The doctrine of the Trinity begins in praise. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” says Paul. Why? Because the Father has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing, chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, and predestined us in Christ for adoption as sons — all to the praise of his glorious grace (Eph. 1:3–6). The praise of the Father overflows to include praise of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ, who brings us “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses,” knowledge of the Father’s plan of salvation, and a glorious inheritance — again to the praise of the Father’s glory (Eph. 1:6–12). Such praise cannot rest until it also embraces the Holy Spirit, who seals our faith in Jesus and guarantees our inheritance — once again, to the praise of the Father’s glory (Eph. 1:13–14; Fred Sanders, The Triune God, 25-35).
When Christians go to praise the one God of Israel, we find ourselves magnifying Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When Christians then go on to explain how Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the one God of Israel, we find ourselves speaking the doctrine of the Trinity. Praise comes first. Doctrine follows.
At the center of Christian praise stands Jesus. At the Great Commission, the disciples “worshiped” the risen Lord Jesus (Matt. 28:17). It was while the disciples “were worshiping the Lord”— that is, the Lord Jesus — that the Holy Spirit tells the church at Antioch to send out Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2). In John’s vision, God the Father (the one “who was seated on the throne,” Rev. 5:1) and the ascended Lord Jesus (“a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain,” Rev. 5:6) — together with the Holy Spirit (“the seven spirits of God,” Rev. 5:6) — receive the worship of “every creature in heaven and on earth”: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13). Amen!
What could explain this most peculiar aspect of the Christian religion? How could first-century Jews, of all people, worship an executed rabbi as Lord? In the Old Testament, God shows a fierce jealousy for his people’s exclusive loyalty. Again and again he insists, “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” (Isa. 45:5, 6, 18). “There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me” (Isa. 45:21). Then in the New Testament, Jesus appears, and the apostles summon us to an exclusive loyalty to him. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). In light of the Old Testament, how does Christian praise of Jesus make sense? How do we explain our praise?
When Old Testament Israelites wanted to praise God and proclaim their faith in him, they would start by saying, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). One of the most wonderful things about God is that he is unique, totally unlike the gods of the nations and supreme over them. This explains why God requires Israel’s total and undivided worship: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). Jesus himself quotes these verses to affirm that God is incomparable and exalted and therefore worthy of our wholehearted devotion (Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:29–30). In doing so, Jesus even seems to deflect attention away from himself. How then did he become the center Christian attention?
Rising from the dead can have that effect. When the disciples meet the risen Lord Jesus, they finally understand what it means to confess him as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16), or as “the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever” (Rom. 9:5). It means that Jesus, along with God the Father, is included in the Old Testament confession, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The one God actually includes both Father and Son! We hear stunned echoes of this Old Testament confession when no-longer-doubting Thomas exclaims to the risen Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Paul too recalls this confession, “We know … that ‘there is no God but one’” (1 Cor. 8:4). … The central confession of Old Testament monotheism actually includes the identity of Jesus and therefore explains Christian worship of Jesus (Richard Bauckham, God Crucified, 26-30). With the coming of Jesus and the triumph of his resurrection, there is more about God for Israel to hear.
Adapted from Chapter 8, “In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:” Trinitarian Theology in Evangelical Theology by Uche Anizor (associate professor of Theology), Rob Price (associate professor of theology, co-chair, Department of Theology) and Hank Voss. Copyright (c) 2021. Used by permission of T&T Clark (Bloomsbury Publishing).
Read more by Uche Anizor and Rob Price, and Talbot authors at thegoodbookblog.com.