “Mission means God, in the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit, revealing himself to this world crossing cultures and other boundaries that resist the understanding and acceptance of the gospel, and leading the Church to the proclamation and celebration of the kingdom of God.” (David W. Clemente. 2013)
In this definition, mission means God reveals himself to all people of the world and to all creation. God is calling everyone to himself. God is speaking of his salvation. God is moving all creation closer to the kingdom of God. In this study, we refer to God’s call, speech, and movement as three missiological activities of the work of God in the world. I am suggesting here that these three activities or acts of God’s self-revelation are portrayed in the work of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The Father is calling people to his presence and sending them to accept his call. The Son is speaking of God’s salvation. The Spirit is moving for God so that God’s rule is realized in all creation. The Triune God is at work in the world. The Trinity is active in missions.
The work of the Triune God in our world is referred to here as Trinitarian Missiology. Our study of missions and the Trinity is viewed through the lenses of Trinitarian Missiology. So, what is Trinitarian Missiology? The short answer is that it is the way of defining and explaining missions and missionary work based on our understanding of the Trinity. It is not the classic explanation of the Trinity. It is rather, as Timothy C. Tennent summarizes, “The Father is the Sender, the ‘Lord of the harvest’; the incarnate Son is the model embodiment of mission in the world; and the Holy Spirit is the divine, empowering presence for all of mission” (2010:75). Simply said, it is the Trinity active in missions work.
Alan Roxburgh warns us that “Evangelicals are often still guided by frameworks in Western thought which holds that the fundamental basis of all reality is monadic—singular in nature and form.” The idea of Trinity is difficult and at times does not make sense. Evangelical “missiology reveals our failure to develop a communal missiology from a Trinitarian foundation.” (See Taylor, William D. ed. 2000:185-87.) We should understand Trinity from God’s activity in the world and his calling, speaking, and moving in our communities and from within creation.
Earlier, I proposed a way of describing God’s activity in the world to help us understand Trinitarian Missiology. My hope is that we can use this description to see our role of obedience and participation in God’s mission. Let me explain this description a little further.
What is a way of describing the activity of the Trinity in our world and in our lives? One way is portraying God the Father calling out all creation to himself. He sends out his Son, the Spirit, and everyone who wants to participate in his calling so that everyone and every created thing draws closer to him and experiences his love. God the Son speaks salvation, healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness. He demonstrates his speech and redeeming work with his words, example, his silence, obedience, his joy of the journey, and his glory with the Father. God the Spirit moves in the world. He moves for God. His movement brings empowerment, restoration, shalom and peace, cleansing, and renewal. We describe the Trinity as God the Father calls us, God the Son speaks to us, and God the Spirit moves among us.
In order for us to visualize this description of the work of the Triune God, let us use the Light Analogy. Imagine the many modes of light. We know light as one bright white light. At times however, when it shines through a glass or a mist of water vapor, then the light is reflected in different colors. We see red, blue, or yellow, or some other combination of these primary colors. In the same manner, God’s activity in this world is revealed to us as one bright white light. At other times, we only see one color, or one working of one person of the Trinity.
Let us now look at some Bible references to illustrate the multi-colored working of the Trinity. We will focus on the Father’s calling and sending activity. This way of description will help us understand Trinitarian Missiology.
God calls us to himself. In Genesis 2:19-20, we read of an early activity of God at the Garden of Eden. The text goes: “Now out of the ground the Lord God has formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man [Ad’am] to see what he would call them. And whatever the man [Ad’am] called every living creature, that was its name.” (Genesis 2:19-20. ESV). We see God calling Adam to sit with him and give names to all the animals. He called out the animals to join them in the celebration. God could have done this himself. But, he wanted to express his love to Adam by affirming his intellect and creative faculties. Adam was able to name all the animals. Whatever he calls them, then it was its name.
Even after the Fall, God still wanted to sit and walk with Adam. In Genesis 3:8-9, we see God calling his friend to walk with him, like they always do every afternoon at the Garden of Eden. God loves Adam, even in his state of sinfulness, he calls out to him and wants him to have fellowship together with him.
