Trinitarian theology video discussion group

You're IncludedMy Trinitarian Theology page describes the You’re Included series of video conversations, sponsored by Grace Communion International, devoted to practical implications of Trinitarian theology.* Each video is a conversation, not a lecture. Participants include popular writers, teachers, pastors and youth ministers as well as professional theologians. The series reflects the ecumenical character of Trinitarian theology. These and other similar videos, such as discussions of The Shack, offer an accessible and practical introduction to Trinitarian theology.

Are you wondering what Trinitarian theology is all about? Would you like to watch these video conversations with others in an informal, small group discussion format? Although the videos frequently focus upon a book by the participant, and we will typically have that book on hand for reference or summary, no reading is expected. This is a not a book discussion group nor an intellectual course of study in theology.

Rather, our aim is to experience how Trinitarian theology may deepen our prayer, worship, and community, as we seek to respond with all our hearts and minds to the love of the Triune God of grace. If this aim appeals to you and you live in the Norman or central OK area, let me know and I’ll keep you in the loop as plans for the group start to come together.


*From the Trinitarian theology web page:

Trinitarian theology refers to a personal approach to theology that arises out of the revelation of God in Christ. Through the Incarnation God reveals himself as an eternal communion of love between the Father, Son and Spirit. Trinitarian thinking is Christ-centered, with the Incarnation as the starting point. Every area of doctrine organically connects to, and is grounded upon, the Trinitarian communion of God revealed in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Our understanding of the Trinity therefore serves not as an isolated doctrine but as a grammar of theology, a way of thinking that searches out the natural connections between every doctrine and the revelation of God in Christ.

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Ode to Joy

Between Easter, Pentecost and Ascension Day fall roughly 50 days in the church calendar to meditate on how the resurrection of Christ changes everything in heaven and earth. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, brought to ordinary people street-side, exemplifies that to me:

Beethoven Symphony No. 9, amazing “Flash Mob” Plaza Sabadel roc, Barcelona, ESPAÑA

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A Desert Parable, The Tree of Life, and The Shack

A Desert Parable

Last night, Mike Rasmussen told us a parable:

A man is standing in the wide-open desert, with sunlight pouring down all around him. Yet his eyes are shut firmly, closed tightly against the light, and he believes himself in darkness. This is the man who cannot see through his pain the love God has for him.


The Tree of Life

“I just feel like I’m bumping into walls.”

The desert parable is the story of Sean Penn’s character in The Tree of Life. Watch the Tree of Life from 14:00 to 20:00 minutes in. This man finds himself in the desert, oblivious to the love of God as to the light all around him:

Tree of Life 14 - desert.

Tree of Life 15 - desert.

Tree of Life - desert.

But instead of desert sunlight, the more prominent visual metaphor in this brief clip is light pouring in through glass-windowed walls.

Tree of Life 01 - Light.

Tree of Life 02 - Light

Tree of Life 03 - Light

Tree of Life 04 - Light

Tree of Life 05 - Light

At this point, the man says, on the phone, “I just feel like I’m bumping into walls.” The walls are windows, opening out to the world, rather than walls closing in, though he seems oblivious.

Tree of Life 06 - phone.  'I just feel like I'm bumping into walls.'

The entire six-minute stretch is a parable of the life, love and glory of God as light pouring through windows, both at his home and at his office, though he cannot see it.

Tree of Life 07 - Light

Tree of Life 08 - window

Tree of Life 09 - window

Tree of Life 10 - window

Tree of Life 11 - window

Tree of Life 12 - window

Tree of Life 13 - a tree of light

After the camera moves to the tree in the light, the scene cuts to the desert setting captured in the screenshots above. Then back to more windows:

Tree of Life 17 - window

The life, love and glory of God in the world is a suffusing light. Like birds taking flight, or a hidden flame, the Spirit of God is actively present with us, working undetected in the world and all around us, whether we feel or perceive him or not:

Tree of Life 18 - birds in flight

Tree of Life 19 - hidden flame that sustains the world

The visual parable of this brief clip might be a helpful way to begin talking about The Tree of Life as a whole. (All of these screenshots appear within six short minutes in the film, immediately prior to the creation sequence. Click on any screenshot above to see the exact time in the movie, as indicated in the lower left corner.)

