This week, though, I felt like I was the one who walked away benefiting from the conversation. (That actually happens most weeks, but that's usually the way of things, isn't it?) While I've occasionally functioned as a speaker for this group, lately they've been focusing on missions and I get to simply listen in and be part of the conversation. Thursday's presentation was led by a couple preparing to move overseas. Their presentation was a deep, deep reminder of the uniqueness, beauty, and importance of Christian theology.
They started out asking the question, "What is the gospel?" If you haven't pondered this simple question lately, I encourage you to take time to do so. Can you answer that question concisely, in thirty seconds or less, in a way that a non-Christian might understand?
Over the course of about an hour, this couple led us to reflect on the importance of the Trinity in answering that question. In the process they led us deep into history, discussing the Athanasian Creed and Nicholas of Myra (more recently of "Santa Claus" fame) confronting Arius who claimed that Jesus Christ was the first creation of God, not an eternal being.
I know some of you are starting to glaze over right about now, but this is important. It gets down to basic questions like:
- Did God create us out of some need to be loved and worshiped?
- Is "the gospel" primarily about us going to heaven when we die?
- Are we designed simply to be good people so God will be pleased?
- What do Muslims and Jews mean when they say God is One, and do Christians understand this oneness of God in the same way?
And lots of others. But the simple answer to all these bullet-pointed questions is "No." If, as Christianity teaches, God contains other-centered love within God's self––the Father loves the Son and vice versa, with the Spirit flowing between the two as the expression and articulation of that love––then from eternity God has been relationally complete. God creates not to somehow have someone to love or worship him. Rather, out of the fullness and overflowing abundance of that love between the members of the Trinity, God creates not to receive anything but in order to give life.
So all of Jesus' ministry and all of the New Testament makes sense, as we see in Jesus an other-centered love that overflows into the lives of those he healed, delivered, restored, and saved. What's more, we begin to understand our need in a deeper way: We are all broken and despairing to the extent that we are cut off from this kind of overflowing abundant love. To be "saved" means to be brought into right relationship with the God of superabundant love. We receive this love, are healed and restored by it, and begin (in imitation of God's character) live lives in which we pour God's overflowing love into a broken world.
In short, Thursday night was a great reminder that something as basic as the Trinity matters. It's important for us to dive into it, to begin to understand God's love in a new and deeper way. If not, we risk falling prey to all the simplistic questions that drive people away from Christianity.