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It’s All About the Mission

mBTxGK4Note: OK, we’re back to the Trinity! In this short series, we’ve had 4 different posts (here, here, here and here) that explore the relationship between a trinitarian understanding of God and the relationship between the genders.

Let’s be clear about something: the Trinity doesn’t exist without a purpose. That is, God, Jesus and Holy Spirit aren’t eternally bound together in intimate fellowship just for the sake of themselves. After all,

We’re not talking about some never-ending cosmic tea party here.

Instead, the God of the Bible very much has a purpose, and that purpose is reconciling all things: reconciling people to God, reconciling people to people, reconciling people to their environment and more. The trinitarian God craves a reconciled relationship with all creation.

So the Trinity is on a mission. I appreciate how Darrell Johnson puts it in Experiencing the Trinity, as he uses the disciple-making mandate of the Great Commission to bind together the Trinity and mission:

“We should not be surprised that the New Testament writers speak in this way. Jesus said ‘Go, make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ By Jesus’ own definition the Christian life is a relationship with one whose name is three-fold. To be a disciple is to be immersed into, and with, the three-foldness of the living God.”

Friends, as we model male/female relationships on the missional reality of the Trinity, we must do so with an understanding that reconciliation happens UNTO the mission of God. In other words, reconciliation isn’t the goal. Neither is the elimination of male privilege.

Instead, the goal is the expansion of the mission of God.

And so as much as I want it to be so, the leveling of the gender playing field is not the end. It’s more the means to a greater end, the end being God’s Kingdom coming, on earth as in heaven. So today I want to offer three thoughts on how eliminating privilege and reconciling the genders expands the mission of God:

1. They reveal the nature of God. Equal Kingdom partnerships between women and men point the way to the triune God. In fact, they show what God is all about. What better way, then, to demonstrate the Trinity than men and women living out relationships marked by equality and interdependence, particularly in a world captured by an epidemic of gender inequity?

2. They testify to the power of God. By and large, our world affirms Billy Crystal’s mantra from When Harry Met Sally that “men and women can’t be friends, because the sex part always gets in the way.” Really? What if in the Kingdom we tapped into the power of God in such a way that men and women really could become friends? Not only friends, but good friends even? Heck, maybe, just maybe, by God’s power, men and women could be equal ministry partners! Imagine the testimony that would be to a world so desperately in need of God’s power.

3. When men and women are partnering well together, we can get more done. For centuries, the church has effectively been doing ministry with half the team sitting on the bench. Imagine what we could get done if we released the full arsenal of God’s ministerial resources! In 2 Peter 3:9, the apostle Peter reminds us that our God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

As a gender-reconciled church, I suggest it’s time we get to work.

It’s All About Interdependence

mj0IMGUNote: this is the fourth post in a series exploring a trinitarian understanding of the relationship between the genders (yep, you read that right!). The introductory post is here, the second post is here, and the third post is here.

As a culture, we don’t do interdependence very well. Ours is a culture whose narratives include concepts such as  “rugged individualism,” “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and “every man (or woman?) for himself.” Heck, one of our national cornerstones is a document titled the Declaration of Independence. But here’s the thing:

Independence is not the Biblical norm.

Instead, the Bible emphasizes community. It calls people to connectedness. It tells stories like “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” To be sure, the individual has a part to play in the Biblical narrative, but the vast weight of the data is on the collective.

Consider Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s take on this, from his book Life Together (and please excuse the gender exclusive language):

“The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged…The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother.”

Now that’s interdependence.

Friends, we are who we are as interdependent people because we’re created in the image of God, and, in the Trinity, we find an eternally interdependent, forever mutually reliant relationship. Simply put, God, Jesus and the Spirit need each other to accomplish their mission. They are interdependent.

We can see the interdependence that marks the Trinity in many places in Scripture. As just one example, consider the story of Jesus’ baptism from Matthew 3:16-17:

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

What a beautiful picture of synergy and partnership! Jesus the Redeemer, about to start his earthly ministry, bathed in affirmation from the heavenly voice of his Father and empowered by the descending Holy Spirit.

For us, this interdependence applies across the relational spectrum. Kids and parents are interdependent. So too are churches and pastors. We express our interdependence when accountability groups meet, when Bible studies gather and when we partner together in the work of evangelism.

