The Divine Dance

KellerOrthodox Christianity as affirmed in the historic creeds is at its heart Trinitarian -there is one God existing in three persons. But what does this mean — and why is it important? Certainly the Trinity is a tough concept to grasp – it overloads our mental circuits to use Keller’s phrase. We say the right words – but don’t really know what we mean or what we are supposed to mean. The difficulty of the concept has led some to conclude that three persons means three Gods, others that there are three different modes or aspects of one God as perceived from human perspective, still others that there is only one person in God. Does any of this really matter?

The final chapter of Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God describes his view of the intrinsic beauty and importance of the Trinity – The Dance of God.

Question: Why has traditional evangelical been so non-Trinitarian in focus but has always been so quick to defend the orthodoxy of believing in the Trinity? How significant is Trinity to Christian living?

According to Keller the importance of the Trinity is community. God is love but without another there is no love. The Trinity means that God is, in essence, relational. (p. 214) Keller discusses the Trinity and importance of this relationship to a perfect God of love at the end of this short clip:

And Keller expands upon this theme in the book. The Trinity is described as perichoresis – to dance or flow around, mutual movement, mutual indwelling. Each of the divine persons centers upon the others. None demands that the others revolve around him. Each voluntarily circles the other two, pouring love, delight, and adoration into them. Each person of the Trinity loves, adores, defers to, and rejoices in the others. That creates a dynamic, pulsating dance of joy and love. (p. 215)

Creation is a dance with the inner life of the Trinity written all through it.

We lost the dance in the refusal to serve God and participate in his community – Adam onward.

We return to the dance through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

I agree with Keller in large part – but I think he does not give enough credit to the story of Israel leading up to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Keller jumps from Genesis 3 to the gospels – and more than that, he really jumps to the crucifixion and resurrection in the gospels. I agree significantly with what he includes – I disagree with him in the fact that he leaves too much out.

It doesn’t do us much good to place Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, Isaiah, the other prophets for example, on the other side of the dance entirely. God was at work in his mission with his people from the beginning. And this includes the time netween Genesis 3 and Luke 1. This doesn’t minimize the need for the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – but it helps us avoid an over simplified understanding of the story of God’s work and mission. More recent books – like Scot’s The King Jesus Gospel and N.T. Wright’s How God Became King help to flesh out the story and help us appreciate the mission of God from Genesis 4 on more clearly (well at least the gospels more clearly – we may still need a book that really brings the OT in more completely).

But all of this isn’t does not negate the powerful points that Keller makes in what he does include in this discussion of the divine dance. His vision of the divine dance of the Trinity is powerful.

The future of the dance is recreation: How, then, will the story of human history end? … We do not see the illusion of the world melt away, nor do we see spiritual souls escaping the physical world into heaven. Rather we see heaven descending into our world to unite with it and purify it of all its brokenness and imperfection. (p. 222)

As God is in perpetual relationship so we are intrinsically relational. The Christian gospel is not so much individuals becoming right with God as it is establishment of God’s community. We work for justice, we live for service, we honor the dignity of our fellow human beings created in the image of God, we strengthen our human communities, we become stewards of the material world, and we create through science and gardening and art.

OK – Keller casts a fantastic vision of divine dance, but is he right? Is the Trinity an essential element of Christian doctrine? And if so, is its importance in fact the essence of relationship? This is after all, somewhat different from the common understanding of God as the head, the Son in subordination, and the Spirit as helper or comforter.

Is Keller’s vision Biblical?

What would you add or subtract from this vision?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

If you would like to comment please see The Divine Dance at Jesus Creed.

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