Easter season is a time for the church to celebrate the new life of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and to consider the implications this resurrection life has for the community today. Our focus is often singularly upon Jesus Christ with perhaps some marginal attention for the Father who raised him. For churches that follow the church calendar, the flow from Easter Sunday through Eastertide to Pentecost Sunday will eventually introduce the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the community, culminating in the praise of the Trinity on Trinity Sunday. But if we are not careful, this flow of the liturgical year may insinuate a progression in the life of God, as revealed to the church, that concludes in the doctrine of the Trinity. That is, the doctrine of the Trinity is viewed as an add-on and is thus relegated to the margins of our worship. We praise God as Trinity on Trinity Sunday, and we move on.
The doctrine of the Trinity is the whole eternal life of the church because it is the whole eternal life of God. Therefore, God’s triunity must not only be considered in the doxological life of the church; it must always be the center of it. But this essay is not meant to serve as a corrective—most churches do a fine job of centering the Trinity in many aspects of their doxological life. Instead, I’m here to advocate magnification. Following the example of the evangelical theologian Fred Sanders, I aim to use epideictic rhetoric to magnify the big doctrine of the Trinity. That is, I hope to amplify and reaffirm a conviction—in this case, belief in the doctrine of the Trinity—that is already there by filling in potential gaps in knowledge and emphasizing the implications of the Trinity in the doxology and broader resurrection life of the church.
In other words, I am calling for a resurrection of the Trinity in our discourse of the resurrection of the Son of God. Together, we must focus on the mysterious divine life of our God, which is, as Sanders suggests, “necessarily always discourse about God’s internal self-relatedness,” or the self-relatedness of the divine persons. And the church only has access to this knowledge of the “insideness of God” relationally. The Anglican theologian Gerald Bray explains that we are “admitted to the inner life of God” and that “the God who appears as One to those who view him on the outside, reveals himself as a Trinity of persons, once his inner life is opened up to our experience. The Christian doctrine that has resulted from this is nothing more nor less than a description of what that experience of God’s inner life is like.”1
The community of God has access to this inner life of God (or the immanent Trinity) because of God’s act of salvation toward us (through the economic Trinity). Sanders teaches that to properly analyze the internal relations of the Trinity, we must seek links between the doctrine of the Trinity and the ministry of the gospel. He writes that “the doctrine of the Trinity takes up the entire unified, coherent economy of salvation, and considers it against the background of God’s own eternal being. It correlates God’s identity with his free and gracious self-giving in the history of salvation.”2 The internal life of God is one of relationality between the Father who sends and the Son and Spirit who are sent. This act of sending and being sent is part and parcel of the process of God’s “free and gracious self-giving” for our sake, thus revealing the internal and eternal triune life of God (see John 14:26 and 17:1–5). We thus know that our God’s triune inner life is relational and loving because of God’s triune external actions of seeking a loving relationship with us (see John 15:9–17).
But more particularly, I argue that the center of the resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God, is itself Trinitarian. The earliest confession of the church concerning Jesus is, “He has risen!” (Mark 16:6; see 1 Cor. 15:4 CSB). This confession focuses on the Son, Jesus Christ, being raised from the dead by God the Father (see Acts 3:15 and Gal. 1:1). But also, Paul teaches that “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through his Spirit who lives in you” (Rom. 8:11). Paul does not explicitly write that God the Father raised Jesus through the Holy Spirit, but it is implied when he speaks of the process of giving resurrection life to the “mortal bodies” of believers “through his Spirit.” Therefore, we can conclude that the Spirit serves as the power, or means, by which the Son was raised by the Father, and more broadly, we see that the whole Trinity participated in the resurrection to bring new life. In other words, the resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God, was communally enacted by the whole Trinity.
Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the chaotic deep of the unformed waters of creation, holding within the inner triune life of God and the potential for life in Genesis 1, the Spirit again blows the new life of Jesus’s resurrection on the community of God. Paul presents this extension of Jesus’s resurrection life in Corinth, writing, “For we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you” (2 Cor. 4:14). And this is a hope that is currently present to us as the community of God learns to “walk in the newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Paul expounded, “For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection” (Rom. 6:5). And since we have resurrection life “in the likeness of his resurrection,” the new life of the community is one that takes a Trinitarian shape because the whole Trinity participated in bringing about new resurrection life in and through Jesus Christ.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ represents the mysterious existence of God’s community in a world that is hostile toward that community (see John 17:14). The church’s being in the world is as paradoxical as light being in darkness or as life coming from death. Jesus’s resurrection is for us “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). That is, the new eternal life of the community is sanctioned by the death and resurrection of God the Son (see John 3:16–18). This is reflected in Jesus’s difficult saying to Nicodemus: “Truly, I tell you emphatically, unless a person is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 ISV). Most translations of this verse instead say born again in reference to the spiritual birth of a person coming about by God following a prior worldly (natural) birth, whereas the phrase from above is in reference to God’s heavenly kingdom and its heavenly king. As the Gospel of John explains, “The one who comes from above is above all. The one who is from the earth is earthly and speaks in earthly terms. The one who comes from heaven is above all” (John 3:31 CSB). Professor Paul R. Hinlicky describes this being born anew from above as being “re-conceived by the divine Spirit of our Lord and of his resurrection.” He explicates that this reconception of believers into the resurrection of the Lord occurs when God bestows the knowledge of God’s self to them and makes them participants in the divine life.3
Our new humanity, as constituted by grace through faith in Lord Jesus Christ (see Rom. 5:1–2), comes to being as we conform to the image of Christ (see 2 Cor. 3:18, Gal. 2:20, and Col. 3:10; see also Col. 1:15–16 and Rom. 8:29). Our imago Dei, as is reflected in our originally good relationship with God, each other, and creation (see Gen. 1–2), is reconstituted as a very good relationship with God, each other, and creation in our new humanity as imago Christi. Paul taught about this relationship between our old humanity and new humanity to the church in Corinth,
The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. Like the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; like the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven (1 Cor. 15:47–49).
This teaching about new humanity as imago Christiin Paul corroborates Jesus’s words about his own resurrection and those who believe in him in John 3:31, “The one who comes from above is above all. . . . The one who comes from heaven is above all.” We are born “from above” and enter the kingdom of God when we believe in Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection and when we conform to “the image of the man of heaven.”
What does it mean for Jesus’s resurrection life to be the new life of the community of God? And how is the Trinitarian shape of this new life reflected in the life of this community? The community’s new triune life imitates the immanent perichoretic life of our triune God. Just as God emanates new life through Trinitarian participation in the resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God, so too the community of God participates in the resurrection of Jesus and reverberates this new life throughout creation by the Trinitarian shape of our relationality. In other words, just as God’s triune relationality brings about new resurrection life in the Son, so also the church spreads this new resurrection life to the world relationally. Along these lines, Jesus prayed to the Father: “I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me” (John 17:23).
This unified relationship in the community is not only reflected in the relationship between the Father and the Son; it is also reflected in the Spirit. As Jesus said, “He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive him because it doesn’t see him or know him. But you do know him, because he remains with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). Later, Jesus added that “this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent—Jesus Christ” (John 17:3). To receive eternal life, then, is to know God the Father, the Son whom the Father sent, and the Spirit of truth. Paul taught that the unifying relationship of the community comes from “the same Spirit,” “the same Lord,” and “the same God” (1 Cor. 12:4–6; see also Eph. 4:4–6). There is a Trinitarian shape to the relationship of the community that produces unity for the purpose of “the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7) by new resurrection life.
The manifestation of this new subsistent triune life of the community, originating from the resurrection of the Son, is suggested in the phrase esse deus dare (“to be God is to give”).4 The Psalter praises God’s generosity singing,
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
How happy is the person who takes refuge in him!
