A Beautiful Summation of the Gospel

For your reflection in the midst of Holy Week and in the days which follow:

Life in the Trinity cover

Life in the Trinity cover

God created us to share in this relationship (between the Father and the Son) and gave us a share in the communion of the Trinity at creation. This is the primary thing that we lost through the Fall. God’s promise after the Fall, around which one may organize the entire history and teaching of the Old Testament, was ultimately a promise that the Son of God would come to bring human beings back into a share in the communion of the Trinity. In fulfillment of this promise, God the Son personally entered human life by becoming man while remaining God, and in his human life he showed us both God’s love and perfect human love. At his crucifixion, God the Son bore in his own person our estrangement from God; as man he was crushed by our sin, and as man he was forsaken in our place by his own Father. Through his resurrection and ascension, he was restored as man to the fellowship of the Trinity which he had always shared as God, and in the process he opened the way for people who are united to him by faith to be restored to fellowship with the Trinity as well.  The Holy Spirit, whom the Father and the Son sent to earth, dwells in believers, uniting us to the Son and thus granting us the participation in the Father-Son relationship that became possible through Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Through the Spirit, Christian are called to live — both individually and as the church — so as to anticipate the time when God will transform the entire created world and bring his dwelling here to be with his people for eternity.

All of this implies that fundamentally, our task as Christians is not to aspire to some higher or better world, either though our own efforts or with God’s help. The effort we put into Christian life is not our attempt to achieve something we do not already have, because God has already given us a share in the Son’s relationship to the Father. We are already daughters and sons of God, and we are called to live like sons and daughters by reflecting the relationship of the true Son to his Father. Furthermore, the better world is not some other world than this, but it will be this world itself once God transforms it by removing the effects of sin, restoring it to its pristine glory and even bringing his own dwelling place down into it. As a result, this is where human life ultimately finds its significance. The way life is meant to be is tied to four great realities: who God is as Trinity of loving persons, how God created the world and humanity within it, how God has redeemed fallen humanity, and how God will transform the world and the lives of his adopted children in eternity. Christian life looks up to the Father-Son relationship, back to both creation and redemption, and ahead to the culmination of history, and this web of participation, reflection and anticipation provides the context in which we understand the details of Christian life and recognize their significance. Life as God has always had it, and life as it was meant to be for people, will one day become life as it is for believers. We are called to participate in, reflect and anticipate that life.” — Donald Fairbairn, Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 232-233.

PS. The quote concludes Life in the Trinity, for material earlier in the book visit Google Preview.  Hope you’ll join me in reading the whole book!  HT: Dan and Miller.

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Tom Grosh IV

Enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa, four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he hosts the Christian Scholar Series), on campus as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (serving fellowships such as the Christian Medical Society/CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine), online as the Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network, in the culture at large, and in God's creation.

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2 Comments

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    Joe Whitchurch commented on August 22, 2011 Reply

    Tom, Thanks for your summary of the book. My sense from the summary is that as judgment was upon Christ at the cross and transformation inevitable that I had a sense in this summary that there wasn’t as much concern for repentance and faith or much urgency related to the consequence of not responding with repentance and faith in Christ. I’d love to be wrong.

    Your summary takes judgment at the cross seriously, but about that culmination or consummation… does the book go soft here in a sort of ‘love wins’ inoffensively inevitability, but whole-counsel-of-God-speaking, offensively? Just curious from the summary. If the judgment is at the cross and not mentioned as consequent for rejecting such a great salvation at the culmination / consummation…is this not the pathway of universalism? Did you sense such in your read? Or no.

  • Tom Grosh IV commented on August 22, 2011 Reply

    Joe,

    Just to clarify, I took the 2010 Holy Week reflection quote from the conclusion of Donald Fairbairn’s “Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers” (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009, 232-233). As such it’s Fairbairn’s conclusion to, not my summary of, “Life in the Trinity.”

    Fairbairn’s focus is the relationship/community in the Trinity and on the Good News of reconciliation to the Father through the Son’s overcoming of death. Reconciliation only applies to those who by faith are united to God through Jesus the Son of God. Although Fairbairn does not give attention to judgment/wrath of God in the conclusion, he underscores the necessity of faith to be united to God to enter into eternity (i.e., new heavens/new earth with Him),

    “Through his [i.e., Jesus’] resurrection and ascension, he was restored as man to the fellowship of the Trinity which he had always shared as God, and in the process he opened the way for people who are united to him by faith to be restored to fellowship with the Trinity as well.”

