The Trinity isn’t about counting to three, it’s about the God who sends us – including the “sending” we can remember and rest upon in our daily work. That’s the message of Fred Sanders’ talk at Karam Forum 2019, now available as an Economic Wisdom Project Talk for use in your classroom.
Is the doctrine of the Trinity just a dry abstraction? We know that it isn’t. But the sheer vastness of this revelation of the reality of God can make it difficult to help students get past the “abstraction” stage and really catch a vision of what this doctrine is showing us.
The typical approach to applying the doctrine is, as Sanders puts it, to “go off on a quest for three” – find ways to classify things in our own lives according to various schemes of three-in-oneness and one-in-threeness. This quest may help us “correspond externally” to what we take to be God’s attributes, Sanders says. But it can also distract us from what should be the real point, which is knowing and following the transcendent reality of the relational God.
In this lively and humorous talk, Sanders helps us step back and see what the doctrine is really about, and also how it applies in ordinary life. He emphasizes that the doctrine is not about threeness, it’s about who God is and how God sends us to our daily tasks, just as the Father sent the Son and the Spirit to us.
Trinity Verses Are Sending Verses
Trinity verses, Sanders points out, are typically sending verses. Where we are told about the triune reality of God, we are usually told about how we are being sent into the world by that God. John 20:21-22 relates Jesus’ Trinitarian declaration of our sending: “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, I send you; receive the Holy Spirit.” In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20), the church is sent out to make disciples of all nations.
Speaking of which, if you want to assign your students a really powerful exposition of the Great Commission as God’s calling for all Christians in all of life, we have you covered:
“Once you pick up on this,” Sanders says, “you’ll see it everywhere. All the best Trinity verses are sending verses.” Even John 3:16, “the greatest hit of the New Testament,” shows that our salvation depends on the sending of the eternal Son. It doesn’t work without “the secret behind the sending.”
Why are Trinity verses sending verses? Because the Trinity reveals to us something about the eternal reality of God, a secret that was hidden for ages until it was revealed when Jesus was sent to us. The secret behind our sending is that Jesus was sent first, to send us. And the secret behind Jesus’ sending is the eternal generation of the Son. Even when there was nothing but God, no world to send Jesus to, Jesus was still “sendable” – the Father and Son have always been together, with the Spirit, in a relationship of mutual love.
The Portable Trinity: We Work within God’s Work
What does that mean for us in daily life? Our sentness is “the portable part of the Trinity,” Sanders says. “The most important thing a Christian can remember in the workplace is their sending.” The fact that we are sent to our daily tasks by Jesus, who was in turn sent by the Father and sends the Holy Spirit to be with us, is the Trinitarian doctrine you can live out and rest in even while your focus is on the task at hand.
With funny real-world examples, Sanders points out how differently people behave when they know that they’ve been sent to their tasks, and that they’ve been equipped by their sender for the tasks to which they’re sent. People who don’t “act sent” can be turned aside from their tasks by any distraction or obstacle. People who “act sent” will ignore distractions and find ways to go over, under or around (that’s three!) any obstacle that stands in their way.
When things in daily life get tough, we need to remember our sending. “We are, as Christians, inside the work of the Trinity” as we do our work as Jesus’ sent people.
And we can rest in our sending, knowing that we have been equipped for every good work, and our obedience is pleasing to our Father regardless of whether our tasks succeed or fail in worldly terms. For the same Jesus who said “as the Father sent me, I send you” also said – twice – “peace be with you.”
Check out this new video, and consider how you might use it in your class. And don’t forget the rest of our growing library, with videos suitable for every theological discipline: