Archive for the ‘Trinity’ Category

David and Goliath


When we read 1 Samuel 17 we surely need to see a fulfilment of Genesis 3:15 – the enmity between the forces of the Serpent and the forces of the LORD, a seed of woman who strikes the head of the seed of Satan (notice the emphasis on Goliath’s head – verses 46, 49, 51, 54, 57) – and a pointer forward to the perfect fulfilment in our representative who goes out (in weakness) to fight for us at the Cross while we stand helpless and quivering on the sidelines.

But… surely, we might say, there is also an emphasis on David’s faith in this story of 1 Samuel 17? Surely his great speeches of confidence are supposed to inspire us to have such faith in God in all our trials?

The danger here is that the idea of ‘faith in God’ becomes very vague.

when we look at David, for example, we don’t say that he just had ‘faith in God’ in some vague sense. He didn’t exist in some pre-Trinitarian time. He was very conscious that he had the Spirit (Psalm 51:11) and spoke by the Spirit (2 Sam. 23:2), he was well aware of the difference between the Father and the Son (Psalm 110:1) and his Lord was specifically Jesus (Matt. 22:41-45). So if we were preaching on 1 Samuel 17 (David and Goliath) we would want to bring out the big point – that this is a pattern of Jesus’ victory over the Great Enemy, but we might also speak of David’s faith in the very-present Deliverer LORD (1 Sam. 17:37; 45-47) and make clear that this was faith in Jesus.

(From forthcoming Utumishi wa Neno book)

David is a type of the Greater Christ to come but he is also already trusting in that Christ who is present with him to save. And then even this faith of David becomes typological – a type of Jesus’ faith in his Father. As the Great David goes out to face the Devil in single combat he goes for the glory of the Father (John 17:4) confident that the Father delivers the plunder into his hand (John 6:37-39; 10:29).

Read Full Post »

In this short but rich book, Mike Reeves raises the question ‘What is it that makes the Christian God distinct from any other god- say Allah?’ Our understanding of the Trinity is the key to unlocking this. This doctrine of Trinity has been neglected yet it is core to our Christian belief.

He says “What makes Christianity absolutely distinct is the identity of our God. Which God we worship: that is the article of faith that stands before all others. I can believe in every other aspect of the gospel but if I don’t believe in the triune God, then simply put, I am not a Christian.”

I couldn’t agree more! In our own context, most of us would say we are Christians and we believe in God yet we actually don’t know the God we believe in. If we are to think Christian then we are to start by thinking Trinity! The temptation for us is to sculpt God in our own assumptions; we think He is a single-person God yet the God of the Bible is clearly a triune God- Father, Son and Spirit.

It’s only a clear understanding of the Trinity that will help us not to fall into doctrinal errors such as Arianism: thinking of the Son as being less of the Father and that there was a time when He never existed… or the error of Modalism: we think of God as a single person who takes on different modes or moods- sometimes as Father, other times as Son and still other times as Spirit. The H2O analogy we use is particularly not helpful; “the Father all icy until you warm Him up then He turns into the watery Son, who then vaporizes and becomes the steamy Spirit when you really crank up the heat!!”

What then would be the best way to describe God? Can’t we just say that He is Almighty? Or the Creator? Well, all these are the right attributes of God but in and of themselves are not sufficient. Mike points out that the very first feature is that our God is the Father. This is the God that Jesus, the Son reveals to us. As a Father, He has loved His Son before the creation of the world (John 17:24). This God is love (1 John 4:8). “Before anything else, for all eternity, this God was loving, giving life and delighting in the Son.”

Now, this is some profound truth; that the Father is never without the Son- the Son is the eternal Son, there was never a time when He didn’t exist. The Father loves the Son, the Son is the beloved of the Father and then the Son goes out to be the lover and the head of the Church. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” the Son says (John 15:9).


baptismThe Father’s love for the Son is clearly seen at Jesus’ Baptism, the Spirit descends on Him like a dove and then we hear the Father’s voice “This is My Son whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17). The Spirit stirs up the delight of the Father in the Son and the delight of the Son in the Father. In the very beginning, God creates by His Word (the Word that would later become flesh), and He does so by sending out His Word in the power of His Spirit or Breath.

John Calvin once wrote that if we try to think about God without thinking about the Father, Son and Spirit, then ‘only the bare and empty name of God flits about in our brains, to the exclusion of the true God.’

