The Triune God: A Theological Base for the Multicultural Church

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Proponents of the multicultural church are sometimes targeted with accusations of kowtowing to secular political correctness rather than fidelity to the true message of the scriptures. I’ve experienced my share of being labeled a leftist pastor accused of pushing for a socialist agenda for the church. (I have a special email folder designated for these kinds of messages that God must be giving me for my sanctification.) And I think we can honestly acknowledge that in our current culture of tolerance, there might be some who desire to witness ecclesial inclusion but provide sparse theological rationale to support their passion. In my observation, this can lead to more of a virtue signaling posture rather than genuine steps of Godly reconciliation. (I would add that this dynamic can also similarly describe some ideas often put forth in even the most theologically orthodox of churches but that’s a thought for another time.)

It is critical, therefore, to establish a robust biblical and theological basis in framing the multicultural church as a powerful and contextually relevant expression of our mission. The storyline of the scriptures demonstrates that God’s redemptive plan involves a vision for a diversity of cultures to be reconciled into a new family that, while unified, celebrates our respective differences in markers like race, ethnicity, and class. As we pursue a doctrinal framework to ground us in these endeavors, a missional approach to theology rooted in the very nature of the triune God will cultivate a growing diversity of people for God’s glory as displayed in his church, both local and universal.

Exploration

Ross Hasting’s Missional God, Missional Church provides a compelling exploration into the mission of God as understood through the trinitarian paradigm of a relational God. [1] He describes the triune nature of God at work with Jesus’ own words in John 20:21: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Though often used (correctly) to motivate the people of God on mission, Western readers of Scripture have often leaped over the stated implications found here for God’s revelation of himself as triune in nature. To truly understand the God of mission is not to focus merely on one member of the Godhead, whether Father, Son, or Spirit. Rather, the true mission of the church is unveiled when the nature of God is understood in the proper context of his own communion.

The unity of the people of God on a common mission cannot be fully grasped without a similar understanding of the relationality found within the triune Godhead. As Hastings describes this grasp of the Trinity as found in the work of C. S. Lewis, he states, “In human relationships this is a real relational bond, whereas in the divine being, the eternal, infinite spirit of love that unites the Father and the Son is ‘such a live concrete thing that this union itself is also a Person’ – the Holy Spirit. God is thus, if he is love, ‘God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.’” [2] In other words, the very relationships we commit ourselves to also serve as the very mission of Christ’s love that we advance together. How revolutionary it is to learn that this God who sends his people on mission is foundationally relational in his very being and that our mission itself is to be reconciled into greater unity!

Reformation

For a Western Church which has often emphasized the individuality of the believer, grasping the implications of the triune nature of God brings a radical reformation to the understanding of Christian faith and mission. We should not be surprised by the consumerism so rampant in the Western Church when our paradigms have often communicated an invitation into a personal relationship with God primarily based upon what he can do for each of us individually. However, viewing the Christian life through triune eyes helps show that the goal of redemption is not merely one’s destination to an eternity with God but a renewed life in relationship with God and others – including those from other cultures with whom we would have no other bond apart from our shared union in Christ. As Hastings explains, “One of the further relevancies of the Trinity for the church as elect is the necessity for it to demonstrate its unity in Christ, within its great diversity. . . Notice how Jesus makes Trinitarian relations the ground for the unity of the church and therefore for its effectiveness in mission.” [3]

Thus, beyond even the salvation of individual souls, the goal of Christian mission is the very unity of the diverse and representative people of God as modeled in the triune God. As Hastings writes, “The unity of the church represents the unity of the Godhead! The experienced unity of the church Jesus is praying for (it must be more than organic or ontic unity, which was a given) is critical if we are accurately to represent who God is, as the God whose oneness includes differentiation.” [4] The growing representation of different cultures in our communities is one of the best displays of the presence of a real God revealing himself in our midst.

