What I Believe

Integrating Motif

The integrating motif for my doctrinal statement is the Trinity. I believe that the Christian religion is ultimately distinguished from all other religions by its declaration that God is triune. The distinctly Christian name of God – in contrast to competing claims of knowing God – is Father, Son, and Spirit. Therefore, the triunity of God greatly impacts every area of Christian theology and the intra-trinitarian life of God is the pattern for all Christian practice.

Classically speaking, theology is the knowledge of God. God is known most fully in and through the revelation of His Son (John 1:1, 14-18; Heb. 1:1-4). The life and ministry of the Son reveals that God is fundamentally tri-personal. The basis for this revelation is the Son’s unique relationship with the Father (Matt. 11:27; John 1:1): the Son is eternally begotten of the Father (John 1:14; 3:16), and fully shares in the divine life of God from all eternity, for there never was a time when the Son was not. The Spirit’s unique relationship with the Father and the Son reveals that the Spirit is also God, fully sharing in the divine life of God from all eternity. Both the Son’s sending of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16) and the Spirit’s procession from the Father (John 15:26) reveal the Spirit’s deity. Thus, God is Father, Son, and Spirit, three persons (hypostasis) who are one essence (ousia), co-eternal, co-equal, and consubstantial.

Within the oneness of God’s being there is an eternal distinction of persons. God’s oneness is not a oneness of solitude but a oneness of community. God is profoundly relational – a koinonia of persons in love. God is both an “I,” a “we,” and an “us.” God is not a divine monad but a “society of love” (Augustine). Therefore, the eternal divine experience of Father, Son, and Spirit is one of eternal giving, receiving, and sharing of love.

The eternal experience of Father, Son, and Spirit is loving communion. Salvation is no less than coming to know this God through the gracious and redemptive actions of the three Persons of the Trinity working together in harmony in and through God’s redemptive acts (John 14:23; 16:13-15; 17:3).

This is the foundational truth about God. Therefore, all Christian theology and Christian practice must be rooted in God’s triunity. For the Christian, to know God is to know the triune God. To lose the doctrine of the trinity is to lose everything unique about Christianity.

In my statement I will attempt to root every aspect of theology in God’s self-revelation of God’s trinitarian fullness. My statement will be fully trinitarian in all aspects, demonstrating the harmony in which Father, Son, and Spirit work together in order to reconcile fallen human beings to God. All of God’s saving work flows from the immanent relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – from the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit. The human response to God’s saving work is a response in the Spirit, through the Son, and to the Father. As St. Irenaeus taught, the Son and the Spirit are the “two arms” of God the Father lovingly embracing us back to Godself.

The Triune God

As stated in the motif above, God is Father, Son, and Spirit, three persons (hypostasis) who are one essence (ousia), co-eternal, co-equal, and consubstantial. The eternal experience of Father, Son, and Spirit is loving communion. It is for this reason, that God is love (1 John 4:16). Salvation is no less than participation in this divine love through the actions of the three Persons of the Trinity working together in harmony in and through God’s redemptive acts (John 14:23; 16:13-15; 17:3).[1]

God’s Creation – Original Expression of Trinitarian Love

God’s work of creation stems from the fullness of intra-trinitarian communion. Out of this fullness, God chose to create all things in order that all creatures might participate in the shared life, love, joy, and communion of the Triune God. Creation is neither an act of necessity nor a product of chance, but is God’s gracious gift — an act of love — to humankind. From the beginning, Christ was the agent of the Father’s creative plan (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2) and the Spirit was the power of God’s creative actions (Gen. 1:2). God, having created all that exists, continually sustains, renews and orders the creation. The stability of the universe and the continued existence of all creatures depends on God’s constant divine upholding (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3; Acts 17:25; Psa. 104:29).