Functionally, this is how the Trinity operates:

  • In creation, we see the Father’s love overflowing. Richard Sibbes says, “It is not that God needed to create the world in order to satisfy Himself or become Himself… The Father, Son and Spirit ‘were happy in themselves, and enjoyed one another before the world was’. But the Father so enjoyed fellowship with His Son that He wanted to have the goodness of it spread out and communicated or shared with others. The creation was a free choice borne out of nothing but love.”
  • In Salvation, we see the Son sharing what is His. “No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side has made Him known.” (John 1:18) The triune God gives us His very self, for the Son is the Word of God; God doesn’t just tell us about Himself, He gives us Himself.
  • The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of life; He gives us new birth into new life. Not only that but He gives us Himself so that we might know and enjoy Him and so enjoy His fellowship with the Father and Son. The Spirit enlightens us to know the love of God by opening our eyes to see the glory of Christ. Thus, in the Christian life, we see the Spirit beautifying it. Though we are sinful creatures, the Spirit cultivates in us a deepening taste for Christ, the epitome of beauty, the Spirit polishes a new humanity who begin to shine with His likeness.

Our personal and relational God is such that the Son is distinct from the Father and yet is of the very being of the Father and is eternally one with Him in the Spirit.

The theologian Karl Barth wrote: “The tri-unity of God is the secret of His beauty. If we deny this, we at once have a God without radiance and without joy (and without humour!); a God without beauty. Losing the dignity and power of real divinity, He also loses His beauty. But if we keep to this… that the one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we cannot escape the fact either in general or in detail that apart from anything else God is also beautiful.”

The question now remains: which God will we have? Which God will we proclaim?

Read Full Post »

In a number of Psalms there are multiple voices. Often they’re taken as one believer talking to another believer. But I’m starting to wonder whether sometimes there is more to it than that.

I’ve just been looking at Psalm 91 and Psalm 121. Both Psalms about divine protection. Lots of shared language and ideas. And a similar structure too in terms of the voices.

Psalm 91

  • Verse 1 – A voice talks in the third person about ‘he’ who takes refuge in the Most High
  • Verse 2 – A voice talks in the first person, looking to the LORD for refuge.
  • Verses 3-13 – A voice talks in the second person of how the LORD, the Most High, will be a refuge to ‘you’ (this speaker is also, himself taking refuge in this LORD – v9)
  • Verses 14-16 – A voice talks in the first person about how he will be a refuge to ‘him’

There are at least two speakers. Everyone agrees that v14-16 must be the LORD himself coming in and confirming that he will indeed deliver/protect/rescue.

It could be that v1-13 is all the Psalmist speaking, first giving a general truth (v1) , then saying what his prayer is to his God (v2), then encouraging other believers (v3-13). But it is very striking that the “you” throughout v3-13 is singular. Just as v1 and v14-16 seem to be talking about a singular man. It could be a generalised ‘believer’ but it’s interesting what happens when Satan quotes this Psalm to Jesus a thousand years later in the wilderness. The strength of the devil’s attack rests on the fact that Jesus knows that this Psalm is about the Son of God. “If you are the Son of God, then Psalm 91:11-12 applies to you doesn’t it? So why don’t you just throw yourself down off the Temple and claim those promises?”

Jesus doesn’t debate the application to himself but he knows a) that you don’t have to ‘test’ a Father-Son relationship and b) this Psalm is going to be fulfilled through the Cross and resurrection – suffering and then glory.

So Psalm 91:3-13 is being spoken to Jesus by another voice – a comforter who encourages him that the LORD God, the Most High will protect him. Who is this? Who could be Jesus’ comforter? How about The Comforter – the Spirit. The one who speaks through the Psalmist (2 Sam. 23:2).

And who is the Most High LORD who is mentioned in v1, v9 and then speaks in v14-16? Surely that must be the Father. The one who is loved by the Son (v14).

So perhaps Psalm 91 works a bit like this:

  • Verse 1 – The Spirit tells us about the Son as the one who dwells in the Father – this verse in a sense functions as the title of the Psalm.
  • Verse 2 – The Son speaks of how he will cry out to the Father.
  • Verses 3-13 – The Spirit reassures the Son of the protection of the Father.
  • Verses 14-16 – The Father tells us about the Son.

Psalm 121

Similar but a bit simpler:

  • Verses 1-2 – A voice speaks in the first person, looking to the LORD for help.
  • Verses 3-8 – A voice speaks in the second person of how ‘the LORD is your keeper’

It could be one person turning from looking to the LORD to address us but most commentators hear two voices, a young faltering pilgrim and then another more experienced pilgrim encouraging him (the ‘you’ in v3-8 is consistently singular).