Reorientation 

Understanding God relationally may require a reorientation of our reading and interpretation of the Bible. It is an approach requiring humble dependence on the Holy Spirit to supernaturally translate the timeless words of Scripture in accordance with the shifting understanding of the culture in which those words are read. Accordingly, though we affirm that the truth of God’s Word doesn’t change, our comprehension of that Word continually develops as we grow in maturity as the Church and as the very demographic of people who comprise the universal Church changes as the Great Commission goes forth into the world.

For example, those who comprised “the Church” in 1517 would constitute a very different picture than what we see in 2018. Throughout the course of history, an increasing number of cultures has been exposed to the beauty of the gospel, with more new voices contributing to our knowledge of God. (At least when the majority culture has given a place at the table to those voices. Again, a thought for another time.) To bring it to a local level, a growing diversity of cultures making up our local church communities can help us to better interpret the truth of God and enhance our knowledge of facets of his being which could heretofore remain unrecognized. The shared and growing collaboration of diverse peoples will help us to better know and love a God who is far bigger than each of our finite minds could comprehend on our own.

The diversity found in a multicultural church may be one of the most biblically faithful expressions a church can make in displaying the glory of God’s reconciling power in a world divided by sin. That in committing ourselves to the ministry of reconciliation, our goal is not merely to be more acceptable to a society that values tolerance and diversity. Rather, in pursuing these endeavors — and the contextually appropriate repentance and reparation that may be involved — God is inviting us into a journey to increasingly know him and become more like our Lord. And that as more voices contribute their respective wisdom to our collective knowledge of God, our hope through the multicultural church is to position ourselves to best represent God to a multicultural world seeking truth and meaning.

Endnotes

  1. Ross Hastings, Missional God, Missional Church: Hope for Re-Evangelizing the West (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012).
  2. Ibid., 85.
  3. Ibid., 114.
  4. Ibid., 115.
  Dan was raised in the greater Philadelphia area, receiving degrees in speech communication from Penn State University and the Masters in Divinity & the Doctor of Ministry in Urban Missiology at  Biblical Theological Seminary . He is driven for God’s work in the city having served with urban churches in Philadelphia and Baltimore. In 2008, Dan was privileged to lead a team to start  The Village Church  in Baltimore, MD with dreams of making God famous through a diverse and multicultural expression of the Kingdom of God.    His journey hasn’t been without many painful bumps along the road, but God’s patient grace has been evident the whole way. As God has blessed Dan in so many ways, he desire to invest in others. Dan trains and coaches urban church planters and regularly shares his thoughts at  Lifeway Pastors . Speaking is a passion for Dan as he leads others on issues including leadership, urban ministry, justice, and church planting. He has also had an amazing experience starting the annual  Ethnos Conference  to lead the Church in conversations about multicultural mission and reconciliation.    Dan’s interests include sports, working out, good food, and conversations on culture. After God, his greatest joy & desire in life is for his lovely wife, Judie, and two daughters.  You can follow him on  Twitter ,  Instagram ,  Facebook , or  www.danhyun.com  to see what God continues to teach him.

Dan was raised in the greater Philadelphia area, receiving degrees in speech communication from Penn State University and the Masters in Divinity & the Doctor of Ministry in Urban Missiology at Biblical Theological Seminary. He is driven for God’s work in the city having served with urban churches in Philadelphia and Baltimore. In 2008, Dan was privileged to lead a team to start The Village Church in Baltimore, MD with dreams of making God famous through a diverse and multicultural expression of the Kingdom of God.

His journey hasn’t been without many painful bumps along the road, but God’s patient grace has been evident the whole way. As God has blessed Dan in so many ways, he desire to invest in others. Dan trains and coaches urban church planters and regularly shares his thoughts at Lifeway Pastors. Speaking is a passion for Dan as he leads others on issues including leadership, urban ministry, justice, and church planting. He has also had an amazing experience starting the annual Ethnos Conference to lead the Church in conversations about multicultural mission and reconciliation.

Dan’s interests include sports, working out, good food, and conversations on culture. After God, his greatest joy & desire in life is for his lovely wife, Judie, and two daughters.  You can follow him on TwitterInstagramFacebook, or www.danhyun.com to see what God continues to teach him.