|Triune Love as Missionary Theology
Triune Love: The Root of a Missionary Theology
Christians in the early centuries approached the doctrine of God according to the structure of the Apostles’ Creed and the earliest baptismal formulas: "I believe in one God the Father, I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, and I believe in one Holy Spirit." To believe in one God is to believe in the Creator and Provider, to believe in one Lord Jesus Christ is to believe in the Redeemer who suffered for us, and to believe in the Holy Spirit is to believe in the Sanctifying Presence that lives within the church community.
The doctrine of the Trinity primarily teaches that the divine reality is a community of loving fellowship between the Father, Son and Spirit. It is a community of holy love that existed even before the cosmos did. Jesus prayed that his disciples might see the glory that the Father had given him, and the Father gave him this glory because he loved him "before the creation of the world" (literally, before the foundation of the cosmos; John 17:24). This text provides a glimpse into the common life of the Father and Son before the act of creation. Before the cosmos existed, there existed a community of love (agape) that the Father and the Son shared.
The prayer points us to the redemptive love of God, which flows from the love the Father and Son shared. Jesus promised his Father that he would continue to make the Father known to his disciples "in order that the love you have for me may be in them" (literally, the love [agape] with which you have loved me; John 17:26). The intent of redemption is to bring the sinful world into the orbit of God's agape fellowship where just as the Father dwells in the Son and the Son in the Father, God's people may dwell in them and they in God (John 17:21). God has acted in Christ Jesus in order that we might have fellowship with him. God intends for us to share the fellowship of the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3).
Creation and Redemption express the grace of God. The gracious act of creation, an act of agape love, is the decision on the part of God to share what he already possessed. It was not to gain something he lacked. Rather, God decided to share his own loving fellowship within the triune community with others. This is an astounding but wondrous thought. God, without compulsion, decided to share his holy communion with those whom he created. God created out of the overflow of his love. It flows from the Triune love that decided to share itself with others. God decided to express his love by creating us. Further, just as God so loved the world that he created a world with which to share his love, he so loved the world that he gave his Son to redeem it (John 3:16). God's love, by his free decision, is self-giving and other-centered so that it seeks to share the joy of divine communion with others.
The triune nature of God grounds missionary theology. The divine community shares an intimate and full love for each other, but also extends that love in both creation and redemption beyond that community. In creation, the divine community shared its love with others. It invited those who are made in their image to participate in the joy of communion despite the fact that those who were invited were of inferior (creaturely) status. In redemption, the divine community shared its love with a hostile and sinful humanity. The community loved fallen humanity when it was undeserving of that love and resistant to it. The incarnation itself is the great missionary project, and the model of all missionary activity. God himself came to a hostile world to invite it back into communion with the divine community. God humbled himself in order to share his love. If the divine community is a model for the church and the church is to be one just as the Father and Son are one (John 17:20-21), then the church must find its mission spirit in the doctrine of Trinity. We are all missionaries because God is a missionary.
The missional community of God humbled itself and sacrificed for the sake of others. The church, as missional community, must humble itself and sacrifice for the sake of others. If God in Jesus humbled himself to become a missional servant for humanity, the church must follow Christ. Just as God sent his Son into the world, so we follow Christ into the world as a people who are “sent.” This means the church, as the community of God, is always seeking to bring more and more people into the orbit of God’s love. No church is too big; no people are too hostile; no person is too far gone. The church expresses and extends the missional love of God. The original impulse of God’s creative and redemptive work—the desire to share love—is the missional impulse of the church. Without it the church cannot be the church.
Originally published in Good News (Fall 2002), 4.