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Missional Church: “Three Theological Emphases for a Missional Congregation: Theology with a Cosmic Aim” Part II

March 25, 2011

II.  Trinity as “Community of Love”

Following the lead of Karl Barth, to understand the mission of God, one must understand first and foremost who God is in His essence.  Though the Trinity may seem like a theological intricacy that the church long ago debated over, we now see that the Trinity constitutes our essential understanding of God, and thus our understanding of ourselves as created in the image of such a God.  The West, following the lead of Augustine, tended to emphasize the oneness of God, thus explaining the Trinity psychologically where God’s action was the “differentiated action of a Self.”[1] However, the Cappaodocian Fathers—and the East traditionally—emphasized, rather, the “threeness” of the triune being.  For them, “to be” one needed “to be in relation” and thus, for God to genuinely be, He must exist as a community of persons.[2] This relational view of the Trinity is the foundation for understanding the mission of God.

In first John, we hear the ultimate definition of God:  “God is love” (I John 4:8).  Understanding the trinity, then, as a community of persons, we now see that God is a “community of love”—not some “remote figure” out in the cosmos somewhere.[3] The agape love of God, by nature is a giving love, a love that expresses itself in the overflowing of blessing to another.  It is a love that is “too good not to share.”[4] As such, we now understand creation as the loving act of a giving community of persons.  God’s purpose in creating the entire cosmos is to express the overflowing love that has eternally existed within the Godhead to His creation.  Martin Sutherland explains the importance of this Trinitarian view for God’s purposes in creation:

At the centre of the Christian understanding of God is the life of the Trinity.  God exists, not as some remote lonely figure but as a community of love—Father, Son, and Spirit.  Three, whose connection to one another is so perfect, so complete, that they are properly called ‘one.’  That relationship was so perfect that it did not require anything else.  God could have existed in eternity, with no creation to complicate the picture.  However, whilst Christians do not accept that God had to create, that God needed the world or was forced into making it, we may nonetheless declare that creation was inevitable.  Not that it was something imposed on God, but that the creative act sprang from the very heart of the Trinity itself.[5]

Therefore, while humankind is certainly the pinnacle of such a self-giving love, God’s love extends to all creation.  We may rightly assume, then, that God’s plan involves all of creation as well.[6] It is not too much to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all theology (but especially missional theology) in that it is in the triune being that we recognize the why to God’s creating, and thus the impetus to His mission.

Implications for the missional church

1.     Koinonia[7]:  If God is a “community of persons,” then the church as the “missionary people of God” is also to be defined by our intimate community and love for one another.  Peter Althouse states it like this:  “the triune God who is a community of persons in unity of essence and purpose, is the basis for koinonia, both in the mutual fellowship we have with God and each other in the Church, but also the basis of our koinonia with the world, as we are sent out to be light and salt of the good news of the coming kingdom.”[8]

2.     God’s purposes are cosmic in their aim.  Though mankind is special in the redemptive plan of God, the gospel is a gospel for all of creation.  With this in mind, missional congregations should take up mankind’s original calling to stewardship and seek to bless creation rather than destroy it.[9]

3.     Just as the love of God flows out of God’s Trinitarian being, so missional churches should seek to be filled with the love of God to the point of overflowing into the community around them.  Service, evangelism, missions, and so forth will will be most effective when it arises out of the missional community’s participation in the triune love.  This should be something congregations seek after regularly.


[1] Jannie Swart et al., Toward a Missional Theology of Participation:  Ecumenical Reflections on Contributions to Trinity, Mission, and Church, Missiology 37.1 (2009): 80.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Martin Sutherland, “The Kingdom Made Visible:  A Missional Theology of Church,” Stimulus 13.1 (2005): 5.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] See chapter 3 of Wright’s The Mission of God’s People, 48-62.

[7] Peter Van Engen discusses koinonia in depth in God’s Missionary People, 90-92.

[8] Althouse, “Towards a Pentecostal Perspective,” 236.  Though I do not emphasize the importance of the Trinity for the “sending” nature of God, Althouse does so with this quote.  This understanding of God’s “triuneness” was what Barth emphasized—it is the nature of God as a sending God that initiated the understanding of the missional nature of the church.  Swart et al. quotes Karl Hartenstein to make this point:

The missionary movement of which we are a part has its source in the Triune God Himself.  Out of the depths of His love for us, the Father has sent forth His own beloved son To reconcile all things to Himself, that we an all men might, through the Spirit, be made one in Him with the Father in that perfect love which is the very nature of God.”

In “Toward a Missional Theology of Participation,” 76.  My emphasis of God’s triune nature for the importance of the missional church is different, but not contrary to Barth’s and Hartenstein’s understanding.

 

[9] Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 48.

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