The Tree of Life (IMDB; HD at iTunes)


The Shack

| At Vimeo | Movie discussion guide |

The desert parable, like the meaning of light in The Tree of Life, is also the story of Mack. In The Shack, Papa says…

“We were there together.”
Mack was surprised. “At the cross? Now wait, I thought you left him—you know—‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ ” It was a Scripture that had often haunted Mack in The Great Sadness.
“You misunderstand the mystery there. Regardless of what he felt at that moment, I never left him.”
“How can you say that? You abandoned him just like you abandoned me!”
“Mackenzie, I never left him, and I have never left you.”
“That makes no sense to me,” he snapped.
“I know it doesn’t, at least not yet. Will you at least consider this: when all you can see is your pain, perhaps then you lose sight of me?”

William P. Young, The Shack (iBook Store)


“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16–17)
“in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18–19)

See also:

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Masaccio’s Trinity, Psalm 22 and The Shack

Gary and Cathy Deddo, God, the Bible and The ShackWe’re planning to see the movie version of The Shack this weekend. Ted Johnston offers helpful comments on his blog, The Surprising God. Meanwhile, I’ve written about Paul Young and The Shack in a number of posts here:

One of the common evangelical criticisms of The Shack is voiced in a review of the movie on Plugged-In:

“Another theologically problematic moment comes when Papa tells Mack that He did not abandon Jesus on the Cross, despite the fact that Jesus Himself said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Papa’s statement in the film fails to recognize that Jesus not only carried mankind’s sin, but, according to 2 Corinthians 5:21, Jesus actually became sin. Because God the Father is holy, when Jesus took on humanity’s sin at Calvary, the Father did forsake Christ (until redemption was accomplished soon thereafter).”

This unfortunate misinterpretation of Jesus’ cry of forsakenness on the Cross has become widespread in evangelical circles, despite the fact that it seems to contradict the doctrine of the Trinity and the historic, orthodox Christian affirmation that redemption was a Triune act involving each member of the godhead.

Many evangelicals encounter this misinterpretation in one of my favorite hymns, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, by Stuart Townend, in the line “The Father turned his face away….” Scroll down for a revised version of the lyrics (appended to the end of this post), which substitutes “He in our place, forsaken” for this problematic line. When in congregational singing we would come to this line, I used to just stop singing for a moment, but now I sing this alternative and more biblical phrase and hope anyone around me who hears it will pause and give it a second thought. (In the same way, we brought up our children to sow anarchy at Christmas when singing “Away in a Manger,” for instead of “no crying he makes,” we all join our voices to sing loudly “what a squalling he makes!”)

Without diminishing the mystery of the passion of the Son of Man upon the Cross, the Bible itself indicates explicitly that the Father did not “turn his face away” at that dark hour: “he has not hidden his face from him” (Psalm 22:24). Whatever judgment and godforsakenness the Son experienced, in some mysterious way, they shared it together. The Father and Spirit were with him, at great cost to themselves as well.

Consider the entirety of Psalm 22. Mary and John and perhaps others who heard Jesus cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” recognized in this prayer the opening line of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1; cf. Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46) By recording this first verse of the Psalm, the gospel writers invoked the context of the entire Psalm. Jesus prayed his way through the whole Psalm on the Cross, from within our darkness and forsakenness, all the way to “it is finished” and “into thy hands I commit my spirit.” Mary’s presence at the Cross added poignancy to the prayer of verse 9. The agony of crucifixion is captured in verse 14: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.” The gospel writers crafted their accounts of Christ’s passion in full recognition of verses 16-18: “they have pierced my hands and feet— I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” By verse 25, the struggle of Gethsemane is fulfilled – “not my will, but thine” (Luke 22:42); “I have come to do thy will” (Hebrews 10:7,9; Psalm 40:7-8); and “My vows I will perform” (Psalm 22:25). Verse 24 provides the counterpoint response to Jesus’ cry from the Cross: “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.” (Psalm 22:24) The Father did not turn his face away. Perhaps the writer of Hebrews had the verses at the end of the Psalm in mind (vs. 24-31) when he affirmed that Jesus endured the Cross “for the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). The Psalm ends with the final word from the Cross: “he has done it (Psalm 22:31),” or “It is finished (John 19:30).”