All things have been created by God and for God (1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16).[2] All of creation is thus meant to both reveal and to share in God’s glory (Pss. 8:5; 19:1; Heb. 2:10). Subsequently, all creation is fundamentally and originally good (Gen. 1:31). In other words, original goodness precedes original sin. Thus, God’s original intention for this world is that humankind would share in God’s divine life in and through God’s good creation. It is for this purpose that humans are created in the image of God. No other creature reflects God as clearly as human beings. Humankind’s original destiny ordained by God’s sovereign purpose is that humanity would participate in the loving communion of the Triune God.

Adam’s Fall – Humanity’s Rebellion Against Trinitarian Communion

Sin is rebellion against God’s sovereign purpose that humanity would participate in the loving communion of the Triune God. As such, sin is the refusal to embrace our God-given destiny. It involves turning away from the life, love, and fellowship of God to our own devices. It is an attempt to find life outside of fellowship with God. It is rooted in deception – deception that is fueled by fallen evil powers – and results in death. Through the sin of Adam, all creation (Romans 8:18-25) and all humanity have fallen into bondage to sin, evil powers, and death (Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1-3).[3]

But because of God’s great love revealed in God’s determination to bless humanity in spite of humanity’s sin, God immediately began to announce and implement His plan of redemption in order to draw humankind back into the divine life, love, and glory that was originally humankind’s destiny (Gen. 3:15).

Through the means of God’s covenants with Noah (representing all creation), Abraham (representing the people of Israel), God’s law given to Moses (representing the nation of Israel), and God’s promise to David of an eternal king in Davidic dynasty, God laid the covenantal groundwork for the culmination of God’s redemptive work in His new covenant in Christ. Thus, Israel shares a primary role in God’s self-revelation in and through its participation in the forms, patterns, and language of worship revealed by God. It is this revelation that provides the vital backdrop for understanding God’s full and final self-revelation through the Son.

God the Son – The Eternal Union of Humanity and Deity

In the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4), God the Father sent God the Son to redeem lost humanity by uniting fallen humanity to Himself through Jesus’ complete identification with Adam’s sin (John 1:1, 14; Rom. 8:3). Through the miracle of the incarnation, the last Adam — Jesus (1 Cor. 15:45) — completely shared in Adam’s humanity in order to combat sin, wage war against the evil powers, and ultimately, to receive in Himself the full consequences of Adam’s fall through death (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21-22; Col. 2:13-15). At the cross, this complete identification reaches its ultimate climax (Col. 1:15-22). At the resurrection, Jesus arose from the dead as the new Man who is the head and representative of a new humanity — a humanity that transcends the powers of sin, law, death, and evil powers (Rom. 6 – 8), a humanity that is glorified and being glorified, thus equipped to share in the love, joy, blessedness, and communion of the Triune God (John 17:21-23, 26; Col. 2:9; 3:3-4).

In other words, Jesus is the nexus wherein God meets humanity and humanity meets God — the bridge between God and human beings. Jesus is thus the only mediator between God and humans (1 Tim. 2:5). In and through identification with Jesus by faith, humanity rises to new life, the shared life of the Triune God (Rom. 6:4; 2 Cor. 5:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3-4).

Through His ascension Jesus reigns as the God-man, fully sharing in the life of God, and fully sharing in glorified humanity. Because of this, Jesus has made a way for humans to fully participate in communion with the Triune God. To know Jesus is to know God in His fullness since all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Christ (Col. 2:9).

Those who have faith in Christ have been “made complete in Christ” (Col. 2:10), their “life being hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:4). Through union with Christ’s incarnation in His Spirit, believers retain their created individuality and personhood while, at the same time, fully participating in the life of the Triune God. This is not pantheism, for humans are not absorbed into God, losing identity and personhood. Nor is this deism, wherein God transcendently remains aloof from the world. Instead, God opens up the shared life of the Trinity in order to embrace and restore fallen humanity to God’s original intention of full participation in God’s love, life, and glory. Because of this, “our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3) for “God has called us to fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9).