    As I’ll fill in from “Chapter 5: What Went Wrong? Our Loss of the Son’s Relationship to the Father,” without Christ one is dead, i.e., under the judgment/wrath of God.

    In Chapter 5, Fairbairn firmly states the importance of confessing the reality and consequences of sin entering the creation through a literal fall. In a footnote on page 89, he comments, “The book of Leviticus is especially noteworthy for its enumeration of sins against the Lord and its insistence that people who commit these sins will bear their guilt. For example, see Lev 4-5. See also Ezek 18:19-29; Jas 2:10-11. People are responsible for all sin, whether great or small, whether intentional or unintentional, whether active or passive” (89). He also discusses two aspects of death caused by Adam and Eve’s act of disobedience in the Garden, 1) physical death, the separation of the soul from the body and the consequent decay of the body; 2) spiritual death, alienation from God.

    “Once again, as mythical as this account may sound, treating it as a literary way of describing humanity’s perennial condition rather than as a historical account of a change in humanity’s condition creates more problems than it solves. It is crucial to affirm that humanity is sinful and estranged from God and that this sin/alienation is not God’s fault (96-97) . . . . As much as God loves us, as much as he longed (and longs) for the human race to share in the fellowship he has within himself, our sin has alienated us from him to such a degree that we must be described as spiritually dead even though we are physically and emotionally alive. We are objects of God’s wrath because of our sinfulness. We are spiritually born dead. These are strong words, but as hard as they are for us to accept, they do convey accurately how devastating the effects of sin are (100). . . . total [in total depravity] refers to the fact that sin affects every aspect of a person’s being, to a greater or a lesser degree (101). . . . Christianity is fundamentally about rescuing the already dead. The use of the word salvation thus implies that the task of restoring us to our share in the the Son’s relationship to the Father is not something we can accomplish; it is something that must be done by another (102). . . . Only when we truly despair of ourselves and our own ability are we ready to see how staggering is Christianity’s claim that God has done for us what we could not and cannot and will not do for ourselves. To admit we can do nothing is hard, but it is necessary, and most of all, it is liberating” (105).

    I must confess, that’s a lot of set-up, but it’s right after the above quote that Fairbairn tackles, “[W]hy does God not allow those who faithfully follow other religions or philosophies into heaven along with Christians?” (105). What is his response? Heaven’s not a generic place. Read these thoughts back into his conclusion, “We have seen from John 17 that heaven, eternal life, is knowing the one true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. Salvation is a person’s sharing in the fellowship that unites the Father, Son and Spirit. To say that one could receive this fellowship by following some other religion or merely by being moral as on one’s own is to say that one could be united to Christ while having no discernible connection to Christ. If salvation is Christ, then to say one could be saved apart from Christ would be to say that one could have Christ without having Christ! If we understand biblically what salvation is, then it becomes painfully obvious that one cannot possibly have this kind of salvation without being joined to Christ. And Christianity asserts that this kind of salvation is the only kind there is.

    Furthermore, to ask why people cannot be saved by faithfully following some other religions is to forget that people cannot be saved by their own efforts to follow Christianity either. We are born dead, helpless to save ourselves by anything we do. Our efforts to follow the principles of the Christian faith cannot and do not save us. . . . So no matter what the ethical code is — that of Islam or Confucianism or Hinduism or even Christianity — our efforts to follow it will not get us there.

    To combine these points, there are two reasons why following another religion will not bring us salvation. First, no matter how good a religion’s moral code is we will not succeed in following it perfectly. Secondly, other religions do not even aim at what the Bible says is the correct target — sharing in the the glorious relationship between the Father and the Son. They aim at some other target, some different kind of salvation. For both of these reasons, all people, even religious people, miss the target of God’s glorious presence whenever they try to hit that target themselves. Paul’s words that we considered earlier in this chapter come back to haunt us now: “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (106).

    Final thoughts: Without relationship with the Son by faith, one remains dead, ‘in sin,’ and under the judgment/wrath of God. Fairbairn focuses on the outworking of union with God in the Christian life through the Son alone, with attention given to the Son being the only way into the new heavens/new earth. “Life in the Trinity” is not on the pathway of universalism.

    In Christ Alone,

    Tom

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