It certainly does look like two voices but to me the first voice doesn’t sound very young and inexperienced. He just sounds like the Psalmist often sounds, crying out to the LORD and simultaneously confident that the LORD will hear and act. The reference to the Creator of heavens and earth isn’t immature faith but consistent with Ps. 124:8 and 134:3.

The second voice is the comforter/encourager of the first voice. And maybe he gives us a clue to the first voice he is addressing in verse 4 – “Israel”. This, together with the similarity with Ps. 91 makes me think the first voice is the Son (cf. Ex. 4:22). So maybe, as in Ps. 91, the second voice is the Spirit.

What do you think?

Still thinking this stuff through. But if there is something like this going on I find it pretty amazing that we’re allowed to listen in as the Spirit encourages the Son of the Father’s care.



Read Full Post »


We’ve argued before that preaching that is led by the Spirit will be Bible-driven preaching. Now to add another thought that should flow naturally from that but is worth stating on its own: Spirit-led preaching is all about Jesus.

At least things point in this direction:

1. The content of the Spirit’s Word

Taking it that the whole Bible was written by the Spirit it’s interesting to look at the balance of mentions of the different persons of the Trinity. In the Old Testament there are about 14 references stating or implying the fatherhood of God and roughly 90 mentions of God’s Spirit. When it comes to the Son, there are around 25 theophanies (which I take to be the pre-incarnate Son), 52 references to ‘the Angel of the Lord’ (again I would take to be the Son) and somewhere over 300 explicit messianic prophecies. This is without beginning to try to enumerate the thousands of references related to typological offices (e.g high priest), characters (e.g. David), events (e.g. Passover) and objects (e.g. tabernacle). Jesus was not twisting things when he said (John 5; Luke 24) that the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms are all about him.

Then coming to the New Testament, there are 128 references to ‘the Spirit’, 243 explicit references to ‘the Father’ (beside hundreds of references to ‘God’ where God the Father is implied), and 950 mentions of ‘Jesus’ (not to mention hundreds of separate references to ‘the Son’, ‘Christ’, ‘Lord’, ‘Son of Man’ etc.).

Now admittedly statistics are a very crude indicator but this should immediately give us some sense of who the Spirit is most keen to talk about. He talks relatively sparingly about himself. Some have called him a “shy and retiring spirit” or “the elusive person of the Trinity” (this may be one reason why there is so much controversy about the doctrine of the Spirit – there is simply not a huge amount of biblical data). The person the Spirit seems most keen to write about is Jesus. If we imagine the Spirit as an artist, we might say that he doesn’t go in for self-portraits in a big way, his great work is a massive mural of Christ.

2. The Spirit’s stated work

The night before he died Jesus gave the most detailed explanation of the Spirit and his work that we have (John 14-16). J.I. Packer gives a great summary:

The Spirit… would be sent, said Jesus, “in my name” (14:26), that is as Jesus’s courier, spokesman, and representative… the Spirit would be self-effacing, directing all attention away from himself to Christ and drawing folk into the faith, hope, love, obedience, adoration, and dedication, which constitute communion with Christ… the Spirit would make the presence of Christ and fellowship with him and his Father realities of experience for those who, by obeying his words, showed that they loved him (14:21-23)… Again, the Spirit would teach… and the Spirit’s way of teaching would be to make disciples recall and comprehend what Jesus himself had said (14:26)… the Spirit would attest Christ in the manner of a witness… (15:26; 16:8-11)… Thus the Spirit would glorify the glorified Savior (16:14)… a floodlight ministry… It is as if the Spirit stands behind us, throwing light over our shoulder, on Jesus, who stands facing us. The Spirit’s message to us is never, “Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me,” but always, “Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace.”

3. The apostles’ Spirit-led preaching

The Spirit was given that the apostles would bear witness to… Jesus (Acts 1:8).

On the day of Pentecost there is a spectacular outpouring of the Spirit, Peter is filled with the Spirit, his hair is on fire, he stands to preach an expository sermon on a text from Joel, a text which is one of the clearest Old Testament passages about the Spirit… surely we’re going to get a sermon on the Spirit – if ever there was a time for an exposition on the doctrine of the Spirit this is it… but no… “Men of Israel, hear this: JESUS” (Acts 2:22). And this most Spirit-filled of sermons continues with a relentless focus on this Jesus – his life, death, resurrection, exaltation. The Holy Spirit is only mentioned once (v33) as a confirming sign of Jesus’ exaltation and his identity as the Lord of David and the LORD of Joel.

You get the same pattern again and again in Acts – Peter is “filled with the Spirit” and preaches about salvation in Jesus (Acts 4:8-12), Stephen, a man full of the Spirit, gives a Bible overview focussed on Jesus (Acts 6-7), Philip is led by the Spirit to preach from Isaiah “the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8). We find the same pattern in the ministry and letters of Paul.