In short, through His full participation with fallen humanity and His full ontic equality with God the Father, Jesus saves humanity from its alienation from God in Adam. Thus, Jesus restores and perfects all that Adam ruined at the Fall.

God the Spirit – Mediating the Son’s Work to the Father’s Glory

It is through participation in the Spirit of God that humans share in the completed work of Christ and in the experience of Christ as God’s Son (Eph. 2:18). This is God’s eternal purpose and is summed up in God’s gracious act of adoption (Rom. 8:14-17; Eph. 1:3-6; Gal. 4:4-7). Jesus, as the unique Son of God, makes it possible for humanity to share in his Sonship through the grace of adoption.

This is the summon bonum of Christian experience and the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose in Christ (Eph. 3:11-12). There is no “secret” purpose of God behind this fully revealed purpose. The mystery of God’s “eternal purpose in Christ” (Eph. 3:11) has been revealed once and for all through the apostolic testimony built upon the foundation of the prophets. Thus, all humans can be assured that God desires that all respond to His saving initiative through faith.

Because the Spirit is fully God, the Spirit mediates the presence of the Father and Son in the heart of the redeemed saint, making the human heart a dwelling place of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (John 14:23; Eph. 3:14-19). Humans share in this glorious reality through the means of repentance and faith (John 3:16). The human response of faith and repentance is not a condition of grace — for God has made his sure intention of reconciliation obvious through the Person and work of Christ — but rather, is merely the only proper response to God’s saving initiative. To refuse to respond is to refuse to acknowledge our guilt and alienation from God.

God’s saving work is also revealed through numerous other terms such as redemption, regeneration, reconciliation, justification, sanctification, and glorification. All of these aspects of salvation serve the Father’s ultimate purpose in salvation, which is the adoption of the fallen race of Adam to the full rights and privileges of sonship through identification with Christ’s unique Sonship.

God’s Salvation – Trinitarian Initiative and Trinitarian-Enabled Response

Salvation is no less than the free and full participation in God’s saving work in Christ through His Spirit. The believer’s participation in this work is due to no merits on the believer’s part, but fully due to God’s divine initiative in embracing fallen humanity through Christ (Eph. 2:8-10; Tit. 3:4-7). This divine initiative is called grace, because no human could possibly merit, earn, or initiate this on his or her own (Rom. 3:23; 11:6). Put succinctly, we love God because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).

God has revealed in and through Christ that God accepts us in the Beloved Son. The glorious message of the Gospel is that the Triune God has breached the gap between fallen humanity and Himself through the Person of Christ. Salvation comes from the Father through the Son and in the Spirit. Our response of repentance and faith comes in the Spirit through the Son and to the Father. Thus, even our response is conditioned upon God’s saving initiative—being done in Christ through the Spirit—and is in no way due to any righteousness of our own.

It is God’s divine initiative in Christ that is the basis for the believer’s faith, hope, and love. The believer’s love to God and to others stems completely from his or her participation in the life of God through Christ and in the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:7-21). Thus, salvation is no less than knowing and being known by God through Christ and by His Spirit (Gal. 4:9; 1 Cor. 13:12). It is for this purpose that humans were created and it is to this end that humans are redeemed. And it is to this end that true theology is proclaimed and practiced—real and living knowledge of the Triune God.

A note on justification: Justification is God’s free and full pardon of rebellious sinners allowing them to share in this privilege and grace of adoption, not through any works or merits of their own, but freely and fully through the grace of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Through the full identification of the Son with humanity, God takes the role of covenant-maker (the Father) and covenant-partner (the true Son), thus satisfying his covenant demands, being just and the justifier of those united by faith to Christ (Rom. 8:26). The justice/righteousness that God satisfies is not an abstract legal code, but God’s personal justice/righteousness that is defined by God’s goodness. In and through the Person and work of the Son, God’s justice — God’s good and righteous purpose and determination to redeem God’s creation —is satisfied. It is important to maintain this distinction in order that the Triune God is not shown to be internally divided concerning God’s purpose of redemption. In other words, the Son does not make it possible for the Father to finally love humans again, but rather, the Father’s giving of the Son reveals the Father’s great love for humanity and His ultimate desire to reconcile human beings to Himself. In short, Christ is not merely our substitute in regard to atonement, but is our substitute in regard to all aspects of our fallen humanity. Christ is thus our righteousness, our sanctification, our representative, and our mediator—in a word, the head of a new humanity. His completed work of reconciling humanity to the Father through His vicarious humanity is our basis for assurance, confidence, and peace with God. No other basis for salvation is available to us, for salvation is found only in Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

