I can’t tell you how many times I heard, ‘You should pick up this book!’ before I finally got around to reading it. I had put it off until I was ready for a little Crossfit-for-the-brain, as most works on the Trinity seem to cause. Imagine my surprise when I found it to be light in both content (only 135 pages) and presentation (the first subtitle is “Here Be Dragons”). After the introduction alone I was scratching my head because, well, I wasn’t yet scratching my head. There weren’t any theological words that sounded made up. And the author really won my heart when he said that the whole intent the book was “to have your heart won and yourself refreshed” over the enjoyment of God as Trinity (9). I thought, ‘Is this really a book on the Trinity?’
Even still, I had no hint that it would be missiologically significant. In my habitual compartmentalization I was now expecting a devotional read at best. Then I hit this quote:
The Son is the image of God, perfectly showing us what his Father is like…And so, as he gloriously goes, “shines” and “radiates” out from his Father, he shows us that the Father is essentially outgoing. It is unsurprising that such a God should create…The God who loves to have an outgoing Image of himself in his Son loves to have many images of his love (who are themselves outgoing). The Father loved him before the creation of the world, and the reason the Father sends him is so that the Father’s love for him might be in others also. That is why the Son goes out from the Father, in both creation and salvation: that the love of the Father for the Son might be shared (43-44).
Michael Reeves was speaking my language. The doctrine of the Trinity has everything to do with sending the church on mission. I quickly scrolled to the first few drafted pages of The Sending Church Defined and began making delicate revisions. They came out like this:
In the beginning, there’s just God. No heavens nor earth. No people. No ‘once upon a time’. Only the Triune God being God for eternity past—which honestly makes my brain hurt. We don’t know much about what that looked like, but Jesus gives us a hint in his prayer to the Father from John 17: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” The Father, Son, and Spirit expressed glory and love in perfect union. It was an exchange that came straight from the heart of who he is. This is crucial to understanding God not as One who needed to create something, but as One who had it all within himself. From that setting he makes the story as we know it go. How does he do it? The same old expression, this time extended outside himself. He emanates. He initiates. In a sense, he sends…God, out of the overflow of his character, is a Sender. We then, by nature, are sent.
Now, thanks to Dr. Gregg Allison, I recognize it’s currently trendy to trace any topic to the Trinity. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—except when it’s a stretch just to sound theologically thoughtful (i.e. the Trinitarian basis for eating a three-scoop ice cream cone). That’s why I was nervous as I hashed out thoughts on the sent nature of the church. The question became, “Is sending part of the intrinsic nature of the Triune God, or am I just pushing a missions trend?” It was a tricky one. Thankfully, Reeves helped answer it.
The most foundational thing in God is not some abstract quality, but the fact that he is Father…For when John writes “God is love” at the end of [1 John 4:8], he is clearly referring to the Father. His very next words, in verse 9, state: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son.” The God who is love is the Father who sends his Son. To be the Father, then, means to love, to give out life, to beget the Son. Before anything else, for all eternity, this God was loving, giving life to and delighting in his Son (23, 26).
So sending flows out of the very character of God as a loving, outgoing Father. What he shared for eternity within Father, Son, and Spirit then billowed over to be shared with us: the Father sending the Son to live, die, and rise again; the Father and Son sending the Spirit to live in anyone who trusts in Jesus.
To make missions and sending more than that would be to say God perhaps wasn’t complete in himself and needed to send. That would miss the wonder of God’s gracious, outgoing character as a Father freely “bringing many sons and daughters to glory” (Hebrews 2:10) .
To make missions and sending less would be to say God is so complete in himself that he stands somewhat aloof from his mission. That would miss the power of our identity as his beloved, adopted sent ones, who say along with Paul, “For the love of Christ compels us…Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 20).
Either way it would miss maybe the best part of Trinitarian theology.
I am thankful to Michael Reeves for writing this book to win over my heart to God once more. It’s my favorite so far on the Trinity. I happily recommend it as a must-read.