In his article “The Trinity and the Mission of Jesus,” theologian Howard Snyder writes:

“All areas of Christian living are to be marked by interdependent community—the family, the church, and our educational institutions. A certain tension exists here. A key test of the authenticity of our discipleship is whether we maintain the functional centrality of this mutual interdependence, or allow it to be compromised by institutional structures and relationships.”

When it comes to the genders, we are likewise called to interdependence, and this call goes way back. Like to the beginning. Consider Genesis 1:26-28:

26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created humankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

In the Genesis story, God calls Adam and Eve to shared dominion over the newly created order. Both are called to rule and subdue…together. In this way, the pre-fall relationship between the genders is characterized by interdependence.

Like the Trinity, we need one another. And by affirming the necessity of women and men partnering together, the creation account declares our gender interdependence.

What about you? How have you been blessed by God’s creation intent for interdependence between the genders?

It’s All About Equality

n52jpuINote: this is the third post in a series exploring a trinitarian understanding of the relationship between the genders (yep, you read that right!). The introductory post is here and the second post is here.

To be a Dixon is to be into NASCAR.

At least that’s true in my immediate family, where every year Daytona Sunday was a holiday around our house. We grew up going to races. We knew all the drivers (my favorite was Bobby Allison, thank you very much). And, after church, heaven help you if you somehow revealed the results before Dad had a chance to watch the race from green flag to checkered.

Because of this, I watched with interest yesterday as Danica Patrick took her shot at the Daytona 500. And, no doubt, she did great. First woman to sit on the pole of any NASCAR race, much less the so-called “Great American Race.” First woman to lead a lap at Daytona (and first woman ever to lead a green flag lap in any top-division NASCAR race). And, to top it off, highest finish (8th) for a woman at the Daytona 500.

So yesterday was historic for sure. But while I think what Danica is accomplishing is terrific, it’s not without it’s problems. First there’s the marketing of Danica. I like my girls watching her race, but I don’t like having to change the channel when her GoDaddy commercials come on. Could it be that she’s undermining her talent by how she’s choosing to craft her public image?

And then there’s the reality that as important as Danica’s arrival in NASCAR”s top division is, the sport of auto-racing is nowhere near gender equal. After all, she’s just one women among a full race field of men. Make no mistake about it, when it comes to gender equality, NASCAR has many more laps to go.

In NASCAR, privilege reigns.

Equality is something that’s fundamental to the Trinity. That is, God the Creator, Jesus the Redeemer and the Holy Spirit participate in a community that is intrinsically equal. Put another way, there is no hierarchy in the Trinity. Consider this quote, from 17th century Puritan theologian Thomas Watson:

“If there be one God subsisting in three persons, then let us give equal reverence to all the persons in the Trinity. There is not more or less in the Trinity; the Father is not more God than the Son and Holy Ghost. There is an order in the Godhead, but no degrees; one person has not a majority or super eminence above another, therefore we must give equal worship to all the persons.”

Equality. It’s what the Trinity is about. And of course this trinitarian mark of equality has significant social implications. After all, human relationships are modeled after the Trinity’s.

In particular, a trinitarian theological understanding mandates that the relationship between the genders be marked by equality.

In other words, there is no room for privilege when it comes to the genders.

I’ll leave you today with this loaded quote from theologian Kevin Giles, from this article entitled The Doctrine of the Trinity and Subordination:

“Because virtually all theologians agree that the doctrine of the Trinity should inform human relationships correctly, enunciating the historically developed doctrine of the Trinity is of great practical consequence. If in the Trinity all have the same authority, “none are before or after,” all are “co-equal” (the Athanasian Creed), then the doctrine of the Trinity calls into question all forms of human domination. It reminds us that totalitarian regimes that ride roughshod over people or hierarchical ordering that presupposes that some are born to rule and others to obey cannot and never will reflect the divine ideal seen in the Trinity. And to be quite specific, rather than supporting the permanent subordination of women in the church and the home, the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity suggests exactly the opposite.”

What about you? How does this trinitarian understanding of equality between the genders challenge your paradigm?

It’s All About Relationships

nNa5qwQNote: this is the second post in a series exploring a trinitarian understanding of the relationship between the genders (yep, you read that right!). The introductory post is here.

I’m in full time Christian ministry. To dispel any doubt, let me offer a short story to demonstrate my credentials.

