I had two other posts I wanted to include, but I realized that they were really just rants against a particular theological point of view. I figured my time was better spent doing something constructive. So this is the final post in my review of David Platt’s Radical. I hope you have enjoyed the series. You can read them all right here (though you should note they are in reverse order).
A more robust Trinitarian theology would’ve helped strengthen every single point David Platt made and would’ve kept him from a number of the errors into which he ventures.
Why do Evangelical pastors and theologians assume the Trinity has nothing to contribute to the conversations the church is having about politics, justice, evangelism, and social ethics?
I know this may seem like an abstract question about an abstract doctrine that is better left to the dusty bookshelves of Moltmann, Barth, and Augustine. We figure it’s something those old timers in church history argued about, but who cares about it now? We moderns have more important things to talk about like God’s hatred for sinners and His love for his own self-glorification
But the Trinity? We assume, to our own detrmiment, that it’s a doctrine merely for scholastic reflection, but doesn’t really touch down in everyday life.
I want to propose, instead that the Trinity is a necessary prerequisite to understanding what Christians are to do in the contemporary culture and Platt has missed a great opportunity to make his argument much stronger. I want to suggest that the Trinity matters to what we have to say about caring for the poor. I want to argue that we have shot ourselves in the foot in the Abortion debate because we’ve missed the power of the doctrine of God’s Tri-unity to help shape, engage, and live out our beliefs.
And more specifically, I want to argue that the persons of the Trinity provide an Evangelical model for social interaction, and David Platt has walked right past his best theological weapon, not even giving a second thought to it.
The basic rundown is this:The three persons of the Trinity, though distinct from one another, are united in a loving union. This union of perfect love created the world out of an overflow of love – perfect love desires nothing more than to give itself away. When creation fell into sin under the guidance of Adam and Eve, God took His perfect love a step further. Though they did not need to, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit gave themselves up for their enemies. The Son, the most physical example of this, gave up His glory to become a human. He humbled himself even to the point of death, even death on a cross – the most humiliating death in world history. He later, by the power of the Spirit, resurrected from the dead in defeat of death and the forces of evil and chaos in the world. This, in short, is called the gospel and it is from first to last about the Trinity. It was planned by the Father before the creation of the world, enacted by the Son, and is continued in the church by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
Now, this is a quick rundown of a complex doctrine. But here’s what we have:
- God’s central character attribute is love. This love was core to his character prior to the creation of the world. Indeed, it was the reason for creation.
- That love was self-less (not self-centered). Each member of the Trinity loved the other members with self-giving love. That self-giving love extended to the creation – and then later to fallen creation. David Platt could argue that in God’s unity the persons loving each other mean that God loves himself. Okay, that’s fine. But the Trinitarian description of such a love moves it into the self-less category, not the selfish category.
- The Triune God’s self-giving love is most clearly exhibited in Jesus. He didn’t just stand aloof to our brokenness and say, “Don’t worry, I love you.” No – he entered into our history, our brokenness and died under it’s weight! The incarnation of Jesus is the ultimate manifestation of Triune, self-giving love. And that is why it is at the core of our “good news.”
Therefore: If we are to be called the people of the Triune God…
1) We are to be people known for our self-giving love. Our political involvement is not about power and preservation of our comfortable way of life. Our political involvement must be self-giving, humble, and willing to die for those we are in disagreement with. Disagreement is inevitable. But the way we disagree is an indication of whether we are emulating the Triune God or the ways of the world. This is a radical idea.
2) We are to be people who are willing to love our enemies and others considered ‘unlovable.’ Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Much of our contemporary rhetoric in the political world (I’m thinking here of “Obamanation”) is filled with hatred and vitriol and has no redeemable quality to it. We may need to criticize certain political stances, but demonizing people is not the way of the God who exhibits love to the entire world by being crucified by the world! This is a radical idea.
3) The love of the Triune God is not abstract. It is concrete in its expression – we must enter into someone’s life in order to let them know that they are loved. Indeed, we must be willing to die for them and their brokenness. Paul tells us, in his poetic description of love in I Cor. 13, that it does not matter if we have all knowledge (read: truth) if we do not have love! And that love gets it’s hands dirty. That love doesn’t just stand back and proclaim truth – it necessarily embodies the truth! Like Jesus, that kind of love is truth “in the flesh.” This is a radical idea.
The Trinity matters to truly radical living. It is only in modeling our ministries after Triune, self-giving love that we can ever truly live radical lives.
This doctrine isn’t for dusty books and obscure academic journals. It’s for the everyday life of people struggling to bring God’s kingdom to earth. It’s for people who are looking for serious alternatives to American Dream living, for people trying to navigate the moral morass that is the the suburbs. The Trinity provides an alternative model for those of us looking to engage this world with the gospel, not just make it endurable until we can get to heaven.
Platt wanted to call us to mission. The Father sent the Son to die and rise and the Spirit to empower and indwell; is there a better understanding of mission than that?
Platt wanted to call us to social justice. Is there a better example of seeking justice on a systemic level than Jesus, who was sent from the just and good Father to challenge (political and religious) systems of oppression and injustice that marginalized and dehumanized the first century poor?
Platt wanted us to preach the gospel. Is there a better place to begin sharing the gospel than with the Father who loved the Son so much that their love poured out onto a broken creation when Jesus took on human flesh? The incarnation wasn’t just something the Father and Jesus decided to do one day. It is the natural overflow of their mutual love for one another! The gospel begins there and only there.
All of this was missing from Platt’s book. And all of his good points (and some of his not-good points) could’ve been made stronger by building on this beautiful, mysterious, and, yes, accessible doctrine.
Review complete. Mischief managed.