Redemption was a Triune act, where “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Christ and the Father have the same heart. Jesus came to change our minds about God, not God’s mind about us. Christ’s sacrifice was not to appease the Father like a pagan ablation. They were together with one aim and heart from start to finish, for us and our salvation. Hebrews 9:14 indicates that Christ offered himself “through the eternal Spirit” on the Cross. So the Holy Spirit was united in the work of the Cross as well. The whole Trinity was on a rescue mission, working in sync, to save us from death and sin.

Masaccio, TrinityOn my first trip to Florence, I set out to walk from my room in the historic old part of the city – (thanks, Hotel Davanzati) – to Santa Maria Novella, a 13th-century Dominican church. My first mission, before turning my thoughts to any of the official business I was there to conduct, was to see for myself the masterpiece of The Trinity by Masaccio. In the Galileo’s World exhibition (see the Art and Astronomy Walking Tour), I recounted the story of Renaissance art and linear perspective from Leonardo to Galileo. Masaccio’s 1425 fresco appears in practically every art history textbook (or in this short Khan Academy video) to represent the birth of linear perspective.

But Masaccio’s Trinity also beautifully captures the Triune character of redemption. It represents what transpired as Christ was praying Psalm 22, from verse 1 to the last. C.S. Lewis wrote that

“God’s presence is not the same as the feeling of God’s presence, and He may be doing most for us when we think He is doing least.”

This was nowhere more true than at this moment. Jesus – in our place, forsaken – cannot see the Father, but the Father is closely present, behind him, and holding him up, sustaining him through it all. The Spirit, as a dove, descends toward the Son, renewing his spirit, sustaining him through it all. There is no turning away from the Son by the Father or by the Spirit. (Click on the image, if necessary, to see the Spirit in the painting.) As Christ bears the full extent of our guilt and alienation and becomes sin in our place, they do not shrink away. Their holiness does not require them to turn their backs upon The Great Sinner on the Cross, suffering and repenting in our place. To the contrary, to the Son upon the Cross, in our place and on our behalf, the Holy One of Israel draws near:

For this is what the high and exalted One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
(Isaiah 57:15).

The divine communion of love held fast, unbroken by the agony of the Cross. That communion held together, absorbing all the worst poison that fallen humanity possessed. Together, they defeated all the forces of evil that threatened to separate them, rather than allowing their communion to be broken.

The love of the Triune God portrayed by Masaccio is now extended to us in Christ, even in our broken and alienated state (Romans 5:8). He brought us with him, even through death, into that circle of love that has never been, and now could never be, broken. Even though we cry, “God, why have you forsaken me?”, we are included in him within that love (Romans 8:31-39).

“We must be quite definite about the fact that in the Lord Jesus Christ God himself has penetrated into our suffering, our hurt, our violence, our sinful alienated humanity, our guilty condition under divine judgment, and even into our dereliction. ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Behind that cry of Jesus on the Cross there is a mysterious movement in the divine Triunity, a counterpoint between the pathos in the crucified Jesus and the pathos in God. The cry of Jesus in dereliction was followed by another cry, ‘Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ There on the Cross at the deepest point of our relations with God in judgment and suffering the incarnate Son of God penetrated into our pathos in such a profoundly redemptive way that in the very heart of it all, he brought his eternal serenity or ἀπάθ∊ια to bear transformingly upon our passion.” Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons (T&T Clark, 1996; Amazon, iBooks).

For every mass-marketed portrait of Jesus that hangs in an evangelical church, let Masaccio’s Trinity awaken our imaginations to rethink our presumptions about redemption, and recover a deeper and more orthodox appreciation of the Trinity. The interactions between Papa, Jesus and Sarayu in Paul Young’s The Shack help us in a similar way. Masaccio’s Trinity and Young’s Shack are both, in their respective ways, pointers to the mystery of Psalm 22:24, that the Holy One of Israel drew near to the man of sorrows upon the Cross, and even now draws near to each of us in all our darkness, pain, guilt, grief and sorrow. He does not turn his face away. Triune love will meet and sustain us in our own shack.