So a couple of questions:

  • When did you last hear a sermon series on the Spirit?
  • When did you last hear a sermon series on Jesus?

Read Full Post »

African beats

We’ve said before that musicians and singers should be just as much servants of the Word as preachers. And on the last ministry training week we talked about how we’ve got to be careful about lyrics in just the same way as the words we preach – not just being careful whether they are true or heretical but thinking about how they are heard (e.g. what are people thinking when they hear “There is power, power, wonder working power in the blood of the lamb” especially when the chorus is sung without the verses). But what about tunes and beats? Do they matter? A brother I was talking to recently expressed concern about the influence of ‘secular’ music (e.g. from the nightclub) on Christian music and expressed the idea that certain beats are secular (even demonic) and putting Christian words to ‘secular’ tunes can lead to the singers being drawn back into the World. I put the issue to Wes on the blog ‘a mission-driven life’. This was his very insightful response:

From a trinitarian gospel-centered perspective, responding to the issue of secular vs sacred music is an interesting prospect.

So, first we recognize that all of reality is sustained by God who created all things. Jesus assumed humanity (100%) to redeem and restore God’s good creational order. The Holy Spirit acts to reveal the Father and the Son and to sanctify. Culture exists in relationship to the triune God. If there was no sin in the world, all human culture would be good, beautiful, and revealing of God’s grand and diverse majesty. However, because of sin and the fall, all of culture is tainted. However, no human system is completely evil, nor, until Christ returns are they completely restored. Music is no different.

Music reflects God’s creational order and goodness in several ways. Beautiful things always reflect something of God’s ultimate beauty. Music also is structured, ordered mathematically (in various degrees) reflecting God’s order placed in the universe. Truly, in whatever context, cultural products, such as music, deserve to be studied deeply to provide what anthropologist Clifford Geertz called a “thick description”. Music, especially, reveals deep things about a people’s worldview and at the same time has the power to change it. Music is not so much listened to as performed. Musicians perform the actual production of the sounds in rhythms and harmonies, but listeners participate in the music as well. Music is always active in the heart and mind of the individual. In a perfect world, these are very good things.

But we also live in a fallen world. Albert Wolters refers to a culture’s direction. Something can either be directed towards God, or away from God in satanic rebellion. A good thing, like music, can be misdirected in idolatrous self-worship (like most Western music) or in idolatrous pagan worship. Again, even this requires deep study. Music, as a cultural performance, has worldview implications. This means that the words combined with the meaning ascribed to the melodies themselves can work to shape how a person views reality, what is ultimate. For instance, if I was listening to instrumental version of “imagine” by John Lennon, that could have as detrimental an effect on me as if I were listening to the words (well because I know the words to the song). Lennon preaches and calls us to participate in a faulty godless worldview. Music has a special power to affect us. Would putting Christian words to the song be enough to counteract the meaning? Over time, yes. For me, I would be conflicted. My children, it wouldn’t bother them since they don’t know the original.

I don’t know the African context. If certain tunes and beats are closely associated with pagan rituals that perform a demonic worldview, then it is possible that those beats would continue to preach that worldview even when applied different meanings (and by beats, I don’t just mean the use of drums, but the combination of sounds that are associated with a particular ritual). Honestly, this is not an easy question to address.

Every culture is valuable because Jesus particularized a single human culture. From this particular culture, he performed a universal redemption. Every diverse human culture in its grand diversity, then, is infinitely valuable. From Genesis to Revelation this is clear. Every culture, in so much as it is directed towards God, can be redeemed and restored, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. By redirecting the worldview of the beats and music, it may be possible to both redeem and sanctify a particular beat. Overall, it is important that African music be valued. If it is possible to worship African-ly, then that reflects God’s creational order and his redemptive and sanctifying work. This may mean, though, creating new songs and new beats, by Africans in an African way. Scripture over and over affirms the singing of new songs to the Lord. Twice in the NT are believers directed to sing songs and hymns and spiritual songs to one another and to make melodies in their hearts to God.

The danger is tackling this question from a legalistic standpoint. Is it sinful to redeem secular songs or particular beats? No. Wisdom is needed though to discern what worldview is being presented. When hymns in the Western context were put to bar tunes, they were able to transcend the worldview issues (who today even thinks of a bar when singing hymns–personally, I’m just trying to stay awake!). Others, like Bach, wrote fresh music weekly in service of the church. May God raise up a thousand African Bach’s! And may the African church find the freedom to redeem and transcend misdirected beats.

Read Full Post »