God’s Church – Reflecting Trinitarian Community

The work of the Spirit not only impacts individuals, but since all redeemed individuals share in the one Spirit and thus the One God through the Spirit, all of the redeemed are viewed corporately as the one Church of God — a new creation of God by grace (Eph. 4:4-6). Because of this, the Church is not a voluntary association of like-minded individuals, but rather is a new creation of God’s Spirit for the purpose of declaring God’s saving work through proclamation by word and works (2 Cor. 5:17-21). As recipients of the grace of God in Christ, we not only share in the life of God through Christ in the Spirit, but we also share in the mission of Christ through His Spirit. The Spirit gifts the church in order to fulfill this sacred mission (1 Cor. 12).

The church is intimately related to the Triune God: It is the Father’s household, the body of Christ, and the temple of the Spirit. As such, the Church is a sacrament—a physical symbol of a spirituality reality— of God’s determined purpose to reveal His love to and acceptance of sinners in Christ. The Church, the new people of God, is a priesthood of believers, sharing in the life of God and communicating this life to a fallen world, calling all peoples from every race to participate in the free and full love of God in Christ through the Spirit (Matt. 28:18-20; 1 Pet. 2:5).

In and through worship, believers participate in God’s grace through prayer, praise, and works of piety, regularly celebrating God’s saving initiative through obedience to Christ’s commission and commands. In worship, believers are identified with God and God’s Church through the one-time sacrament of baptism. In worship, believers continue to proclaim, celebrate, and recommit to God’s saving work through the repeated sacrament of communion. The regular celebration of God’s grace through corporate worship is the believer’s great testimony to God’s saving work (1 Pet. 2:9-10). The constant experience of God’s grace in all the details of common life is the believer’s great testimony to God’s saving presence.

God’s Goal – Caught Up in Trinitarian Life

The culmination of history climaxes in the vindication of God’s people through God’s judgment of all humans through Christ Jesus (John 5:25-29). The final redemptive work of God involves God’s complete restoration and renewal of all creation through Christ Jesus into a state of perfect glory — a new heavens and a new earth (Matt. 19:28; Acts 3:21; Rom. 8:21; 1 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). In this state of glory, believers come to fully share in the divine life of God through God’s gift of resurrection bodies fit for eternity (Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:42-55; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2). It is this fullness of life, love, blessedness, and fellowship that is the ultimate goal of God’s gracious initiative in creation and new creation.

The good news of the Gospel is that God’s eternal plan to allow all creation to share in God’s glory has been completed in and through Christ, and thus the transformation of humanity and creation has begun in the Church (2 Cor. 5:16-17). Neither the power of sin, the law, evil powers, or death can thwart the consummation of all things in Christ, for all these things have been fully overcome in Christ (Rom. 8:31-39).[4]

The Church’s Mission – To Know and Make Known the Triune God

This message gives the church her life and mission: To testify of the love of God the Father through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the glorious message the Church proclaims. All of these precious and glorious truths relating to God’s redemptive purposes for the world are delivered to fallen sinners through the means of the Holy Scriptures, inspired by the Holy Spirit and given through the prophets and apostles (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; Eph. 2:20). The word of God, the 66 books of the Bible, testifies of the love of God the Father, and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ—the true and living Word of God. It is this Word the Church proclaims for the sake of the world and to the glory of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:18-20). This living Word of God who is known chiefly by the written word of God is proclaimed with all the authority of God. This message is the content of the Church’s faith, the hope of the Church’s aspirations, and the basis for the Church’s love to God, to the redeemed, and to the lost. Soli deo Gloria!