You who are his holy ones, fear the Lord,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
Young lions lack food and go hungry,
but those who seek the Lord will not lack any good thing (Ps. 34:8–10).
Indeed, we hear of God’s lavish giving as early as Genesis 9:3: “Every creature that lives and moves will be food for you; as I gave the green plants, I have given you everything.”5 This divine generosity spills over into the New Testament in Jesus’s words: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:11). As Jesus continues, he reveals the participatory nature of the community’s new life in the generous life of God, “Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). Likewise, in his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul taught about the beyond-generous nature of God’s gift in the Son, “Now grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. For it says: When he ascended on high, he took the captives captive; he gave gifts to people” (Eph. 4:7–8). The purpose of God’s gift-giving in Jesus was so the community would “reach unity” and grow into “maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness” (Eph. 4:13). In other words, we are called to have a unified relationship as we grow in the imago Christi. The community of God is to reflect that statement “to be God is to give” by participating in this generous life—to be God’s is to give.
This new generous life of the community of God that reflects the relationally triune life of God and is sourced in the resurrection of Jesus Christ occurs in togetherness. Togetherness occurs in what the late theologian Stanley J. Grenz called “self-in-community.”6 Grenz followed the lead of Emil Brunner, who argued that a human can only be human when in community.7 From this anthropological basis, Grenz further shows that God can only be God when in triune community and that we the church can only be the church when in community with God and one another. That is, according to Grenz, the life of our triune God is one of dynamic, unifying, mutually bound relationality and love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that then overflows to create the world and ultimately unify the world back into this eternal triune life of God (see Eph. 1:10). Grenz put it this way:
The Christian identity, therefore, is more than personal; it is a shared identity. This identity is bound up with the human destiny to be the imago dei, to reflect the character of, and to exemplify the pattern of life that characterizes the triune God. Because the triune life can be represented only within a relational context, the self is truly ecclesial; the self of each participant in the new humanity is constituted through the relationality of the community of those who by the Spirit are “in Christ.”8
The community of God lives the new life of generosity in participation—both in participation in the resurrected life of Jesus Christ, as communally enacted by the whole Trinity, and in participation in the lives of other members of the community. Immediately following the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Acts 2 shows the potential of new resurrection life being present in history through this community living out the conviction that to be God’s is to give as a “self-in-community.” We read that the community was “together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44–45). This language reflects the generous nature of God’s life as presented in the biblical passages of Psalm 34, Genesis 9, Matthew 7, and Ephesians 4—the community gives generously in order to fulfill everyone’s needs. The community reflects the generous inner life of our triune God with the result of reproducing the resurrection life of the Son of God to the rest of the world. The church of Christ can only live out this new resurrected life of Jesus if we act as a community of love and relationality, if we together give of ourselves in a way that reflects the triune life of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- Sanders, “Evangelical Trinitarianism and the Unity of the Theological Disciplines,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 60, no. 1 (2017): 70; and Gerald Bray, “Out of the Box: The Christian Experience of God in Trinity,” in God the Holy Trinity: Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice, ed. Timothy George (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 45–46.
- Sanders, “Evangelical Trinitarianism,” 69.
- Hinlicky, “Resurrection and the Knowledge of God: Johannine Texts for the Easter Season, Pentecost and Holy Trinity,” Pro Ecclesia 4, no. 2 (1995): 226–32.
- See Brent Adkins and Paul R. Hinlicky, Rethinking Philosophy and Theology with Deleuze: A New Cartography (New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), 7.
- This generosity needs to be taken contextually as following the fall in Genesis 3 and the broken relationships between humanity and God, human and human, and humanity and creation. The tone of God’s providential promise to Noah in Genesis 9 and the relationship between Noah and the rest of creation is filled with “fear and terror” in terms of authority as opposed to the mutual care and life-giving between man and creation described in Genesis 2.
- Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 304.
- See Brunner, Man in Revolt: A Christian Anthropology, trans. Olive Wyon (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1939), 106.
- Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self, 331.