When God the Father calls, he calls people to himself out of his love for them. When they cannot hear, then he sends others, whether another person or a created thing, such as a star or a donkey, so that they will hear him and listen to his call.
He called the families of the earth to himself. When they could not hear and would not listen, he called Abraham and sent him to be a conduit of his love. Let us read the biblical text:
“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.” (Genesis 12:1-4a, ESV.)
God wanted to bless the families of the earth through Abraham. “Blessing for the nations is the bottom line, textually and theologically, of God’s promise to Abraham” (Wright 2006:194). God’s calling of Abraham is missional in nature. “The covenant reveal’s God’s heart for all nations” (Tennent 2010:112). God’s call flows out of his compassion for all humanity.
In Hosea 11:1-11, we see the Father’s love and compassion in a graphic way. God’s heart is overflowing with love for the people of Israel. In verse eight, it says: “My heart recoils within me: my compassion grows warm and tender” (Hosea 11:8b). In the NASB, it states: “My heart is turned over within me.” The Father’s love is pervasive and internally moving. God’s love is outwardly expressed when he calls out to the people of Israel and draws them closer to his presence.
In verse three, the NIV rendition has a dramatic picture, when it says: “To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek.” God is described as bending over for the people of Israel. He reaches out in his love. Isn’t this a picture of the incarnation story of Jesus Christ? In the Father, the call of God becomes the revelation of the Trinity’s love for Israel and to all humanity.
God calls the people of Israel out of their exile. He calls them like a lion calls a cub. He woos them like a dove woos its partner (Hosea 11:10-11). He calls from within his love for Israel. He sends Hosea and other prophets to persuade Israel to come back to the promised land.
God the Father calls people and all creation to himself. He calls and he expects them to accept his calling. When they don’t then he sends another to help the called out ones to listen to his call. We see this calling and sending actions best exemplified in the relationship of the Trinity. The Father calls and sends out his Son, and God sends out the Spirit so that all creation listens to God.
John 20:19-23 portrays the three streams of light working together, relating to each other, as one Triune God. Father sends the Son, and the Son sends the disciples with the peace of the Spirit. The Father’s love is now experienced through the mandate of forgiveness that Jesus entrusted to his disciples. With the Spirit’s leadership and reign of peace, the disciples can also practice a life of love and forgiveness. Going back to the light analogy, the three streams of light become one bright white light in the lives of the disciples. The mission of God is now joined together with the disciples and through their obedience. Trinitarian Missiology is practiced in real time and space.
Leslie Newbigin reminds us that: “We are not engaged in an enterprise of our own choosing or desiring. We are invited to participate in an activity of God which is the central meaning of creation itself. We are invited to become, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, participants in the Son’s loving obedience to the Father” (Trinitarian Doctrine for Today’s Mission. 1998:83).
Copyright 2019 by David W. Clemente. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
(List of Books on Trinitarian Missiology)
A. ESSENTIAL SCHOLARS
1.) Tennent, Timothy C. 2010. Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century.MI: Kregel Publications.
2.) Bosch, David J. 1991. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission.NY: Orbis Books.
3.) Ott, Craig and Stephen J. Strauss. 2010. Encountering Theology of Missions: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Contemporary Issues.MI: Baker Academic.
4.) Wright, Christopher J. H. 2006. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Narratives. IL: IVP Academic.
B. CLASSIC ESSAYS
5.) Newbigin, Leslie. 1989. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company.
6.) Hiebert, Paul G. 1994. Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. MI: Baker Books.
7.) Sanneh, Lamin. 1989. Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture.NY: Orbis Books.
C. USEFUL COMPILATIONS OF SHORT ARTICLES
8.) Taylor, William D. ed. 2000. Global Missiology for the 21st Century: The Iguassu Dialogue. MI: Baker Academic.
9.) Whiteman, Darrell L. and Gerald H. Anderson, eds. 2009. World Mission in the Wesleyan Spirit. TN: Providence House Publishers.
10.) Hesselgrave, David J. and Ed Stetzer, eds. 2010. Missionshift: Global Mission Issues in the Third Millennium.TN: B&H Academic.
11.) Ott, Craig and Harold A. Netland, eds. 2006. Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity.MI: Baker Academic.
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