[1] Unlike conventional doctrinal statements, I begin with God’s triunity of Persons rather than with God’s oneness of Being. This shapes all that is to follow. I do not address the attributes or qualities of God in an abstract manner (i.e., God is self-existent, infinite, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, sovereign, just, loving, good, gracious, holy, righteous, merciful, patient, etc.). In my opinion, this conceptual cataloguing of God betrays how God is represented in the unfolding narrative of Holy Scripture. God is known in and through his relationships with others (and, ultimately, in regard to the Trinity, in relationship to Godself). I prefer to present God’s attributes in light of God’s saving work in Christ and in the Spirit.

[2] This includes angelic beings. Angels are spiritual, personal beings. All were originally created good, but some have fallen into unrighteousness. Due to a rebellion in the angelic realm, there is a division and distinction between good angels and bad angels. The good angels are called “His (God’s) angels” (Matt. 25:31), “the holy angels” (Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Acts 10:22; Rev. 14:10), and “the elect angels” (1 Tim. 5:21). Bad angels – demons – were not created evil (Gen. 1:31; 2 Peter 2:4), but have fallen from their original state of righteousness through sin. Their fall may have been due to pride (Jude 6) or conceit (1 Tim. 3:6). It appears that the demons follow Satan, the head of rebellion (1 Tim. 3:6; Jude 6). The relatively sparse biblical information about angels and demons makes me hesitant about devoting a whole section to them.

[3] There is a great mystery to sin, especially in regard to its ultimate origin: sin has its origin in the angelic realm with Satan’s rebellion, and through Satan’s deception, is introduced into the human realm. For this reason, Christ’s work involves destroying Satan’s works (Gen. 3:15; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8) in order to bring forgiveness and life.

[4] I have nothing dogmatic to proclaim about the so-called “intermediate state.” The direct biblical revelation relating to this is sparse, at best. In regard to millennial views, I am an amillenialist. I believe the kingdom has arrived but awaits a future consummation. The presence of the kingdom does not negate conflict, but is the source of conflict (Matthew 13). I believe that focusing on “timetable” issues often detracts from what is most important, the fulfilling of God’s promise – “we look forward to a new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

© Richard J. Vincent, 2004

6 Responses to “What I Believe”

  1. John Wilson says:

    Rich I just emailed my wife (she is at work right now) your article on Christian America. She called me and we talked as we looked though your website together. Thanks for helping to bring us closer together. I am interested in you thoughts on this subject. As a young Christian, I was introduced to the teaching of R.C. Sproul and his position on the Holiness of God as being His ultimate attribute. The end result of this being that our ultimate purpose is to worship Him for all eternity. Hey no problem there if that is why I have been created. I trust God that it will be truly fullfilling. However, as a wandering part time mystic myself, I sometimes get the nagging feeling that ole R.C. might have been slightly off (my I ever so humbly sugggest). It seems to me that while worship will be important, that LOVING and fellowshipping with God is our ultimate calling. Not that I am somehow worthy to be fellowshipping with Him on my own accord, but that He has created and redeemed me for that purpose. If so, then a more accurate understanding of His revelation is that His love is His “most supreme” attribute. John Wilson Dayton, OH