So I have high hopes for the movie. The only problem the Plugged-In review mentioned that causes me alarm is the music Papa was enjoying: in the movie apparently it’s Neil Young; in the book it’s Bruce Cockburn. Oh no! Heresy!


How Deep the Fathers Love for Us (Stuart Townend, revised)

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His Only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss
He in our place, forsaken
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the man upon a cross

My sin upon His shoulders

Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice

Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there

Until it was accomplished

His dying breath has brought me life

I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything

No gifts, no power, no wisdom

But I will boast in Jesus Christ

His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?

I cannot give an answer

But this I know with all my heart

His wounds have paid my ransom

Why should I gain from His reward?

I cannot give an answer

But this I know with all my heart

His wounds have paid my ransom


As he entered the main living area, he heard the sound of a familiar Bruce Cockburn tune drifting from the kitchen and the high-pitched voice of a black woman singing along rather well: “Oh, Love that fires the sun, keep me burning.”
William P. Young, The Shack


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Planet Narnia meets Galileo’s World

Over the last couple of years I’ve given countless presentations on the Galileo’s World exhibition, and I’ve enjoyed them all. Tonight I’m giving an informal talk that’s a bit different from the others, which I’m really looking forward to, on the “Music of the Spheres” gallery entitled “Planet Narnia meets Galileo’s World.” Clint Hardesty invited me to visit his Dinner and Discourse group at St. Thomas More, despite it being Ash Wednesday. This coming Sunday Keith French invited me to give a shorter version of the same talk to the Genesis class at Westminster Presbyterian Church in OKC. Two groups of people who will provide both a warm welcome and an inquisitive, curious reception of the presentation, I’m sure. My thanks to all of you, in advance.

Tonight’s talk addresses two questions:

Download a pdf of the presentation here, including skipped slides:
Music of the Spheres: Planet Narnia meets Galileo’s World.”
(105 MB, so give it time to download)

The talk on Tolkien and Frost, which I refer to as a companion presentation, is available here:
Under the Starry Skies of J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert Frost.”

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Eucatastrophe: Joy news!

“The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the inner consistency of reality. This story is supreme, and it has entered history. It is pre-eminently (and infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories

Last night, in our annual Advent Celebration, I defined eucatastrophe as “a catastrophe for the good.” This is how I have explained it for the nearly three decades we have read it aloud together on this occasion (also here). But that’s because I haven’t paid enough attention to Ann Voskamp.

On this third Sunday of Advent, Ann has published a wonderful meditation on joy for the lighting of the “joy candle.” Watch it and see how she interweaves three words with the prefix “eu”: eucatastrophe, eucharisteo, and evanglion (or euangelion). In each case, she renders “eu” as “joy” rather than merely “good.”

Instead of defining “eucatastrophe” as “a catastrophe for good” (what I said last night), in the future I’ll use her better translation: joy catastrophe! I think that’s much closer to the sense of Tolkien in that essay, where he defined the essence of the gospel as “news of great joy.”

Instead of gospel or good news (evangelion), from now on I’m going to say “joy news,” like Ann.

Enjoy the video and happy 3rd Sunday of Advent.

Source: Ann Voskamp, meditation on joy for the lighting of the joy candle.

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Beauty in grace

When told one is beautiful; by Rotasiz Seyyah

I love the juxtaposed photos in Hannah’s blog post. Photographer Rotasiz Seyyah captured a number of portraits of ordinary people immediately before and after being told they are beautiful. How they respond! How their inner beauty shines, called forth by those words! How the beauty of each person shines through in the ordinary, like bread and wine, when grace is present.

I want to be there when each of these people, when my family and friends, when you first meet face-to-face the Maker of all worlds, who knows every littlest thing about us, and he says, “You are beautiful.” I want that photo of how you look then.

Grace is the presence of God with us saying “You are beautiful.”

The God who knows us thoroughly loves us utterly. By his very word to us we shine through in the ordinary.

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