Dorothy Sayers once wrote that the Christian ‘dogma is the drama’. Churches and preachers are called to revisit this drama every Sunday. Christian dogma is sufficiently dramatic to capture the imaginations and emotions of worshippers. But how does one preach the central Christian dogma, the doctrine of the Trinity? The dramatic effect of this dogma is often congested behind the stuffiness of technical formulations: nature, persons, subsistent relations, perichoresis, processions, etc. Below are a few tips:
- Always start with Scripture. The dogma of the Trinity is not an extraneous imposition upon the narratives, but the collective judgment of the church that it captures their full meaning. Whether one looks at the gospel stories, at the epistles, or at Revelation, one misreads the story of Jesus without the central truth that in him the fullness of God has been revealed. Christ is Emmanuel, God with us!
- Do not be afraid to use limited analogies: the three leafed clover, the divine family, even the egg analogy (shell, yolk, white). Tradition supplies a number of these analogies, neither of which is perfect: Tertullian’s root/stem/fruit, Augustine’s being/knowledge/love, Barth’s revelation/revealer/revealedness. Pop culture also supplies us with some interesting analogies: Michael Jordan’s Gatorade commercial ’23 vs 39′ (I am indebted to Adam Johnson of Biola for pointing me to this). Even the fidget spinner may be a useful prop in some settings. Since no single analogy is perfect (in fact, each taken by itself can lead to serious distortions), it is best to use several at one time. Remember that the role of the analogy is not to explain but to evoke, or to intimate. That is, while God may not be known perfectly, we are called to witness to his glorious reality through the best means we have.
- Show the practical value of the doctrine. Scripture consistently (and naturally) connects the Trinity with worship. Baptism is done in the name of the Triune God; prayers are meant to give glory to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. In prayer we are not left to our own devices, but the Spirit intercedes for us, prays with us and in us (Rom 8); Our justification and salvation consists in our being engrafted into Christ, made children of God by adoption, through him who is the natural Son of God. As my good colleague, Donald Fairbairn likes to put it: to be saved is to be brought into the Father-Son relationship. Our sanctification too is such that we are made ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pet 1:4).
Go, and preach the Triune God boldly!