  2. Steve Wachter says:

    John, I think you are right on target when it comes to the love aspect of humans in response to God. I see worship as a way of loving Him through singing, learning scripture, and even dancing, just to name the more common ways. However, when it comes to God’s greatest attribute I think his Holiness is the greatest. After all, he created love. One aspect of this is his sense of justice, carried out with unfathomable grace and mercy. I tend to try to look at God from God’s perspective or an objective third party, not my own human way if that is possible. He is wholly other and foreign to us. His very nature is above our comprehension. The sacrifice of Christ is necessary just for us to be near Him. It appears that we love him as a gift from him, not of our own accord. It would seem to me that we are not capable of being holy by ourselves, but we are freely given righteousness from God through his Son via the Holy Spirit. Therefore, his Holiness reveals a balance of love, grace, mercy, and justice, along His with other wonderful attributes. He is so just and perfect that sometimes his actions may not appear to be loving in a human way, but they are in the context of eternity and justice and his perfect will. In the final analysis, it is not really easy to give God simply one attribute. He is more complex than that and yet simple at the same time. I find the paradoxes of the Chrisitan faith to be most interesting. There really is a rich and full mystery to it. Please understand that I write this as a Christian on a journey, not an expert. This is not meant to change your view, but give you another possible perspective. If it is his Holiness or His Love, I can go with either one!

  3. Andy Stager says:

    Steve: Your emphasis on God’s holiness and our sin is right on. You have to be careful when you say “wholly other” (Karl Barth), because that obscures the fact that we were created in the image and likeness of God. The question then becomes, “To what degree did we lose these (image and likeness) in the fall?” It’s obvious that we lost intimacy with him because of our sin. But if he is to restore himself to us by grace, can he do so if we are really “wholly other”? “Wholly Other” has implications of mutual unintelligibility…God couldn’t even communicate to us if we were “wholly other”. RC Sproul has taught soundly on this disctinction. He doesn’t have to be “wholly other” to be HOLY, HOLY, HOLY. He must at least share a ‘language’ with his creatures. Indeed, through his written word we have intelligible testimony to his character. We even have “communion” with this “wholly other” in bread and wine. These things wouldn’t be possible if he was WHOLLY other. Does that make any sense? Email me if someone posts in response to this, with the website link, too…as I may not find this page again otherwise. Andy

  4. Steve Wachter says:

    Andy, you raise a good point. Sorry to be more than 24 months late. Maybe instead of wholly other, I should have said wholly HOLY! While our nature is not like his, we love him because he first loved us. He gives us a new nature when we believe. However, we are still prone to wander. We are cheap imitations of the magnificient original. We are not wholly other. We are simply unholy in and of ourselves. Our holiness is given by Him who is Holy. Even the sense of right and wrong in us if we have not been saved is there because of God.

  5. michael says:

    Rich, I want to thank you for the integrative work of wedding theological reflection and a profoundly moving spirituality that come forth so beautifully in your web space. Doing some research for my Master’s thesis, a work focusing on a particular area of inter-religious examination from a Roman Catholic perspective, I came across your work quite by accident. I commend your humble self-identification and was moved by the clear depth of theological sophistication and spiritual integration that suggest a re-evaluation of the “amateur” and “wannabe” aspects which you understand as characterizing your reflection. Quite removed from regular dialogue with those from within your own tradition, your work elicited in me a deeper appreciation for an evangelical mysticism stemming from Protestant theological reflection. I thank you for your insight and encourage your continued work! Peace to you the True and Living God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Michael+

  6. Tracey Anne Kirkham says:

    Hello there! I just came across your blog and have been enjoying a few of your writings. You truly have a gift for writing. After reading what you wrote about being “utterly forsaken” (something I can relate to right now!) I decided to read more about you and your beliefs. I like that the authors you quote seem to run the gamut of “denominations” (although I know that Catholics would object to being called a denomination) of the Body of Christ! I grew up in the Baptist denomination, and (I write most respectfully, but with tongue in cheek) that it is decidedly un-Baptist for you to do so! Anyway, I was inspired and encouraged by that article in this dark season I am going through. Just thought I’d send you a “thank-you” and an encouraging word. Tracey Anne Rich: Tracey, thanks for your kind and encouraging comments. It sounds like you understand exactly where I’ve come from! 🙂 It is good to see you pressing forward, even during a difficult time. May God bless you! And thanks again for your kind words – you have certainly blessed me!

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