Entering the Trinity

Editor’s Note: An issue of Conversations on community would not be complete without a look at what John Ortberg calls “the ultimate small group”—the life of the Trinity. To be truly grounded in God, all our discussion, thought, and practice of community needs to spring out of our experience and understanding of what God-in-community is like.

There has been much written on the systematic theology of the Trinity, a philosophical and biblical understanding of the truth that God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Less writing exists on what an experience of the Trinity can be for the community of believers, even though God has eternally existed as community and call us into full-fledged community both with himself and with one another.

What does it mean to live in trinitarian ways as a people of God? What does participating in God’s community mean for us? What does it mean for the shape and form of our communities? To begin to answer these questions, we turned to the author of Experiencing the Trinity, Darrell Johnson.

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Here is the good news: The living God is not a solitary God. The living God is not a lonely God. The living God is the Trinitarian God. From all eternity the living God has existed in community as Community; in fellowship as Fellowship; in relationship as Relationship. From all eternity the living God has existed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. From all eternity the living God has been able to speak of himself as “we,” “us,” and “our.”

And here is the incredibly good, good news. We human beings were brought into being to participate with God in that us-ness. It is almost too good to be true! I was brought into being by the Trinity—and you were brought into being by the Trinity—to participate in the inner life of the Trinity. I was bought by the blood of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity—you were bought by the blood of the Second Person of the Trinity—to participate with him in his communion with the First and Third Persons of the Trinity. Because of the work of the Son on the cross, and because of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, you and I who say yes to Jesus as Savior and Lord are adopted by the Father into the Trinitarian Family. We become real sons and daughters in relationship with the only begotten Son. We enter into the Only Begotten’s relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. When we say yes, we come home.

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Community As Theological Necessity

In October 2002, I planted Providence Community Church (providencecommunity.com) in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. From the outset I knew that I wanted this church to be different from much of what I had seen and experienced. I wanted it to reflect the type of community that I read about in the book of Acts, but had rarely experienced in the church. Mindful of the fact that I live in a very different time and culture than the one present in the book of Acts, I set out to shape a culture that would be driven by theological convictions on community rather than pragmatic approaches.

It took a lot of time and energy to accomplish this, but by God’s grace our church began to reflect the sort of churches that we were reading about in the New Testament. It was a slow and painful process that required us to rethink success. We gave up worrying about how many people attended on Sundays and became far more interested in the number of people sharing their lives, their food, and their homes with one another.

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Flourishing in a Life of Sacred Rhythm

Years ago, I sat in a staff meeting at a church I was serving; the purpose of the meeting was to talk about how we could attract more people to join the church. At one point someone counted the requirements for church membership that were already in place and made the startling discovery that somewhere between five and nine time commitments per week were required of those who wanted to become church members! Outwardly, I tried to be supportive of the purpose for the meeting, but on the inside I was screaming, Who would want to sign up for this?  I was already becoming aware of CFS (Christian fatigue syndrome) in my own life and couldn’t imagine willingly inflicting it on someone else.
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Avoiding the Trapdoor in Transformation

Although it was nine years ago, that Sunday morning is still vividly etched in my memory. A few years earlier my heart had been captivated by the life-giving understanding that God’s intention was that the lives of Jesus’ followers were to be deeply transformed into the likeness of Jesus himself. Since I had been a Christian for decades and seminary trained as well, you might wonder why it took so long for me to come to this realization. But that’s a story for another time. Having discovered the Father’s intention of transformation, I had given myself over to that process with great intentionality. I read books on the topic of spiritual formation and listened to gifted teachers whose lives evidenced that deep transformation was indeed possible. I began practicing a variety of spiritual disciplines, some familiar and some new, all with the desire to see the hidden recesses of my life touched and transformed by the love and character of Christ. After the process was under way in my own life, my Sunday sermons began to focus on topics related to spiritual formation. What could be more inviting than these amazing realities? People’s hearts were stirred, hope was ignited, everything was moving along nicely—until that one Sunday morning.

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How to Live Well

EDITOR’S NOTE: When we settled on the theme of flourishing for this issue, we knew we had to include the voice of Dallas Willard, whose teachings and vision have undergirded the mission of Conversations since its inception. We couldn’t think of a better person to introduce this concept, and no better piece than this excerpt from his last public lectures, the Knowing Christ Conference, sponsored by the Dallas Willard Center for Christian Spiritual Formation at Westmont College. These talks were subsequently published in book format, and you can read all of Dallas’s inspired words in Living in Christ’s Presence: Final Words on Heaven and the Kingdom of God. Dallas is now living fully in eternity, and while we miss him, we are grateful to him and those who carry on his legacy of great teaching on the kingdom of God.
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Journey Into Joy: Celebrating the Wisdom of Dallas Willard

The question began a journey into joy. Dallas had asked me to comment on The Divine Conspiracy as he wrote it. Every few months there would be a newly finished chapter in the mailbox. The explosive themes of the first two chapters- the invitation of Jesus to experience external living right now, the integration of our little kingdoms with the big kingdom of God, the limitations of the gospels of sin management- challenged me deeply. But the opening theme of the third chapter did not. It evoked tremendous resistance.

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