The other night, we were sitting around trying to figure out a guest’s Myers-Briggs type. There, see?!? And of course one of the questions was around the distinction between the MBTI “I” and “E.” As in, was our guest an introvert or an extrovert? To dramatically overstate the difference, the introvert recharges by being alone while the extrovert recharges, well, at cocktail parties.

In the end our guest was an E, but during the conversation we realized something important. Both I’s and E’s relate with others. Both need people. It’s just a matter of how being around other people effect us. This conversation illustrates a simple but important truth:

We are created as relational beings.

Which makes sense, because we were created by a relational God. In fact, trinitarian theology rests on the bedrock that God the Creator, Jesus the Redeemer and the Holy Spirit are eternally, fundamentally and, dare I say, happily in relationship with one another. As pastor and professor Darrell Johnson notes in his book Experiencing the Trinity:

“‘At the center of the universe is a relationship.’ This is the most fundamental truth I know. At the center of the universe is a community. It is out of that relationship that you and I were created and redeemed. And it is for that relationship that you and I were created and redeemed!”

What I’m saying this morning is that the God we worship is in fact a relationship.

In the Orthodox stream of the Christian faith, icons are important things. Icons communicate truth through a visual medium. Medieval Russian painter Andrei Rublev was famous for his Orthodox icons and frescoes, and he is most famous for his icon on the Trinity. Here’s a picture:

481px-Angelsatmamre-trinity-rublev-1410What I love most about Rublev’s work is how he captures relationship. First, there’s the relationship between the three members of the God-head. Reclining around the table, comfortable in each others presence, fully at peace with one another. It’s beautiful.

But at the same time, it’s more than just the relationship between the members of the Trinity. Because there’s an empty place at the table. There, right in the foreground. The icon welcomes the watcher in for a seat with the God-head. The empty place at the table is for you and I.

Friends, we are created as relational beings by a fundamentally relational God.

The implications of this are of course critical and far-reaching. We belong in families. We need social bases. We resolve conflict, forgive each other and pursue vulnerability because of it.

And when it comes to the genders, this trinitarian reality beckons us to relationship. In fact, it calls us to full and healthy relationship. Like a Trinity-caliber version of relationship, one marked by peace, by comfort, by intimacy, by partnership. After all, according to Genesis 2:18, Adam solo wasn’t good enough.

So as we start our examination of the trinitarian implications for a theology of gender relationships, let’s begin by establishing that men and women are called to relationship that mirrors the relational character of the Trinity. Quite simply, we’re designed to be in cross-gender community.

What about you? What is the healthiest cross-gender relationship that you’ve enjoyed?

Redeeming Tertullian

nJZkmRWSo after this week, I’m just 4 months away from my Masters. It’s been an awesome journey. And all that stands in my way now is this: 9 books to read, 5 book reports, 4 reflection papers, 2 term papers and then my final project.

Piece of cake.

As I come to the end, I’m looking back at major themes, and one big idea that we’ve hit class after class is the reality of the Trinity. You know, that theological doctrine that says that God, Jesus and Spirit are one yet distinct? If you grew up in the church, it’s the bit of theology that youth pastors have spent years trying to cook up just the right analogy for. You know, a three-legged stool, three-space, the three states of water and the like.

As it turns out, Tertullian was one of the primary shapers of our understanding of the Trinity. Yep, our Tertullian. In his work Adversus Praxeam, he wrote this:

“…while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. How they are susceptible of number without division, will be shown as our treatise proceeds.”

So for the last two years, Tertullian has helped me conceive of a trinitarian theology that applies to everything from the mission of God to the built environment. The hallmarks of a trinitarian understanding are concepts such as equality, interdependence and the all-encompassing reality of relationship.

This said, for some reason, Tertullian wasn’t able to apply this line of thinking to his theologies around gender. Remember his take on women?

“You are the Devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that tree; you are the first foresaker of the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not brave enough to approach; you so lightly crushed the image of God, the man Adam.”

Equal, interdependent and relational? Not so much.

So for the next few posts, I want to endeavour to redeem Tertullian’s thinking by applying his trinitarian theological framework to the relationship between the genders. How does the unified, interdependent, relational reality of the Trinity factor into how men and women ought to relate to one another? And what are the implications for male privilege?

Stay tuned and we’ll find out together.

What about you? How do you see the Trinity factoring into the conversation about the relationship between the genders?